2018 Football Outsiders Awards
comments by Vincent Verhei
Welcome to the results of the 16th annual Football Outsiders Awards -- the best and worst players of the year, as voted on by you, our readers. For those curious about the FO Award winners in past years, you will find links to each of the previous FO Awards articles on this page.
Who is your choice for Offensive MVP for 2018? (Last Year's Winner: Tom Brady)
|86.0% Patrick Mahomes, QB, KC
5.9% Drew Brees, QB, NO
4.0% Andrew Luck, QB, IND
1.7% Philip Rivers, QB, LAC
1.2% Russell Wilson, QB, SEA
1.2% Todd Gurley, RB, LAR
Mahomes led the league with 50 touchdown passes, 11 more than anyone else. He also led all passers in both DYAR and DVOA. The Chiefs scored an NFL-best 565 points and won 12 games. There's not much else a player can do to win this award past what Mahomes did in 2018.
Who is your choice for Defensive MVP for 2018? (Last Year's Winner: Aaron Donald)
| 68.9% Aaron Donald, DT, LAR
22.2% Khalil Mack, OLB, CHI
3.6% Stephon Gilmore, CB, NE
1.9% Fletcher Cox, DT, PHI
1.4% Darius Leonard, OLB, IND
|0.7% J.J. Watt, DE, HOU
0.7% Marlon Humphrey, CB, BAL
0.2% Leighton Vander Esch, OLB, DAL
0.2% Von Miller, OLB, DEN
Donald wins this award for the second year in a row, and he made the top four in both 2015 and 2016. We are all lucky to witness an all-time great career like Donald's, and he was at his best in 2018, leading the league with 20.5 sacks (nearly doubling his prior career high of 11.0) and 25 tackles for loss. He added another half-sack and four more tackles for loss in the playoffs, nearly leading the Rams to a Lombardi Trophy.
Who is your choice for Offensive Rookie of the Year for 2018? (Last Year's Winner: Alvin Kamara)
| 51.3% Baker Mayfield, QB, CLE
31.7% Saquon Barkley, RB, NYG
11.8% Quenton Nelson, LG, IND
|4.8% Phillip Lindsay, RB, DEN
0.5% Calvin Ridley, WR, ATL
While our voters' picks for Offensive and Defensive players of the year matched up with popular opinion, they saw the race for Offensive Rookie of the Year quite differently. Barkley won the AP's OROY award with 26.5 votes to 21.5 for Mayfield, but Mayfield wins our award with a majority of the vote. This is what happens when you set a rookie record with 27 touchdown passes (in only 13 starts, mind you) and your team has its best win-loss record since 2007.
Who is your choice for Defensive Rookie of the Year for 2018? (Last Year's Winner: Marshon Lattimore)
| 38.7% Darius Leonard, OLB, IND
32.8% Derwin James, FS, LAC
14.0% Leighton Vander Esch, OLB, DAL
|6.7% Bradley Chubb, OLB, DEN
5.4% Denzel Ward, CB, CLE
2.5% Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB/FS, MIA
Here our results again converge with common consensus, though a deep pool of defensive freshmen made it awfully close. Leonard was a second-round pick out of South Carolina State who stepped into the Colts' lineup and promptly led the NFL with 163 tackles, adding in two interceptions, four forced fumbles, 7.0 sacks, and 12 tackles for loss. Leonard was the only player in the league with more than 100 tackles and more than a half-dozen sacks. James didn't have the superlative numbers that Leonard did, but he was the leading tackler on a top-ten defense.
Mind you, Leonard wasn't the only impressive rookie on the Colts this season. For example:
Who was the best offensive lineman of 2018? (Last Year's Winner: Jason Kelce)
| 13.7% Quenton Nelson, G, IND
12.8% David Bakhtiari, T, GB
12.3% Mitchell Schwartz, T, KC
11.0% Andrew Whitworth, T, LAR
8.5% Jason Kelce, C, PHI
|5.8% Shaq Mason, G, NE
4.9% Terron Armstead, T, NO
3.8% Zack Martin, G, DAL
2.5% Marshal Yanda, G, BAL
2.2% Ryan Ramczyk, T, NO
In his debut NFL season, Nelson developed a reputation for highlight-worthy blocks, routinely stoning defenders at the line or driving them far away from the running back's gap. See for yourself in this video by Brian Baldinger of the NFL Network. When you've got a blocker as good as Quenton Nelson, you really should have the best offensive line in the league.
