The 2014 season is over for the Denver Broncos, which means it's time to hand out awards to the top Broncos players from the campaign. The NFL awards will be handed out on January 31, but believe me when I say that these awards are much more important.
Most Valuable Player (MVP)
Winner: Peyton Manning (8)
Numerous factors had a hand in the production decline that Peyton Manning experienced toward the end of the season, but none of them could stamp out the entire body of work that Manning put together in another fantastic season in Denver. Manning completed 66.2% of his passes over the course of the season, throwing for 4,727 passing yards, 39 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. He also caught up to and then handily surpassed Brett Favre's all-time touchdown record of 508, finishing with 530 on the leader board.
When considering the Most Valuable Player award, it is important not to confuse it with the best player on the team. Sometimes it works out to be the same, such as the previous two seasons when Manning was undoubtedly both. It didn't ring true this season as running back C.J. Anderson was easily the best player on the team (hence the next award!) but not necessarily the most valuable.
Take Anderson out of the game and put in Ronnie Hillman or Juwan Thompson and the Broncos offense is still going to succeed. Take Manning out and the offense will falter. Sure, Manning's backup had one good series, but a team repeatedly without Manning this year would certainly have been a much worse Broncos team.
Others receiving votes: CJ Anderson (3), Orlando Franklin (1)
Offensive Player of the Year
Winner: CJ Anderson (7)
CJ Anderson ran away with our offensive player of the year award, almost like he ran away with the title as the Broncos' starting running back. Anderson entered the season lower on the depth chart than both Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman; however, when he got a chance to play, Anderson took the opportunity and never looked back.
Anderson's 849 rushing yards in 2014 don't necessarily jump off the page, until you realize that 767 of those came over the last half of the season. If you were to average Anderson's production from the games he started over the course of the entire season, he would have hypothetically rushed for 1,363.6 yards, which would have ranked him second in the entire league. Anderson led the NFL in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns over the last six weeks of the season, and all signs point to more of the same for the undrafted running back next season.
Others receiving votes: Demaryius Thomas (3), Emmanuel Sanders (1), Orlando Franklin (1)
Defensive Player of the Year
Winner: Chris Harris Jr. (12)
Chris Harris Jr. often fails to get enough love or praise from the mainstream media, but the MHR staff will never falter in that regard. Harris continued his incredibly efficient career with another standout season, grading out as the best cornerback in the entire league (28.4) and by far the best rated corner when it comes to coverage; Harris graded out the entire season with a 27.2 coverage grade on Pro Football Focus, 10.7 higher than any other corner.
While many fans and talking heads on TV continue to overlook Harris, opposing quarterbacks are being forced to take notice. In 2014, Harris allowed only 51.7% of passes to be completed for just 356 passing yards and zero touchdowns. For his incredible numbers, his winning attitude, and his unwavering consistency as a rock on the Broncos defense, Chris Harris Jr. wins our defensive player of the year award unanimously. For a summary of Harris' 2014 season, see video below.
Special Teams Player of the Year
Winners: Omar Bolden and David Bruton Jr.
There was a dead split of voters on the staff between these two stand-outs on the Broncos' special teams this season, although Connor Barth was also brought up in discussions. Bolden led all Broncos special-teamers in tackles (including the massive one below), and provided the team with a much-needed spark in the kick return game towards the end of the season, including two that nearly went for touchdowns. David Bruton was a stud on the special teams for yet another season, which included a Broncos play of the year candidate on a successful fake punt against the rival Chiefs.
Comeback Player of the Year
Winner: Chris Harris Jr. (9)
The incredible performance this season by Chris Harris only becomes more impressive when you realize that Harris' 2013 season was cut short by an ACL tear in the divisional round of the playoffs. Harris Jr. returned just nine months after the debilitating injury to play in the Broncos' season-opener against the Colts, going on to play the third-most snaps on the entire defensive unit throughout the season. Just three Broncos players on the defense were on the field for 1000+ snaps- Rahim Moore (1074), TJ Ward (1019), and Chris Harris Jr. (1004). Just playing those 1004 snaps would be enough for consideration for this award, but the level at which Harris played from start to finish of the 2014 season was what solidified his selection as MHR's comeback player of the year.
