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Silverman: At Midway Point, Brady, Del Rio And Elliott Among Leading Contenders For NFL Awards

By Steve Silverman
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The halfway point of the NFL season is an excellent spot to assess how the year is going and make our calls on the major awards that will be handed out after Week 17.

As we head into Week 9, there have been a number of outstanding performances by individuals that could lead to awards. One of those performances is both unbelievable and totally predictable at the same time.


Patriots quarterback Tom Brady missed the first four weeks of the season as a result of his Roger Goodell-mandated Deflategate suspension.

Despite not being allowed near the Patriots' training facility for a month, he is the leading candidate to win the NFL's MVP award for the the third time in his career.

It's a shocker because he missed four games. It's expected because it was clear that he was going to get his first start in Week 5 with a chip on his shoulder and and that he would start firing the football with a rare purpose.

Brady has completed 73.1 percent of his passes for 1,319 yards with 12 touchdowns and no interceptions. He also has a spectacular 9.94 yards per pass attempt and a 133.9 passer rating. Both of those are the top figures in the league.

At some point, the 39-year-old Brady will start to show his age and have the difficulties that all the greats in the game face. But through his first four games, he has been as effective as he has ever been.

Coach of the Year

Meanwhile, Mike Zimmer appeared to be on his way to winning Coach of the Year through the Minnesota Vikings' first five games. Even without starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson, the Vikings were 5-0 and looked like a legitimate threat to win the top seed in the NFC.

However, the bye week blunted Zimmer's momentum, and the team has returned to lose back-to-back games to the Eagles and the lowly Bears.

Zimmer called out his offensive line as soft, and one has to wonder just how the Vikings will recover.

Meanwhile, Jack Del Rio has had no such missteps as head coach of the Oakland Raiders. He gave his team a huge dose of confidence when he went for the win in Week 1 at New Orleans by going for two at the end of the game rather than playing for overtime.

Not only did Del Rio's gamble work and the Raiders came up with a 35-34 win over the Saints, it gave his players a major shot in the arm. The Raiders are a remarkable 5-0 on the road and their 6-2 record overall has them well on their way to a spot in the postseason.

Del Rio is the leading candidate for coach of the year.

Rookie of the Year

Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys
Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

The Dallas Cowboys have been very fortunate this year as they have gotten stellar performances from a pair of rookies in quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott.

Prescott, the fourth-round draft choice out of Mississippi State, stepped into the breech when Tony Romo was injured prior to the season. Prescott has been remarkable, completing 65.2 percent of his passes and having a 9-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

More than the numbers, Prescott has looked like he belongs under center for a first-place team. However, according to team owner Jerry Jones, Romo will return to the starter's position when he is healthy, but Prescott looks like he should remain in the lineup because he is mature and a wonderful leader.

Elliott, meanwhile, has simply been a monster running back. He has run for 799 yards in his first seven games, and he is averaging 5.0 yards per carry.

Elliott had a bit of an issue with a couple of early-season fumbles, but he appears to have solved that problem and hasn't dropped the ball since. He has five rushing touchdowns and seven runs of 20 yards or more, and he may be the best running back in the league.

Elliott is my choice as Rookie of the Year.

Offensive Player of the Year

Is there a more effective offensive player than Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones?

Jones has been a dominant player based on the numbers. After Atlanta's 43-28 victory Thursday night over the Buccaneers, Jones has played nine games this year for the 6-3 Falcons. He has 51 receptions for 970 yards with five touchdowns, and he has made big plays consistently. He has 18 catches of 20 yards or more, and his 300-yard game against the Carolina Panthers earlier this year indicates how he can carry a team on his shoulders.

He is the offensive player of the year and may be the No. 2 candidate to Brady as the MVP.

Defensive Player of the Year

The Los Angeles Rams are not much of an offensive team with Case Keenum at quarterback. But they are a strong defensive team, and defensive tackle Aaron Donald appears to be the best all-around defensive player in the league.

Some of that may have to do with the absence of Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (out after back surgery), but Donald is a standout who is a disruptive force. The numbers are not overly impressive – 23 tackles, seven tackles for loss and three sacks – but he is a commanding presence.

Donald must be accounted for on every play, and he is almost always double-teamed. "That creates opportunities for somebody else," head coach Jeff Fisher said. "He is making things happen every time he steps on the field."

Comeback Player of the Year

Jacksonville Jaguars v Tennessee Titans
Titans running back DeMarco Murray (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Finally, DeMarco Murray of the Tennessee Titans is making a great case for Comeback Player of the Year. Murray was miserable in Philadelphia last year, never fitting into head coach Chip Kelly's scheme.

Murray is a one-cut-and-go type of runner, and Kelly had few of those type of plays available for the running back last season, when Murray ran for 702 yards and averaged 3.6 yards per carry.

Murray already has rushed for 756 yards and is averaging 4.7 yards per carry through the Titans' first eight games this year. Tennessee is a .500 team and is just one game behind the inconsistent Houston Texans.

Murray's consistency and Marcus Mariota's improvement at quarterback mean the Titans are going to be tough to beat the rest of the season.

The team is clearly improving, and their running back may be the biggest reason that the Titans have turned it around.

Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy

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