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Handing Out Awards for the Carolina Panthers over the First Quarter of 2015

The 2015 regular season is already a quarter of the way done and the Carolina Panthers are sitting atop the NFC South tied with the Atlanta Falcons at 4-0. Publisher Brandon Croce hands out his awards for the Panthers for the first four weeks of the season.

MVP

Winner: Josh Norman

There was really only two options here for MVP for the Carolina Panthers and that was Cam Newton and Norman. However, it really wasn't a contest as Norman has been playing at an incredibly high level and was recognized as NFC Defensive Player of the Month for his play in September.

He leads the league in turnovers with five and already has career numbers in interceptions (four) and touchdowns (two). There are 20 teams in the NFL who don't have four interceptions collectively and there is only one team with more than two defensive touchdowns (Arizona Cardinals).

Unfortunately, I don't expect these numbers to continue due in large part because opposing quarterbacks will stop throwing his direction if he continues to play at this level.

Most Improved

Winner: Cam Newton

This could be due in large part to the fact that Newton is finally healthy after struggling through injuries in 2014. Whatever the reason, Newton is playing some of his best football of his career over this four game stretch.

While none of his passing totals will jump out at anyone (55.4 completion pct., 809 passing yards, and seven touchdowns) the biggest positive is that he is not turning the ball over. Prior to this season, Newton averaged 1.14 turnovers per game and that number has dropped to .75 turnovers per game this season. 

Newton looks very relaxed in this offense and has done a good job of picking up first downs, both through the air and on the ground. The team is going to need this if they hope to stay atop the NFC South.

Biggest Disappointment

Winner: Jonathan Stewart

This came down to two players for me: Stewart and Michael Oher and the reason Stewart was the pick was because his expectations were higher entering this season. Oher has struggled the past few seasons and the Panthers hoped they could get him to bounce back at left tackle. That just hasn't been the case as Oher is rated as the fifth worst left tackle by Pro Football Focus.

Now Stewart entered the season with some rather high expectations as the team felt comfortable releasing DeAngelo Williams and turning the reigns over to Stewart. This made perfect sense considering Stewart finished the 2014 season averaging just under 100 rushing yards over the final six games, including the playoffs. 

That success hasn't translated to 2015 as Stewart is only averaging 55 yards per game and only 3.7 yards per carry. The Panthers are going to need to try and find a way to get their run game going over the final 12 games to make this offense much more effective.

Unsung Hero

Winner: Kawann Short and A.J. Klein

This was one award that I couldn't pick a winner as both players are deserving. Defensive tackle Kawann Short is playing some of the best football of his career and is currently rated as the third best defensive tackle according to Pro Football Focus. This performance is even more impressive when you consider Short has had to play out with his teammate, Star Lotulelei, for the first couple of weeks as he recovered from a foot injury.

Another player who has been key to the Panthers success but may not get the credit he deserves is linebacker A.J. Klein. The third year linebacker was given an almost impossible task by filling in for star linebacker Luke Kuechly, who has missed the past three games due to a concussion.

Klein has done a remarkable job manning the position and playing at a high level. He has averaged seven tackles the past three games and even had a key interception in Week 2 against the Houston Texans. The Panthers hope that Kuechly will return next week against the Seattle Seahawks but Klein should have a major role for the rest of the season.

Rookie of the Quarter

Winner: Shaq Thompson

There really wasn't much competition here as Shaq Thompson is the only rookie who has seen substantial playing time. Wide receiver Devin Funchess only has three receptions and running back Cameron Artis-Payne only has 11 carries over the first four weeks. Offensive tackle Daryl Williams suffered a knee injury Week 1 and David Mayo has had nothing of note.

Meanwhile, Thompson has seen his role in this defense increase every week, especially with Klein moving inside. The Panthers have really not had a choice but to use Thompson and he has responded well. Over the last three games, Thompson has 16 tackles and one sack.

One player to keep an eye on going forward though is defensive end Ryan Delaire, who had two sacks in his season debut with the Panthers' in Week 4. 

Twitter @BrandonCroce.

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