The 2014-15 season comes to an end this weekend as the New England Patriots take on the defending World Champion Seattle Seahawks. After the championship match, all eyes will turn towards the NFL Combine and the NFL draft. Before the draft hubbub, C3 has some awards to award.
Most Valuable Player: Thomas Davis
Davis assumed an important leadership role this season given the departure of Jordan Gross and Steve Smith. Bringing the internal fortitude, forged by battling back from three ACL tears to successfully find the field again, Davis inspired a team through some of the darkest of times to somehow win the NFC South after an 8-game losing streak. Both on and off the field, Davis refused to quit--as he always has. Even had his play on the field not had been as great as it was, he still would have merited the team’s MVP.
Offensive Player of the Year: Jonathan Stewart
Selecting an offensive player of the year was the most difficult of all the awards. We almost considered skipping the category entirely. Early it looked as if Kelvin Benjamin was going to be the biggest impact, but his season was largely interrupted by a bad case of the dropsies. Greg Olsen and Cam Newton both made the short list, but despite Olsen’s Pro Bowl season and Cam Newton’s perseverance through injury, Jonathan Stewart seemed the most dynamic player late in the season.
The numbers aren’t stellar, but nothing really was on the Panthers offense. Finishing up with 809 yds, 3 TDs, and 4.6 yd/attempt, Stewart looks to be living a second life.
Defensive Player of the Year: Luke Kuechly
Defensive Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and two-time Pro Bowler, Kuechly now has another award to place on his mantle. Leading the league in tackles for the second consecutive year, Keuchly easily merits C3 Defensive Player of the Year. Just three years deep, and he's become one of the most dominant players in the game. The scary part, he's going to get better!
Rookie of the Year: Bene’ Benwikere
Panther fans were excited by this young player when Gettleman traded up to get him in the 5th round. Nobody, however, thought he would make the impact he did. Carolina’s defense struggled without him when he was sidelined with an ankle injury mid-season. Upon his return, the Panthers defense found new life, and a youthfulness that Benwikere so well represented. The future is bright for this young player, and his impact down the stretched edged him out over Kelvin Benjamin.
Most Improved Player: Josh Norman
From finding it impossible to make it on the field to fast becoming one of the better corners in the game, Norman’s play was impressive. Not only did he play well, but the shut down some of the league's better receivers in Julio Jones, Josh Gordon, and Mike Evans. Still prone to making the emotional mistake, Norman, however, made more good plays than bad. He exudes a confidence needed to stand out on the island. Norman did more than get out of Rivera’s doghouse this season, he made an imprint on the league that looks only to become more dominant in the future.
Come Back Player of the Year: Cam Newton
Ankle surgery, fractured ribs, a broken back, a terrifying car wreck, and even abandonment by Dave Gettleman (that offensive line he gave Newton was criminal) couldn’t keep Cam down this season. Newton took a big step forward as a player and leader, despite the criticism he received along the way. The numbers weren’t impressive. His fell to 58.5% and the turnovers remained constant. Cam persevered, however, through the pain and led the Panthers offense down the stretch to an NFC South title and a playoff win. It wasn’t pretty all the time, but the toughness and tenacity was undeniable.
Rotten Tomato: Nate Chandler
This was a tough selections because we really could have just said the tackle position. Byron Bell was the second worst tackle in the league, and Nate Chandler wasn’t much better. We decided to go with Chandler because his stats would have likely been worse had he not been benched and eventually placed on IR. So we’re going to kick Chandler while he is down. Bell at least improved a little towards the end, and actually finished the season in the face of some of the most vicious criticism I can remember since Jimmy Clausen. In the end, both Bell and Chandler were terrible rotten this season. Chandler’s fruit rotted entirely, while Bell’s tomato at least rotted on the vine.