The end of another regular season means not only playoffs but awards season too. Yesterday we announced our own All-Pro team and today it’s the turn of the major veteran awards of MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year.
Lacking the complexity and much of the subjectivity that has come to shadow the MVP award, the term “value” narrows the field somewhat. Offensive Player of the Year answers a very easy question: Simply who was the best offensive player in the entire league during the given season?
There is still some judgment to be made in terms of comparing players across positions, but unless you choose to read it in or set it as your criteria, there is no question of value or team success to consider here, just a straight judgment of the most outstanding performer on the offensive side of the ball this season.
With many top quality regular season performances to choose from in a league ever more tilting towards the offensive side of the ball, let’s not waste another second before we dive in and announce the Pro Football Focus Offensive Player of the Year and tip our hat to a trio deserving of recognition.
3rd Runner Up
Evan Mathis, G, Philadelphia Eagles
Nominating an offensive lineman is sure to raise eyebrows from some and ire from others. Unlike in baseball and hockey, the NFL’s specialists (for want of a better word) do not have their own award — NFL offensive linemen do not have their equivalent of the Vezina Trophy or the Cy Young award. Though the NFL doesn’t provide such an award and there aren’t the readymade statistics available for positional comparisons doesn’t mean that 45% of an offensive lineup should be excluded from the offensive player of the year award when grading every game, every player, every play shows that they are deserving of recognition.
Finally getting the wider credit he has deserved for a few seasons now, Evan Mathis is the epitome of a quality offensive lineman. Not focused on occasional dominance or what he “can do”, Mathis is marked by what he does consistently and that is control the man across from him and execute his assignment to a tee.
Some offensive linemen will have their rep built from the occasional highlight-reel block or one big performance, but Mathis’s consistency as a run blocker is what has separated him from his peers at guard in recent years and especially this season. While his pass protection may not have been in line with the very best this year, his run blocking was unparalleled.
Earning a positive grade in every single game this season, Mathis only earned a run block grade below +2.0 four times. By comparison, the league’s next-highest graded run blocker of 2013 (Mathis’ team-mate Todd Herremans) only earned a +2.0 or higher grade as a run blocker seven times and fellow Associated Press first team All-Pro guard Louis Vazquez only did it twice.
While he may not have the statistics to quantify how well he played this season, if you study the tape there is little doubt that he is right up there among the most consistently excellent offensive players in the entire NFL, a fact finally acknowledged with his first AP All-Pro selection to go with his three PFF All-Pro nominations.
2nd Runner Up
Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
After an impressive season making his comeback from an ACL injury in 2012, Charles was all the way back to his scintillating best this year (and consistently so) as he played a significant part in driving the Chiefs back to the postseason.
Never overworked as a runner through the regular season (never more than 22 carries in a single game) Charles got his yards every week and consistently broke tackles to pick up more than his offensive line gave him. His 41 missed tackles forced (even though he sat the final week of the season) are a career high by a distance (28 in 2010 and 2009) and, when paired with his speed to outrun tacklers, makes him a truly devastating offensive weapon.
The one time he was limited as a runner this season he put up a quartet of touchdowns through the air and 195 of his 693 receiving yards for the season against the Raiders. The league’s most targeted running back this season (95) Charles wasn’t just a volume receiver, he was among the league leaders in receiving yards per reception and broke a league high 22 tackles as a receiver (tied with Pierre Thomas) to give him 63 total missed tackles, fourth most in the entire league.
Though other backs may have had “bigger” individual games, Charles’ consistency when he was clearly the focal point of the Kansas City offense is one of the key factors in his candidacy for both Offensive Player of the Year and MVP. Topping 4 yards per carry in all but four regular season games, he broke multiple tackles on the ground in all but three games and with 20 carries that gained 15 yards or more he was one of a select group of backs who averaged more than one such carry per game.
After registering four negative rushing grades in six weeks from Week 2 to Week 7, Charles finished the season with eight straight positive rushing grades. The Chiefs needed Charles to deliver and he did so relentlessly, making him more than deserving of his place so high up the Offensive Player of the Year ballot.
1st Runner Up
LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
All of the talk entering the season was how Chip Kelly’s system on offense would work in the NFL and how the Eagles’ quarterbacks would be helped or hindered by it. As it happened, Nick Foles came in and ran it very well but the player that it melded most successfully and most spectacularly with was the NFL’s rushing champion, LeSean McCoy.
Laying down a marker in the season-opening Monday Night Football game, McCoy racked up 184 yards and broke nine tackles against the hapless Washington defense to get his 2013 off to a flying start. Taking full advantage of a ground game (both in terms of scheme and the offensive line clearing a path for him) that got him into space often, McCoy made things happen once he was there, finishing the year with 57 missed tackles forced as a runner and breaking off 26 carries that gained 15 yards or more, most in the league by half a dozen.
Pushing him close to the top was his performance when the Eagles needed it most to clinch the division title in the final month of the season. Three of McCoy’s seven 100-yard games came in the final month, including a memorable performance to lift the Eagles to victory in their snow bowl encounter with the Lions early in December. That day he forced eight missed tackles, gained 3.6 yards per carry after contact and crossed the goal line twice.
McCoy was the perfect fit for the Eagles’ offense this season and took full advantage of the excellent blocking from his offensive line especially in the final month of a spectacular season.
Offensive Player of the Year
Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos
No surprises here, no shock nomination to grab your attention; just the honest truth that everybody within and around the NFL knows, Peyton Manning was the best offensive player in football this season.
If you just look at the box score, the stats back it up. If you break down the stats a little, they still back it up. And if you stick the tape in and watch Manning throw the ball and orchestrate that Denver offense, that still backs it up. However you want to slice it, Peyton Manning was the very best offensive player in the NFL this season.
Opening the season setting a new single-game NFL record for passing touchdowns against the defending Super Bowl champions, the records continued to fall for Manning and though that game might have had the headline-grabbing seven scores, better performances followed.
We have seen plenty of talk in the last two seasons about Manning being on the decline physically and yet he still had the arm strength and ability to have the league’s second-best completion percentage (45.8%) on deep targets, ranking third on yards per attempt en route to a dozen touchdowns on throws aimed 20+ yards down the field. If Manning has lost some of his physical ability, he has been exceptional working around it.
At every turn this season Manning was fundamental to the Broncos’ offensive success and in a down season for consistently exceptional quarterback play, Manning was a class apart.
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