My annual early awards survey was completed this week by high-ranking executives from 26 NFL teams, including 15 general managers. All 26 individuals participated on the condition of anonymity for competitive reasons and to provide an honest assessment.
Who are the big winners in seven notable categories? Here's a rundown, with help from statistics compiled by NFL Media researcher Matt Okada.
Most Valuable Player
Mahomes (16 votes) easily outdistanced the runner-up, Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (6.5).
So, why does Mahomes get the nod?
“Why not? He’s the best quarterback in the league,” said an AFC executive. “Hurts is having a great year. [But Mahomes] has got 35 touchdown [passes]. They win. They’ve got a lot of weapons, but he’s just so different.”
Mahomes leads the NFL in passing yards (4,496) and passing touchdowns, putting him well on pace to record the eighth season in NFL history with 5,000 yards and 40 TDs -- something he also did in 2018, when he won the MVP. The Chiefs have the NFL’s No. 1 scoring offense (29.6 points per game) and total offense (429.4 yards per game), with an NFL high in third-down percentage (51.2) and yards per play (6.5) despite the shocking trade that sent star receiver Tyreek Hill to Miami back in March.
"The games when he is really on it, they're unbeatable. And it's him," another AFC exec said. "You could argue Hurts and Allen, but whatever receivers they roll into K.C., he makes it work."
Meanwhile, Hurts has 35 total touchdowns -- 22 passing, 13 rushing -- and just seven giveaways, the best ratio in the NFL. He’s also the youngest quarterback (24) in NFL history to lead his team to 13 wins in its first 14 games. A sprained throwing shoulder clouds his status in the short term, which could impact his MVP candidacy but shouldn’t detract from what he has accomplished.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen (2 votes), Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (1) and Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson (0.5) also received votes.
Offensive Player of the Year
Jefferson (13.5 votes) leads the NFL in receptions (111) and receiving yards (1,623), putting him on pace to topple Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson’s decade-old record for single-season receiving yards (1,964). His nine 100-yard games also are an NFL-best on a Vikings team that increasingly revolves around getting him the football.
"The f---ing guy is good, man," an AFC executive said. "He knows how to create separation. He catches everything. I don't know why we're surprised -- he was just like that at LSU. They had (Ja'Marr) Chase too, but he was the clutch guy."
As one NFC executive said: “What Derrick Henry is to Tennessee -- and this isn’t a slight at the Vikings’ other players -- if you remove [Jefferson], it would probably have as big an impact as anyone from an offense as a non-quarterback.”
Patrick Mahomes received six votes in this category as well. Dolphins receiver Tyreek Hill (2.5), Jalen Hurts (2), Josh Allen (1), Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (0.5) and Joe Burrow (0.5) also received votes.
Defensive Player of the Year
It was a rout for Bosa, who received 17.5 votes. Bosa leads the NFL in sacks (15.5) and QB hits (38) and ranks second in QB pressures (58), behind only Myles Garrett, despite missing one game with a groin injury. He’s a big reason the 49ers rank No. 1 in scoring defense (15 points allowed per game) and total defense (286.1 yards allowed per game) and have already clinched the NFC West with a rookie third-stringer at quarterback.
“Even when he’s not getting stat-sheet production, he gets quiet production, too,” said an NFC executive. “Usually, you’re either a make-a-mess guy or a cleanup guy. He’s both. He’s fun to watch.”
Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons received eight votes. Parsons has six games with at least two sacks this season -- double the next most by any player -- giving him 13 on the season, in addition to three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries (one returned for a TD) and 59 tackles. The only player with 13-plus sacks, multiple fumbles forced and multiple fumbles recovered last season? Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt.
“I’m trying to imagine that defense without [Parsons], and I still think they’re OK,” an NFC executive said, “but he’s so f---ing good.”
Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams also received a half-vote.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
It was a three-way race, with Wilson (9 votes) edging out Saints receiver Chris Olave (6) and Texans running back Dameon Pierce (5). Wilson leads all rookies in receptions (67) and receiving yards (966) -- both franchise rookie records -- and the No. 10 overall pick continues to emerge as a dynamic weapon on a Jets team that has a chance to return to the playoffs.
According to Next Gen Stats, Olave leads all rookies with 1,482 air yards (defined as the vertical yards downfield relative to the line of scrimmage, including yards into the end zone) and ranks fifth among all players in that category, behind only Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, Justin Jefferson and Stefon Diggs. Pierce leads all rookies with 939 rushing yards and 1,104 scrimmage yards and has forced 0.28 missed tackles per rush attempt, second-best in the NFL, behind only the Packers’ Aaron Jones, per PFF.
