Choosing the NFL award winners

Published Dec. 28, 2014

As the NFL's regular season ends today with a full slate of games, it's time to reflect on the top performers of 2014. Here are our (occasionally unconventional) picks for the league's annual awards:

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Houston DE J.J. Watt. It's hard to imagine the award going to someone who isn't a quarterback or running back, but Watt makes a compelling case, despite playing on a team that might not make the playoffs. He has been undeniably dominant on a defense allowing fewer than 20 points per game; Pro Football Focus estimates Houston would have the league's fifth-worst defense without Watt. He's second in the league in sacks (17.5), leads all linemen with 10 passes defensed and has as many fumble recoveries as five entire teams and as many touchdowns (five) as LeSean McCoy.

IN THE MIX: Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers, Dallas QB Tony Romo, New England QB Tom Brady

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Dallas RB DeMarco Murray. He has competition on his own team — Romo leads the league in passer rating — but Murray has starred. A 2,000-yard season remains possible, and he needs 155 today to become the ninth player in league history to rush for 1,900 in a season. Cowboys Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith never accomplished that.

IN THE MIX: Rodgers, Romo, Pittsburgh RB Le'Veon Bell, Denver QB Peyton Manning


IN THE MIX: Kansas City LB Justin Houston, Seattle CB Richard Sherman, Denver LB Von Miller, Carolina LB Luke Kuechly

OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Cowboys G Zack Martin. Pro Football Focus has graded him out as the top player on Dallas' offense, and he's the only offensive rookie in the Pro Bowl. He has been pivotal to the success of Murray and Romo. Martin isn't as glamorous as the Bucs' Mike Evans and the rest of the loaded receiver class, but he's deserving.

IN THE MIX: Evans, Giants WR Odell Beckham, Cincinnati RB Jeremy Hill, Carolina WR Kelvin Benjamin

DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Ravens LB C.J. Mosley. The Pro Bowler has totaled three sacks as an inside linebacker and is seventh in the league in tackles (126) on the NFL's fourth-ranked defense. That's enough to edge the other rookie Pro Bowler on defense, Aaron Donald, the future star interior lineman for St. Louis.

IN THE MIX: Donald, Oakland LB Khalil Mack, San Francisco LB Chris Borland

COACH OF THE YEAR: Arizona's Bruce Arians. Arizona has lost its top two quarterbacks, plus a handful of linebackers … but has still found a way to make the postseason. The fact that the Cardinals could still somehow win the NFC West is a testament to Arians' coaching.

IN THE MIX: New England's Bill Belichick, Dallas' Jason Garrett

COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR: New England TE Rob Gronkowski. The Pro Bowler blew out his knee last season and started slowly in 2014, too. But no tight end (or Patriot) has more catches (82), yards (1,124) or touchdowns (12), and he has been New England's most important player not named Tom Brady.

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IN THE MIX: Atlanta WR Julio Jones, Philadelphia WR Jeremy Maclin, Miller

Contact Matt Baker at Follow @MBakerTBTimes.