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Nic's picks: Award Season (part 1)
By Nic St. Marie
Special to gzl-football.com

This time is coming from missing time at work on Wednesday and all of Friday for being sick. Normally I don't get time to sit and write anything anymore.

For this article I want to take a break from googling techniques and excel functions (which I'm still struggling with) and re-familiarize myself with the league. So I'm going to take a quick stab at who I think the league award winners will be, with some explanation as to why.

Special Teamer of the Year
NFC: KR/PR Joseph Randle - 79 KR, 2365 yards (new record), 29.94 AVG, 6 TDs (tied record)
It's pretty awesome to see the guy who returned the most kicks also have the most TDs and the best average. Randle had himself one hell of a great year as a KR, and six TDs is not far from one in 10 tries.

Yes the Vikings were bad, yes that gave him extra returns. But he set the record in yardage, tied the record for TDs with Steve Smith, and was still 7 returns behind the record-holder in total returns.

AFC: K Dustin Hopkins - 48/51 FGs (48: new record), 94.1% 40/40 XP
There is a KR in Oakland (yes, a 12-4 team) that has a chance to win the AFC award but I'm giving it to Dustin Hopkins for surpassing 94% on an insane number of kicks, playing in an outdoor stadium for half of his games. and setting a new FG made record. 48 FGs in 16 games is 3 per game, and for the 11-5 Titans that was probably worth more than one win.

A FG made isn't just 3 points, because a FG missed is a short field for the opposition that can often mean an easy 3 points, a six point swing. Do that another 5 times and you may see two or more of the Titans wins swing another direction.

Offensive Rookie of the Year
NFC: Ernie Gillespie - 1279 yards, 4.49 YPC, 10 TDs, 2 fumbles
The three most used rookie HBs all were in the NFC, and it was tough to pick the one with the third-most yards except for how well he did with those carries. His YPC was better than the other two (essentially tied with Cubby), while he had the most TDs and 5 less fumbles than Cubby Williams.

Ernie added another TD in the air and was clearly a piece that benefitted the 49ers offense, not just benefitted from it.

AFC: WR Devin Funchess - 62 Rec, 919 yards, 7 TDs, 10 drops
For these two spots I considered going to the TEs, Walford (CAR), Baron Cooper (NYJ), and Battaligia for their impressive yardage, and for Walford and Battaligia blocking numbers. Partly because there wasn't a single QB, HB, WR, or OL that completely blew the league out of the water. But Funchess made a real impact, averaging nearly 15 yards per catch and netting more than a TD every 10 catches. As the guy who probably drew the best CB every game, he added a lot of value and was the best offensive rookie in the AFC.

Defensive Rookie of the Year
NFC: Hunter Hill - 70 TAK, 7 TFL, 1 SCK, 1 FR, 3 INTs, 83 return yards, 30 Pass Def, 1 TD
Wow this one was tough. I decided he was better than Courtney Rice for the number of deflections and the fact that with him the 49ers were able to keep the lead and win in 12 games. Clearly he was targeted and his man caught passes. But he got his own and enough for me to decide he won.

As I mentioned before he beat Rice the safety, who didn't have near the impact on the passing game. But he also beat out Trinidad Walker, who racked up a million tackles and some nice tackles for loss and deflections. So why? Simple, the Panthers defense still allowed 126 rushing yards per game. Racking up a lot of tackles on a bad defense is pretty easy to do when you are athletic. Tackle numbers look nice but don't mean that much to me. The TFL and DFL numbers are more impressive, but in line with his position with a lot of snaps, not earth-shattering.

AFC: CB Emerson Dupree - 67 TKL, 3 TFL, 1 SCK, 1 FR (23 yards), 7 INTs (58 yards), 18 DFL, 2 TD
This one is also very difficult. Not because of Boone Watauga, the MLB from Cincinatti. Rather it was tough to overlook Dupree's Cleveland teammate DT Eddie Goldman and his incredible 11 sacks. Dupree set a rookie record with his 7 INTs, and scoring 2 TDs off of them was an impact player for a great defense.

Ironman of the Year
NFC: TE Terrell Edwards - 73 Rec, 1015 yards, 13.9 YPC, 7 TDs, 5 drops, 62 pancakes, 0 sacks allowed
It's often too easy to pick a strong two-way TE for this position. But he's here for two reasons. First, there aren't a lot of standout NFC offensive linemen with that great 100 pancake, 2 or less sack type of year. Also, the best NFC FB had 10 more pancakes, and almost no other offensive contributions. Finally, the Packers ran over 500 times, making Edwards contribution to the run game not just look good on paper, but important for a 9-7 team that squeezed into the playoffs.

AFC: FB Jonathan Schaub - 102 Pancakes, 2 sacks allowed, 22 rushes, 97 yards, 4.41 YPC, 1 TD, 12 receptions, 84 yards
I stared at the Chargers and Raiders rosters, stats, supporting cast for a long time. The run/pass split for these teams were surprisingly similar, with effectiveness in the air going to SD while effectiveness on the ground going towards the Raiders. Also, Schaub allowed two sacks while blocking for far easier to sack QBs, so I decided not to hold those against him. So he won over Millard for: 8 more pancakes in roughly the same number of opportunities (mostly meaningless), and for the Raiders having a better run game with the same offensive balance and the same number of opportunities.
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