PFF’s 2016 NFL season award winners

Pro Football Focus reveals the 2016 NFL season award winners, including Best Player, Rookie of the Year, and more.

| 4 months ago
Pro Football Focus' 2016 NFL awards

PFF’s 2016 NFL season award winners

With the Super Bowl teams set, it’s time to reflect on the year that was and recognize the fantastic play from the 2016 NFL season, rewarding the achievement of players that put it all on the line every week.

These awards are given to the outstanding NFL performer in each category throughout the regular season — postseason play not included— a nd strive to recognize the best the league had to offer this year. So, from the best overall player in the game to some more specialized awards, let’s take a look at the winners this season:

Best Player

Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

2016 PFF Best Player: Tom Brady

We can talk about schedule, missed games through suspension, and anything else you want to bring up, but the bottom line is that Tom Brady posted the best PFF season grade of any QB ever (99.3 in the regular season) over the past decade of play-by-play analysis once he got on the field. The NFL’s MVP award causes many people to get tied in knots over defining and weighing “value” among NFL players, but Tom Brady was the best player in the game this season, and deserves to receive an award that PFF previously named in honor of Hall of Fame Miami Dolphins center Dwight Stephenson. Brady threw just two interceptions all season, and recorded an adjusted completion percentage of 79.5 when accounting for drops, spikes, etc. Other players had excellent seasons in 2016, but nobody was better than New England’s Tom Brady. Read more…

Runners-up: Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams; Landon Collins, S, New York Giants

Defensive Player of the Year

Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams

PFF Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Donald

With “only” eight sacks this season, Aaron Donald’s year flew under the radar somewhat, and while he wasn’t quite as dominant as he was a season ago, the Los Angeles defensive tackle was still by far the most disruptive and impactful defensive lineman in the league, and the best defender in the game. He ended the season with 82 total QB pressures, five more than any other interior defender and tied for second-most in the entire NFL. Only Oakland’s Khalil Mack notched more total pressures over the season, and he plays as an edge defender, where pressure is easier to come by. Mack and New York Giants safety Landon Collins were in the running for this award in a tight race, but Donald was just so far removed from the rest of his peers that he earns the final nod. Read more…

Runners-up: Landon Collins, S, New York Giants; Khalil Mack, DE, Oakland Raiders

Offensive Player of the Year

Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

PFF Offensive Player of the Year: Tom Brady

In case you were wondering, the best player in the NFL was also the best player on offense. Tom Brady’s mastery of the Patriots’ offense and efficiency of passing this season was peerless. His interception rate on the season was just 0.5 percent, the third-best mark in NFL history, and he threw four more touchdown passes than the two players ahead of him (Damon Huard in 2006 and Josh McCown in 2013) put together. Quarterbacks often strive for mistake-free football, and this season from Brady may be as close as anybody has ever come to actually achieving that. Read more…

Runners-up: Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons; Marshal Yanda, G, Baltimore Ravens

Best Passer

Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

2016 PFF Best Passer: Tom Brady

This ended up being a great season for quarterback play. Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck put together the best season of his career after returning from one he would rather forget, and several other players recorded career-highs, including the presumptive NFL MVP, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan. Ryan’s season, in fact, was so good that he was a legitimate challenger for Brady; Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers would have been, as well, had he not been in a relative funk for the first third of the season. Any one of these three QBs would have made worthy winners of PFF’s Best Passer award, but in the end, Brady’s consistent excellence over the season once he returned from suspension was too remarkable to overlook, even for a player like Ryan, who had no such missing time in his year. Read more…

Runners-up: Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons; Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

Best Runner

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys

PFF 2016 Best Runner: Ezekiel Elliott

Ezekiel Elliott didn’t make it all the way to Eric Dickerson’s rookie rushing record of 1,808 rushing yards, but he did eclipse the rookie marks of Barry Sanders, Earl Campbell, Edgerrin James and Adrian Peterson, among others, each of whom was a pretty useful back in their day. Elliott finished the year as the league’s leading rusher, and did much of the work himself, averaging almost 3 yards per carry after contact and sustaining his excellent performance despite a huge workload. Elliott also led the league in carries, with 322 — 23 more than the next-highest figure — and averaged 5.1 yards per carry over the year. This was a good year for backs at the sharp end of the league, but none was better than Elliott. Read more…

