ATLANTA — A few months ago, nobody knew what to expect from Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Mahomes had clear physical talent; that’s why he was a 2017 first-round pick out of Texas Tech. But he started only one game, the season finale, as a rookie. An up-and-down first season starting would have been understandable.
Instead, Mahomes became the best player in the NFL.
Mahomes won his first MVP and also offensive player of the year as the league handed out its annual awards at the NFL Honors ceremony on Saturday evening.
“It’s a lot of credit to the people around me,” Mahomes said backstage after getting the award. “It truly is an honor.”
Here are the NFL award winners from this season:
MVP and offensive player of the year: Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes
Mahomes threw for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns in his first season as an NFL starter, taking the Chiefs to the No. 1 seed in the AFC. He was dominant from Week 1 on and an easy choice for MVP and offensive player of the year. He’s the first Chief to win the AP’s MVP award. Mahomes is the first Chiefs player to win offensive player of the year since running back Priest Holmes in 2002.
Mahomes beat out Saints quarterback Drew Brees for MVP. Mahomes got 41 first-place votes with Brees getting the other nine, according to David Ely of NFL.com.
“It’s awesome,” Mahomes said. “I got put in a great situation.
“It is an honor, it’s a hard award to win. The next award I hope I can get is a Super Bowl.”
Offensive rookie of the year: Giants RB Saquon Barkley
Barkley lived up to the hype. He was said to be the best running back prospect in years, and he was great for the Giants. He led the NFL with 2,028 yards from scrimmage, and had 15 total touchdowns.
“It’s crazy to win this award,” Barkley said backstage after getting the award. “Definitely an honor. A lot of greats before me won this award … you dream about stuff like this when you’re a little kid.”
Barkley beat out Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, who was also fantastic as a rookie. The Browns’ odd decision to not start him in the first three games of the season might have cost him the award.
“What Baker did for Cleveland was unbelievable,” Barkley said. “I wish we could have been co-[winners].”
Coach of the year: Bears coach Matt Nagy
Nagy led the Bears to a surprise NFC North championship, and won coach of the year in his first season as a head coach. Last season he was offensive coordinator of the Chiefs with Andy Reid, and the Bears made a great hire. Nagy’s offensive creativity was on display all season, and the Bears defense was dominant on their way to a 12-4 season. The Bears lost in their first playoff game, but it was still a big growth season for the franchise.
“We didn’t reach the pinnacle, but that’s going to motivate us when we get together this spring and summer,” Nagy said.
Nagy said he cut short a vacation with his wife to St. Lucia to attend the NFL Honors show.
Comeback player of the year: Colts QB Andrew Luck
Luck missed all last season after shoulder surgery, but returned in a big way. He threw for 4,593 yards and 39 touchdowns, leading the Colts to an AFC wild-card berth. There were plenty of questions about Luck’s ability to come back and play at his previous level during a long rehab after surgery on his labrum, but he immediately re-established himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL.
“Certainly this was a rewarding and fulfilling season in many ways,” Luck said. “Being on the field, trying to do your best, it was freeing, liberating.
Defensive player of the year: Rams DT Aaron Donald
Donald winning defensive player of the year was one of the easiest picks of the night. Donald set a record for a defensive tackle with 20.5 sacks this season. He has established himself as the best non-quarterback in the NFL and he has won defensive player of the year two seasons in a row.
Donald wasn’t able to attend NFL Honors because he and the Rams will be playing in Super Bowl LIII on Sunday.
Defensive rookie of the year: Colts LB Darius Leonard
Leonard, a second-round pick, led the NFL with 163 tackles and established himself as the star of the Colts defense in his first season. Leonard also had seven sacks and two interceptions, as he instantly became one of the NFL’s best playmakers. Leonard was an All-Pro pick. He beat out Chargers safety Derwin James, who also was a first-team All-Pro as a rookie.
“I honestly thought I’d have to take a backseat role, take a year or two to get my feet wet,” Leonard said. “I definitely surprised myself.”
Walter Payton man of the year: Eagles DE Chris Long
Long was given the NFL’s award for charity work off the field. Long’s foundation helped to provide clean water to impoverished communities in East Africa through an initiative called “Waterboys.” Last year, Long donated all of his game checks for educational programs in his hometown of Charlottesville, Va. and in St. Louis, Boston and Philadelphia, the three cities in which he has spent his NFL career.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” Long said. “I’m very humbled.”
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