Words by Brad Wells, manager of SB Nation's Colts blog, Stampede Blue.
With the 2009 NFL regular season completed, the SB Nation football bloggers are once again obliged to evaluate who played the best and who played like the second coming of Jeff George. We call this process the 2009 SB Nation NFL Regular Season Studs and Duds (has a ring to it, no?).
We polled our bloggers at the mid-point of the 2009 season and got their picks on who were the studs and duds for the first eight weeks. We did this in an effort to show just how fluid and volatile the NFL is from Week 1 to Week 8, and from Week 9 to Week 17. In that time, we've seen a 6-0 team fall to 8-8, and an 0-6 team rise to 8-8. We've seen a now-infamous 4th and 2 call, an epically bad fake punt (see: Dud Coach "winner" for video), and an undefeated season abandoned under a symphony of boos.
During all this, unexpected rookies have risen to the occasion, undersized running backs have challenged greatness, and a man with a very large forehead continues to re-write the history books from the quarterback position.
For both the "stud" and "dud" players, there are several familiar names from the mid-point and from last year. There are also some surprise players, both young and old, who have provided us with some memorable moments.
All that said, here are the 2009 SB Nation NFL Regular Season Studs and Duds:
Last year, Peyton Manning shared the award with Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington. This year, Manning received a definitive 66.7% of the vote from our bloggers, making him the runaway winner. This percentage is up significantly from the 52.9% he received at the mid-point of the season, where he beat out Saints quarterback Drew Brees by only one vote! But after quarterbacking the Colts to a 14-0 start before his head coach shut him down in the third quarter of their Week 16 match-up against the Jets (in a move that fans reacted to quite vocally), Peyton Manning destroyed his competition to win his second straight Mega Stud award.
From the bloggers:
We all saw just how much Peyton Manning means to the Colts when he was pulled a couple weeks ago against the Jets, so this seems like the obvious choice for MVP. Other nominees have had great seasons and put up some ridiculous stats, but Manning definitely appears to be the most valuable player in the league.
Manning has just been out of this world good. His team is rebuilding around him. He loses key piece after key piece. He doesn't have a run game. His Hall of Fame coach is replaced by a dude who went 26-63 as head coach of Wake Forest. The Colts still win every week because of this once in a lifetime quarterback.
Naming Peyton Manning MVP is like naming Megan Fox super hot.
Regular Season NFL Offensive Stud (aka, Best Player on Offense): Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans
Typically, the NFL Offensive Player of the Year award goes to a player whose stats are absolutely mind-blowing. For us, we call such players "Offensive Studs," and no player personified "offensive stud" more this season than 5'11, 200 pound back Chris Johnson. If Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is Purple Jesus, Chris Johnson is Powder Blue Buddha.
CJ earned an impressive 74.2% of the vote from our bloggers (23 votes). The next player on the list got three votes. This kind of thing happens when a player like CJ runs for 2,006 yards, scores 16 total touchdowns, and helps a Titans team that started 0-6 finish 8-8 on the season. However, while a majority of us think that CJ is a stud running the ball, not so many of us think he can outrace Usain Bolt. That said, Bolt wouldn't last five seconds as a running back in this league. He'd get folded like a pretzel after his first hit from Patrick Willis, Ray Lewis, or the like.
From the bloggers:
The guy wound up rushing for 2,000+ yards on a team that dropped their first six games and was quarterbacked by a combination of Kerry Collins and Vince Young. Tell me that doesn't deserve some recognition?
If there's a more impressive running back in the Milky Way galaxy right now, he can't be seen even with a high-powered telescope. Chris Johnson runs faster and harder than just about anyone around, and the Titans would literally be nothing without him. His 2009 season was a tour de force.
Since I gave Manning my vote for MVP, he's not getting my offensive stud vote.... So I'm going for Chris Johnson. He reached a pretty significant milestone this year getting to 2,000 yards and was consistently great all year. Oh and he's incredibly deluded for thinking he's faster than Usain Bolt.
The 1998 NFL Draft is well-represented in this awards list. Mega Stud Peyton Manning was drafted No. 1 overall that year while 2009 Defensive Stud Charles Woodson was drafted No. 4 overall.
Woodson surprised many voters in 2009, beating out mid-season studs Jared Allen and Darren Sharper. While Allen and Sharper certainly made their case to maintain their status as co-defensive studs, Woodson separated himself from the pack by gathering nine interceptions, scoring three TDs off those interceptions, and forcing four fumbles for a Green Bay Packers defense in transition. For a veteran in his 12th season, playing in a defense that uses mostly man coverage schemes, that's certainly eye-opening. Woodson earned a healthy 53.6% of the vote despite a crowded field of stellar defensive talent, including the younger (and much more hyped) Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis.
From the bloggers:
The best season by a cornerback that I think I've ever seen. I have no idea how he's playing at this level at his age.
Woodson is the only one here that might even be considered for League MVP as well.
Charles Woodson had a monster season on a Packers defense in transition. He might still be the best CB in the league, despite media's best efforts to turn Darrelle Revis into a football deity.
Unlike the two rookie honors the NFL hands out, our Stud Newcomer award transcends position or area. Offense? Defense? Special teams? Doesn't matter. A stud rook is a stud rook. While many rookies this season fit the bill, including mid-season winner Percy Harvin of the Vikings, it was Texans linebacker Brian Cushing that won the award by just two little votes.
Cushing was the only rookie to land in the top ten in tackles (134). He also recorded five sacks, defended 14 passes, snatched four INTs, forced four fumbles, and scored a safety. Yep, that's pretty studly for the young Texan.
