NFL Research awards at the quarter mark: Top QB, rookie, more

With the first four weeks in the books, NFL Media researcher Cole Jacobson identifies standouts of the 2020 NFL campaign thus far. Using a combination of conventional stats and advanced analytics available to the NFL Research team, here are some of the top players, games and moments of the season's first quarter.

Most devastating pitch-and-catch combo: Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers to Allen Lazard

Lazard missed Week 4 after undergoing core muscle surgery, but this duo's accomplishments in Weeks 1-3 were off the charts. Rodgers is 13 of 17 for 254 yards (14.9 yards per attempt), 2 TDs and a 157.1 passer rating when targeting Lazard this season, per Next Gen Stats. Among all pairs with 15-plus targets, the duo ranks second in both passer rating (trailing the Jaguars' Gardner Minshew-D.J. Chark connection by 1.2 points) and in yards per attempt (trailing the Vikings' Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson by 2.5 yards). Rodgers and Lazard have been especially deadly on the deep ball (20-plus air yards), connecting on 3-of-4 attempts for 158 yards.

Runners-up: Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson to Tyler Lockett, Jacksonville Jaguars' Gardner Minshew to D.J. Chark

Best comeback: Chicago Bears over Atlanta Falcons, Week 3

Both teams had already been part of a comeback this season -- the Bears rallied against the Lions in Week 1 and the Falcons blew a 19-point lead in Week 2 -- but this was the most impressive one yet. Chicago trailed 26-10 midway through the fourth quarter before going on to score 20 unanswered points in the final 6:20 to win the game. The win probability for the Bears had fallen to 1 percent, the lowest such figure of any team that has gone on to win a game this season, per Next Gen Stats. Some magic from Nick Foles -- who replaced Mitch Trubisky in the third quarter -- sparked the Bears, as he became the first player since at least 1991 to throw three-plus touchdowns in the final eight minutes of a game that he did not start. The 2020 Bears are the first team in NFL history to win multiple games in the same season after trailing by 16-plus points in the fourth quarter.

Best unit: Pittsburgh Steelers' defensive front

The Steelers' defensive front has maintained its status as the league's finest, even after losing DT Javon Hargrave to the Eagles in free agency. Pittsburgh's interior D-linemen and edge rushers have a 90.2 overall grade from Pro Football Focus this season, the highest mark for any non-QB positional unit this season. With T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree and Cameron Heyward leading the way, the Steelers lead the NFL with 5.0 sacks per game. Pittsburgh pressures opposing QBs on 41.0 percent of dropbacks, besting the second-place mark by nearly 10 percentage points (Rams, 32.5%), per Next Gen Stats.

Runners-up: New England Patriots' OL, Cleveland Browns' RBs/FB

Best quarterback: Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

How to pick between Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers when each one is breaking every record in sight? It isn't easily done, but we give the nod to Seattle's QB1. Wilson leads the NFL in yards per attempt (9.4) and passer rating (136.7), the latter of which would break Rodgers' single-season NFL record (122.5). Wilson's completion percentage above expectation of +8.6% leads all qualified QBs (Rodgers is third at +6.9%), according to Next Gen Stats. Plus, Wilson's dominance on deep balls is unmatched: He leads all QBs in pass yards (430), pass TDs (7) and passer rating (147.7, min. 10 attempts) on throws of 20+ air yards.

Runner-up: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

Best rookie: Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargers

While Herbert and Joe Burrow have both been extremely impressive in their debut seasons, a deeper look at the numbers gives Herbert the slightest of edges. Herbert became the second player since at least the 1970 merger to have 850-plus passing yards and a 100-plus passer rating in each of his first three career games, joining some guy named Patrick Mahomes. The NGS analytics paint Herbert well, too: Herbert's +5.9% completion percentage over expectation ranks sixth among all qualified QBs (Burrow, at +6.0%, ranks fourth). What ultimately separated the two was the deep ball. Burrow has completed only one of 23 attempts of 20-plus air yards, while Herbert is 4 of 10 on such passes with 164 yards and 3 TDs.

Runners-up: Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals; Justin Jefferson, WR, Minnesota Vikings

Most clutch play: Seattle Seahawks DE L.J. Collier's goal-line stop of Cam Newton, Week 2

The game of the year so far was largely defined by elite offensive play on both sides, but it was a defensive stop from the 1-yard line that clinched the win for Seattle. Cam Newton had scored twice on 1-yard runs earlier in that game, but the third time was the charm for Pete Carroll's defense. Next Gen Stats placed the Seahawks' win probability at 83 percent prior to Collier's game-sealing play.

Runner-up: Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen's game-winning TD pass vs. the Rams, Week 3

Best record-breaking performance: Tom Brady, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Just when you think Tom Brady has done it all, he finds another way to make history. The 43-year-old Brady threw five touchdown passes in a Week 4 comeback win over the Chargers, becoming the oldest player to accomplish the feat (Warren Moon previously held the record by throwing 5 TDs at age 40 in 1997). Brady also became the only player in his 40s to throw TD passes to five different receivers in one game, broke his own record as the oldest player with back-to-back games with three-plus pass TDs and broke a tie with former teammate Adam Vinatieri for the most regular-season wins of all-time (now at 222).

Runner-up: Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys (most passing yards in four-game span, at 1,690)

Best cover man: Jessie Bates III, S, Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals have jumped to 16th in scoring defense after ranking 25th a year ago, and the third-year safety is a major reason why. Bates' PFF coverage grade of 89.3 is second in the NFL among all cornerbacks and safeties with 75-plus coverage snaps (he trails only Packers CB Jaire Alexander). Bates has allowed five completions for 40 yards on 10 targets for a 60.4 passer rating, with five pass breakups, per PFF. His forced incompletion percentage is 50 percent, best in the NFL among 174 players with 10-plus targets.

Runner-up: James Bradberry, CB, New York Giants

Best call by a coach: Andy Reid's fourth-down play-call in overtime, Week 2

Reid's Chiefs had the ball on the Chargers' 46-yard line on fourth-and-1 with 4:06 remaining in overtime. Reid could have punted or sent in Harrison Butker for a 63-yard field goal attempt, but he chose to keep the offense on the field, a decision that ultimately added 20.3 percent to Kansas City's win probability (most of any coaching call this season), per EdjSports. The gamble paid off, as Darwin Thompson converted with a 2-yard gain. And Butker still got to have his shot at a career-long kick: It came from 58 yards later on that drive, and it was good, winning the game for the Chiefs.

Runner-up: Colts coach Frank Reich's decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter in a Week 1 loss at Jacksonville (added 6.7 percent to Indianapolis' win probability).

Iron man award: Justin Simmons, S, Denver Broncos

Simmons has played all 281 defensive snaps for the Broncos, making him one of three Denver players (and one of 33 NFL players) to not miss a defensive snap this season. What separates him from the pack? He's not just on the field; he's flying around it! Per Next Gen Stats, Simmons' stop distance (average distance traveled before making a tackle) is 21.44 yards, most in the NFL among all players with 25-plus tackles this season.

Runner-up: Bobby Wagner, LB, Seattle Seahawks

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