2012 PFF Offensive Player of the Year
It appears that the final ballot for three different major awards will come down to the same two players.
Not only have running back Adrian Peterson and quarterback Peyton Manning put up the best offensive seasons in the league, they did so while coming back from near career-ending injuries. They’re the only real candidates for Comeback Player of the Year, and they are clearly in the running for our MVP and Offensive Player of the Year awards as well.
In a league where offensive record books are being re-written on a yearly basis, particularly in the passing game, Peterson and Manning stood out among their peers as they left their injuries in their rearview mirrors. Peterson proved that his ability to run the ball actually may be more efficient that his own team’s passing game, while Manning’s re-birth in Denver has vaulted them to the top of the AFC.
Not to be overlooked is wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who broke Jerry Rice’s single-season record for receiving yards, and even QB Aaron Rodgers, who has taken a backseat after an predictable step back from his near-perfect performance from last season.
It’s time to take a look at the final three in our Offensive Player of the Year rankings, where two of the season’s biggest question marks answered their doubters loudly over the last 16 games.
Offensive Player of the Year
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Where to begin with Peterson’s accolades?
We can start with his falling a mere 9 yards short of Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2105 yards, and his +30.1 PFF grade is the best we’ve ever given to a running back. It should be noted that in our system, it’s near impossible for a running back to post anything like the gaudy numbers we’ve seen from players like J.J. Watt and Geno Atkins this season, but Peterson’s grade is comparable for his position.
The context of the numbers is incredible, especially given Minnesota’s limitations in the passing game. With every opposing team’s game plan keyed in on Peterson, he averaged 6.0 yards per carry with 67% of his yards coming after contact. He averaged a ridiculous 4.1 yards after contact, effectively still acting as a league average running back even after the defense got to him. Peterson led the league by forcing 69 missed tackles and ranked second in our Elusive Rating at 72.3.
To rush for 2,097 yards there have to be some big gains, and Peterson had his share of breakaway runs. He broke free for two 82-yarders, as well as three others of more than 60. Perhaps most impressive, though, was his ability to save his best performances for the end of the season. At the beginning of the year, it was amazing just to see him take a snap being only nine months removed from major knee surgery, but as the year wore on, he clearly got stronger. Minnesota’s playoff push was set squarely on his shoulders and he came through with 100-yard efforts in nine of his last 10 games, and went for over 200 twice in that span.
To top off the season, Peterson’s most valuable run was likely his last, as it set up a game-winning field goal that put the Vikings into the playoffs. He may be the only running back who can actually be the focal point of a two-minute drill, but as Minnesota was driving for the game-winning kick, it was Peterson who received four straight handoffs. On his final carry, he delivered the a 26-yard gain that set up Blair Walsh’s kick and Minnesota’s postseason ticket.
When it came down to crunch time, the Vikings ignored the clock and put the ball into the hands of their best playmaker, and our Offensive Player of the Year.
Flip the page to find the runners up…
First Runner Up
Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos
Similar to Peterson, Manning exceeded everyone’s expectations and ranked as our top quarterback this season at +54.7. There were questions early in the year about how he would bounce back from a neck injury that robbed him of his 2011 season, and those concerns were exacerbated even more in the first quarter of Week 2 when Manning threw three interceptions against the Atlanta Falcons. Since that quarter, however, he has been the model of consistency and has posted a positive grade in every other game except one.
Among the many attributes that has always made Manning a special quarterback is his ability to attack the entire field with equal effectiveness. On many throws it was still clear that his arm strength is not what it once was, but his anticipation and accuracy allowed him to exploit any type of coverage, even with throws down the field. His Deep Passing was at the top of the league for much of the season, and he finished second in Accuracy Percentage on throws of 20+ yards at 52.8%.
The raw numbers look good too, as Manning passed for 4,655 yards with 37 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions while ranking second in PFF QB Rating at 100.32. In addition, his overall impact on Denver’s offense can’t be overlooked. He took an offensive line that ranked second from the bottom in the league in Pass Blocking Efficiency in 2011 (73.6), and helped bring them up to No. 1 (87.7) on the strength of his quick release and decision making. Only Tom Brady got rid of the ball faster than Manning’s average of 2.50 seconds in the pocket and it’s a testament to his ability to adjust to a new team, system, and set of receivers while not missing a beat in production.
Perhaps we took for granted Manning’s greatness after a year away from the game, but he recaptured the top spot at quarterback, and had it not been for Peterson’s remarkable season he would have been Offensive Player of the Year as well.
Second Runner Up
Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions
It’s a tough year to break a record and get recognition given the comeback performances of Peterson and Manning, but Johnson was forced to take a backseat even after eclipsing Rice’s record for receiving yards in a season. He finished with 1,964 receiving yards to go along with a league-leading 122 receptions and, perhaps most impressive, an average of 16.1 yards per reception.
Like Peterson, Johnson’s production is even more impressive given his supporting cast. He lined up opposite a plethora of No. 2 wide receivers that came and went due to either injury or ineffectiveness. The rest of the receiving corps couldn’t match Johnson’s production, as they combined for only 99 receptions and Johnson’s frequent targets were reminiscent of the ‘Randy Ratio’ from Randy Moss’ Vikings days that ensured him a set number of looks in every game. The difference for Moss that year is that his production actually suffered a bit as it took him out of his comfort zone of playing down the field, but Johnson’s unique skill set allowed him to handle the extra workload. While he led the league with 21 catches on throws beyond 20 yards, his 199 targets were well-dispersed throughout the field.
One of the old adages in football is that receivers are a ‘dime a dozen’ since their production relies so much on the play of the quarterback. For the great quarterbacks this is true, as we often see the best signal-callers adjust to different receivers on a yearly basis without missing a beat. In Johnson’s case, however, we have to wonder where Matthew Stafford would be without Johnson’s presence in the Detroit offense.
Calvin Johnson’s ability to produce at a high level despite Stafford’s inconsistency and opposing defenses keying in on him helped him capture the third spot on our Offensive Player of the Year list.
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