There were a few pieces of hardware Indianapolis Colts personnel hoped to garner Saturday night at the NFL honors ceremonies. To name a few: ‘Coach of the Year’, ‘Comeback Player of the Year’, ‘Defensive Rookie of the Year’, ‘Offensive Line of the Year’, and an inductee to the Hall of Fame. Those were the ones that were realistic anyhow.
Coach of the Year went to the Bears; Matt Nagy, who did a fantastic job working with a team which went 5-11 last year, to 12-4 this year. And in the process, he has his up and coming quarterback making strides towards getting better. Nagy beat out other candidates by receiving 24 votes. Frank Reich did get mentioned, receiving 8 votes for his turn-around of a 4-12 Colts last year, to a 10-6 team this year.
Offensive Line of the Year was won by the Los Angeles Rams. Many Colts fans will recognize one of the names on this crew: Right guard Austin Blythe. After going to the Rams, this season Blythe played more than 1,100 offense snaps and did not give up a single sack. All 5 starters on the team played at least 1000 snaps, and that is one of the reasons for such a great year they had. Continuity in the offensive trenches is a must, to have consistent success in that area. The Colts were also hoping for hardware in this area but fell short in the votes. Indy allowed the least sacks in the NFL in only 18, and paved holes for the lead running back, Marlon Mack, to average 4.7 yards per carrying, and over 75 yards per game.
Eight people were inducted into the Hall of Fame. Running back Edgerrin James was a Colts name, who was on his third try in as many years. However, the third time is not always a charm, for he was not named to the Hall of Fame this year either. The inductees were: Champ Bailey, CB; Pat Bowlen, contributor; Gil Brandt, contributor; Tony Gonzalez, TE; Ty Law, CB; Kevin Mawae, C; Ed Reed, S; Johnny Robinson, S.
An Indianapolis player did, however, win the Comeback Player of the Year! Andrew Luck, Quarterback for the Colts missed the entire 2017 season, after multiple injuries, and shoulder surgery. There was a question whether or not he’d even be able to throw properly, let alone play to his former self of years past.
Andrew put many critics to rest after his first four games of the season when he had thrown 186 passes, and admitted to regular soreness, but not any pain. Many however got even more worried due to Luck being taken out of a game when it was time to throw a 55-yard Hail-Mary. Stating Luck obviously did not have his arm strength back. But Reich said: “Brissett just has a stronger arm.” Luck ended up throwing for career high’s in multiple categories this season. including a QBR of 98.7, and a completion percentage of 67.3. He also was second only to the NFL MVP: Patrick Mahomes, throwing 39 touchdown passes. Luck was a landslide victor in the award, gathering 44 of a possible 50 votes.
Many things went into Luck’s comeback. An improved offensive line, a quicker release, and Frank Reich’s play calls, all helped bring Andrew back into the spotlight, with a fresh outlook towards the game. Luck had ample time to throw compared to years past, though the new, quick passing attack, did not stress that area too often. But when a play was designed to go downfield, Luck more often than not, had plenty of room behind a solid wall of protection. And a running back stable that helped keep defenses honest, not pinning their ears back every play, expecting the pass, because of the inability to run the football.
With the Head Coach, offensive coordinator, and entire starting offensive line signed and expected to return again next year, many expect even greater things from Luck. Continuity is as important to success, as the talent of the players and coaches themselves.
Defensive Rookie of the Year! Yes, you read that right! After being snubbed for the Pro Bowl, Darius Leonard took home a pretty piece of hardware right after being named 1st team All-Pro.
Many new this race between Leonard and Derwin James would be close. Even Bradley Chubb was brought up a lot due to his sack numbers. But in the end, it was really only a race between Leonard and James. Of the 50 votes, Leonard got 29, James 20, and Chubb rounded out the last one.
Derwin was everywhere on the Chargers defense. His listed position is safety, But he played Corner and nickel linebacker often, in a way to keep James on the field, and in a position to make plays. Which he did in abundance. He finished the season with 105 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 13 passes defended, and 3 interceptions. But that only tells half the story. Derwin was a playmaker. Ending drives, and capping games, was something not out of the ordinary for the young safety.
But the other big-time playmaker was also known for ending drives, and capping games. With a league-leading 163 tackles, and 111 solos (also NFL leader), many tried to say; “Tackles are a meaningless statistic.” But Leonard was not just everywhere tackling everyone. As a WIL linebacker, he accrued 7 sacks, 10 passes defended, 4 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 2 interceptions, and 13 tackles for loss. He was a jolt of energy on a defense that has lacked it for many years. His play, and energy rubbed off on his teammates, making them play harder each and every play. He was part of a defense that was ranked 8th in rushing yards allowed, and 6th in yards per carry allowed. A far cry from the year previous, when the team, without him, ranked 26th in rushing yards per game allowed.
Darius Leonard came into the NFL with a chip on his shoulder. Considered too small of frame to make a real impact at linebacker, and coming from South Carolina State, not many gave him a chance to be successful in the professionals. But Cris Ballard drafted him where many considered a huge reach. Picked Number 36th overall, some called him being picked so high as “the worst pick in the draft.” But Ballard knew better. He saw a fiery competitor, who if given a chance, could make plays sideline to sideline. And Leonard did not let him down. In an interview on “NFL Today”, Leonard stated that his defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus has them do 300+ walk-through reps before every game. So during the game, this allows him to just read and react, using his speed and tenacity to make the play.
Other honors winners on Saturday included:
Pepsi Rookie of the Year: New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley
FedEx Air and Ground Players of the Year: Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes, New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley
AP Defensive Player of the Year: Los Angeles Rams DT Aaron Donald
Salute To Service Award Presented by USAA: Atlanta Falcons G Ben Garland
AP Offensive Rookie of the Year: New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley
AP Offensive Player of the Year: Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes
Game Changer Award presented by Gillette: Seattle Seahawks LB Shaquem Griffin
Moment of the Year: Aaron Rodgers comeback against Bears in Week 1
Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award: New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees
AP Assistant Coach of the Year: Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio
Bridgestone Clutch Performance Play of the Year: The Miami Miracle
Deacon Jones Award: Los Angeles Rams DT Aaron Donald
Touchdown Celebration of the Year: Seattle Seahawks — Choreography
Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year Award: Gabe Infante, St. Joseph’s Prep
Courtyard Unstoppable Performance of the Year: Los Angeles Rams QB Jared Goff
AP Most Valuable Player: Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes
Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year presented by Nationwide: Philadelphia Eagles DE Chris Long