Here are my picks for the Falcons players most deserving of these superlative awards through the first half of the 2011 season:
Offensive MVP: Tony Gonzalez
This was tough because in recent games, Michael Turner is probably the most valuable player on offense. When Turner runs well, the Falcons tend to win. But I thought Gonzo is deserving because he’s been consistent throughout the entire first half of the season. Turner was pretty average through the first 4 games of the year, although part of that could be blamed on the changes up front. But he just didn’t look like the same Michael Turner that he has been in the past month. He’s now running harder than he was early on, and thus part of his struggles were on him. With that said, Gonzo has been money throughout the year, particularly in the redzone where he is basically our entire redzone offense. Another reason for putting him here, is because I was one of those people that thought after last year, Gonzo was done. Still a solid, productive tight end, but no longer one of the best at his position. Boy, has he shown me I was dead wrong. He still has the best hands in the business, and while his explosiveness isn’t what it once was, he still has made a number of big plays at critical moments in games.
Defensive MVP: Sean Weatherspoon
If you had to pick one Falcon defender that is truly deserving of making the Pro Bowl this year, then it’s definitely Spoon. He’s been playing lights out all year long, making plays vs. the run, as a pass rusher, and in coverage. He’s been a valuable every down defender. While Spoon hasn’t been perfect, like Gonzalez on offense he has made his presence known in virtually every game. While he flashed this level of ability early on as a rookie, he’s taken things to a brand new level. And if he maintains this level of play in the second half of the season, he should definitely be on his way to Hawaii. If I had to choose a runner-up, it would probably be Brent Grimes. But he’s not having quite the impact he was having a year ago, partially because teams are not throwing at him as often as they did a year ago. But Grimes is staying playing at a fairly high level, just isn’t getting as many opportunities to make those big, game-changing impact players like he was a year ago.
Special Teams MVP: Matt Bryant
Who else would you pick? “Money” Matt Bryant has been everything his nickname indicates he should be.
Rookie of the Year: Julio Jones
Jacquizz Rodgers has had a solid rookie campaign, but just hasn’t gotten nearly enough opportunities to really contest this selection. Julio had his ups and downs early on, but we’ve also seen more than just glimpses of his ability this year. We’ve seen some really big games from him, notably Seattle and last week in Indianapolis. If not for missing two games due to his hamstring injury, he might be a serious contender for overall Offensive MVP.
Top Newcomer: Kelvin Hayden
Excluding draft picks, and looking at all of the additions the Falcons have made this year, then this one probably goes to Hayden. This probably should be an award that Ray Edwards wins, but Edwards hasn’t had a huge impact early on. But he’s started to pick things up in recent weeks, and hopefully he can maintain this for the rest of the year, so by year’s end he is the one that deserves this one. But Hayden even on fairly short notice started to make plays. He hasn’t been perfect, since he is second on the team behind Curtis Lofton with blown coverages, but unlike say another Falcon corner who shall remain nameless, Hayden is at least making some plays to make up for his mistakes. His 2 picks, 2 passes defended, and ability to defend the run as well as bring pressure off the corner more than make up for some of the struggles he’s had defending the slot. Hayden is a free agent after this season, and if he continues to play at this level the Falcons should definitely be entertaining locking him up to a long-term contract after the season.
Most Improved Player: Corey Peters
Peters has been far and away the most improved player, with his play over the last month. With Babineaux, the team’s usual most valuable player, still recovering from injury the Falcons needed someone to step up to provide push and pressure up the middle. Peters has been the one to step up. Peters rookie season was pretty bad, although he managed to turn a corner over the last month of the 2010. Well this year, after a slow start, he managed to turn a second corner and is now playing at a high level. He still has a long ways to go before he’s in Babineaux’s league but his production through the first half of this year, mainly against the pass has completely blown away his entire production as a rookie last year. Last year, he combined for a total of 4.5 sacks/pressures/hits, while this year he already has 6 at the midpoint. He’s also made significant improvements against the run, as a year ago he was second on the team in the number of times he was key blocked (12). This year, that has only happened to him once. And he’s also already well on pace to exceed his number of tackles for loss from a year ago (4.5) with 3 so far this year.
Most Disappointing Player: Matt Ryan
Unfortunately, there are probably too many candidates that deserve consideration for this award. But it’s without a doubt, Matt Ryan’s award thus far this season. Ryan has just not played up to par. There are a multitude of reasons (or excuses) of why that is, but the bottom line is that if the Falcons intend to make a serious playoff run in the second half of the season, Matt Ryan has to be better than he has been. Ryan has been hot and cold at various points this year, but there have been too many cold streaks, and the alternative of being just lukewarm is not where you want your QB to be.