Below, I have nominated MVP’s of offense and defense, the best play, the worst play, and an unheralded star. Let’s start with a seemingly forgotten player that was the best performer on his team.
Offensive MVP - Brandin Cooks
Despite posting unremarkable numbers in quite a few games, Brandin Cooks still posted very good numbers for the Saints. The third-year receiver set a career high with 1,173 yards, and he came just shy of tying his career high in touchdowns with eight. During multiple games, Cooks was third fiddle to Willie Snead and rookie Michael Thomas, yet this didn’t limit his production. In fact, Cooks ended up leading the team in receiving yards and yards-per-reception. He was second to Thomas in receptions (78 to 92) and touchdowns (8 to 9). This production is even more impressive considering that he was held without a catch against the Rams.
Cooks was a fantastic players all season, finishing seventh in the NFL in yards and tied for ninth in touchdowns. Most importantly, he led my wife’s fantasy team to a championship.
Runners Up: Jacquizz Rodgers, Andy Levitre
Defensive MVP - Steven Nelson
Unfortunately, 2016 was a rough year for former Oregon State defenders. Keenan Lewis didn’t make it out of Training Camp before being waived with an injury, Stephen Paea was inactive for multiple games, and Jordan Poyer went on injured reserve with a lacerated spleen. Even Obum Gwacham and Scott Crichton spent the year recovering from injuries. Basically, the only two healthy defenders throughout last season were DJ Alexander and Steven Nelson. Alexander only logged defensive snaps in one game so the award goes to Nelson.
I’m not trying to sound demeaning; Nelson was simply the last man standing. He was actually an integral part of the Chiefs secondary, registering 65 tackles and 16 passes defensed. He also ensured victory against the Jaguars by knocking down a fourth down pass intended for Brian Walters. Sure, Nelson is lesser known than Marcus Peters or Eric Berry, but he is a very important player.
Runners Up: Stephen Paea, Jordan Poyer, DJ Alexander
Unheralded Star - Matt Moore
There are quite a few nominees that fit the description of Unheralded Star. For example, Jacquizz Rodgers piled 560 yards and played well in multiple games--especially against the Panthers--to help the Buccaneers win more games than expected. Even Derek Anderson played fairly well in a couple starts. However, neither of these players took their teams to the playoffs. Matt Moore did just that in relief of Ryan Tannehill.
Moore played in four regular season games this season (starting three) and led his team to three straight victories to lock up a Wild Card spot. He compiled a passer rating of 105.6 while throwing for 721 yards with eight touchdowns. Four of these scores came against the Jets as the Dolphins obliterated their AFC East rival. Multiple NFL analysts were quick to point out Moore’s weaker arm, but he made the most of his skills and proved why he is one of the best backups in the league.
Runners Up: Jacquizz Rodgers, Derek Anderson, Johnny Hekker
Best Play - Brandin Cooks’ 98-yard Touchdown Reception
Week one’s high-flying affair between the Oakland Raiders and the New Orleans Saints was one of the most entertaining games this season. Derek Carr and Drew Brees went toe-to-toe with big plays as the youngster eventually led his team to victory. The Raiders may have won the game, but Brandin Cooks was by far the best player on the field as he caught six passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns. The best of these catches embarrassed the Raiders secondary and gave the Saints a 23-10 lead in the third quarter.
Drew Brees and the Saints offense were lined up on their own two-yard line looking to drive the length of the field for a crucial score. As Brees dropped back, Cooks faked to the right, completely faking out Sean Smith, and raced down the left sideline where he caught a deep throw in stride. He outran both Smith and Reggie Nelson for a 98-yard touchdown. The embarrassing part is that the Raiders brought Smith from Kansas city and Nelson from Cincinnati to shore up the back end of the defense. Nelson was a Pro Bowler in 2015 for goodness sake!
The Saints may have lost this game, but Cooks needs to be highlighted for this play. He showed off the triple threat of route running, speed, and great hands en route the touchdown. The perfect ball placement by Brees was just an added bonus.
Runners Up: DJ Alexander’s forced fumble against Jacksonville, Matt Moore’s 52-yard TD to Kenny Stills
Worst Play - Derek Anderson’s Interception
The Panthers were in the midst of a losing season when they traveled to Seattle for a match-up on Sunday Night Football. Cam Newton was listed as the starter, but the Panthers instead trotted out Derek Anderson for the first snap. As it turns out, Newton was being benched on the first series for a “clothing infraction”. Ron Rivera’s goal was to have Anderson lead a long drive and possibly put the Panthers up to start the game. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen.
Anderson dropped back on the first play from scrimmage, ran to the right, and threw a short pass to his fullback, Mike Tolbert. Unprepared for the pass, Tolbert made an attempt at a catch only to have the ball bounce off his hands and into the waiting arms of Mike Morgan. The linebacker returned his interception to the seven yard line and set the Seahawks offense up with first-and-goal. Anderson ended up on his back amidst some bizarre bits of commentary from Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth. What started as a chance to impress his head coach became a nightmare scenario for Anderson.