As we are half-way through the Patriots season prior to Sunday night’s showdown against the Seahawks, it seems appropriate to examine the team and give out some awards. The team is 7-1 through eight games this season and the only one of two (Cowboys) teams left in the league with only one loss. So surely, there are some players who have stuck out this season (but also some that stunk as well) and we will take a look at them and high-light their first halves of the 2016 season.
Mid-Season MVP – Tom Brady, Quarterback: Not only may Brady be the team’s MVP through the half-way point of the season, but he could be the front-runner for the NFL MVP as well. Brady, in his four games, has thrown for 1,319 yards, 12 touchdowns and no interceptions. That averages out to just under 330 yards per game and three touchdowns. He also leads the NFL in passing yards per attempt (9.8), passer rating (133.9) and completion percentage (73.1%) despite only playing four out of a possible eight games. Even at age 39, Brady came back from his four game suspension and showed no rust at all. There is no question Brady is the biggest reason for the team’s 7-1 start and he shows no signs of slowing down as the team is ready to come off bye.
Mid-Season Offensive Player of the Year – LeGarrette Blount, Running Back: To prevent any double-dipping in categories, we went with the other top offensive player for the Patriots. Coming off a major hip injury that ended his 2015 season prematurely, Blount has bounced back in a big way. Entering week ten, Blount is tied with Melvin Gordon for first in the NFL with nine rushing touchdowns. He is eighth in the NFL with 76.1 rushing yards per game and 10th in overall rushing yards with 609. He is tied for seventh among running backs with 33 rushing attempts that resulted in a first down and is fifth in the NFL with 161 rushing attempts. He has three games this season with over 100 yards rushing and has scored a touchdown in seven of his eight games as well. Blount has helped keep the Patriots balanced on offense and also be a big yard-churner when needed. He has been a pleasant surprise this season and many can only hope he continues his great season in the second half of the season.
Mid-Season Offensive Rookie of the Year – Joe Thuney, Offensive Guard: A third round draft pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Thuney has arguably played above expectations so far this season. Along with David Andrews, Thuney has played every offensive snap this season (307). He has only given up one sack all season, which is very impressive for a rookie. While he has struggled at times by giving up 22 pressures (7.2% of the time), he and left tackle Nate Solder have formed a very formidable left side of their offensive line. He has become a staple on this offense and is already embedded in a starting role. One could even contend he has been the team’s most consistent offensive lineman as well. He has done a very solid job in the first half of his rookie season.
Mid-Season Defensive Player of the Year – Malcolm Butler, Cornerback: Butler established himself in 2015 as a solid number one cornerback and has perhaps improved so far in 2016. He has given up only 23 receptions on 52 targets this season, good for a 44.2% catch rate. He has 11 pass deflections on the season, tied for fourth in the NFL along with giving up only 6.6 yards per target as well. When opposing quarterbacks have thrown towards him, they have only a 65 passer rating. Butler hasn’t necessarily been a “shut-down” cornerback, but he has been a player that opposing teams try to avoid when passing. In a contract year, he has shown exactly why the Patriots need to re-sign him long-term. For whatever it’s worth, Devin McCourty was a close second in this category for his equally terrific play.
Mid-Season Defensive Rookie of the Year – Elandon Roberts, Linebacker: Roberts, a sixth round draft pick, has broken out this season. After barely making it on the 53 man roster to start the season, Roberts has played so well that he may have played a part in the Patriots trading away star linebacker Jamie Collins recently. Roberts has played especially well in run defense. When Roberts is on the field, the Patriots on average allow 3.13 yards per rush. When he is off the field, the team gives up on average 3.91 yards, meaning Roberts has a rush differential of 0.78 yards, good for 10th among middle linebackers in the NFL. To break it down even further, Roberts has a rush differential of 1.89 yards on first downs (good for eighth best among middle linebackers). Roberts is expected to start opposite Dont’a Hightower in their base defense of four defensive lineman, two linebackers and five defensive backs (four-two-five defense) and has the opportunity to do even better in the second half of the season. Another worthy recipient of this would be Woodrow Hamilton, who has played extremely well at defensive tackle, especially against the run as well.
Most Improved – Marcus Cannon, Offensive Tackle: After a disastrous 2015 which saw Cannon be exposed as arguably one of the worst offensive tackles, it wasn’t a surety that he’d be back with the Patriots for the 2016 season. New England kept him and slotted him as the their starting right tackle after losing Sebastian Vollmer for the season. So far, Cannon has done much better than expected, allowing only two sacks on 261 snaps. Along with that, he has 18 pressures as well for a 6.9% pressure rate, which is second on the team among their starting offensive line. Cannon has issues in run blocking still, but has improved across the board in pass protection. Hopefully he can keep up the solid play in the last eight games of the season.
Biggest Mid-Season Disappointment – Logan Ryan, Cornerback: After a break-out 2015 where he arguably was just as good as Malcolm Butler, Ryan has struggled so far this season. He allowed only 51% of passes thrown his way in 2015 to be caught while giving up only 700 yards receiving with four interceptions and eight pass break-ups. This season, Ryan has no interceptions after leading the team last season and has allowed a catch on 61.2% of passes thrown his way. He has also given up a 95.6 passer rating when opposing quarterbacks throw his way. Ryan hasn’t necessarily been “terrible”, but his play has dropped off quite a bit compared to 2015. Hopefully, he can pick up his play to finish out the season as he is due to be a free agent at the end of the season. Jabaal Sheard deserves an honorable mention here for his lack of pass rush numbers.