The Class of '06
SI's picks for the year-end awards range from a record-setting back to a rookie wideout who caught fire in New Orleans
IT'S HARD to remember a year with so many deserving candidates for the NFL's major year-end awards. Only two categories—Coach of the Year and Most Valuable Player—have clear favorites; the rest of the picks are sure to provoke heated debate. SI polled a select group of players, coaches, executives and scouts to determine the consensus picks in the major categories, which are presented here, along with a less-obvious candidate worthy of consideration and SI's choice.
Marques Colston, WR, Saints. Over the last few weeks Colston hasn't created as much buzz as Vince Young, Reggie Bush or Maurice Jones-Drew, but he's the only offensive rookie who's had a continuous impact since Week 1. The seventh-rounder out of Hofstra had four catches for 49 yards and a touchdown in his debut, a 19--14 win at Cleveland that suggested that these Saints might defy the experts' low preseason expectations for them. Colston has become a clutch target for quarterback Drew Brees in the NFL's top-ranked offense while topping all rookie wideouts with 66 receptions, 1,001 yards and seven touchdowns despite missing two games with a high ankle sprain. "He was one of the top receivers in the league, if not the best, before he got hurt," says one AFC scout. "He has made that offense better, and that's not something you see too often from a rookie, especially an unheard-of one." The seventh-rounder had a slight edge over first-round teammate Bush in SI's poll.
Marcus McNeill, LT, Chargers. This second-rounder moved into the lineup after preseason foot surgery sidelined Roman Oben and has played like a veteran, plowing a path for LaDainian Tomlinson and guarding quarterback Philip Rivers's blind side. "I vote for guys who I've played against and who have done well," says Bengals defensive end Bryan Robinson. "He's done a great job playing left tackle as a rookie. That's tough."
DeMeco Ryans, MLB, Texans. Houston thought so highly of this second-rounder that the team cut starting middle linebacker Sam Cowart in training camp and moved Ryans from the weak side to the middle. The result: The 6'2", 236-pound Ryans leads the NFL in solo tackles (112). "This kid makes plays all over the field, and that's not bad for someone viewed as too short to play in the NFL," says one AFC personnel man. "He doesn't have any apparent weaknesses, and he plays hard on every down. He's just as good against the run as he is against the pass."
Devin Hester, CB/KR/PR, Bears. He plays some corner on the league's No. 1 defense, but because his major contributions have come on special teams (six returns for TDs), he misses out on this award.