Runners-up: Jay Ajayi, RB, Miami Dolphins; David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals

Best Receiver

David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals

PFF 2016 Best Receiver: David Johnson

The first of our awards that spans multiple positions sees Arizona Cardinals RB David Johnson earn an award most would expect to go to a wide receiver. Johnson’s work as a receiver for the Cardinals this season, however, was spectacular. Only Larry Fitzgerald had more targets, receptions and receiving yards than Johnson for Arizona this year, as he racked up 80 catches (most among RBs) for 879 yards (most among RBs), forcing 27 missed tackles after the catch to gain that yardage (again, most among RBs). Johnson actually finished the season with the highest PFF receiving grade (92.6) of any player at any position, narrowly edging Mike Evans and Julio Jones at wide receiver. Read more…

Runners-up: Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons

Best Offensive Lineman

Marshal Yanda, G, Baltimore Ravens

Best Offensive Lineman: Marshal Yanda

Many offensive linemen have talked about the difficulty of switching positions from the left to right side of the offensive line. To achieve it seamlessly is impressive over an offseason, but to do it over the course of a season without skipping a beat is extraordinary, and that’s exactly what Marshal Yanda was able to do for the Ravens when injuries struck. Yanda played like the best guard in the game on the right side for six games before doing exactly the same thing on the left side for seven, with only injury preventing him from having the chance to really distance himself from the chasing pack. Read more…

Runners-up: Trent Williams, LT, Washington Redskins; Travis Frederick, C, Dallas Cowboys

Best Offensive Line

Tennessee Titans

PFF 2016 Best Offensive Line: Tennessee Titans

The state of offensive line play in the NFL today is less about a league-wide issue, but more about the “haves” and the “have nots.” The top few O-lines this season were all excellent, with the standard being so good that Dallas was forced into second place in our end-of-season rankings, and would have been passed by Pittsburgh if those rankings continued into the playoffs. The Tennessee Titans, though, were the surprise unit of the season, with outstanding performances coming from a group that had no weakness. Rookie Jack Conklin was good enough to earn a spot as PFF’s All-Pro right tackle, while Taylor Lewan on the other side had a career year. The interior trio of Quinton Spain, Josh Kline and Ben Jones all had good seasons in run blocking and pass protection, as well. Click for PFF’s 2016 season offensive line rankings.

Runners-up: Dallas Cowboys; Pittsburgh Steelers

Best Pass Protector

David Bakhtiari, LT, Green Bay Packers

Best Pass Protector: David Bakhtiari

Coming into this season, David Bakhtiari was an average offensive tackle who was pretty good in pass protection, but struggled as a run blocker. This year, he vastly improved in all areas, and was charged for fewer total pressure (23 combined sacks, hits and hurries) than his own quarterback (24 total for Aaron Rodgers) was over the season. Given that Rodgers held the ball longer on average than every QB in the league outside of Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor, Bakhtiari’s performance as a pass protector was astounding, and earned him the highest PFF pass-blocking grade (93.4) of any offensive tackle. Over the entire season, and including the playoffs, he was responsible for Aaron Rodgers hitting the ground just four times.

Runners-up: Marshal Yanda, G, Baltimore Ravens; Andrew Whitworth, LT, Bengals

Best Run Blocker

Travis Frederick, C, Dallas Cowboys

2016 PFF Best Run Blocker: Travis Frederick

This may have been the closest and most hotly contested award of the season, with PFF’s analysts having to go through several rounds of knock-down, drag-out arguments to finalize it, but in the end, the range and versatility of the blocks Cowboys center Travis Frederick was asked to make within the Dallas running scheme is what earned him the award over the brute power of LT Donald Penn (Raiders) and consistent performances of C Alex Mack (Falcons). Frederick may be the most important member of that Cowboys’ offensive line, and was a big reason for the success of RB Ezekiel Elliott on the ground this season. Read more…

