Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Roundtable: 2015 NFL Player Awards

Buccaneers.com contributors Scott Smith, Joe Kania and Andrew Norton debate the potential winners of the league's 2015 honors and add a little Tampa Bay twist on top.

Jameis Winston threw for 4,042 yards in 2015, which were the third-most by a rookie since the AFL/NFL merger.

The votes have already been cast.

The National Football League will reveal a list of 2015 season awards at their Oscar-like "NFL Honors" television extravaganza the night before Super Bowl 50, the biggest of which are the ones awarded by the Associated Press and determined by members of the media. Those include league MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year and so on.

So it's still a few more weeks before we find out if it's Cam or Carson, Aaron or J.J., Jameis or Todd. Theoretically, however, those winners have already been chosen, because the AP voters turn in their ballots shortly after the regular season ends, in part so they are not swayed by any postseason developments. That leaves basically a month between decision and announcement, and that's what we like to call "prediction time!"

That's what we're here to do today: Andrew Norton and Joe Kania are going to join me in predicting who the winners of the NFL's big awards for 2015 will be. To start, we'll tackle Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year and Coach of the Year; we'll return in a few days with our predictions for MVP, Offensive Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.

Ah, but as this is the Buccaneers' website, we're going to add a twist. For each award, we will name our overall NFL choice and also the player or person who would win that same honor for the Buccaneers only. It's possible, of course, that the two will overlap…in one case in particular. In fact, let's just get that one out of the way first. Andrew, I'll give you the honors of going first on Offensive Rookie of the Year. Joe you can go second and I'll go third and then for each successive award we'll rotate up like they do in the NFL Draft.

Take us away, Andrew.

Offensive Rookie of the Year


Andrew Norton:
NFL – Jameis Winston
Buccaneers – Jameis Winston

Well, that one was easy. Sure, we talk about Winston's remarkable rookie season quite a bit. As do some other noteworthy sources. But you can't call this one homerism; the numbers really do speak for themselves. In NFL history, only three rookie quarterbacks have thrown for 4,000 yards. Jameis Winston is one of them. Heck, only six have ever thrown for 3,500+ yards. He threw 22 touchdown passes and ran for six more scores – 28 total touchdowns is the third most by a rookie quarterback of all time.

Of course, an argument can be made for Rams' RB Todd Gurley, who finished third in the NFL in rushing yards with 1,106. However, this season saw just seven running backs break the 1,000-yard mark, the fewest since 1991 (also seven RBs). His 1,106 yards is the 42nd-most by a rookie RB in league history.

While Gurley compares favorably to running backs of this season, on an all-time rookie scale, Jameis Winston ranks among the top ever. And for that reason, the Rookie of the Year award should be his.

Joe Kania:
NFL – Jameis Winston
Buccaneers – Jameis WinstonBased on the numbers, I think the award should be headed to Tampa Bay. Andrew touched on a number of Winston's records (and there were a handful). Those alone, in my mind, propel him above Gurley, who's my runner-up. If there were a tie-breaker, I would look at the impact each player had on their team. The Rams were No. 28 in the league in total yards in 2014 and fell four sports, to No. 32, with Gurley added into the lineup. The Buccaneers went from 30th in the league in total yards last season to No. 5 in 2015. I think Winston was the better player this year and I think he had a more significant impact on his team.

Scott Smith:
NFL – Jameis Winston
Buccaneers – Jameis Winston

I promise, dear reader, that these predictions are not going to devolve into a shameless case of what Andrew would call "homerism." We're not going to try to convince you that, say, Lavonte David had more impact this year J.J. Watt or anything like that. In this particular case, however, Winston does appear to be the favorite, or at very least one of the two best candidates.

Since Andrew and Joe took all the shiny numbers, I'll address (and hopefully debunk) the potential counterarguments against Winston. First, it's fair to take those 4,000 yards in context, and to note that all three such rookie seasons have occurred since 2011 (Andrew Luck and Cam Newton being the other two). However, even when adjusting to era norms, as Pro Football Focus did, Winston still has the fourth-best rookie total in league history.

In the same vein, the league-wide increase in passing numbers means that Winston's passing yards, touchdown passes and passer rating are all around the league's per-team average. But to press that argument is to lose sight of what award we're talking about here. Winston did that as a rookie, and he presided over the league's fifth-best offense, and he ran for six more scores, and he quickly became a team leader. As Andrew noted, Todd Gurley had a great year and is probably going to be one of the league's best backs for years to come, but 1,100 rushing yards really isn't eye-popping. Winston's numbers are.