From the bloggers:
I initially was going to go with Harvin, but Cushing showed quite a bit of playmaking skills, forcing 2 fumbles, adding 4 interceptions, grabbing 5 sacks, and finishing fifth among all players in tackles. Just a great all-around season.
Harvin got the most print, but Cushing played like a veteran and even Byrd, whom I wanted my Ravens to pick up in the draft, had a better season.
Mostly because he reminds me of "Cush" from the movie Jerry Maguire. Why did he and Beau Bridges have to screw Jerry like that? Oh and he can play.
There is no better indicator of how volatile the NFL is than coaching awards. At the mid-season point in the 2008 season, our bloggers voted Jim Zorn (yes, THAT Jim Zorn) as the coaching stud. Today, he's unemployed, and to make matters worse for Zorn and his reputation... well, scroll down in a bit and see for yourself.
At the mid-season point this year, our bloggers crowned Josh McDaniels of the Broncos. For the regular season award, McDaniels did not receive one single vote. From genius to goat in just eight weeks.
In yet another example of how fluid coaching perception is among fans, the winners for this year's award are two men many considered coaching clowns last year this time: Marvin Lewis and Norv Turner. Both coaches overcame early season stumbles, while Lewis had the added burden of coaching his men through tragedy. Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer lost his wife Vicky in October, and talented wide receiver Chris Henry was killed in a bizarre auto accident in December. Despite the tragedies, the team under Lewis' guidance swept the NFC North and won their second division title. For Norv Turner, his Chargers started 2-3, but roared off 11 straight wins to claim their 4th straight AFC West title and the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs.
From the bloggers:
Again, several worthy candidates, but I'll go with Marvin Lewis. Just going to work in Cincinnati is a challenge. Add to that dealing with the Hard Knocks crew, two horrible tragedies, and still sweeping the Browns, Steelers and Ravens. That is a job well done.
After a 2-3 start, the Chargers turned things around despite not having the defensive squad they used to field.
When a locker room is out of control, most of the time it takes an outside influence to restore order. It's incredible how Lewis was able to reassert control of this team. He also changed Cincy's style to the opposite of what made him a successful head coach in the past. You can't say enough about the way Lewis has turned around a terrible situation for a second time.
JaMarcus Russell continues to challenge Ryan Leaf as the greatest draft bust of all time.
JaMarcus earned the "Mega Dud" tag at the mid-point this season just as he did at the mid-point of the 2008 campaign. The only reason he didn't get Mega Dud for the entire 2008 season was because then-Browns wideout Braylon Edwards set the bar so low even JaMarcus could fit under it. However, this year, when JaMarcus was not throwing interceptions or creatively fumbling the football, he was blowing off team meetings for "personal reasons" only to be spotted 24 hours later partying in Las Vegas.
JaMarcus is so bad he made Charlie Frye look like Jim Plunkett in Week 17.
If JaMarcus is still starting with the Raiders next season, he will likely win this "honor" again, forcing us to rename the Mega Dud category to the "JaMarcus Russell Mega Dud Bustapoloosa Award for Stupidity in the Face of Adversity." It is stunning to see just how bad this once highly touted college phenom has become. Even more stunning is how oblivious Raiders owner Al Davis is to Russell's ineptness as an NFL player.
From the bloggers:
I know Cutler had the INTS, but if Russell doesn't win this, all other bloggers must turn in their credentials.
I had to go with J-Bust although Jay Cutler was a larger disappointment.
Worst player in the league. Oakland is praying there's no new CBA so they can cut him, two years after making him the #1 pick.
It is tough not to feel at least a little sorry for Raiders rookie wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey, despite his millions in guaranteed money, mansion, cool cars, hot women, and all that. However, after you look at his rookie numbers (nine catches, 149 yards, 1 TD in 11 games), the sympathy turns to head-scratching as you wonder how in the world this guy was drafted No. 7 overall in the 2009 NFL Draft, ahead of players like Brian Cushing, Percy Harvin, and Michael Crabtree. In fairness, Heyward-Bey did not seem to lobby for, or market himself as, a top 10 pick. He was simply drafted, to everyone's shock, by the Raiders at No. 7 overall, who then paid him more guaranteed money than most proven veterans make. But, regardless of whether you are a top 10 pick or not, nine catches all year is terrible for a first day player taken.
And you thought Al Davis' dementia over JaMarcus Russell couldn't be trumped.
From the bloggers:
His career ended on draft day.
Has he caught a pass yet??
I want to simply blame the team that he was on, but when you make Troy Williamson look like the second coming of Cris Carter, then man. . .you're just awful.
If you've ever been the slightest bit curious to see if a man can walk around and function in a working environment after he has had his manhood snipped off with a pair of rusty scissors, look no further than Jim Zorn's 2009 coaching tenure in Washington. When Zorn wasn't looking lost and confused on the sideline, he was devising new and innovative ways to lose games in spectacular fashion:
Zorn beat out mid-season "winner" Eric Mangini of the Browns, who may soon join Zorn in the unemployment line.
Look, I watched 57 Buffalo Bills games in which Dick Jauron was the head coach, and he never lined up his entire punt team by the sideline and watched his punter get lit up like a Christmas tree after the other team called timeout because they knew what was coming.
Battle Red Blog (who voted for Eric Mangini, but the quote applies for both coaches)
Ugh. So much horror.
Seeing him drift in the wind after having play-calling duties stripped away was down-right painful.
And thus, we bring the 2009 regular season to a close. Please, share your thoughts regarding the 2009 Regular Season Studs and Duds in the comments below. Thank you to all of our bloggers for voting and commenting.