Runners-up: Donald Penn, LT, Oakland Raiders; Alex Mack, C, Atlanta Falcons

Best Pass-Rusher

Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams

2016 PFF Best Pass-Rusher: Aaron Donald

There was no more relentless and consistent pass-rusher than Los Angeles’ Aaron Donald this season. While Oakland’s Khalil Mack and Denver’s Von Miller may have recorded more game-defining plays, Donald was generating quick pressure more often than anybody, and to post more total pressure than all but two edge defenders in the league as a full-time defensive tackle is a ridiculous achievement. Donald was able to generate decisive pressure once every 8.7 pass rushes this season; the next best mark among interior defenders came from Arizona’s Calais Campbell at once every 18 rushes. 71 percent of Donald’s pressure was decisive in nature (graded at +1 or better on PFF’s cumulative scale, taking into account speed and nature of the block defeated), with no other interior defender even surpassing 50 percent on the season. Read more…

Runners-up: Khalil Mack, DE, Oakland Raiders; Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos

Best Run Defender

Damon Harrison, DT, New York Giants

2016 PFF Best Run Defender: Damon Harrison

This is now the second season PFF has given an award for the best run defender in the game, and it has yet to go to anybody other than Damon Harrison, who retains the award despite moving teams and changing defensive scheme in the offseason. Harrison is on another level when it comes to defending the run, notching 49 stops against the run — 10 more than any other defensive tackle. In fact, only eight other DTs were able to record more than half the total Harrison did over the season, and his run-stop percentage was some distance clear at the top of the field. Harrison has the ability to single-handedly transform a run defense. Read more…

Runners-up: Bobby Wagner, LB, Seattle Seahawks; Michael Bennett, DE, Seattle Seahawks

Best Coverage Defender

Aqib Talib, CB, Denver Broncos

PFF 2016 Best Coverage Defender: Aqib Talib

Aqib Talib was the best cover corner in the NFL this season and the best player at any position when it came to coverage. He didn’t allow a touchdown all season, and when targeted, surrendered a passer rating of just 49.5 (second in the NFL). In total, Talib gave up just 351 receiving yards from 66 targets, surrendering 35 catches to receivers and not allowing a reception longer than 26 yards all season. His teammate, Denver cornerback Chris Harris Jr. was also in the running, but he surrendered three scores over the year and often saw Talib taking a tougher matchup in terms of opposing receiver. Read more…

Runners-up: Chris Harris Jr., CB, Denver Broncos; Devin McCourty, S, New England Patriots

Comeback Player of the Year

Cameron Wake, DE, Miami Dolphins

PFF 2016 Comeback Player of the Year: Cameron Wake

Tearing an Achilles tendon is one of the most severe injuries an NFL player can suffer. It’s an injury that affects the very core athleticism that players rely upon, and to come back from such a setback and be successful is an achievement. Cameron Wake didn’t just come back and perform well, but went straight back to being one of the league’s most devastating pass-rushers, winning back the starting job that had been handed to Mario Williams at the beginning of the season. Wake was eased back into playing time, but proved too dominant to keep off the field, ending the year with the fifth-highest PFF pass-rushing grade (87.2) among all edge defenders. Read more…

Runners-up: Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts; Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers

Breakout Player

Landon Collins, S, New York Giants

PFF 2016 Breakout Player: Landon Collins

The transformation of Landon Collins from his rookie season to his sophomore campaign was one of the stories of the year, and highlights the difference between the various roles that are all labelled together simply as “safety.” As a rookie, Collins looked lost deep in the middle of the field as the Giants’ free safety, but when moved closer to the line of scrimmage in 2016, he became a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, able to assert himself in all facets of the game. Collins notched four sacks, five interceptions and 46 defensive stops — eight more than any other safety — in what was truly a breakout season of epic proportions. Read more…