Which is your choice for Unit of the Year in 2018? (Last Year's Winner: Jacksonville secondary)
|22.7% Indianapolis offensive line
19.2% New England offensive line
18.0% Los Angeles Rams offensive line
17.0% Kansas City wide receivers/tight ends
6.5% Baltimore secondary
|6.0% Dallas linebackers
4.2% New Orleans offensive line
2.7% Houston defensive line
2.0% Minnesota defensive line
1.7% Los Angeles Chargers running backs
Turns out the Colts did have the best offensive line in the league, at least in the eyes of our readers. Indianapolis finished fourth in adjusted line yards and second in adjusted sack rate this season. They were also eighth in pressure rate allowed (subscription required). The amazing thing about the Colts' success here is that they were hardly a stable unit -- while Nelson started every game, tackles Anthony Castonzo and Braden Smith, right guard Mark Glowinski, and center Ryan Kelly each missed at least three starts. Getting results like this from turmoil like that must have taken one heck of a coach.
Who is your choice for 2018 NFL Head Coach of the Year? (Last Year's Winner: Sean McVay, LAR)
|21.7% Frank Reich, IND
21.5% Bill Belichick, NE
15.2% Andy Reid, KC
15.0% Matt Nagy, CHI
|11.4% Sean McVay, LAR
6.3% Pete Carroll, SEA
5.8% Anthony Lynn, LAC
3.1% Sean Payton, NO
I guess you can add "head coach" to the list of positions where the Colts had an impressive rookie. By the margin of a single vote, Frank Reich wins the Head Coach of the Year Award in his first season in charge in Indianapolis. He finishes ahead of both Andy Reid, who knocked him out of the playoffs, and Bill Belichick, who knocked out Reid. Matt Nagy, who won the AP's version of this award, finished just fourth in our rankings. Our readers felt another member of Chicago's coaching staff deserved the credit for the Bears' success this season.
Who is your choice for the 2018 Bill Arnsparger Award for Coordinator of the Year? (Last Year's Winner: Pat Shurmur)
| 44.4% Vic Fangio, CHI defense
21.6% Freddie Kitchens, CLE offense (interim)
15.2% Eric Bieniemy, KC offense
7.1% Don Martindale, BAL defense
4.2% Josh McDaniels, NE offense
|2.9% Leslie Frazier, BUF defense
2.2% Brant Boyer, NYJ special teams
1.7% Ken Whisenhunt, LAC offense
0.7% Pete Carmichael, NO offense
The Bears were the best defense in the league by far this year. The same unit had finished just 14th in 2017. Chicago gave up the fewest points in the league this year and also forced the most turnovers. Obviously, the additions of Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith helped, but consider that in the two games Mack missed, Chicago surrendered a total of just 19 points to the Jets and Bills.
Who is your choice for the 2018 Art Rooney Jr. Award for Executive of the Year? (Last Year's Winner: Howie Roseman, PHI)
|47.5% Chris Ballard, IND
23.6% John Dorsey, CLE
19.3% Ryan Pace, CHI
|6.9% Tom Telesco, LAC
2.0% Jerry and Stephen Jones, DAL
0.8% Brian Gaine, HOU
This award often goes to one of the Super Bowl teams almost by default, but the Colts didn't even win their own division. So let's look back at Ballard's accomplishments this season and what made him a worthy choice, shall we?
- He hired Frank Reich, the best head coach in the league.
- He traded the third pick in the draft to the Jets for three picks.
- He used one of those picks to draft Quenton Nelson, the best offensive lineman in the league.
- He used another of those picks to draft Braden Smith, another contributer to the best offensive line in the league.
- In between, he drafted the best defensive rookie in the league.
- He also hired defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, whom some readers said should have been a nominee for our top coordinator award.
Who is your choice for the 2018 John Elway Award, given to the highly-drafted player (rounds 1-2) who improved the most between 2017 and 2018? (Last Year's Winner: Jared Goff)
| 44.5% Mitchell Trubisky, QB, CHI
41.5% Mike Williams, WR, LAC
|11.8% Corey Davis, WR, TEN
2.3% Zay Jones, WR, BUF
A tight race here between a pair of 2017 top-10 draft picks. Trubisky threw for over a thousand more yards in 2018 than he had as a rookie with 17 additional touchdown passes, while taking seven fewer sacks. Williams only had 95 yards and no touchdowns in 10 games in his first year; those numbers increased to 664 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. Both went from "very bad player" to "passable starter." Our readers favored the quarterback.
