There are a lot of major individual awards given after an NFL season, and it’s time once again for Sporting News to hand out our prestigious honors. The unique process didn’t change for SN in 2020 — all of the major awards were determined by the winners’ peers around the league, not based on Sporting News’ staff opinion.
For Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year, the winners were selected by who got the most votes from the players. Only head coaches were allowed to vote for Coordinator of the Year and Coach of the Year. Only front-office staff and personnel decision-makers were allowed to vote for Executive of the Year. In every case, players, coaches and executives were advised not to pick someone from their own team.
Ballots were sent out electronically around the league with a majority of the teams voting before the early January deadline. Below are those results, including a few close calls and a couple of dominant winners.
Offensive Player of the Year: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs
Mahomes (4,740 yards passing, 38 TDs, six INTs, 8.1 yards per attempt, 108.2) wasn’t quite as spectacular as his 2018 breakout MVP season, but the performance was close. He still was impressive enough to beat out Titans running back Derrick Henry and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, despite that pair having more standout numbers. Mahomes’ go-to tight end, Travis Kelce, finished fourth in player voting.
Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Donald, DT, Rams
Statistically, Donald (13.5 sacks) also didn’t put up the same astronomical numbers from 2018, but he was a monster part of the massive Rams’ defensive turnaround against pass and run under Brandon Staley, now the head coach of the Chargers.
Donald received some good competition from Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt and Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard, but he still held a comfortable advantage in voting.
Comeback Player of the Year: Alex Smith, QB, Washington
Smith wasn’t quite unanimous but garnered 90 percent of the players’ vote. The veteran QB came back from a scary leg injury that put both his career and life in jeopardy. He was a testament to perseverance just working to get himself back on the field. Smith became a bigger inspiration starting again and going 5-1 during the regular season to help Washington win the division under new offensive coordinator Scott Turner and new head coach Ron Rivera.
Rookie of the Year: Justin Jefferson, WR, Vikings
Jefferson was challenged by Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert and Washington edge pass rusher Chase Young, but won the players’ vote comfortably. James Robinson, the Jaguars’ undrafted running back, finished fourth.
After Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire fell out of the mix tied to injuries, Jefferson carried the flag for an LSU offensive win at ROTY. In only 14 starts as a rookie, Jefferson caught 88 of 125 targets for 1,400 yards and seven TDs as a strong replacement for All-Pro Stefon Diggs in Minnesota.
Jefferson is the sixth Viking to win SN ROTY and the fifth such wide receiver, joining Paul Flatley, Sammy White, Randy Moss and Percy Harvin. The other winner from Minnesota was running back Adrian Peterson.
Coordinator of the Year: Eric Bieniemy, OC, Chiefs
Bieniemy and Andy Reid continue to devise great game plans and Bieniemy also has done well when getting the chance to call offensive plays. The 51-year-old may get passed up during another round of head-coaching hires, but the rest of the NFL’s big loss only benefits Kansas City and Mahomes.
Bieniemy edged out Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll — his counterpart in the AFC championship game — and Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler.
Coach of the Year: Kevin Stefanski, Browns
Stefanski, 38, cleaned up the mess in Cleveland to produce both an 11-5 AFC wild-card team, snapping an 18-year playoff drought, and the franchise’s first playoff win since 1995. He was a big help settling quarterback Baker Mayfield and restored a run-heavy, play-action based offense working with coordinator Alex Van Pelt.
Although the Browns fell short in the divisional round, the rookie no more has a bright, long career ahead. The other coaches receiving multiple votes from their peers were Reid and the Dolphins’ Brian Flores.
Executive of the Year: Brandon Beane, GM, Bills
Beane pulled away from another AFC East general manager, the Dolphins’ Chris Grier, to take this honor definitively, recognized by executives around the league for the great work he’s done in Buffalo. Beane already had built a good team around second-year quarterback Josh Allen in 2019, but took it another level with the best trade of the offseason that paired Diggs witih Allen.
Beane has consistently drafted well and decided to spend wisely, and was rewarded when his assembled talent displaced Bill Belichick’s Patriots as the new AFC East team to beat. This Bills group won the franchise’s first playoff games since 1996 en route to the AFC championship game.
The Steelers’ Kevin Colbert and the Browns’ Andrew Berry were the only other two GMs who got votes from their peers. Beane succeeds the Ravens’ Eric DeCosta in winning the award. Beane is the first Bills GM to win the award since Bill Polian won it twice back-to-back in 1991 and 1992.
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