Runners-up: Vic Beasley, OLB, Atlanta Falcons; A.J. Bouye, CB, Houston Texans

Rookie of the Year

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys

Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliott

There were some excellent rookie seasons on display in 2016, but Ezekiel Elliott led the NFL in rushing (1,631 yards), and was more than 300 yards clear of the chasing field. Elliott had the benefit of the Dallas offensive line blocking for him, but he also averaged 2.9 yards per carry after contact — the same as Tampa Bay RB Doug Martin’s averaged total per carry. Elliott also chipped in with 32 receptions, catching 86.5 percent of the passes thrown his way and dropping only one as he proved to be an every-down back for the Cowboys right out of the gate. Even in their losing playoff effort against Green Bay, the former Ohio State Buckeye posted 125 rushing yards on 22 carries as one of the team’s best players. Read more…

Runners-up: Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys; Jack Conklin, RT, Tennessee Titans; Joey Bosa, DE, San Diego Chargers

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • Phong Ta

    I get that David Johnson adds a lot as a receiver but I can’t help but feel like he still shouldn’t be the pick over guys like Julio Jones and Mike Evans

    They were consistently being double teamed/bracketed/faced No.1 CBs while Johnson was getting his receiving numbers against far less talented cover men like LBs or Safeties, and wasn’t being double-teamed every play on top of it

    • Malachi

      all of which is taken to account by PFF in their grading…

  • dlund6cutler

    And the worst luck goes to THE CHICAGO BEARS with there 19 players on IR.

    • Alec

      Chargers had 26 :(

      • dlund6cutler

        Damn, I guess were in second then.

    • Troy J Orourke

      thats peanuts compared to the Giants 3yrs in a row, before this one.

    • Rolo Tomassi

      The schedule maker Howie Katz set them up.
      He works for the Green Bay Packers

      • JimmyCrackCorn

        Yeah, the Packers had so much luck with injuries and the schedule.

        • Kirbymonic

          We literally had a Defensive lineman playing Gaurd

    • Fuqu

      Their not there, dumbass

      • Fishingpro


        • Dan Moore

          No, their.

        • Kevin

          THE CHICAGO BEARS with they are 19 players on IR.

      • Yahhhmon

        Uncalled for namecalling.

    • crosseyedlemon

      But even if the Bears had no one on IR it means we win maybe 3 more games and that would make the season even more depressing (if possible). CUBS won a championship and Blackhawks playing very well so Chicagoans have a lot to be thankful for.

  • Samuel Charles

    Aaron Donald is great, but the Rams finished 4-12 (and his defense was 22nd in the NFL, and the Rams allowed more points than either of the runners-up).

    Giants/Landon Collins finished 11-5, while the Raiders and Khalil Mack finished 12-4.

    Mack led the NFL in Forced Fumbles/Fumble Recoveries combined, with EIGHT, Donald totaled just two. Mack also had an int for a touchdown. Collins had a FR, five INTs and a TD. (Donald had just two FF’s, zero FRs, zero INTs and zero TDs!!!!)

    I realize PFF tries to break out individual performance by grades etc, but there’s no way to justify naming a guy DPOY when the Rams finished 4-12, their defense was a big part of the problem — and Donald didn’t play in a single meaningful game all season.

    • JimmyCrackCorn

      It’s not an arbitrarily assigned valuable player award though, the meaningfulness of the games is, well, meaningless. He was their best defensive player, nothing more nothing less.

      • Samuel Charles

        Just now seeing these responses, i understand all this, but take a look at the stats i cited about game-changing plays. Mack completely dominates Donald. (And while it’s great that PFF is consistent from game-to-game, if anyone is pretending that plays in the first quarter have the same impact on a team’s chances of winning as plays in the 4th quarter — that person is a moron, and wrong. Mack had three strip-sacks that essentially ended games, Donald… nope.)

        Not only that, Mack played on an inferior defense to Donald. The Raiders had the fewest sacks in the NFL, not including Mack… they totaled 14 all season.

