NFL Awards Watch (cont.)
1. Todd Haley, Chiefs -- The overmatched Chiefs won a combined 10 games in the past three seasons, but Haley has them a blown interference call away from being 4-1 and comfortably ahead in the AFC West. Kansas City, in reality, is 3-2, on a two-game losing streak and just 1½ games ahead of everyone in the division. But a 3-0 start has changed the entire landscape in Chiefs-dom, and Haley has a good, young team that has been 2010's top turnaround story thus far.
2. Rex Ryan, Jets -- Sure, he has the horses, but Ryan also has the bull's-eye plastered on his ample backside, and coaching while you're wearing that is no small feat. He talked his team up big, but so far it has backed up his brash words with an NFL-best 5-1 record and a five-game winning streak. The pressure was never greater than when 0-1 New York trailed visiting New England at halftime in Week 2, but since then, the Jets have been rolling.
3. Mike Tomlin, Steelers -- He certainly didn't do his best work at the end of last season, when he couldn't seem to find the right motivational buttons to push as the Steelers faded down the stretch. But how can you not be impressed with Tomlin's early work in 2010, when Pittsburgh not only survived Ben Roethlisberger's month-long suspension, but also prospered?
1. Sam Bradford, QB, Rams -- His statistics won't dazzle you, but winning games as a rookie quarterback is never easy in the NFL, especially for a franchise that has been as downtrodden as the Rams. St. Louis is getting some fine defensive play this season, but Bradford gave the franchise instant credibility the minute he took the field this season. His seven touchdown passes, eight interceptions and 69.3 passer rating just doesn't tell the whole story.
2. Jahvid Best, RB, Lions -- Best hasn't been able to keep up the ridiculous pace of having scored five touchdowns in his first two games -- he has none in his most recent four games -- but he has produced 542 yards of combined rushing and receiving this season, with those five scores. He's third among rookie rushers with 257 yards and four touchdowns on 80 carries (3.2), and his 31 receptions for 285 yards and one score leads all rookie pass-catchers.
3. Mike Williams, WR, Bucs -- Williams has provided some much-needed big-play impact to Tampa Bay's offense, notching a touchdown reception in each of the surprising Bucs' three wins. His 23 catches for 283 yards (12.3) and three touchdowns rank first among all NFL rookie wide receivers.
1. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Lions -- What can't Suh do? The Lions first-round pick leads all rookies with 4½ sacks, and he even tipped a pass and intercepted it in Detroit's Week 5 win at home against St. Louis. He's had either a sack or an interception in all but one of the Lions' six games, and he already gets game-planning attention from opposing offenses.
2. Nate Allen, FS, Eagles -- Philadelphia's second-round pick intercepted a pass in three of his first four games, tying for the rookie lead in that department. The University of South Florida product has started all six games for the first-place Eagles, and with nine passes defensed, he has provided a steady, consistent presence in his centerfielder role.
3. Earl Thomas, FS, Seahawks -- Like Allen, Thomas already has picked off three passes this season, and he has done it in just five games for the 3-2, first-place Seahawks. The former University of Texas star is a force against both the run and the pass, and has quickly upgraded a Seattle defense that was devoid of playmakers last season.
1. E.J. Henderson, LB, Vikings -- You can come back from injury, ineffectiveness, irrelevancy or a voluntary/involuntary hiatus and win this award, but I don't know if anyone will ever return from a more gruesome looking setback than Henderson's broken femur last December in Arizona. That he's back playing and playing so well -- 37 combined tackles, two interceptions, one fumble forced, one fumble recovered -- is a remarkable accomplishment.
2. Mike Williams, WR, Seahawks -- I like the comeback stories that absolutely no one saw coming, and in that category, Williams dominates. The former Detroit first-round pick was out of the league for two years, and had all of 15 catches since his rookie season of 2005. But in five games with Seattle, under his former USC coach in Pete Carroll, Williams leads the team with 21 catches for 261 yards, including a 10-catch, 123-yard day in Seattle's 23-20 upset at Chicago on Sunday.
3. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Jets -- With a nod toward the divergent comeback efforts being put together by both Michael Vick and Wes Welker, I'm going with the renaissance season being enjoyed by Tomlinson in New York in my third spot. He looked washed up in San Diego last season, but he's on pace for a 1,306-yard rushing season with 13 touchdowns and 51 catches, to boot.
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