Spec Awards: NFL

Read The Spectator’s picks for our 2023 end-of-season NFL awards!

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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By Kaileen So

With the NFL postseason looming, The Spectator’s sports editors have decided to sit down and give awards—both conventional and unconventional. We tried to stray away from just following the odds-on favorites and instead pick the ones who truly deserve it. In a season filled with the unexpected and unprecedented, it was too good to not give recognition to the players and teams that defined the season.

MVP: Christian McCaffrey

Traditionally a quarterback-dominated award, we decided to go with the less-obvious choice of Christian McCaffrey. In large, critics are leaning toward quarterback Lamar Jackson, but why? Both Jackson and McCaffrey are on terrific teams, and McCaffrey has been tearing up the statsbook as opposed to Jackson. Jackson is 15th amongst QBs in total yards (3,678) and seventh in total touchdowns (29)—respectable, but not MVP-caliber numbers.

McCaffrey, meanwhile, is on par with all former MVP-winning running backs in all-purpose yards (2,023 yards, 126.4 Y/G) and total touchdowns (21), two critical stats when evaluating a running back. As any true MVP should, McCaffrey’s individual talent is propelling his whole team: his pass-catching threat makes the whole San Francisco 49ers offense click, bringing them to a level of efficacy we haven’t seen in years. The Niners had the second-highest yards per game (398.4 yards) and tied for the highest total touchdowns in the season.

Offensive Player of the Year: Tyreek Hill

In becoming the first player in NFL history to have multiple 1,700 receiving-yard seasons, Tyreek Hill tore up defenses this past season. While Hill was obviously deadly on the Kansas City Chiefs, he never reached the 1,700-yard mark with them, as his last two seasons with the Miami Dolphins were the first to surpass the mark. He was tied for first in receiving touchdowns with 13, and he also broke the Dolphins’ single-season record for receiving yards with 1,799. Though they failed to capture their first AFC East championship since 2008, they did finish with a strong 11-6 record and brought their passing attacks to new heights. The deadly duo of Hill and receiver Jaylen Waddle gives defenses double the trouble, especially with the blistering speed of their running backs.

Defensive Player of the Year: T.J. Watt

Though many strong players are in contention, linebacker T.J. Watt boasts an unparalleled season. This year was one for setting records: Watt broke the Pittsburgh Steelers’ career sack record with 96.5 sacks and led the league with 19.0 sacks. With these statistics, Watt became the first player to lead the NFL in sacks for three seasons and became the second to have over 90 sacks in their first 100 career NFL games. On a Steelers team that had three different starting quarterbacks, Watt also created more opportunities for his offense with four forced fumbles this season.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Puka Nacua

Now holding the record for most receptions and most yards by a rookie, wide receiver Puka Nacua took the league by storm with his 105 catches and 1,486 receiving yards, enough for fourth in the league. In the absence of star wideout Cooper Kupp, Nacua stepped in brilliantly from Week 1, totaling 10 catches and 119 yards. Expectations were low for a cap-strapped Los Angeles Rams team, even after their Super Bowl win. But now, with Nacua on a rookie contract and other emerging stars such as defensive tackle Kobie Turner on one as well, there is hope for the Rams.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Will Anderson Jr. 

In an unexpectedly good season, the Houston Texans were led by the prowess of defensive end Will Anderson Jr., their 2023 third overall pick. Even though he missed two games this season, Anderson was still able to set the Texans’ rookie record with seven sacks in the season. Though not leading in any categories, his impact on the team was immense considering he only played in 15 games.

Additionally, his friendship with fellow rookie and quarterback C.J. Stroud has elevated both their games, with Stroud throwing for over 4,000 yards and guiding the Texans with Anderson to the playoffs. “When I’m having a bad day, he picks me up; if he’s having a bad day, I pick him up,” Anderson said. A force to be reckoned with for years to come, Anderson is deservedly our Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Comeback Player of the Year: Joe Flacco

The “real” Joe Cool, Joe Flacco, turned back the clock this season and led the Cleveland Browns to a 4-1 record under center. Though Flacco once won a Super Bowl, he never truly established enough consistency to become a longtime starting quarterback. Last season with the Jets, he started four games but went 1-3, leading many to speculate about his retirement over the summer. Coming out of free agency to sign with the Browns, no one expected him to bring the team anywhere. Now, as the Browns await the Texans in their Wild Card matchup, Flacco is gearing up for what could be his last shot at glory. 

Coach of the Year: Dan Campbell

There’s no other choice than the Detroit Lions’ Dan Campbell, the most bold and impassioned coach in recent football history. Leading the Lions to their first NFC North title, he brought a team with somewhat low expectations to unprecedented heights, improving team culture while consistently bringing his authentic self. Better yet, he has the record to back it up: the Lions finished 12-5 and never lost more than one game in a row. His bold moves set him apart: think three game-winning two-point conversions, fake punts in a season opener, and four fourth-down conversions in one game. No one in recent memory has been this daring and this successful, making him our Coach of the Year.

Most Cursed Team: New York Jets

Coming into the season, many believed the New York Jets could challenge the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins for the AFC East, and they had good reason to believe. Future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers had signed a two-year, $75 million contract over the summer, giving them an established signal caller for an offense with emerging stars in running back Breece Hall and wide receiver Garrett Wilson.

However, the season went into tatters just four snaps into their first game of the season against the Bills, when Rodgers tore his Achilles and was out for the entire season. Though there were rumors of a potential comeback, it did not end up happening, and the Jets missed the playoffs for the 13th consecutive season, the longest playoff drought in all major American sports. The last time this team saw a winning record was in 2015 with a record of 10-6, but ultimately they still missed the playoffs on tiebreakers. Poor Jets fans.

What the Hell Happened?: Jacksonville Jaguars

In arguably the easiest division in the AFC, last year’s divisional winners disappointed, leading their division throughout most of the season but ultimately losing when it mattered most. All they had to do was beat the 5-11 Tennessee Titans to get in as the four-seed. This Titans side, with nothing to play for, ended up controlling much of the game and coming out on top. The disappointment of this season begs a crucial question for the Jaguars organization: Is Trevor Lawrence the right man for the job? A promising season for the Jaguars now incites a lengthy retrospection as they turn their focus to the future.

As we move into the playoffs, keep an eye out for stars like Hill and McCaffrey as they light up defenses on the march to the Lombardi. Happy watching!