        Mack had more pressures, the fact Donald was even close is a testament to how great he is, but to hide behind “that’s how PFF has always done it” is just stupid. PFF purports to provide cutting-edge analysis, but a 4-year-old can tell you that plays at end of games have infinitely more affect on winning & losing than plays in the 4th quarter, this is an enormous hole in this analysis… as is the fact there’s ZERO mention of Donald providing almost no splash plays, turnovers etc.

        You know, the plays that actually win football games (which i thought was the goal).

        Again, Mack led the NFL in combined Forced Fumbles/Fumble Recoveries with EIGHT. Mack also had an int for a touchdown.

        For the entire season, Donald, aka PFF’s DPOY, totaled just two FF’s.

        He had ZERO fumble recoveries, ZERO INTs and ZERO touchdowns.

        That’s 10 to 2, ignoring the fact Mack had more pressures and more sacks (on a team with the least sacks in the NFL).

        Donald’s great, this award is unwarranted.

    • Rick

      Yeah, that’s not how PFF works. They grade individual players by looking at the tapes and how the players do at their particular assignments. In spite of being on one of the weaker teams in the NFL, and the team with the weakest offense in the league, Aaron Donald had a measurable impact on the game. But their defense was as good as or even better than the two Super Bowl participants (going by the rankings at Football Outsiders).

      • Samuel Charles

        See above.

  • Dan Moore

    Now PFF has Zeke-E fever? Can’t agree with this. For a moment remember even a completely worn-out McFadden easily went 1,000 yards plus behind the Dallas o-line last year despite only starting 10 games there (and yes, “there” is correct). He was running behind the PFF #2 o-line (and I’m guessing the #1 running o-line) in all of football.
    Even his teammate Zak had a better year playing a far more difficult position. Bad choice picking Zeke-E. Put him behind the Giants o-line and most fans wouldn’t even know his name.

    • Daniel Myers

      I don’t know about Dak having a better year, his numbers were pretty average. But I agree that they are giving Zeke too much credit

      • Malachi

        dak had the best rookie year of any QB ever…

        • Daniel Myers

          By record yes. By stats? Not even close

          • Malachi

            by stats is what i meant, specifically passer rating, because by record it would be big ben still

  • Nicardo Neil

    I find it interesting that PFF names Tom Brady the Best Player, Offensive Player of the Year AND Best Passer (as well as their First Team All Pro QB selection) and yet ranks him as their 3rd MVP candidate behind Ryan and Rodgers. Some cognitive dissonance there I think, no?

    • Preying Mantis

      The Pats had a monster defense this year. Falcons and the Pack made it on the strength of their passers alone.

      • Double O

        Th Pat’s play complimentary ball, a concept they have employed for years and yet none of the other teams understand. This means the offense helps the defense by limiting the other team’s opportunities. And visa versa. If you watched the end of the first half between the Pats and Pitts game, you’d understand. Alt held GB to how many points in the first half?

        • Albert Heisenberg

          Great point. I’ve been saying this for years, people don’t understand how much of an effect an offense can help a defense by moving the chains and limiting the opposing offenses’ possessions.

      • Albert Heisenberg

        They don’t have a “monster” year, they’ve played two decent QBs all regular season and they rank outside the top 5 in total defense.

        Matt Ryan lit them up for 28 in the Super Bowl in 42 plays.

        The Patriots play complimentary football, something both Parcells and Gibbs understood VERY well and something most teams (*the Atlanta Falcons) do not. Moving the chains consistently keeps your defense off the field.

    • PFFSamMonson

      This is why MVP is a silly concept. Patriots went 3-1 without him, it’s tough to make his ‘value’ case over a guy like Ryan.

      • crosseyedlemon

        You can devalue a player because the team manages to win while he is out or you could just accept that the coaches are earning their money and doing an excellent job of dealing with the situation while getting others on the roster to up their game.

    • Rob

      The Patriots with Jimmy Garoppolo would still be contenders.
      The Falcons with Matt Schaub would probably have a top 5 pick in the draft.

      That’s why Matt Ryan is the Most Valuable Player.

      • Larry

        Top 5 pick? That’s silly. They have the most explosive weapons. Matt Ryan didn’t just go from an OK QB to MVP contender overnight by himself.