Who is your choice for the 2018 Keep Choppin' Wood Award (player who most hurt his team, either on or off the field)? (Last Year's Winner: Eli Apple)
|39.0% Blake Bortles, QB, JAX
27.7% Nathan Peterman, QB, BUF
15.0% Leonard Fournette, RB, JAX
9.8% Kelvin Benjamin, WR, BUF/KC
4.7% Josh Rosen, QB, ARI
|1.7% LeGarrette Blount, RB, DET
0.7% Brent Grimes, CB, TB
0.7% Jalen Mills, CB, PHI
0.7% Julie'n Davenport, LT, HOU
Some readers said that putting two Jaguars on the ballot was unfair, because they might siphon votes from each other, handing this award to an unworthy third party. Well, that turned out not to matter -- despite splitting votes with Fournette, Bortles was the winner by a safe margin. The Jaguars reached the AFC title game in 2017, but won only five games in 2018. There's plenty of blame for that collapse to go around, but a lot of it falls on Bortles, who finished third-to-last in DYAR, ahead of only the rookie Joshes, Allen and Rosen. Bortles' strongest contender to the KCW award was Nathan Peterman, the Human Turnover. Peterman threw seven interceptions this year in only 81 pass attempts. Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers also threw seven interceptions this season -- between the two of them, in more than a thousand total passes.
Who is your choice for the 2018 Keep Choppin' Game Film Award for the most ineffective coach (head coach or coordinator)? (Last Year's Winner: Ben McAdoo, head coach, NYG)
| 66.2% Hue Jackson, CLE head coach
20.2% Jon Gruden, OAK head coach
5.1% Steve Wilks, ARI head coach
|3.4% Mike Smith, TB defense
3.2% Todd Bowles, NYJ head coach
1.9% Brian Daboll, BUF offense
We might just have to name this award after Jackson, who earned nearly two-thirds of the vote. The Browns went 3-36-1 with Jackson as head coach; they went 5-3 after firing him. Few tears were shed for Jackson after Cleveland dismissed him; he was not well-liked among his players or staff. He joined the Bengals for the rest of the season, but lost that job when Marvin Lewis was fired at the end of the year. He was linked to open assistant positions with both Minnesota and Arizona, but failed to land either job. His chances of finding more work in the NFL are dubious at best.
Who was the least deserving pick for the Pro Bowl (not including injury replacements)? (Last Year's Winner: Richie Incognito)
|35.8% Aaron Rodgers, QB, GB
19.4% Anthony Sherman, FB, KC
13.8% Tom Brady, QB, NE
10.5% Jared Goff, QB, LAR
|8.2% Benardrick McKinney, ILB, HOU
6.4% Trent Williams, LT, WAS
4.6% Eric Ebron, TE, IND
1.3% C.J. Mosley, ILB, BAL
Rodgers threw only 25 touchdowns this year, his fewest ever in a healthy season and just sixth among NFC quarterbacks. The Packers missed the playoffs for the second consecutive year, and coach Mike McCarthy didn't survive to see the end of the season. But at least Rodgers was a regular starter. Anthony Sherman played fewer than a hundred snaps on offense all season, and didn't hit ten snaps in a single game after Halloween.
Who is the most deserving offensive player left off the original Pro Bowl roster? (Last Year's Winner: Jason Kelce)
| 15.9% Alvin Kamara, RB, NO
13.0% Christian McCaffrey, RB, CAR
9.7% Andrew Luck, QB, IND
9.0% David Bakhtiari, T, GB
9.0% Russell Wilson, QB, SEA
7.9% JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, PIT
|6.5% Jason Kelce, C, PHI
6.1% Mitchell Schwartz, T, KC
3.6% Matt Ryan, QB, ATL
2.9% James Develin, FB, NE
2.9% Odell Beckham, WR, NYG
Kamara, among others on this list, did eventually play in the Pro Bowl, but only because Todd Gurley missed the game to prepare for the Super Bowl (not that he did much then, but that's another story). Kamara finished fourth among NFC running backs in yards from scrimmage, but was second with 18 total touchdowns, and he fumbled just once; Ezekiel Elliott, who was voted to the Pro Bowl, scored only nine touchdowns while fumbling six times.
Who is the most deserving defensive player left off the original Pro Bowl roster? (Last Year's Winner: Harrison Smith)
| 38.5% Darius Leonard, LB, IND
13.8% Chris Jones, DE, KC
13.1% Leighton Vander Esch, LB, DAL
8.8% Chandler Jones, DE, ARI
4.2% Tre'Davious White, CB, BUF
3.5% Desmond King, CB, LAC
|2.7% Trey Flowers, DE, NE
1.9% DeForest Buckner, DT, SF
1.2% Frank Clark, DE, SEA
1.2% Kenny Clark, DT, GB
1.2% Marlon Humphrey, CB, BAL
1.2% T.J. Watt, LB, PIT
As we noted earlier, Leonard had numbers like no other linebacker in the league last year, and certainly should have been considered one of the best at his position in the AFC.