Seahawks running back Kenneth Walker III received three votes. Packers receiver Christian Watson and Panthers offensive lineman Ikem Ekwonu received one vote each. One voter abstained.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Gardner ran away with this award, getting 18 votes.
“He’s been extremely consistent for a rookie,” an NFC executive said of Gardner. “Sauce has been targeted 59 times; he’s only given up three explosive plays. He’s just helped make that pass rush that much better.”
Gardner leads the NFL with 16 passes defended and leads all NFL defensive backs with an 89.6 coverage grade, per PFF. The runner-up was Seahawks cornerback Tariq Woolen (five votes), who was drafted No. 153 overall -- 149 spots after Gardner went to New York at No. 4. Woolen is tied with Eagles safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson for the league lead in interceptions (6) and leads the NFL with eight total takeaways, the most by a rookie since Marcus Peters in 2015. (The last rookie to lead the NFL in takeaways was Orlando Thomas in 1995.)
Lions defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson and Texans defensive back Jalen Pitre received one vote each. One voter abstained.
Coach of the Year
The Eagles are cruising toward the NFC’s No. 1 seed in their second year under Sirianni. Philadelphia is 13-1 this season and 19-4 (including playoffs) since Week 10 of the 2021 season. Their offense ranks second in scoring (29.4 points per game) and first in red-zone touchdown TD percentage (73.5%), while the defense leads the NFL in sacks (55) and is second in takeaways (25).
"They have played 14 games; they have won 13 of them," an NFC executive said. "There's a lot of moving parts that a head coach has to balance and manage throughout the course of a season. Sirianni has done that while also overseeing Hurts not only continue to develop, but thrive as a young QB in his offense."
Sirianni received 7.5 votes to beat out 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan (6), whose team has won seven straight games and has wrapped up the NFC West title while playing "Mr. Irrelevant," rookie seventh-round pick Brock Purdy.
"He's on his third quarterback -- let's just start with that," an AFC exec said. "And [Shanahan's] been pretty good. The Niners had some (other) injuries and they survived and haven't skipped a beat."
Others receiving votes included Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell (3.5), Giants coach Brian Daboll (2.5), Lions coach Dan Campbell (1.5), Bengals coach Zac Taylor (1), Jaguars coach Doug Pederson (1), Commanders coach Ron Rivera (1), Titans coach Mike Vrabel (1) and Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel (1).
Executive of the Year
It’s not just that Roseman -- who received 13.5 votes -- has built the team with the NFL’s best record at 13-1. It’s the fact that he did it five years after a very different Eagles team won Super Bowl LII, while also setting up Philadelphia to keep adding beyond this season. They own the Saints’ first-round pick in the 2023 draft, which is slotted ninth overall entering Week 16.
“He’s just been really aggressive the way he’s built the roster,” said a rival GM. “Trade back, trade forward. Hired a coach no one really knew much about who took some lumps in the first year. And he’s just really turned over the roster. Took Hurts, wasn’t popular, second-round pick -- now he’s an MVP candidate. Finally got the receivers right -- they missed on (Justin) Jefferson (to take Jalen Reagor in the 2020 draft), they kept attacking it, took [DeVonta Smith] and made an aggressive trade (for A.J. Brown). The O-line solidified. And now the defense that struggled last year is No. 2.”
Roseman also acquired C.J. Gardner-Johnson from the Saints for pocket change in a separate trade and swiftly addressed issues with the run defense by signing veteran defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph.
“He’s playing three-dimensional football executive,” another rival exec said. “I thought Howie set the bar when he had the offseason where he traded away Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso to move up in the draft and then moved up again for Carson Wentz, and ends up winning a Super Bowl with a backup quarterback (Nick Foles). I considered that his hat tip, but nope, he did it again, the m-----------.”
Seahawks GM John Schneider (6.5 votes) was the runner-up, thanks to the bold Russell Wilson trade that delivered a haul from Denver and a draft class that produced OROY and DROY candidates in Kenneth Walker III and Tariq Woolen and two starting offensive tackles. The Seahawks are in the playoff hunt at 7-7, and Wilson's replacement, Geno Smith, was just selected to the Pro Bowl.
"The whole world told (Schneider) they were f---ing gonna not be worth a s---," a third executive said. "They were competitive. He drafts Woolen in what f---ing round was that? And then those two tackles. That was pretty brave. Then just managing the quarterback position. That's hard to do."
Jets GM Joe Douglas got two votes. Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, 49ers GM John Lynch, Chiefs GM Brett Veach and Bills GM Brandon Beane got one each.