The following item is excerpted from the latest edition of Albert Breer's exclusive Inside the NFL Notebook:
This week, I filled out a ballot for the MMQB's annual awards, as I do every year. Being the tech wiz I am (40,000 unread emails), I thought I sent it. But apparently, the laziness that produces a full inbox can lead to future emails not going out. (You've been warned.)
And so I emailed Peter King my ballot late, after I realized it was never sent, and he said that since the story was already publishing, he couldn't squeeze my votes in. But he suggested I use what I sent him in my notes this week. So I'm doing that here, while adding some opinion from guys who scout on the pro level for good measure.
The MMQB rules are to list a top five for each award, and throw in comments on some of them. Here ya go!
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER:
1) Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers: Without his top weapon going into the season, a revamped line and a backfield that lacked real depth, Newton carried the Panthers through a number of shootouts. The most valuable quarterbacks are the ones who make up for deficiencies for their teams as the season goes on. Newton most certainly did that.
2) Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots: An AFC pro scouting director said, "The mark of an elite QB is his ability to make those around him better, even when presented with very little. There hasn't been a better offensive game conductor, regardless of instruments at his disposal, than Brady over the past two years. He has been able to navigate through an injury minefield while keeping the Patriots relevant."
3) J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans: There might not be a player in football who's better at his job -- it's mind-blowing the numbers that Watt piles up, as much as he plays on the interior. An AFC exec added, "all the while getting doubled, at times tripled, chipped, and always the focal point of the offensive game plan."
4) Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona Cardinals.
5) Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings: Minnesota was considered a potential playoff team before the year -- but very few would've had them outdistancing the Packers for the NFC North crown. And Peterson, at age 30, carried the ball 39 more times than any back in football.
COACH OF THE YEAR:
1) Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs: The team's best offensive player (Jamaal Charles) was lost for the year, and the best defensive player (Justin Houston) missed a month. And somehow, 1-5 became 11-5. "He evolves his plan around the team," an NFC personnel exec said. "It's not his scheme, but how he gets the most out of what he has."
2) Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers: This isn't merely because of the team's 15-1 record, although that doesn't hurt. It's also Rivera's ability to navigate situations like the Greg Hardy fiasco last season, and how he's kept a steady hand on the wheel this season as Carolina has proven it can win the shootout just as proficiently as it can outpoint its opponent in a slugfest. Very few head coaches have the pulse of today's young athlete like Rivera does.
3) Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings: Another coach who guided his team through the tall grass of a bad situation in 2014, and saw the team pull intangible benefits from that in 2015. Everything we heard for years about the assistant coach Zimmer -- as a person, as a teacher and as a leader -- has proven true about the head coach Zimmer. As our AFC exec put it, "If anyone has really 'led' their team to success, and showed them how to win, it's Mike Zimmer."
4) Jay Gruden, Washington Redskins: The quarterback decision is the big one here. Gruden has been determined to have the program in Washington that's a meritocracy, and he's felt all along that Cousins is his best signal caller. But he also incorporated new coaches like Joe Barry and Bill Callahan to his staff, and helped a new GM carry out a vision for a tougher, more physical team. "The guy has gone from the Arena League to OC to head coach in the NFL of a team that was going in multiple directions," our NFC personnel exec said. "And he found a way to make guys wanna play for him."
5) Bill O'Brien, Houston Texans.
ASSISTANT COACH OF THE YEAR:
1) Todd Haley, offensive coordinator, Pittsburgh Steelers: Pittsburgh was without Ben Roethlisberger for five games, Martavis Bryant for five games, Maurkice Pouncey for the whole year, and has seen Le'Veon Bell and Kelvin Beachum land on IR. And yet, the Steelers are third in the NFL, and first in the AFC, in total offense, and still seem to have room to grow in the playoffs. "Todd did a very good job adjusting his play calling and game planning with Mike Vick and Landry Jones in the lineup," said an NFC pro scouting director. "His ability as a play caller is the top reason that Pittsburgh is the team that scares people in the playoffs.
2) Sean McDermott, defensive coordinator, Carolina Panthers: Yes, they have big-time talents at corner and linebacker and defensive tackle, but this unit has undergone serious attrition over the last three years because of cap issues. And in the midst of all of that, Carolina seems to have established not just a standard but a tradition of strong play on that side of the ball, which has a lot to do with McDermott.
