Their work is only half completed, yet they deserve front-runner status for this season’s NFL awards. And yes, we know how everything can change in the next eight weeks.
For now, though, here’s the who’s who of honorees for 2011.
OFFENSIVE ROOKIE: Cam Newton, QB, Carolina.
It’s hard _ make that nearly impossible _ to argue with this choice. From his debut right through the bye week, the top overall draft pick has surpassed early expectations. Newton has been just as dynamic and creative as he was in leading Auburn to the national championship, and he’s made the Panthers relevant again even if they are 2-6. They are not an easy out for any opponent.
Runners-up: Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati; A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati; Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle; Marcus Gilbert, T, Pittsburgh; Stefan Wisniewski, G, Oakland.
DEFENSIVE ROOKIE: Aldon Smith, DE-LB, San Francisco.
Smith has been a force as a pass rusher and solid in run defense almost from the beginning of the season, and really has stepped up the last few weeks. He played end in college, but the transition to pass coverage has gone well, too; of course, it helps having star LB Patrick Willis nearby.
Runners-up: Chris Conte, S, Chicago; Brooks Reed, LB, Houston; Ryan Kerrigan, LB, Washington; Von Miller, LB, Denver; Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER: Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit.
“Megatron” to the Max best describes what Johnson has achieved in eight games: 11 TDs, joining Randy Moss as the only players since the 1970 merger with 11 TD catches in his team’s first eight games. His combination of speed, size, moves and moxie make Johnson not only the most dangerous receiver in the league this year, but the most impressive offensive player. And the competition is fierce.
Johnson often draws double coverage, yet has 47 catches for 804 yards (17.1 per catch). Many of those receptions are, well, to say spectacular is an understatement.
Runners-up: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay; Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota; Wes Welker, WR, New England; Matt Forte, RB, Chicago; Fred Jackson, RB, Buffalo.