We are already halfway through the very very strange 2020 NFL season and that means it is time for some midseason awards. The Broadway Sports team voted on several categories and the ballots were carefully counted in front of both Titans fans and Colts fans to determine winners.
So let’s jump right into the awards!
MVP: Ryan Tannehill
Just like the NFL award this one always felt likely to go to the quarterback, though the vote was pretty close.
- Ryan Tannehill (8)
- Jeffery Simmons (6)
- Derrick Henry (1)
- A.J. Brown (1)
For transparency’s sake, I voted for Tannehill. I think you could argue that Simmons has been the best player on the roster so far in 2020, but I can’t give the team MVP — emphasis on valuable — to anyone on a defense that ranks in the bottom half of the league in almost every metric through eight games.
Make no mistake about it, the Titans offense is pretty much the only reason that this team is 6-2 right now. That unit is led by Tannehill, who is currently on pace for 3,962 passing yards, 38 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, and sports a 7.8 yards per attempt and 109.4 passer rating. Those numbers would break the Titans era single season record for yards (currently held by Matt Hasselbeck’s 3,571 yards in 2011) and the franchise record for touchdown passes (currently belonging to George Blanda with 36 in 1961).
Sure, Derrick Henry is playing great as well (currently on pace to rush for more yards than anyone in the NFL since 2014), but it’s been Tannehill’s heroics late in games that have pulled out wins more often than not as he leads the league with four game-winning drives in eight starts. Both are critical pieces of the Titans offense and both make each other better players, but if I’m choosing who has been most valuable to the Titans over the first eight weeks, it’s Tannehill.
Most Outstanding Offensive Player: A.J. Brown
Here is where I think you can get into a “Derrick Henry got snubbed” discussion, but Brown was actually a unanimous choice among our staff, collecting all 16 votes.
Let’s start with why Brown deserves it and that conversation begins with… well, he’s just awesome. Despite missing two games and clearly being less than 100% in others, the Titans second-year receiver has already racked up 457 yards receiving and 6 touchdowns. Using his per game stat numbers, that would put him on pace to hit 1,067 yards and 14 touchdowns by the end of the season. The 14 touchdowns would rank second behind only Bill Groman’s 17 touchdown season in 1961 in franchise history (which predates the team’s move to the NFL).
Brown also has shown a knack for making the big plays when his team needs him most. His touchdown catch to force overtime against the Texans was a superstar type play and his long scores against the Steelers and Bears both served as critical moments in those games.
If you want to make the argument for Henry it’s pretty easy. Unlike Brown, he’s been available every week and he’s been extremely productive. As mentioned above, he’s on pace for the most prolific rushing performance since DeMarco Murray’s 2014 season. There really is no wrong answer between these two.
Most Outstanding Defensive Player: Jeffery Simmons
There was no debate here. In fact, there was only one name on the ballot: Jeffery Bernard Simmons.
Simmons has been a monster in the middle of Tennessee’s defense all season, ranking second on the team in sacks (2) and QB hits (9) while checking in third in total pressures (21). For those of you who care about PFF grades, his 90.1 mark ranks fourth among all interior defenders and is tied for ninth among all defenders in the entire league.
However, you don’t need stats or grades to know that Simmons is dominating. All you have to do is watch the middle of the opposing offensive line on any given snap. The guard or center who looks like he’s going backward down an escalator immediately after the snap is likely attached to Jeffery Simmons.
It’s not fully captured in any single stat, but Simmons has been directly involved in at least five Titans turnovers in 2020:
- Recovering Kevin Byard’s forced fumble against Denver.
- Batting the ball that Harold Landry intercepted to finish off the Jaguars.
- Batting the ball that Jayon Brown intercepted against the Steelers.
- Recovering Jayon Brown’s forced fumble against Chicago.
- Forcing the fumble that Desmond King returned for a touchdown against Chicago.
That doesn’t even include the 4th down stop he made on the goal line against the Broncos or the series where he completely took over the line of scrimmage at the end of the Vikings game to help seal that win. I shudder to think of what this defense might have looked like without the heroics of Simmons in the first eight games.
Best Rookie: Chris Jackson
Boy was this a thin field. A year after seemingly hitting on every single pick he made, Jon Robinson’s 2020 class is off to a pretty inauspicious start. However, here is how the vote looked for our staff:
- Chris Jackson (9)
- Kristian Fulton (4)
- Larrell Murchison (1)
I was one of the Fulton picks and my reasoning is simple. No, he hasn’t played lights out, and yes, he’s been hurt too much, but when he’s been on the field, he’s been solid. He’s allowed 13 catches for 142 yards on 15 targets over 105 coverage snaps with a touchdown and an interception included per PFF charting. That’s good enough for a 100.6 passer rating against, the 4th best passer rating allowed among 18 qualifying rookie corners. He’s also added a key sack of Kirk Cousins.
