NFL Awards Watch: Rookie RB On The Rise And The Best Defender No One Talks About

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 MVP race has a chance to be extremely close as great quarterback play continues between three main candidates, and there’s a new player arriving in the Defensive Player of the Year category. Let’s get to it:

NFL Awards Watch: Week 8

nfl awards watch
Vikings linebacker Za’Darius Smith and Seahawks running back Kenneth Walker III. (Getty Images)

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

QB JOSH ALLEN, Buffalo Bills 

Allen is on pace to account for over 6,000 total yards this season, a mark no QB in NFL history has reached. Allen isn’t just on pace to set the new mark, he’s on his way to shattering Drew Brees’ 5,562 combined passing, rushing, and receiving yards in 2011.

Also: scoreboard. 
Josh Allen 3
MVP QBs 0

Allen has outplayed Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers and Lamar Jackson in his individual matchups against the Chiefs, Packers and Ravens this season. Seven of his 21 touchdowns were scored in those games. The frontrunner to win MVP as the season began, Allen has led the Bills to an AFC-best 6-1 overall record with the second-best scoring offense in the NFL, averaging 29 points per game. 

Two More To Consider:

  • QB Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles. Hurts became the first Eagles QB to throw four passing touchdowns of 25 yards or more in a single game. The Eagles easily handled the Steelers, as Hurts delivered big throws against the Pittsburgh blitz. He’s accounted for 16 of the team’s 25 touchdowns, 10 through the air and six on the ground. Even better, he has just two turnovers all year. For comparison, Allen has eight and Mahomes has five. 
  • QB Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs. Mahomes had a week off and now takes center stage once again as the Chiefs host the Titans on Sunday Night Football. Kansas City’s offense averages 32 points per game in a league where all but six offenses average less than 25. Titans head coach Mike Vrabel and defensive coordinator Shane Bowen have found a way to defend Mahomes better than most in these recent regular season matchups. Mahomes is likely leading this column a week from today if he continues his dominant play in prime time. Since losing 27-3 to the Titans last year to start 3-4, the Chiefs have held a fourth quarter lead or tie in 20 consecutive games.

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

WR TYREEK HILL, Miami Dolphins

No NFL wide receiver has ever eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark in a single season, but Hill has record-setting potential through eight games. His league-leading 961 receiving yards have him on pace for 2,042 yards, plus his current numbers are around 200 more total yards than Stefon Diggs and Justin Jefferson. But forget individual players. Hill surpasses entire individual receiving corps. Those 961 yards are more than the entire depth charts of the Falcons, Giants, Texans, Ravens, Bears and Titans. 

Four More To Consider:

  • WR Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills. I loved the trash talk between Diggs and Packers CB Jaire Alexander last Sunday night, and while both players had their big moments, Diggs changed the game. He scored a touchdown on the first play of the second quarter, then hauled in a 52-yard grab that set up a field goal as the half ended. He was over 100 yards by the third quarter. Allen and Diggs have now connected on 25 touchdowns, tied for second-most in Bills history. It will take awhile to get within reach of Jim Kelly and Andre Reed’s franchise-leading 65 touchdowns.
  • WR Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings. Jefferson caught six passes for 98 yards against the Cardinals, which ended his three-game stretch of 100-plus yard performances. He should have a dominant game this Sunday as he’ll face a Commanders secondary that allows plenty of chunk yardage in the passing game.

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  • WR AJ Brown, Philadelphia Eagles. Arthur Juan Brown is the first Eagles player to record more than 650 receiving yards and 5 or more touchdowns in the first 7 games of a season since Terrell Owens in 2005. His 659 yards is a yard higher than all of the Titans receivers combined. How good was he against the Steelers in Week 8? He was selected for Philly’s random drug test Monday morning.
  • RB Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans. He won this award in 2020 and if the Titans continue to win games, Henry will be the reason. This is an offense which currently features the worst wide receiving corps in the NFL. Defenses know that to stop the Titans they must load the box and stop Henry. This is the time of year when the volume back traditionally heats up, and the Titans will need Henry to be as dominant as ever Sunday night in Kansas City.

OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

WR CHRIS OLAVE, New Orleans Saints

Olave averages 78 yards per game, 25 more yards than the next closest rookie in per game average. He’s now had six consecutive games with 50 or more receiving yards. In all, he hauled in 37 receptions for 547 yards and two touchdowns in seven games played this season. 

Two More To Consider:

  • RB Kenneth Walker III, Seattle Seahawks. Walker was the backup in Seattle for the first five weeks of the season, but as more attention is paid to the Seahawks, more notoriety is headed his way. His numbers: 85 carries, 461 yards, 5.4 yards per carry, and five touchdowns. He’s off to Glendale in Week 9 to face a Cardinals defense that’s allowed an average of 131 yards on the ground over their last three games.
  • RB Dameon Pierce, Houston Texans.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

OLB MICAH PARSONS, Dallas Cowboys

Parsons scored his first career touchdown last Sunday. His scoop and score as QB Justin Fields hurdled him instantly became one of the top highlights of the season. Overlooked was the other hurdle. Did you notice how Parsons avoided David Montgomery on his way to go get the loose football? Another example of his freakish athleticism. 

Two More To Consider:

  • DE Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers. Bosa is tied with Parsons with eight sacks on the season, good for second-most in the league. He owns his matchup in the trenches. 
  • OLB Za’Darius Smith, Minnesota Vikings. He’s the best defender no one is talking about…yet. His three-sack performance on Cardinals QB Kyler Murray propelled him to the NFL lead with 8.5 sacks on the season. The Vikings made one of the better moves in free agency last spring they signed Smith to a 3-year, $42 million deal after a contract with the Baltimore Ravens fell through. The move by Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was risky. Smith had a back injury that sidelined him for nearly all of the 2021 season. But the big bet has paid off in big moments, as Smith’s third sack on Murray came late in the 4th quarter as Arizona drove into Vikings territory. 

DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

CB SAUCE GARDNER, New York Jets

It says something when Robert Saleh openly dares NFL offenses to keep throwing at his rookie cornerback. He was targeted three times last week, allowing two catches for -4 yards. Even when the Jets lose, Gardner is great.

Two More To Consider:

  • CB Tariq Woolen, Seattle Seahawks. Woolen continues his steady play, but the only statistical category where he beats out Gardner is with his four interceptions.
  • CB Jack Jones, New England Patriots. He has not allowed a touchdown this season on 169 coverage snaps. Jones has allowed only 12 catches this season, but he must receive more playing time if he wants to remain in this weekly column. Right now the fourth-round pick, while effective and solid in coverage, averages 37 snaps a game in the Patriots defense. 

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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