Who is the most deserving special teams player left off the original Pro Bowl roster? (Last Year's Winner: Justin Tucker)
| 41.6% Justin Tucker, K, BAL
18.7% Wil Lutz, K, NO
6.2% Dwayne Harris, KR, OAK
3.8% Cyrus Jones, PR, NE/BAL
3.8% Tress Way, P, WAS
|3.3% Rigoberto Sanchez, P, IND
2.9% Andy Lee, P, ARI
2.9% Johnny Hekker, P, LAR
1.4% Four players tied
Tucker entered the NFL in 2012; since then, he has won this award five times in seven years. The Ravens had the best field goal/extra point numbers in the AFC this season. Tucker hit 35 of 39 field goals this season (he was perfect inside of 40 yards) and only missed one extra point -- though it was a memorable one.
Who is the player most likely to breakout in 2019? (Last Year's Winner: Patrick Mahomes)
| 9.7% Josh Rosen, QB, ARI
8.5% Sam Darnold, QB, NYJ
7.6% Baker Mayfield, QB, CLE
3.4% Courtland Sutton, WR, DEN
3.4% Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, SF
|2.5% Rashaad Penny, RB, SEA|
2.5% Sony Michel, RB, NE
2.1% Damien Williams, RB, KC
2.1% Lamar Jackson, QB, BAL
1.7% Nine players tied
Pick a rookie QB, any rookie QB! (Except Josh Allen, who got no votes -- sorry, Bills fans.) Rosen got the most support, likely due to his new head coach -- any quarterback who starts a full season in Kliff Kingsbury's offense is likely to post decent fantasy numbers if nothing else. Among non-passers, a pair of highly drafted rookies -- Denver wide receiver Courtland Sutton and Seattle running back Rashaad Penny -- have the most believers. (New England's Sony Michel also got a lot of votes, but after rushing for 336 yards and six touchdowns in three playoff games, he might have already broken out.)
Who is the player most likely to significantly decline in 2019? (Last Year's Winner: Tom Brady)
|25.7% Tom Brady, QB, NE
17.9% Drew Brees, QB, NO
7.4% Patrick Mahomes, QB, KC
5.8% Ben Roethlisberger, QB, PIT
3.9% Todd Gurley, RB, LAR
3.5% Mitchell Trubisky, QB, CHI
|3.1% Aaron Rodgers, QB, GB
2.7% Philip Rivers, QB, LAC
2.3% Adrian Peterson, QB, WAS
2.3% Antonio Brown, WR, PIT
2.3% Eli Manning, QB, NYG
It's a three-peat for Tom Brady, the best old quarterback ever. Brady has now thrown for 217 touchdowns since his age-35 season, more than 50 more than any player. But next year he'll be 42, and nobody has ever thrown for more than 11 touchdowns in a season at that age. If Brady is still a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback next year, that might be his most impressive accomplishment yet.
While this list is mostly composed of old quarterbacks, a very young quarterback also appears. It may seem odd to suggest that Patrick Mahomes has peaked at age 22, but nobody has ever thrown for 50 touchdowns in a season more than once. What's he going to do, throw for 60 touchdowns? (OK, maybe, yes, he might.)
Which of the following teams is most likely next season's surprise Super Bowl contender? (Last Year's Winner: Houston Texans/San Francisco 49ers)
19.8% San Francisco
7.3% Tampa Bay
3.0% New York Giants
2.5% New York Jets
The Browns won five of their last seven games in 2018. By DVOA, they had the best offense in the league from Week 10 onward. They seem to have a franchise quarterback around whom to build. They have the 17th pick in April's draft, an extra third-rounder, and three picks in the fifth. Per Over The Cap, they have the third-most cap space going into the year. Their new head coach was voted one of the top assistants in 2018. Their division rivals include one rebuilding team, one soap opera, and an offense that scored 17 points at home in a playoff loss. Hue Jackson is gone. There's a lot to like about this team beyond just a classic underdog story.
Which playoff team is most likely to miss the postseason in 2019? (Last Year's Winner: Buffalo Bills)
| 30.0% Dallas
5.2% L.A. Chargers
2.5% New England
1.7% New Orleans
1.0% L.A. Rams
0.2% Kansas City
The Cowboys finished the regular season at 10-6, but that includes a 9-3 record in games decided by eight points or less. With more typical luck in close contests, they likely would have missed the playoffs entirely. They share a division with the Eagles, who once again won a playoff game with their backup quarterback, and Washington, who might have won the division if their quarterback hadn't ruined his leg. The road back to the postseason will be a tough one.