Jackson has played more snaps (211 to 186), but has also given up more ground in coverage (22 of 27 for 216 yards and 3 touchdowns). However, Jackson has also been very good in run support, and critically, is healthy right now as Fulton remains on IR.
Murchison leads the rookie class in games played (with seven) and has been a decent player in the Tennessee defensive line rotation, contributing three tackles, including one tackle for a loss.
Outside of those three, nobody has played enough to really warrant consideration. First-round pick Isaiah Wilson has been to the COVID list twice and picked up a DUI before even managing to be active for a game yet and third-round pick Darrynton Evans has appeared in just two contests and is currently on IR.
One potential rookie to keep an eye on over the second half of the season? Undrafted defensive lineman Teair Tart, who made his NFL debut against the Bears and immediately made two big plays, contributing to a 4th down stop and a sack split between DaQuan Jones and Rashaan Evans by creating instant penetration into the backfield.
Best Newcomer: Jadeveon Clowney
The candidates here weren’t terribly strong either, but here is how the vote turned out:
- Jadeveon Clowney (9)
- Ty Sambrailo (3)
- Desmond King (1)
- D’Onta Foreman (1)
There are a lot of people who are lumping Clowney in with Vic Beasley and that is completely unfair. While the sacks haven’t been there for either guy, one has played like his hair was on fire and been disruptive consistently while the other was mailing it in.
Clowney is second on the team in pressures with 26 and that number is tied for 21st among all NFL edge rushers so far this season despite him missing the Titans most recent game. Pressure isn’t the goal, but it is useful and there is some evidence that the lack of sacks is at least somewhat correlated to poor coverage on the back end.
Sambrailo finishing second in this category would have been a huge shock prior to the season, but he’s at least filled in decently for Taylor Lewan at left tackle despite being tasked with tough assignments in Bud Dupree, Carl Lawson, and Robert Quinn over the past three weeks.
King landed one vote despite playing in just one game, but his one appearance was pretty impactful. Had he arrived a few weeks earlier, there is a good chance that he could have challenged Clowney for the top spot in this category.
Finally, D’Onta Foreman’s inclusion here shows how impressive his performances have been over the last two weeks. He’s put up 48 yards on 10 carries since being activated for the first time and looks like a solid option behind Derrick Henry that the Titans can turn to in an effort to keep their star back fresh.
Biggest Disappointment: Vic Beasley
No surprise here, but you may be surprised by some of the other names that popped up on the ballots:
- Vic Beasley (8)
- Kevin Byard (5)
- Isaiah Wilson (1)
- Jadeveon Clowney (1)
We don’t have to drill in too much because everyone knows what a disaster Beasley was, but let’s look at the stats quickly. Beasley got paid $9.5-million for 125 snaps, 3 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 0 sacks. He should be arrested.
Byard is here because disappointing is a relative term. The expectations for him were sky high for the former All-Pro who led the NFL in interceptions from 2017 to 2019. However, Byard simply hasn’t looked like himself in 2020. Besides a forced fumble in Week 1, it’s hard to remember a single Byard play that truly stood out. Maybe he’s covering for bad corners or just struggling to adjust to life without Dean Pees and Kerry Coombs, but the Titans would like to see him get back to his playmaking ways over the back half of the season.
Wilson is pretty self-explanatory. I think the only reason that he doesn’t win this category is the fact that the team actually wasted snaps on Beasley. Dennis Kelly playing pretty well at right tackle — and the offense playing well overall — has allowed Wilson to linger in the background with less scrutiny. However, there is no doubt that a first-round pick being inactive for the first eight games of his career and piling up multiple negative off field headlines is extremely disappointing.
Clowney gets one vote here, and the reasoning is pretty clear: he just hasn’t lived up to the hype. The pressure numbers are great and he certainly shows up on tape as a disruptor, but he has zero sacks and has yet to really make any of the splash plays that fans were expecting when he signed for $13-million just before the start of the season… and now he’s injured. Basically, the Titans are getting 2019 Clowney when they paid for 2018 Clowney.
