MMQB Mailbag: Revealing 2010 NFL awards ballot and all-pro team
Julius Peppers edges Clay Matthews for defensive player of the year
Several tough calls in all-pros, including leaving out Brandon Lloyd at WR
Mailbag questions on Chad Ochocinco as a Patriot, bad predicitions, more
For the past few years, I've been one of Julius Peppers' biggest critics. For a guy who is compared so often to Reggie White, Peppers, I thought, should be producing more than 10 sacks a year, which was his eight-season average in Carolina. And when the Bears signed him in March for, in essence, $1 million per game, I thought: They'll be disappointed in his production for that money.
Though Peppers had but eight sacks this year, he had a huge impact on a defense that went from 21st in the league in points allowed in 2009 to fourth this year; from 4.3 yards per rush last year to 3.7 this year; from 29 touchdown passes surrendered last year to 14 this year. He pushes the pocket. He buzzes around the quarterback. He makes other guys -- Israel Idonije, Tommie Harris -- better.
There's no question the return of Brian Urlacher at the pivot point of the defense has been a significant addition, but Peppers has been the most important reason the Bears have become the Monsters of the Midway again, and that's why he's my defensive player of the year.
I considered Clay Matthews long and hard for this award, and it was close. Midway through the season, Matthews was the guy. But then I saw Peppers beat a wounded Jake Long for two of his three sacks against the Dolphins, and saw how he pushed Bryant McKinnie around on the Monday nighter in Minnesota. He's the John Stockton of the Bears defense, the guy who makes everyone around him better.
That's the headline of my awards. Here's my ballot. Keep in mind that the playoffs mean nothing; the balloting is for regular-season play only.
MVP: Tom Brady, QB, New England. Stopped being a race when Mike Vick had his non-factor final two weeks.
Coach: Bill Belichick, New England. Narrowly over Raheem Morris of the stunningly 10-6 Bucs, because Belichick oversaw the revamping of his offense with a great personnel and coaching job, winning 14 games.
Executive: Scott Pioli, GM, Kansas City. Again, narrowly over the Bucs' Mark Dominik, whose team played 13 rookies in winning games at season's end. But Pioli's draft (strong character players and impact rookies), and the Chiefs winning the AFC West, gave him the edge.
Offensive player: Tom Brady, QB, New England. Hard to beat out a guy with 36 touchdowns against only four interceptions.
Defensive player: Julius Peppers, DE, Chicago. Matthews and Cameron Wake my 2-3.
Offensive rookie: Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis. Played every snap and had a better season than Mark Sanchez (look it up), and still I strong considered Steeler center Maurkice Pouncey, who played like an eight-year vet from August on.
Defensive rookie: Ndamukong Suh, DT, Detroit. Ten sacks with the amount of focus and pressure that was on him? Amazing. Edged Devin McCourty. Though I have McCourty as one of my corners and Suh not on my D-line, Suh had a better year than McCourty.
Comeback player: (tie) EJ Henderson, LB, Minnesota; Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia. Comeback player can mean coming back from anything -- injury, jail, whatever -- and I realize Vick was on the team last year and just didn't play much. I was solid on Henderson all along, but Vick's resurgence was so compelling and so great that I had to include him.
WR: Calvin Johnson, Detroit; Roddy White, Atlanta. Sorry, Brandon Lloyd and Reggie Wayne. You're both deserving. I just loved the year Johnson had in scraping together 77 catches and 12 touchdowns with subpar quarterbacks throwing to him.
TE: Marcedes Lewis, Jax. Over Antonio Gates because Gates missed so much time.
T: Jake Long, Miami; Marshal Yanda, Baltimore. I went tough at tackle. Two warriors here, particularly Long, who played so much of the year with a torn labrum.
G: Ryan Lilja, K.C.; Rich Seubert, Giants. Seubert's here, edging Brandon Moore of the Jets, because I thought he had a superb year of versatility. Seubert started 7 games at center, so it is difficult for me to exclude someone who played 16 games at the guard position, but he was such a versatile fireman for the Giants, he definitely deserved a place on this team.
C: Alex Mack, Cleveland. Doubt this? Watch the job Mack did on Vince Wilfork in the Browns' beatdown of the Patriots.
QB: Tom Brady, New England.
RB: Arian Foster, Houston. Won the rushing title and caught the ball well out of the backfield. Even so, I thought long and hard about Jamaal Charles here.
FB: Ovie Mughelli, Atlanta. Blocks as well as any fullback in the game. Huge edge for Michael Turner.
DE: Vince Wilfork, NE; Julius Peppers, Chicago. Wilfork played everywhere on the Pats' line, and played everywhere well.
NT: Kyle Williams, Buffalo. No other nose man is the combo pile-pusher and backfield invader that Williams is.
DT: Jonathan Babineaux, Atlanta. Love how he moves so powerfully through guard-tackle and guard-center holes. He's one of the long-overdue guys to get credit for the Falcons' defense.
OLB: Clay Matthews, Green Bay; Cameron Wake, Miami. Two tremendous pass rushers who don't take plays off. Pretty hard to not put Terrell Suggs somewhere on this team, but these guys, I thought, were two of the most dangerous rush 'backers in the league this year.
ILB: Lawrence Timmons, Pittsburgh. Represents James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley here. Could have picked any of the three. Love the way Timmons moves sideline to sideline and covers as well as any other inside 'backer.
MLB: Ray Lewis, Baltimore. Don't believe the hype that this is it for Lewis. He played great this year.
CB: Nnamdi Asomugha, Oakland; Devin McCourty, NE. McCourty makes it because Darrelle Revis was just OK for much of the middle part of the year because of his bad hammy, and because I thought Brandon Flowers had a so-so end of the year. Tramon Williams also very close here.
FS: Chris Harris, Chicago. Edged Nick Collins of the Packers. The Bear-turned-Panther-turned-Bear-again is a strong open-field tackler and had big picks against the Eagles and Vikes.
SS: Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh. Missed two games and had a couple in which he had little impact because of his ankle/Achilles issues. Still the most instinctive safety in football.
Let the arguments begin.