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NFL Honors Watch: Early award leaders

October's arrival means only one thing: We no longer feel guilty talking about this season's MVP race.

Last year on Around The League, we broke down the top 10 candidates for the MVP award every week. This year, we're expanding the column to include the biggest awards that will be announced at NFL Honors in New York City on the night before the Super Bowl.

MVP

1. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
2. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
3. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
4. Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
5. J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

Honorable mention: LeSean McCoy, Philip Rivers

There is no rational argument against Manning, so it's a battle for No. 2 on the list. It was a tough decision on whether to put Brees or Graham higher. Graham isn't just the best tight end in the league; he's the most dominant receiver period.

Jamaal Charles is the Mariano Rivera of the NFL. The Chiefs practically have no offensive weapons with Dwayne Bowe not at his best, and Charles finds a way to close every game out with a huge clock-killing drive. He's second in the league in yards from scrimmage; LeSean McCoy is first. Even though the Eagles are 1-3, McCoy's return from injury against Kansas City was a signature performance.

Defensive Player of the Year


1. J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
2. Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints
3. Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks
4. Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions
5. Jason Hatcher, Dallas Cowboys
Honorable mention: Justin Houston, Robert Mathis

I wondered aloud before the season on the "Around The League Podcast" if Watt could keep up his ridiculous pace from a year ago. He's done it. There has been no discernible drop-off in his play. He's the most dominant defensive player since Lawrence Taylor and the most fun defensive player to watch of my lifetime.

It's hard for a cornerback to win this award, but Sherman has a legitimate chance if he mixes in a few big plays like his interception of Matt Schaub last week. Jordan, Suh and Hatcher have been the most consistent quarterback disrupters this year. Suh was getting it done even before his two-sack game against Chicago. Hatcher makes big plays every week. Jordan is showing off previously unseen pash-rush skills.

Coach of the Year


1. Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
2. Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints
3. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
4. John Fox, Denver Broncos
5. Jim Schwartz, Detroit Lions

This is a tough award to prematurely hand out. Reid and Payton get extra credit for the moves they made in the offseason at defensive coordinator. Reid is doing his best to make a lot out of a little on offense in Kansas City. If he turns a two-win team into a playoff squad, he could be tough to beat out for this award. Fox deserves a lot of credit for the work he's done with the Broncos' defense without Von Miller and Champ Bailey.

Offensive Rookie of the Year


1. Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
2. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
3. EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills

I'm limiting the candidates to three for now. Bernard is the only running back in the NFL to have at least half of his carries go for at least five yards. Hopkins is on pace for over 1,000 yards and essentially took over the game in Houston's win over Tennessee. Manuel has suffered through ups and downs like any rookie quarterback, but he gets credit for making a handful of tough throws to win games.

Defensive Rookie of the Year


1. Star Lotulelei, Carolina Panthers
2. Kiko Alonso, Buffalo Bills
3. Sheldon Richardson, New York Jets
4. Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona Cardinals
5. Ezekiel Ansah, Detroit Lions

There are a lot of great candidates on defense. I didn't even include Barkevious Mingo, who has three sacks. Ansah has more power than I expected. Alonso leads the league in interceptions and is always around the ball as a tackler. Lotulelei, however, has changed the entire Panthers' defense.

"He's not a star," Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy said last week. "He's a superstar. And this superstar is a beast. I see some crazy things for his future. When and if he does keep developing, he's going to be unstoppable."

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