The list of NFL players who averaged 100 rushing yards and 50 receiving yards per game is as follows: Pittsburgh Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell.
Bell, who was voted MVP of the Steelers by his teammates, posted 1,268 rushing yards, 616 receiving yards and 9 total touchdowns in just 12 games. From Weeks 11 through 16, Bell posted some of the best per-game performances in league history, rushing for nearly 140 yards per game.
In related news, the Steelers are undefeated since Week 11.
Prior to the 2016 NFL season, it was fair to wonder whether Bell would ever return to his 2014 form, when he was voted to the All-Pro team by Pro Football Writers of America and the Associated Press (the PFWA is the organization for which I submitted my ballot, for those interested). Bell suffered a season-ending knee injury at the hands of Vontaze Burfict and the Cincinnati Bengals on the first day of November last season, which was his second major knee injury since 2014. Even more troubling was the fact that Bell was hit with a three-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy—for missed drugs tests, per league officials. He received a two-game suspension in 2015 in response to his arrest during the summer before his breakout 2014 campaign.
While preventing further off-field issues is an ongoing challenge, Bell has proven that his knee injury is not a major issue, and he has established himself as the league’s premier running back. Just in time, too, since Bell is set to hit free agency this March when the league’s new year begins. Pittsburgh will reportedly use the franchise tag to keep Bell under contract through 2017.
With Bell’s future still in flux, one thing is clear at present: he’s the best running back in the NFL. For this reason, he gets my vote for Comeback Player of the Year. Here are the rest of the picks I checked on my ballot:
If you want to see my All-Pro picks, go here.
Most Valuable Player: Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott
Rodgers has been arguably the best player in the league for the second half of the season. Elliott, however, has been the key component of Dallas’ offense since his very first start, so that longevity earns him my vote. He notched one of the best rookie seasons in league history, and his 1,631 yards were the most in the league by a margin of more than 300 (keep in mind that Elliott did not play in Dallas’ final contest of the season). Dallas was one of the league’s best teams this season, and Elliott was the Cowboys best player. He won’t win the award, but he deserves recognition.
Offensive Player of the Year: Falcons QB Matt Ryan
Ryan came a Hail Mary short of 5,000 passing yards and finished second in the league with 37 touchdown passes against just seven interceptions. His 117.1 passer rating was the best in the league and fifth best of all time. I really, really considered Cardinals RB David Johnson for this distinction.
Defensive Player of the Year: Raiders LB Khalil Mack
This was very close between Mack and Broncos LB Von Miller. Miller (13.5) edged Mack in sacks (11), but Mack forced more turnovers (one interception that he returned for a touchdown plus five forced fumbles). God help quarterbacks in the AFC West.
Rookie of the Year: Cowboys QB Dak Prescott
Prescott faced criticism all season. “He’s not as good as Carson Wentz.” “He benefits from a strong line and running game.” “One mess up, and it’s Tony Romo’s team once again.” Prescott bested Wentz in touchdown/interception ratio (23/4 vs. 16/14), passer rating (104.9 vs. 79.3, the third-best rating in the league, for what its worth) and yards per completion (8.0 vs. 6.2). Elliott and the offensive line certainly benefitted Prescott, but you don’t set the rookie record for wins without being a darned good quarterback.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Elliott
Kind of redundant. Bears RB Jordan Howard and Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill deserve some love, too.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Chargers DE Joey Bosa
Despite playing in just 12 games this season, Bosa finished with 10.5 sacks. This wasn’t a particularly close vote.
Most Improved Player: Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi
After serving as a backup for the first five weeks of the regular season (he was actually a healthy scratch in Week 1), Ajayi burst onto the scene with a 204-yard effort against Pittsburgh in Week 6 and never looked back. The second-year back finished second in the AFC with 1,272 yards and averaged a hefty 4.9 yards per carry. Like Pittsburgh, Miami’s on-field success correlated strongly with usage of their star running back.
Coach of the Year: Patriots HC Bill Belichick
Cowboys HC Jason Garrett will win the award, but I’m voting for the best coach in the NFL, which is Belichick by a mile. Belichick authorized trades that sent key defensive cogs Chandler Jones and Jaime Collins to Arizona and Cleveland, respectively, and won the AFC’s top seed without the services of Rob Gronkowski and Dion Lewis for large parts of the season. He also guided his team to a 3-1 record without the services of QB Tom Brady.
Executive of the Year: Cowboys Owner/CEO/GM/whatever else he is Jerry Jones
Drafting Elliott was a predictable home run, but Jones deserves credit for finding a potential franchise quarterback in the fourth round. Dallas’ rookie class was the catalyst for a nine-game turnaround that turned the Cowboys into legitimate Super Bowl contenders.