Defensive Rookie of the Year


Joe Kania:
NFL – Marcus Peters
Buccaneers – Kwon AlexanderI narrowed this down to two players – Buffalo's Ronald Darby and Kansas City's Marcus Peters. As impressive as Darby was, Peters led the league in both interceptions (8) and passes defensed (26). That's an impressive feat for any player, never mind a rookie. Darby finished with two interceptions and 21 passes defensed. Peters also helped his team to a playoff birth while Buffalo finished the season 8-8. As far as the Buccaneers go, Alexander is the run-away winner. It took the Buccaneers' coaches just one preseason game to realize he needed to be a starter. Despite missing the team's final four games, he finished second on the team in tackles. Jude Adjei-Barimah, who started seven games at corner, was also considered.* *

Scott Smith:
NFL – Leonard Williams
Buccaneers – Well, duh

Darby and Peters are both deserving choices, but how do you pick between them. Peters has the better counting numbers, but we all know that high interception totals can be a bit misleading. Give the Chiefs' rookie all the credit he deserves for those picks – and a Pro Bowl berth is a good start – but also realize that more passes were thrown in his direction than any other cornerback in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. Darby's game might have been just as tight; he got fewer picks but gave up fewer yards.

Instead of breaking that tie, I'm going to go with the big lineman for the Jets who was considered a steal even at pick number six overall, Leonard Williams. Many thought he should have been the first defensive player off the board (that went to Dante Fowler, who was lost for the season with a preseason injury), and he certainly made an immediate impact. Williams started 15 of 16 games, played nearly 80% of the Jets' defensive snaps and was a big reason why New York had the NFL's second-best rush defense. Williams' 3.0 sacks won't overwhelm anyone, but his 21 quarterback hits and seven tackles for loss, according to press box totals, tell a fuller story.

And, yeah, it's obviously Kwon. Lavonte David got himself a dynamic running mate, and other than the difference in tackles (147 to 93, in large part due to Alexander's four missed games), their numbers are remarkably similar across the board. Lavonte David-type production from a rookie? Yes, the Buccaneers will take that any day.

Andrew Norton:
NFL – Marcus Peters
Buccaneers – Kwon Alexander

Eight picks and two touchdowns for Peters in a season when only three rookies had five or more sacks and only two broke 100 tackles. I have to go with Joe and the box score numbers on this one.

Kwon of course gets the nod for the Bucs. If you take the numbers he compiled in his 12 games and plug them into a 16-game season, he'd have four sacks, likely five takeaways and 124 tackles, with that tackle stat leading all rookies. Had he played the full season, he would be a serious contender in the NFL DRotY race. The only time the Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year have been from the same team was the Detroit Lions in 1967, the very first year the award was given.

Comeback Player of the Year


Scott Smith:
NFL – Carson Palmer
Buccaneers – Doug Martin

Was I being selfless when I put myself third in the rotation for this roundtable? Or was I being shrewd, knowing that the subsequent rotation would have me batting leadoff in this category? Well, whether it was intentional or not, I get to be first to name the two obvious candidates here.

First of all, what exactly is the Comeback Player of the Year? There isn't really an answer for that, if we insist on using the word "exactly." Most often, it's a player who had established a strong level of production in the NFL, then got hurt for the majority of one season, and then came back to perform as well or better the next season. That was the case with Rob Gronkowski last year, Peyton Manning in 2012, Tom Brady in 2008, etc. Every now and then, however, the voters make this choice based on different criteria. Philip Rivers didn't miss a game in 2012 and he threw for 3,606 yards, 26 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and an 88.6. Doesn't exactly seem like a giant hole he had to crawl out of, but when Rivers improved across the board in 2013 and the Chargers made a dramatic climb from 7-9 to 9-7, he was deemed to have had the league's best comeback. So.

Fortunately this year we've got a pretty clear-cut choice in the former category. Palmer lost all but six games to injury in 2014 and quarterback deficiencies subsequently sunk what should have been a very good Cardinals team. This year, Palmer came back to start all 16 games and the Cardinals went 13-3. Palmer didn't just come back, he may have had his best year ever (career-best 104.6 passer rating, 35-11 TD-INT ratio) and he's probably going top three on most league MVP ballots. Now, THAT is a comeback. Easy choice.

Doug Martin's comeback is essentially one from the past two seasons combined. After a brilliant rookie campaign that included 1,926 yards from scrimmage, Martin lost 15 games due to injury over the next two years and saw his per-carry average dip by a yard. Healthy, lean and well-cast in the offense imported by Dirk Koetter, Martin went on a tear again in 2015, finishing second in the NFL with 1,402 rushing yards and setting a career best with 4.9 yards per carry.

Andrew Norton
NFL – Eric Berry
Buccaneers – Doug Martin

Once again, we're going to agree on the Bucs award. Doug Martin is the obvious choice for all the reasons that you mentioned. He could very well be a candidate for the NFL award as well along with your pick, Carson Palmer, and mine, Eric Berry.

