I'm one of the 50 voters for the NFL awards, and I take the responsibility seriously. After all, when you have MVP stamped on your permanent resume, it's a legacy changer.
Now, the choice wasn't easy. This year was unique. I think you can make an intelligent argument for multiple candidates to take home the hardware. However, the voting process isn't like it is in baseballor basketball -- as much as I wish it was (and I have voiced that sentiment). I wish I could vote for five candidates on a weighted system, giving Carr 10 points for a first-place vote, with four points going to Matt Ryan for second place, followed by Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Ezekiel Elliott. But I don't make the rules.
To vote for the award, you send an email to The Associated Press with one name next to "MVP." And I sent in Derek Carr.
The fact is, no player in the NFL was more responsible for his team's achievement -- and overachievement -- this year than Carr. His numbers (28 touchdowns against just six picks, with 3,937 passing yards) were excellent, though he was clearly outpaced by other quarterbacks. But Carr's year wasn't about stats. It was about value. It was about fourth-quarter play and carrying the Raiders to 12 wins.
If you watched the games, you know Ryan and Brady were arguably more dominant. Rodgers' final six weeks were dreamy and iconic. Zeke gave the Cowboys' offense and defense a huge lift, leading Dallas to the No. 1 seed. But Carr meant everything to a Raiders team that was in major need of a great player and leadership at quarterback.
Oakland morphed from an annual loser to a dynamite, clutch Super Bowl contender because of Carr, who led the Raiders to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. That's kind of a huge deal. His talent and performance under pressure gave the team's culture a boost it desperately required. Looking back, the entire season screams Derek Carr, MVP.
He put an early stamp on the award (and the 2016 campaign) by beating the Saints on the road in Week 1 -- turning heads before the Raiders were ready for prime time by leading a fourth-quarter rally, then hitting Michael Crabtree on a fade to reward coach Jack Del Rio's gamble to go for two. Next, Carr guided the Raiders to road wins on the previously dreaded East Coast, beating the Titansin Week 3 and ripping apart the Ravensin Week 4. He showed off magic in a Week 5 win against San Diego and threw for a franchise-best 513 yards to overcome his teammates' record-setting penalty output (23 for 200 yards!) against the Buccaneersin Week 8.
There were the statement wins against the defending champion Broncosin Week 9 and the defensively stout Texans in Mexico City in Week 11. And are we going to pretend the comeback win on Thanksgiving weekend against the Panthers -- with Carr dislocating his pinky finger before orchestrating a majestic fourth quarter -- didn't happen?
The media elite likes to discuss the Thursday night no-show in Kansas City in Week 14. That's fair, as it was clearly Carr's worst game of the season (117 yards, 2.9 yards per attempt, zero TDs, 49.1 passer rating). But it was also a road game on a short week. Facing a great Chiefs team in Arrowhead -- the toughest place to play in the NFL -- with a jacked-up pinky isn't easy. And how about what Carr did the week before in a win against Buffalo (97.3 passer rating) or the week after in a win against the Chargers (81.7)? That was sheer brilliance playing through pain.
Remember Ryan's dreadful "going home" game against Philadelphia? Or Zeke's two fumbles on the road against the Redskins? How about Matthew Stafford's dud in Chicago? Or Rodgers' 4-6 start? And while I've been very outspoken against Brady's suspension, it happened; whatever the reason, he missed four games. I can't pretend otherwise.
Oakland's 26th-ranked defense simply isn't that good. The defensive backfield is inept. The running backs are pedestrian. Crabtree had slipped into journeyman status before Carr turned him around, helping him produce his first 1,000-yard season since 2012. Yes, Khalil Mack might be the most talented Raider, pound for pound. But nobody in the NFL equaled wins and meant more to his team than Carr. The quarterback made the 2016 Raiders. You saw that for the 15 weeks he was there -- and you saw what happened in the one week he wasn't.
With Carr, Oakland was on course for a date with the Patriots on Championship Sunday. Without Carr, who broke his fibulain Week 16, the Raiders were rudderless and grotesque against Denver in Week 17, and they have no chance of making a postseason run. The utterly embarrassing display in the 24-6 loss proved what we've seen all year long: Derek Carr is the heart and soul of this team.
It was a crazy year. I wouldn't criticize a vote for Ryan. Rodgers had a finish that felt like Miguel Tejada winning the 2002 AL MVP award down the stretch, securing the NFC North title with out-of-this-world play. Brady is the best ever. Zeke had an iconic rookie season. And you will see how I honored them and those around them below.
But it's my honor to recognize Carr's value, which goes way beyond the stat page and your fantasy team.
If you watched, you get it. If you didn't, you missed it all.
Here's how I voted for the rest of this year's awards:
Defensive Player of the Year: Khalil Mack, DE, Oakland Raiders. No defender had a classic year, but Mack was clutch and dominant, collecting 11 sacks, five forced fumbles and a pick-six. He gets the nod, as we predicted he would in the preseason, over Atlanta's Vic Beasley, Seattle's Bobby Wagner and Tampa Bay's Gerald McCoy.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Joey Bosa, DE, San Diego Chargers. Even after missing games after his self-serving holdout, Bosa stepped in and dominated for San Diego, racking up 10.5 sacks and a forced fumble in 12 appearances. Atlanta's Keanu Neal and Jacksonville's Jalen Ramsey were solid this year, too.
Comeback Player of the Year: Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers. Back from ACL surgery, Rodgers' go-to receiver found the end zone 14 times this season and served as the top pass catcher during the Green Bay rebirth. Miami's Cameron Wake and Tennessee's DeMarco Murray (who came back from playing for Chip Kelly) were high on the list, too.
Assistant Coach of the Year: Kyle Shanahan, offensive coordinator, Atlanta Falcons. Another brilliant job by Shanahan, balancing the pass and run in Atlanta and guiding Ryan to the best season of his career. Next stop for him should be a position as a head coach. Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was a close second.