NFL: The Halfway-There Awards
Their work is only half completed, yet they deserve front-runner status for this seasonís NFL awards. And yes, we know how everything can change in the next eight weeks.
For now, though, hereís the whoís who of honorees for 2011.
OFFENSIVE ROOKIE: Cam Newton, QB, Carolina.
Itís hard ó make that nearly impossible ó to argue with this choice. From his debut right through the bye week, the top overall draft pick has surpassed early expectations. Newton has been just as dynamic and creative as he was in leading Auburn to the national championship, and heís made the Panthers relevant again even if they are 2-6. They are not an easy out for any opponent.
Runner-up: Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati.
DEFENSIVE ROOKIE: Aldon Smith, DE-LB, San Francisco.
Smith has been a force as a pass rusher and solid in run defense almost from the beginning of the season
Runner-up: Chris Conte, S, Chicago
OFFENSIVE PLAYER: Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit.
ěMegatronî to the Max best describes what Johnson has achieved in eight games: 11 TDs, joining Randy Moss as the only players since the 1970 merger with 11 TD catches in his teamís first eight games.
Runner-up: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay
DEFENSIVE PLAYER: LaMarr Woodley, LB, Steelers.
Woodley is dealing with a left hamstring problem, about the only thing to slow him this season.
Runner-up: Jared Allen, DE, Minnesota.
COMEBACK PLAYER: Steve Smith, WR, Carolina.
Nobody has been recharged more than Smith, who was expecting to ask out of Carolina after last seasonís two-win season. He even contemplated retirement.
Now, energized by the addition of Newton and a new coaching staff, Smith is as dangerous and dynamic as ever. He is averaging 20 yards a reception for his 46 catches, has scored four times, and also has provided guidance for Newton and several other younger Panthers in what could be his fifth Pro Bowl season.
Runners-up: Will Smith, DE, New Orleans.
COACH: Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco.
A valid argument can be made for a handful of coaches whose teams have either surged unexpectedly in the standings (Detroit, Buffalo, Cincinnati), improved exponentially from a very good to great team (Green Bay), or overcome a slew of injuries and some locker room tension to be in first place (New York Giants).
The best job has been done by a rookie. Harbaugh not only has changed the mindset and attitude in the Bay Area with his enthusiasm, but heís turned Alex Smith into a serviceable and, more significantly, winning quarterback.
MVP: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay.
As the NFL has evolved into a quarterback-driven league, that position has dominated the headlines, the highlight shows and this award.
Some would say the current version of Rodgers is better than any particular version of predecessor Brett Favre during his record-setting career.