In November 2014, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. He underwent treatment and was later cancer-free. And starting in Week 1, he was back on the football field. It is not just that he came back, it was that he came back and performed as one of the best safeties in the NFL this season. He was selected to the Pro Bowl and named an AP All-Pro. Pro Football Focused graded him fifth among all safeties and his Chiefs made the playoffs. Berry's remarkable return is the best story in the NFL this year and wholly deserving of the Comeback Player of the Year honor.

Joe Kania:
NFL – Eric Berry
Buccaneers – Doug Martin

There are a handful of players I feel are deserving of the Comeback Player of the Year award, including Palmer, as Scott mentioned above. Adrian Peterson and Brandon Marshall deserve to be in the conversation as well. But Berry's obstacles to return to the football field were far greater than any of the aforementioned players, and his level of play was just as high. Berry was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 2014, just to return to the field this season and earn Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors. He started 15 games and broke up 10 passes, tied for a career-high.

As far as the Buccaneers are concerned, I really wanted to go against the grain. The three of us seem to agree on most of our picks, but Martin is the team's clear-cut Comeback Player of the Year. After recording less than 500 rushing yards in each of the past two seasons, Martin finished No. 2 in the league with 1,402.

Coach of the Year


Andrew Norton:
NFL – Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers
Buccaneers – Dirk Koetter

Going first means that I get the obvious picks this time. The AP award is meant specifically for head coaches, but for the Buccaneers' award we'll consider the entire staff.

With a 15-1 regular season record, Ron Rivera of the Panthers has to be the heavy favorite to get this award. There are a few other obvious candidates here and I thought hard about going with the Steelers' Mike Tomlin for all of the injury woes he had to navigate this season, but overall, the Panthers had far-and-away the best season of any NFL team and there was little to no expectation that it would happen. The Panthers had the second-most rushing yards per game, most points per game, and a top-10 defense in points allowed per game, yards allowed per game, sacks, turnovers and defensive touchdowns.

For the Bucs, Koetter's statistics have been well known since he took over the offensive coordinator role, and obviously he is a fine Bucs Coach of the Year pick, considering that he is now the Head Coach of the team. Koetter's offense set a Buccaneers record for yardage and finished with the fifth-most yards in the NFL, the highest a Bucs team has ever finished in that category. He did this with a rookie quarterback and two rookie offensive linemen. Not too shabby.

Joe Kania:
NFL – Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
Buccaneers – Tim Spencer

Repeating as Super Bowl champions is a tall task. Doing so while short-handed at several positions is even more difficult. The Patriots have had several injuries this season, particularly in the backfield, but haven't missed a beat. Arizona's Bruce Arians and Carolina's Ron Rivera are also on my short list. My opinion could change following the conference championship games, but Belichick has my vote for now.

For my Buccaneers selection, Koetter would obviously should be the go-to. He guided the Bucs' offense that finished with several team records and helped develop Jameis Winston into a Rookie of the Year candidate. But, for the sake of shaking things up, I decided to pick Spencer for this award. The Buccaneers received an unprecedented amount of production from their running backs in 2015; Doug Martin finished No. 2 in the NFL in rushing and Charles Sims led the league in yards per touch for a running back. Spencer deserves credit for the excellent work he did with that group.

Scott Smith:
NFL – Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings
Buccaneers – Dirk Koetter

Given that Belichick is widely considered the best coach in the league (and one of the best ever) and his team just keeps cranking out 12-win seasons and deep playoff runs, you could probably give it to him every year. It's the Michael Jordan Effect; people just want to vote for somebody else every now and then, so Charles Barkley and Karl Malone get their turns.

Andrew is probably right that it should go to Rivera, and Joe mentioned Arians, but those two have combined to win the last three Coach of the Year awards, so let's spread it around a little. I like Zimmer because I think he did more with less. The Vikings had all of one Pro Bowler this year (Adrian Peterson) and the offense operated with a second-year passer in Teddy Bridgewater who didn't strike a lot of fear into opposing teams. The NFC North looked like it would be Green Bay's to lose, but the Vikings finished strong with a three-game winning streak capped by a 20-13 win in Green Bay to win the division. There weren't too many bigger wins in the entire NFL this year than that one. Minnesota should probably have moved on to the Divisional Round, too, but for a shocking misfire on a 27-yard field goal…but (keep this in mind, Joe), postseason results aren't supposed to be part of this selection process.

Koetter is the obvious choice for the Bucs and Andrew stated the reasoning just fine. I'm glad Joe took a different route and gave some credit to Tim Spencer, so while I'm picking Koetter let me also throw some love in the direction of Offensive Line Coach George Warhop. No position saw a more significant improvement from 2014 to 2015 than the O-Line, and that was with two rookie starters throughout the season.


So there you have our predictions for Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year and Coach of the Year. We'll return in a few days with our choices for Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and MVP.

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