The National Football League votes on its major awards prior to the start of the playoffs. If handing out awards based solely on 16 regular season games is good enough for the NFL, it’s good enough for me. So here are my choices for the Packers’ MVP, offensive and defensive players of the year, rookie of the year, comeback player of the year, assistant coach of the year, personnel decision of the year and play of the year:
Most Valuable Player - Coach Mike McCarthy described Aaron Rodgers’ regular season as “good, but like the offense he had his ups and downs.” That’s a pretty fair assessment – especially when compared to how the former Cal star played a year ago. But as every fan knows, there were some mitigating circumstances in 2010. Season-ending injuries claimed 1,200-yard rusher Ryan Grant in the opener and star tight end Jermichael Finley a few weeks later. And while Rodgers was still left with arguably the best group of wide receivers in the league, there’s no way of overstating just how important Grant and especially Finley were to the offense. That Rodgers was still able to complete 65.7% of his passes for 3,922 yards and 28 touchdowns in 14 1/2 games is damn impressive. Inconsistent or not, there simply aren’t many quarterbacks who could’ve done what he did this season. And that’s the epitome of a Most Valuable Player.
Offensive Player of the Year – Nobody would’ve mentioned Greg Jennings for this award in mid-October. In fact, the veteran wide receiver might’ve be the frontrunner for most disappointing player at that time. But Jennings bounced back from a slow start to post one of the finest seasons by a Packers wide receiver in recent memory. And even more impressive than the gaudy statistics were when they were compiled. While some receivers pad their stats with meaningless catches, almost every one of Jennings’ big plays came at the most opportune of times. General manager Ted Thompson paid him like a star before the start of last season; he went out and played like one in 2010.
Defensive Player of the Year – Much like Charles Woodson was named the league’s DPOY over Darrelle Revis a year ago, we’re using the same criteria to give Clay Matthews the nod over Tramon Williams. Like Revis, Williams probably played his position even better than Matthews played his, but like Woodson, Matthews was the more impactful player. Working opposite five different linebackers – none of whom were very good – opposing coordinators were able to focus almost all of their attention on stopping the former USC star. And while Matthews’ impact as a pass rusher decreased as the season went on, he never stopped making big plays and setting up big plays for others.
Rookie of the Year – Defensive end Mike Neal and safety Morgan Burnett might’ve challenged for this award had they not suffered serious injuries in October, but it’s hard to imagine either player contributing more to the team’s success than Sam Shields. The undrafted free agent was the starting nickel back all season, and he more than held his own in a secondary that featured three Pro Bowlers. Early in the season, many people wondered why opposing offenses didn’t go after Shields; the answer became very obvious by Halloween. The former college wide receiver was a darn good corner. Not a darn good rookie corner, but a darn good corner, period.
Comeback Player of the Year – Most players win this award after returning successfully from a serious injury, but what Charlie Peprah came back from was far more difficult. He came back from oblivion. Peprah was released by the Packers in September 2009. He then played – and we use that word loosely – in 2 games with Atlanta before being discarded once again. A collective yawn was heard around Packer Nation when the veteran safety was signed as an unrestricted free agent last May. With incumbent starter Atari Bigby apparently recovered from an ankle injury and with Burnett enjoying an extremely impressive spring, Peprah looked to be nothing more than a camp body. Some camp body. The former Alabama star started 11 games and infused the defense with much-needed physicality. And while he may not be a long-term solution, he was a short-term godsend.
Assistant Coach of the Year – There are a lot of candidates for this award. Just think of how many youngsters have been able to step into the lineup and get the job done. Running back James Starks (Edgar Bennett), defensive end C.J. Wilson (Mike Trgovac) and Shields (Joe Whitt Jr.) all stepped in and played key roles in getting the Packers to the postseason. But no assistant did more with less than Kevin Greene. In only his second season as a coach at any level, the former NFL star was forced to start 10 games with undrafted rookie Frank Zombo and street free agent Erik Walden at right outside linebacker. All the two did was combine for 7 sacks and help the defense finish second in the league in points allowed.
Personnel Decision of the Year – Thompson did a lot right these past 12 months – as is often the case when a team makes the playoffs – but no move was any better than the one he didn’t make. Inside linebacker Desmond Bishop was fourth on the depth chart at the end of training camp and he wasn’t happy. The former Cal standout publicly stated his desire to be traded and there were no shortage of potential suitors. But Thompson held on to the talented 26-year-old, and the rest as they say, is history. Bishop started 12 games in place of Nick Barnett and the defense hardly missed a beat. He recorded 103 tackles, 3 sacks and an interception en route to signing a four-year contract worth $19 million last month.
Play of the Year – There were a number of candidates, but no play figured bigger in Green Bay’s season than the one that happened in week 14. Ironically, it didn’t even involve the Packers. Here it is:
Without DeSean Jackson’s miraculous return, the Giants would’ve had a 50-50 chance to win the game in overtime. And if they did, the Packers’ season almost certainly would’ve ended against the Bears at Lambeau Field in early January. Instead, fans got a chance to enjoy a truly memorable postseason ride.
(NOTE- I didn’t want to give the same player two awards. That’s why Rodgers wasn’t also named Offensive Player of the Year)