This Saturday night, before the Super Bowl, the NFL’s premiere offensive and defensive stars—and also apparently Steve Harvey—will gather in Atlanta to celebrate the best the league had to offer in 2018. Patrick Mahomes II will likely win MVP, Aaron Donald will be crowned the Defensive Player of the Year, and the race for Coach of the Year will be a tight one.
Of course, the Arizona Cardinals will be nowhere to be found.
That’s what happens when you go 3-13 and fire your first-year head coach after the season. The Cardinals were the worst team in football this season and don’t belong anywhere near an award show.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t hand out our own awards. The season may have been a tough one, but there are still a few individuals worthy of awards. So let’s look back at the season that was and hand out a few fake trophies—or, in the words of the late former Cardinals head coach Dennis Green, crown their @$$es!
Comeback Player of the Year
Contenders: OLB Markus Golden (ACL tear in 2017), RB David Johnson (dislocated wrist in 2017), RB T.J. Logan (dislocated wrist in 2017)
Winner: Johnson. This was an easy call. Logan barely played in 2018 and Golden managed just 2.5 sacks while only playing about 1/3 of the defensive snaps while he continued to recover from his torn ACL. Meanwhile, DJ wasn’t quite back to his 2016 form—or even close, really—but he still rushed for 940 yards and 7 TDs and caught 50 balls for 446 yards and another 3 TDs. Hopefully in 2019, with the injury issue fully behind him and a competent offensive coaching staff in place, DJ can get closer to the player he was in 2016 when he lead the lead in scrimmage yards.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Winner: None. The lone defensive player the Cardinals took in last year’s draft—CB Chris Campbell in the 6th round—was cut in the preseason, and no undrafted player made an impact. LB Zeke Turner led all Cardinals defensive rookies in snaps played… with all of 18 snaps. That won’t be the case next season though, with the Cardinals likely to take an impact defender with the #1 overall pick in April—or perhaps a few picks later if they trade down.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Contenders: C Mason Cole (Round 3, 16 starts), WR Christian Kirk (Round 2, 43 rec, 590 yds, 3 TDs), QB Josh Rosen (Round 1, 217/393, 2,278 yds, 11 TDs)
Winner: Kirk. Cole was an ironman this season—he didn’t miss a single offensive snap—but he was also one of the worst centers in the league. (Not that the rest of the O-line did him any favors.) Likewise, Rosen did what he could with the paucity of talent around him, but he was also perhaps the worst starting QB in the NFL. Enter Kirk, who put up WR2-type numbers from Week 3 though Week 13 and was a steady presence for Rosen all season before he got hurt. The arrival of Kliff Kingsbury and his modern NFL offense bodes well for Kirk’s production in 2019.
Offensive Player of the Year
Contenders: WR Larry Fitzgerald (69 rec, 734 yds, 6 TDs), RB David Johnson (1,386 YFS, 10 combined TDs), WR Christian Kirk (43 rec, 590 yds, 3 TDs)
Winner: Johnson. This was a two-man race between DJ and Fitz. Kirk (or Josh Rosen, for that matter) was barely even a contender. Fitz had to struggle with an inaccurate QB all season, while DJ had to run behind a sieve of an offensive line and deal with a coaching staff that plainly had no idea how to use him best. In the end, DJ’s double digit TDs sealed the deal. He was somewhat of a fantasy bust as a first-rounder, but he didn’t sink your season either. It may not mean much, but he was the best offensive player for the Redbirds this season.
Defensive Player of the Year
Contenders: S Budda Baker (102 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 fumble return TD), OLB Chandler Jones (49 tackles, 13 sacks, 3 forced fumbles), CB Patrick Peterson (54 tackles, 5 passes defended, 2 INTs)
Winner: Peterson. Pat Pete doesn’t have the gaudy numbers of the other two—but that’s because, as has been well documented, teams just don’t throw his direction much. Yes, his aborted trade request was an undeniable low point of the season, and his tackling is always questionable, but his performance in coverage is unquestionable—he made the Pro Bowl and was Pro Football Focus’s #5 CB with a grade of 82.5. In contrast, Baker was at 65.9 (#61 CB) and Jones was 73.2 (#30 edge rusher). The defense took a step back this season, but it would have been even worse without Peterson. Hopefully the Cardinals won’t find out what that’s like until PP21 retires and is working on his Hall of Fame speech.
Coach of the Year
Contenders: OC Byron Leftwich (was not Mike McCoy), DB coach Dave Merritt (oversaw the strength of the defense), ST coach Jeff Rodgers (teams were vastly improved in 2018)
Winner: Rodgers. This was the easiest call of any of these awards. Rodgers was far and away the best coach on the Redbirds’ staff in 2018. The Cardinals ranked #28 in special teams DVOA in 2017 under Amos Jones, but they were all the way up at #11 this season—and that’s with Phil Dawson kicking for most of the season. Rodgers was one of the few coaches Kingsbury retained from Steve Wilks’s staff, so hopefully special teams will be a strength again in 2019.
Most Valuable Player
Contenders: WR Larry Fitzgerald, RB David Johnson, CB Patrick Peterson
Winner: Fitzgerald. This was actually a pretty easy call, too. DJ did lead the team in yards and scoring, but he had almost no highlight reel plays or signature moments. And while Peterson was the best player on the field for the team this season, MVPs don’t ask to be traded. That leaves Fitz, who was still the heart and soul of this team even in a “down” year, and who provided several memorable moments. His first career spike. His first career TD pass. The 3rd-and-23 catch against the Packers. Passing Terrell Owens for second all-time in receiving yards. And, most importantly, announcing he would return for 2019. Can he put up one more vintage Fitz season in Kingsbury’s offense? Let’s hope so.
The 2018 season was one to forget for the Arizona Cardinals, but there were still some highlights and strong individual performances even in the midst of a 3-13 record. And while the Redbirds will be absent from the league awards shindig on Saturday, there’s always next year. Kliff Kingsbury for Coach of the Year, anyone? Rosen for Comeback Player? Or is it too soon to dare to dream?
Now it’s your turn, Cardinals fans. Who was the MVP to you? OPOY? DPOY? Any special awards you want to hand out? Let’s talk fake trophies in the comments.