3) Hue Jackson, offensive coordinator, Cincinnati Bengals: Cincinnati finished seventh in scoring, but this is about more than the numbers. It's about a new mindset from a quarterback (Andy Dalton), and the development of young players (like Tyler Eifert and AJ McCarron), and the ability to withstand the shots as they keep coming.
4) Wade Phillips, defensive coordinator, Denver Broncos.
5) George Godsey, offensive coordinator, Houston Texans.
EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR:
1) Scot McCloughan, general manager, Washington Redskins: In 12 short months, McCloughan changed the face of a laughingstock by adding a draft class with a handful of tough, smart contributors, rewarding decorated vets like Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Williams, and bringing in bargain free agents (Terrance Knighton). "Scot has done a nice job of bringing football back into focus in Washington," said the NFL pro director. "His evaluation prowess has been evidence with the value they've found in draft picks and their free-agent signings. But as much as anything else, this is about being willing to go to the owner and tell him the truth about his quarterbacks."
2) Mike Maccagnan, general manager, New York Jets: They missed the playoffs, but just barely, and being able to get a starting quarterback and No. 1 receiver, in Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brandon Marshall, who get you to 10 wins for sixth- and fifth-round picks, respectively, is staggering. Drafting Leonard Williams also gives the team roster flexibility going forward with stars Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson. "Mike hit the ground running after being hired and did a very good job of filling voids on their roster," said the NFC pro director. "They have a really good mix of young and veteran players. With Todd [Bowles] as the coach and Mike handling personnel, the NYJ are shaping up to be a viable AFC contender for years to come."
3) Steve Keim, general manager, Arizona Cardinals: It's like every other week, there's another star emerging, and that's because, over the last three years, there isn't a team with a better personnel record than Arizona. "His relationship with his head coach and willingness to buck trends in terms of age, size and character helped him build a team that's scary," our NFC personnel exec said. "His understanding that his coach can handle a team helps him take the right chances."
4) Dave Gettleman, general manager, Carolina Panthers: Our AFC pro director explained it like this, "From repeatedly being passed over for GM jobs, to being counted out in his first few years, along with a rookie head coach, Dave's been a master chef whose unwavering patience has yet again paid off. His methodical manner in constructing a championship-caliber unit should serve as a blueprint to owners about being given the time and understanding in building a team -- that slowly cooked meals taste better than the microwaved one."
5) Nick Caserio, director of player personnel, New England Patriots.
OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR:
1) Todd Gurley, RB, St. Louis Rams: Yes, he missed three games and was a part-timer in another. No, his 1,106-yard season wasn't a record-breaker. But no other rookie passed the eye test like Gurley did this year. The Rams nearly made it to .500 without much to speak of at the quarterback position, and a lot of transition on the line. The reason why? The former Georgia star, who should only get better with time. Next year, of course, he won't be coming off a torn ACL.
2) Jameis Winston, QB Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Lovie Smith didn't have to hand leadership to his quarterback -- Winston took that naturally. With the rookie swiftly proving how ready he was for the pro game, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter was able to progressively open the playbook, and the Bucs surged in midseason as a result. "This kid proved to everyone that he has matured," said the NFC pro director. "His ability as a leader of men is second to none. He'll need to continue to improve on his decision making on the field, but TB has found the cornerstone of the franchise for the next 10-plus seasons."
3) Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders.
4) Brandon Scherff, OG, Washington Redskins.
5) Tyler Lockett, WR/PR/KR, Seattle Seahawks.
DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR:
1) Marcus Peters, CB, Kansas City Chiefs: Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton trusted him within his aggressive scheme from the start, and Peters has delivered. The Washington product's off-field issues caused his fall to the bottom half of the first round in April, but Andy Reid and John Dorsey loved his competitiveness and passion, and that's shone through in Year 1. "This kid was the best corner in last year's class," one NFC pro director said. "And he proved he has the ability to be a No. 1 corner in this league."
2) Leonard Williams, DL, New York Jets.
3) Ronald Darby, CB, Buffalo Bills: Our NFC personnel exec kept this one simple: "He played at an All-Pro level."
4) Mario Edwards Jr., DL, Oakland Raiders.
5) Eric Kendricks, LB, Minnesota Vikings.