Von Miller is most definitely worthy of honorary mention under this category, after he recorded 15.0 sacks and received the highest overall defensive grade of all Broncos' despite also suffering a season-ending ACL injury in 2013. In any other season, Miller would have taken home this award himself.
Others receiving votes: Von Miller (3)
Rookie of the Year
Winner: Bradley Roby (11)
Opposing quarterbacks often chose to forgo passing attempts against Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib in favor of targeting rookie corner Bradley Roby. This often did result in success, as the rookie adjusted to the NFL game; however, Roby's flashes of brilliance, including two interceptions, six pass deflections, and two forced fumbles, were enough to earn him recognition as potential rookie of the year.
Of all rookie corners who played at least 25% of snaps, Roby was ranked 8th of 11, yet he was just one of four rookie corners to play in 50% of his teams' snaps, and he was rated second behind just EJ Gaines in this regard. To put it bluntly, Roby's rookie season was not mind-blowing, but he was by far the best rookie on the Broncos, and he flashed plenty of promising skills in his rookie campaign.
Others receiving votes: Juwan Thompson (1)
Pleasant Surprise of the Year
Winner: Brandon Marshall (10)
Brandon Marshall entered the NFL season buried in the Broncos' linebacker depth chart, with many people assuming that he would be nothing more than a special-teamer and a depth piece; but when starting Will linebacker, Danny Trevathan went down to injury, Marshall stepped in seamlessly. Marshall seemed to be in on nearly every single defensive player, from sideline to sideline, always rallying to the ball-carrier and stopping plays in their tracks.
And while some people may tell you that he still doesn't qualify as the "real Brandon Marshall", the Broncos linebacker out-graded the former Broncos wide receiver 18.9 to 4.3 in his breakout season. Whether Trevathan can stay healthy or not, it's without doubt that Marshall will play a large role in Denver's defense in 2015 and onwards.
Others receiving votes: Will Montgomery (1), CJ Anderson (1)
Disappointment of the Year
Winner: John Fox (4)
Unfortunately, John Fox could not be with us in Broncos Country to make his acceptance speech - what a shame. By no means was Foxy a bad coach, but he was unable to coach the team to the level that fans (and John Elway) wanted or expected. It's hard to ever expect a championship in a league where only one team of 32 will come away with the final prize, but when you have a team of the caliber of the Broncos, it's hard to explain regressing from the previous seasons' results, especially when the team was (at least on paper) improved. Then again, it could also be argued that two of our other disappointments (Talib and Ward) were not actually the improvements that everyone expected them to be; either that, or they were simply misused by Fox and Del Rio.
Others receiving votes: Ryan Clady (3), Jack Del Rio (2), Aqib Talib (2), TJ Ward (1)
Best Offseason Acquisition
Winner: Emmanuel Sanders (11)
When the dust had settled after the first wave of 2013 NFL Free Agency, the overwhelming feeling was that John Elway had won the signing period handily over the other 31 general managers. With signings like TJ Ward, Aqib Talib, Demarcus Ware, and Emmanuel Sanders, it was pretty hard to come up with an argument against that sentiment. Now that the dust has settled on the 2014 season, the overwhelming feeling on the MHR staff is that Emmanuel Sanders was by-and-large the best of those off-season acquisitions, winning the award of the same title.
Sanders often acted as a safety valve for Manning, risking his own personal safety to haul in some of the most electric and dangerous catches on the team. In his first season in Denver, Sanders tallied 101 receptions for 1409 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. The first-year Bronco was one of just four receivers to make 100 receptions on the season, and had the sixth-highest catch rate (72.1%) of receivers with 100 or more targets. Demarcus Ware was worthy of honorable mention for this award, but he fell out of contention mainly due to a regression in production during the second half of the season.
Others receiving votes: Demarcus Ware (1)
Be sure to check back for the second part of our awards later this week - part two will include the 'fun' awards, including best tweets, best cliches, and best individual play of 2014.