Which of these turnaround units is most likely to keep its improvement and fight off regression to the mean in 2019? (Last Year's Winner: Jacksonville defense)
|49.1% Indianapolis offense (29/10)
23.4% Chicago defense (14/1)
6.8% Houston defense (23/7)
6.3% Dallas defense (25/9)
|5.8% Indianapolis defense (27/10)
4.5% Buffalo defense (15/2)
2.3% New York Jets special teams (25/1)
1.8% New York Giants special teams (32/3)
We've talked an awful lot about the Colts today, but we haven't said much about Andrew Luck yet. Well, we should point out that Indianapolis was 29th in offensive DVOA in 2017 when Luck missed the entire season, but tenth this year with a healthy Luck (and a hundred other things that went as well as could be expected). Assuming Luck can stay on the field again and the Colts' other young stars can continue to develop, they're likely to be closer to the top of the table than the bottom for some time now.
Which ad wins the "Get Your Story Straight" Award for best commercial or ad campaign during NFL games this season? (Last Year's Winner: Bud Light "Dilly Dilly")
|27.0% Geico, "Stefon Diggs' Hands"
21.6% Progressive, "Don't Become Your Parents" campaign
19.4% Budweiser, "Bud Knight/Dilly Dilly" campaign
12.1% Microsoft Surface, "Orakpo/Griffin cupcakes"
|6.5% Chantix, Ray Liotta ad
6.2% Google Pixel 3, "Flash"
4.2% Call of Duty, Clay Matthews ad
3.1% Allstate, "Tree Still Standing"
If we redid this voting now, the NFL 100 ad that aired during the Super Bowl would likely win in a landslide. Instead, Stefon Diggs' appearance for Geico finishes on top of a pile of lukewarm contenders.
Which ad wins the "John Mellencamp Must Die" Award for worst commercial or ad campaign during NFL games this season? (Last Year's Winner: Bud Light "Dilly Dilly")
|27.8% Bud Light, "Bud Knight/Dilly Dilly" campaign
21.4% State Farm, Aaron Rodgers campaign
14.2% FS1, Colin Cowherd at the Dry Cleaner
10.2% Pizza Hut, Abraham Lincoln
|8.8% GMC, MultiPro Tailgate "Anthem"
8.0% Tide, "This is a Tide Ad"
5.6% Hims, Emoji Snoop Dogg
4.0% Corona, Tony Romo's Corona Hotline
On the other hand, there were tons of bad ads. As some readers pointed out, this list doesn't even include the Verizon ads, or the Chevy "focus group" ads, or the GMC ad where a 30-something husband bought matching his-and-hers $65,000 trucks without consulting his wife first. And had the voting period run a week or two later, Chevrolet's spoken-word rendition of "Little Bit Country/Little Bit Rock and Roll" might have finished strong. In the end, Dilly Dilly won for the second year in a row. If nothing else, the campaign is definitely polarizing -- it also won for best ad in 2017, and finished third in that category this year. I'm a fan, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.
What was your favorite touchdown celebration of 2018?Last Year's Winner: Duck Duck Gray Duck (MIN)
| 24.9% Michael Thomas doing the Joe Horn cell phone routine (NO)
12.2% Tyler Lockett doing the Allen Iverson crossover (SEA)
11.6% Tyreek Hill takes over the camera (KC)
11.4% Chicago's Thanksgiving Motown celebration (CHI)
10.8% Ezekiel Elliott putting $21 in the Salvation Army kettle (DAL)
10.5% Tennessee's "Remember the Titans" dance (TEN)
7.6% Minnesota does the Limbo (MIN)
4.9% Amari Cooper doing a Markelle Fultz free throw (OAK)
4.3% Trey Quinn doing "The Scarn" (WAS)
1.9% Joe Mixon playing Stevie Wonder (CIN)
If you were to put together a Mount Rushmore of end zone celebrations, you'd probably have Billy "White Shoes" Johnson and Deion Sanders for their dances, Terrell Owens for … well, a lot of things, and Joe Horn for his phone call. So when Michael Thomas paid tribute to Horn by mimicking his cell phone celebration, the veteran Saints receiver was moved.
"When I saw him bring out that cellphone, I teared up," Horn tells Jeff Duncan of the Times-Picayune. "That's something that some kids don't do, to pay homage to an old soul. For him to do it on a national stage took a lot of courage. I'm humbled."
Who says end zone celebrations are selfish?
Thanks to everyone for participating in our 16th annual awards balloting!