        • Joseph Greene

          Matt Ryan didn’t start from being an OK QB.

      • Nicardo Neil

        Your argument is just as silly as the one that claims Brady is a “system” QB because the patriots won 11 games in 2008 when he was injured. What people who make that argument don’t tell you is that that same team went from being 16-0 and a fluke catch away from being perfect to winning 5 games less and missing the playoffs. The difference was BRADY. A team that averaged 37 points and 411 yards per game and was considered the most dominant offence in history, averaged 25 points and 365 yards without Brady (that’s 12 points less in case you don’t do math). IN those first four games the Patriots didn’t win because Brady isn’t valuable. They won because Belichick and the Pats staff are the best in the league and had an entire off-season to prepare the team for those first 4 games. In those games the Pats averaged 20 ppg. In the 12 with Brady they averaged 30 ppg (that’s 10 more points in case, you know. Math.). The difference is BRADY. He is the MVP and the best QB in the league.

    • Albert Heisenberg

      Games Played matters I suppose. Either way, Brady should’ve won MVP. No Gronk and he balled out like a man possessed.

  • penile implant

    Why is Beasley a runner up for breakout player? He graded similarly last year. Cannon over him.

  • crosseyedlemon

    The Walter Payton Man of the Year award is the only one that interests me and I’m hoping Larry Fitzgerald wins that.

  • crosseyedlemon

    I hope I’m not the only one who sees the irony in the Olympic committee revoking medals. Their own judges have been caught in numerous scandals and the top people in the organization have been investigated for financial corruption.


    Brady was not caught cheating in anything, science and the details of the investigation exonerated him, the evidence is overwhelming in his favor, everyone knows the ex-NY Jets heavy Commissioners office, all with personal dealings and hatred with Belichick were out to get the Patriots and railroaded him. When the commissioner has to tell blatant lies to defend his case pretty obvious what’s going on. You have to be pretty ignorant at this point to believe Brady was guilty.

    • Double O

      It’s less that a fart’s worth of gas. Whether they did or didn’t, it shouldn’t have been a big deal. ARod admitted he overinflated the ball, they didn’t penalize him. The Falcons were caught red handed pumping up fake crowd noise and barely any media covered that. The Colts did the same. Heck, it’s a big deal that the Pats ran legal formations and legal plays that confused the Ravens.


    Great comeback but there are over 100 scientists to back up Brady’s innocence, there is not 1 single piece of evidence pointing to his guilt, zero, nada, nothing

  • cool

    No Jimmy G for CBPOTY? Patellar tendons are usually career ending and the dude had a more than decent season at TE even with the seahawks inability to use to him correctly.

  • Rick

    You think a dozen scientists from institutes around the country, working for no fee (unlike Exponent), were “all bought and paid for”?

    The scientific refutation is fairly simple for anybody with a firm grasp of high school chemistry, where the gas laws are typically taught. When temperature drops, air pressure goes down. When it increases, air pressure goes up.

    “Everyone” who knows science knows that _nobody_ “did it”.

  • Ron Morisseau

    Breakout player of the year
    Jay Ajayi was the single reason the Dolphins made the playoffs
    Last season he had 187 yards rushing with 1 td
    this season he had 1272 yards rushing with 8 tds starting 12 games

    • Nelson Cobb

      That BS!!! He had a handful of big games, and that was really it. Rest of the time he was pretty much mediocre. Over his last 8 games, he had 1 game over 100+ yards, and only 3 total TDs. If you take out that 1 game where he went for over 200 vs Buffalo in the last 8, over the other 7, 120 carries, just 420 yards and just 3.5 ypc with 2 TDs. But he was the single reason the Dolphins made the playoffs???

  • Ray

    This is a joke,did Chris”Im gay” Collinsworth put this together??

  • Josh Broski

    Le’Veon Bell??

    • Malachi

      best shitty rapper award

  • crosseyedlemon

    So your saying if 100 people all conclude the Earth is flat then they all have been paid to be part of a conspiracy?

  • Malachi

    aaron donald is only one player