NFL Awards Watch: Defensive Honors All But Wrapped Up, While MVP Race Has Major Drama

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Welcome to NFL Awards Watch, my weekly column that will take a look at the five major awards handed out in the NFL: MVP; Offensive and Defensive Player Of The Year; and Offensive and Defensive Rookie Of The Year.

JONATHAN HUTTON NFL AWARDS WATCH ARCHIVE

The NFL MVP award is completely up for grabs and we have a great debate that doesn’t include the usual suspects.

It’s refreshing.

Think about it. We’re not repeating achievements for Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady. We’re not seeing a player dominate the category the way Lamar Jackson did in 2019. And we’re not even including preseason MVP favorite Josh Allen in this week’s column. Yes, Mahomes won this award in 2018. And, yes, Mahomes is the leader to win his second MVP award as December arrives. But this competition is wide open. The next six weeks are about closing the deal. The race is on.

NFL Awards Watch: Week 12

It’s a three-quarterback race for MVP: Tua Tagovailoa, Jalen Hurts and Patrick Mahomes. (Getty Images)

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

QB PATRICK MAHOMES, Kansas City Chiefs 

He’s the MVP as of this very moment, but there’s plenty of momentum building for Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa. However, unlike the two QBs who began the season with ‘prove-it’ expectations, Mahomes is the guy who is likely to actually leave us without an argument on how to vote. That’s what he’s done to this point, but the competition really begins now. Mahomes leads the NFL with 3,585 passing yards and 29 touchdowns through 11 weeks.

Two More To Consider:

  • QB Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles. While his last handful of performances have been far from perfect, Hurts is making series-extending plays and game-winning decisions that have elevated the Eagles to the upper shelf of the NFL hierarchy. He has 17 passing touchdowns and three interceptions to pair with 597 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. The Eagles certainly don’t want him keeping the ball 15 times a game, but Hurts’ versatility and smart defensive recognition on the RPO game allows Philly to play with a massive advantage.

    Hurts had a great chance to claim MVP momentum entering December (something mentioned in this column a couple of weeks ago) because of the way Philadelphia’s schedule laid out.

    Voters will ultimately judge this MVP competition on big moments and big stat lines. The offense Hurts commands sets him up to win the MVP award far better than Tua’s chances in Miami. Philly can produce more of both because of a vastly superior offensive line, a much more balanced offensive attack, and similar playmakers around Hurts compared to the stars paired with Tua. 
  • QB Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins emerged from their week off with a layup game against Houston, and Tagovailoa took advantage. By halftime he had thrown for 278 yards and a touchdown. Only four of his 24 attempts hit the ground. The problem is so did Tua. His day ended quickly after the second half began. The Dolphins QB was sacked three times on the first two possessions of the third quarter, prompting head coach Mike McDaniel to sit him for the remainder of the game instead of padding stats and running up the score.  Oh, there was no running up the score. McDaniel’s offense came to a standstill with Skylar Thompson behind center.

    The Dolphins haven’t been in the national spotlight this season, but plenty will be tuned in Sunday to the Week 13 matchup in San Francisco. The 49ers boast one of the most consistent defensive fronts in the NFL. Going back to my reasoning for betting on Hurts over Tua right now: McDaniel (and I don’t blame him) is falling more in love with his passing attack than his rushing game. That’s great for winning games. The Dolphins are a very good team. But that’s not great for winning MVP.

    Miami has a shaky offensive line and an inconsistent run game. I understand Tua is currently the most efficient passer in the NFL, but by throwing it more often he’s also going to be put in situations to make more mistakes. Can Miami’s OL hold up? That’s the biggest reason I’m betting Tua won’t be MVP.

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

TE TRAVIS KELCE, Kansas City Chiefs

I watch the Chiefs move the football and find points when it matters every week. Patrick Mahomes distributes a winning formula that usually includes big plays at crucial moments to tight end Travis Kelce.

There are three receivers who have already have 1,000 yards receiving this season. Kelce isn’t one of them. There are plenty of top receivers who possess incredible speed and quickness. Google says Kelce runs 4.6.

Even when Kelce hasn’t dominated individual games this season, he dominates the scoreboard. His worst two games this season are a great example. He combined for 87 total yards in performances against the Raiders and the Rams this year. He also caught five touchdowns in those two games. 

Kelce is personally responsible for 72 points this season. Justin Jefferson and Tyreek Hill have combined for 54. 

Two More To Consider:

  • WR Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings. What makes Justin Jefferson the top receiver in the NFL? He’s dominating the field even when he doesn’t touch the football. He had nine catches for 139 yards and a touchdown against the New England Patriots on Thanksgiving Day. We’ve never seen a wide receiver win MVP. Jefferson could actually do it before his career is finished. 
  • WR Tyreek Hill, Miami Dolphins. He left Sunday’s game with cramps, but not before hauling in six passes for 85 yards. Hill produces even with the Dolphins distribute the football to other weapons. Five of his six catches came in the first half of a game plan that targeted 10 different receivers by halftime. 
  • RB Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders. He doesn’t stand a chance in hell of winning this award, but the man deserves a mention this week. Jacobs leads the way for all running backs with 1,159 yards this season. That’s 111 yards more than second place Derrick Henry. Jacobs averages more than a full yard per carry (5.4) than Henry (4.2) does, and he’s scored nine touchdowns this season. I love any player in a contract year. It’s hard not to love what Jacobs is doing for the Raiders, but understandably he’s not receiving top attention due to the 4-7 record in Las Vegas.

OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

RB KENNETH WALKER III, Seattle Seahawks.

There’s a new Beast Mode in Seattle.

Two More To Consider:

  • WR Chris Olave, New Orleans Saints.
  • RB Dameon Pierce, Houston Texans.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

OLB MICAH PARSONS, Dallas Cowboys

Parsons added two more sacks to his 2022 résumé against the Giants on Thanksgiving Day. He now has 12 on the season, one short of his season total a year ago. He’s had six games with at least two sacks and he’s one massive performance away from really getting his push for league MVP. I’ve asked several current and former players who would receive their vote for best overall player in the NFL. Many immediately said Micah Parsons (and that was back in October).

Two More To Consider:

  • DE Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers.
  • DE Maxx Crosby, Las Vegas Raiders.

DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

CB SAUCE GARDNER, New York Jets

Gardner, like Parsons, is the easy choice for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Also, like Parsons, he’s headed towards an All-Pro selection in his rookie season.

Two More To Consider:

  • CB Tariq Woolen, Seattle Seahawks.
  • DE Aidan Hutchinson, Detroit Lions.

Jonathan Hutton is the host of OutKick 360 and will write weekly about NFL awards. Follow Hutton on Twitter.

Written by Jonathan Hutton

Jonathan Hutton hosts OutKick 360 each weekday afternoon. He spent 16 seasons as the gameday host and sideline reporter for the Tennessee Titans Radio Network and covered the biggest NFL events. Follow @HuttonOutKick on Twitter/Instagram.

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