Pro Football Focus' 2015 NFL awards
Awards week is upon us at Pro Football Focus, honoring the best performances in football this season. Below you’ll find a list of our staff’s picks for the traditional NFL awards (MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, etc.), as well as a slate of honors unique to PFF.
First, though, be sure to check out our All-Pro team, announced last week.
Now, without further adieu, here are are this season’s PFF award winners.
(Editor’s note: To view the full article highlighting each award winner, as well as four runners-up to each honor, click on the winner or the link below each award summary.)
Dwight Stephenson Award (Best Player)
Other players may have been more valuable to their teams, and some may have enjoyed more team success, but when you strip all of that away and search purely for the best player in the NFL, regardless of position, the name you come back with is: Aaron Donald. For the past three consecutive seasons, this award has been dominated by J.J. Watt, and so it’s fitting that it transitions to the second-year defensive tackle, who is the only player we have seen grade better than Watt since the Texan’s rookie season.
Most Valuable Player
MVP was a close-running debate between three quarterbacks for most of the season, but in the end, the success Palmer had within the scheme in Arizona was so beyond belief, from an efficiency standpoint, that he had to get the nod. Each of the candidates had his challenges to deal with throughout the season, but in the end, Palmer’s down-to-down play was too spectacular to ignore.
Offensive Player of the Year
There was no more spectacularly productive player in the NFL this season than Brown. Practically un-coverable, he spent the year destroying every scheme that was set up to try and contain him—from straight double-teams against Cleveland, to simply laying waste to one of the league’s best cornerbacks (Chris Harris, Jr.) in man-to-man coverage against Denver, Brown was dominant.
Defensive Player of the Year
In a year of standout defensive performances, nobody was better than Donald, who picked right up from his rookie season in which he was the best-graded defensive tackle. Donald rapidly developed into a player comparably rated with Watt—somebody we know to be a generationally transcending performer. Donald was the most disruptive defensive force in the NFL this season, and was one of the few candidates to neither miss time nor suffer a dip through injury.
Rookie of the Year
Though his season was punctuated by poor games, the good we saw from Jameis Winston puts him in rarified air when it comes to rookie players at the quarterback position. Despite three games that totaled -16.6 in grading (0.0 is average), he still ended the year with a strong positive grade, good enough to rank him 18th among NFL QBs in his first season of action.
Comeback Player of the Year
Returning to the NFL playing field after battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma makes Berry worthy of this award already—but to return better than ever and have arguably your best season as a pro is simply mind-blowing. Berry’s 2015 season was as good as any year of his career, and he performed at that level after having battled cancer as recently as the end of July.
Most Improved Player
Last season in Washington, Amerson seemed to be at the center of every coverage bust the defense had (and it had plenty). Oakland picked him up off the waiver wire in September, and he has been a top-15 cornerback ever since. Amerson allowed just one touchdown for Oakland this season, compared to 10 the year before in Washington.
Tyrod Taylor was signed to compete in a three-headed quarterback competition that looked horrendous on paper before the season began in Buffalo. He won the job, and ended the year ranked as the ninth-best quarterback in the game at PFF for 2015, with an overall grade of 81.8. Few passers had as many jaw-dropping throws as Taylor did this season.
Reggie White Award (Best Pass Rusher)
Other players generated more sacks and had a higher number of plays in which they pressured the quarterback, but nobody was more difficult to contain than Donald, who had a whole rake of plays in which he destroyed his blocker, but the ball was out quickly enough to prevent the play from ever becoming a pressure. Donald was the fiercest pass-rusher in football this season.
Ted Washington Award (Best Run Defender)
Harrison has now led all defensive tackles in run stop percentage for the past three consecutive seasons, and his 18.1 percent figure this year was the highest percentage we have ever seen from an NFL DT. Nobody defends the run better than “Big Snacks” at his best, and for most of this year, he was at his best.
Dick “Night Train” Lane Award (Best Coverage Defender)
We think of coverage as being limited to defensive backs, or even just corners, but Kuechly is the best coverage linebacker in the game, and was a game-changing force in that area for the Panthers this season. Carolina’s heart and soul on defense allowed a passer rating of just 57.8 into his coverage this year, compared to the average rating of 102.5 for all other linebackers.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
This wasn’t a vintage season for offensive rookie performances, with the wide receiver class in particular being decimated by injuries and robbed of several potential impact players. Winston was a star performer for much of the season, and only the inconsistency of some very poor games held him back from being ranked with the game’s better passers straight out of the gate.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
He didn’t have the interception totals of Marcus Peters, but he didn’t give up as many catches, touchdowns, or yards, either. Darby, on a down-to-down basis, was the better cornerback this season in a Buffalo defensive scheme that asks a lot of its corners (as does Kansas City’s). Darby finished the season as PFF’s third-ranked CB with an 87.1 season grade.
Don Hutson Award (Best Receiver)
Antonio Brown caught 136 passes for 1,841 yards and 10 touchdowns, and did it with Roethlisberger missing significant time throughout the season. His projected stats with a fully-healthy Roethlisberger would be 158 receptions (all-time record) for 2,114 yards (all-time record) and 15 touchdowns. This is the best receiver in the game having the best season of his career.
Bruce Matthews Award (Best Offensive Lineman)
Thomas is a force of consistency in the NFL. Despite rarely having a quarterback that makes his job any easier, Thomas regularly ranks among the league’s best in pass-protection, and once again is our highest-graded tackle, narrowly edging out Tyron Smith from the Cowboys. Thomas had the highest pass-blocking efficiency in the league this season.
Anthony Muñoz Award (Best Pass Protector)
Thomas has been the poster-boy for blindside pass protection since he entered the league, and has rarely been anything other than the best pass-blocking left tackle over that entire span. He once again led the NFL in pass-blocking efficiency, and allowed just 24 total pressures all season. Thomas only allowed his quarterback to hit the ground three times in over 1,100 snaps.
John Hannah Award (Best Run Blocker)
There has been no more underrated player in football this season than Minnesota’s center, Joe Berger. Berger started all year for an injured John Sullivan, and had an All-Pro-caliber season, dominating as a run-blocker up the middle for the Vikings.