Most Pleasant Suprise: Nate Davis
This was a close vote between two offensive linemen:
- Nate Davis (6)
- Ty Sambrailo (5)
- Breon Borders (1)
- Dennis Kelly (1)
Davis gets the win here narrowly over Sambrailo and there are strong arguments for each. My vote went to Davis, who has yet to allow a sack this season per PFF charting and has developed nicely into a quality starter at right guard in just his second season. He still has a little way to go before he reaches the Rodger Saffold elite level, but he’s on a track where that certainly appears to be attainable and that’s something that I’m not sure anyone would have projected around this time last year.
Sambrailo hasn’t played as well as Davis, but he has played pretty well in three starts and four relief appearances for an injured Taylor Lewan. A former second-round pick for the Broncos in 2015, Sambrailo is now on his third team in his six year NFL career and has already set a career high for snaps at 297. He seems to be locked in as the Titans starting left tackle for the rest of the way and it’s a big opportunity for him to prove that he deserves another chance to be a full-time starter for a team in 2021.
Breon Borders got a vote after just two games, but he was pretty impressive in those showings. It’s easy to say that Borders is getting too much credit for simply following Johnathan Joseph, which would make lots of guys look good by comparison, but he’s been legitimately good against the Bengals and Bears, allowing just 53 yards on 6-of-9 passing into his coverage and providing physical play with strong tackling on the edge.
Finally, Dennis Kelly picked up a vote as well. Personally, I think Kelly has played about as expected for me. He’s a solid-but-not-spectacular starting right tackle. To his credit, Kelly has yet to be credited with a sack allowed in 2020, though his 15 pressures and 8 QB hits are both team highs. He’s faced some tough matchups in recent weeks with T.J. Watt and Khalil Mack coming to town. Watt got the best of him, but Mack was pretty quiet this past weekend. The drop off from Jack Conklin to Kelly on the right side has not been drastic, and that may be the surprise part here.
LVP: Vic Beasley
The opposite of the MVP, the Least Valuable Player award goes to Beasley, though the vote was pretty spread on this one:
- Vic Beasley (3)
- Johnathan Joseph (2)
- Stephen Gostkowski (2)
We covered Beasley above, so we don’t have to go back into that here. He didn’t put in much effort here, and even when he did, he stunk.
Joseph was kind of put in a tough spot. He was never intended to be a full-time starter on this defense when he signed. At most, Joseph seemed intended to be a bridge to a rookie corner. A guy who knew the defense already and could help provide some of the leadership that the Titans lost in Logan Ryan’s departure.
However, when Adoree’ Jackson went down with a knee injury, suddenly Joseph was thrust into a bigger role and the results were very bad. At 36 years old, he simply couldn’t run enough to keep up with younger receivers and that led to him playing off coverage and giving up layup after layup to opposing QBs. The Titans finally admitted their mistake before Week 9, cutting Joseph and giving his snaps to Borders.
The only guy left on the roster that got a vote here is Gostkowski. It’s been a bizarre season for the 15-year veteran:
- Week 1 — 1-of-4 FG, 1-of-2 XP
- Weeks 2-5 — 8-of-8 FG, 10-of-11 XP
- Weeks 6-9 — 2-of-6 FG, 11-of-11 XP
He hasn’t been nearly good enough so far, though he has been an upgrade over what the Titans got last year when Cairo Santos, Cody Parkey, and Ryan Succop combined to go 8-of-18 on the year. However, you don’t get points for barely clearing a bar that is laying on the ground. Gostkowski needs to be better, and now that there is a veteran kicker on the practice squad in Giorgio Tavecchio, he probably needs to find some consistency pretty quickly.
Favorite Game: Blowout over the Bills
I was interested to get an answer on this question because there have been some thrilling moments over the first half of the season. The two games that I thought stood out as memorable were the dramatic 42-36 win over the Texans that saw the Titans set both franchise and NFL records for offense and the 42-16 pasting of the Bills on a rare edition of Tuesday Night Football.
The votes were unanimous in favor of the blowout and I think the circumstances were a big part of that feeling. If that was a “normal” blowout win, it would have been fun to watch, but there was something extra satisfying about seeing the team do that after two weeks of bashing by the media over the COVID issues. You also got the epic stiff arm of Josh Norman and the wild Malcolm Butler interception return as memorable moments from the game.
I still think the Texans game will stand out more in my memory when I look back at the end of the year. Henry’s 94-yard touchdown, Vrabel’s clock-saving intentional penalty, the game-tying touchdown to Brown, the long catch and run by Henry in overtime, Deshaun Watson knowing it was over at the coin toss, 600-plus yards of total offense… there was a ton of moments in that game.
Give us your votes in the comments below!