THE SANTA CLARA
January 11, 2017
What changed from last year’s 4-12 Cowboys to this year’s 13-3 Cowboys? They have essentially the same defense, a successful running game and a terrific offensive line. The biggest difference is the man playing quarterback.
Prescott may not blow people away with athleticism or highlight reel plays, but he consistently moves the chains. Dak had a less than stellar Dez Bryant to work with, but he successfully incorporated a slew of receivers into the offense. His favorite target was Cole Beasley, a lesser-known slot receiver whom Prescott utilized with extreme efficiency.
Prescott edges out other quarterbacks like Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers because he was more critical to the Cowboys’ success, who edged out the Falcons and Packers for the number one seed. Matt Ryan has some of the most elite offensive weapons in the league at his disposal, like Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman, and Aaron Rodgers couldn’t maintain success through the whole season.
Prescott shares the spotlight with fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott, but Dak gets the edge due to the strength of the Cowboys’ offensive line. Elliott essentially wasn’t touched until he was eight yards down the field.
Coach of the Year—Jack Del Rio
Oakland surpassed expectations this year and then some, in large part to Del Rio’s defensive schemes. Other than Khalil Mack, the Raiders defense lacks impact talent. Barring Derek Carr’s injury, the Raiders would likely have secured the second-seed with a record of 13-3 (assuming they could beat Denver with a healthy Carr).
It was just two seasons ago when Del Rio inherited a 3-13 from interim head coach Tony Sparano in 2014. Since then, Del Rio produced a 7-9 finish in year one before a 12-win season this year. The Raiders head man has been one of the most dominant defensive minds in the NFL for the past five years, engineering the dynamic Denver Broncos defense during his tenure as coordinator from 2012-14. Now, he has taken a Raiders unit that has its issues on paper and helped them become one of the most successful franchises in the league.
Del Rio edges out Jason Garrett and Bill Belichick because he did more with less. Belichick has possibly the greatest quarterback of all time in Tom Brady coupled with an experienced, underrated defense. Garrett is a good coach but is helped by the freakish amount of talent on the field for the Cowboys.
Offensive Rookie of the Year—Ezekiel Elliot
Rookie of the Year will certainly go to one of the Cowboys duo of young superstars. If Dak were to win MVP, Zeke deserves to get ROY.
Zeke has the benefit of running behind one of the greatest offensive lines of all time this season, but he’d succeed on any team.
Elliott possesses the strength and speed of a three-down back and is lethal in goal line situations.
The running back had over 1600 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns, some of the most impressive ground numbers for any rookie ever.
Comeback Player of the Year—Jordy Nelson
After missing all of the 2015 season to a torn ACL in preseason, Nelson came back to put up stellar numbers like he never missed a single snap.
Nelson caught a league-high 14 receiving touchdowns and had 1257 receiving yards, good for sixth-most in the league. The Packers wideout reminded the NFL that he is the premier deep threat in the league, especially when Aaron Rodgers is on his game.
Other candidates include Melvin Gordon, Jimmy Graham or DeMarco Murray, but none of their stats compare to Nelson’s dominant numbers.
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