Two Minute Warning: NFL awards at the quarter mark of the season

    We've hit the quarter mark of the NFL season. Time to hand out some hardware.

    The Two Minute Warning usually has a giant feature that gets you caught up on what’s happening around the league and closes with ten parting shots. That won’t be the case this week. With the NFL passing its quarter mark Monday morning, we now have a better look at several teams and where everyone stands.

    Some players have risen to the occasion and boosted their stock, others have struggled immensely and could be benched shortly, and the same could be said about several teams. It’s safe to say no one believed in the Miami Dolphins, but Buffalo being 3-1 and nearly 4-0? Sometimes you can’t make this stuff up.

    Anything can change in the blink of a second; it is the NFL. Oh, you mean Patrick Mahomes is going to continue to destroy the league? Yeah, we should have figured that one out. Anyways, here are the early leaders for all the NFL hardware in 2019.

    Most Improved Player: Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB, Jameis Winston

    Tampa Bay hired Bruce Arians to fix the franchise quarterback. Jameis Winston showed promise in 2016, helped the Bucs finish with a 9-7 record, just barely missing the playoffs. But since then, the former number one pick has been pulling a Benjamin Button and taking steps back rather than forward. 

    But somehow, Arians has a way with quarterbacks. It might have been a slow start, but the quarterback we knew was there is starting to come out of his shell, helping the Bucs stay in contention in the NFC South. 

    For the season, Winston has thrown nearly thrown for 1,200 yards and nine touchdowns. In the past two games, Tampa’s passing offense has combined for 765 yards and seven touchdowns. Yes, he’s still throwing his occasional interception, but a majority of his passes are on the money with his targets. 

    Tampa may not be contenders, but Winston is undoubtedly helping them out. With a big-time win over undefeated Los Angeles, the Bucs are now 2-2 and should be 3-1 if not for a blown field goal. If Winston continues this path, Tampa may be able to turn away from the thought of drafting a quarterback early next year. 

    Comeback Player of the Year: Minnesota Vikings RB, Dalvin Cook

    There’s a ton of names who could fit this category, but for now, Dalvin Cook is the obvious choice. Since being drafted in 2017, everyone has wanted to see what the former Florida State back could do at the next level. 

    We saw glimpses during his rookie season, like the opening Sunday night game, but he tore his ACL later that year. In 2018, Cook dealt with multiple lower-body injuries, limiting him to just 615 yards and two touchdowns. 

    But now, Cook is the Vikings offense. There’s simply no other way to put it. Rushing for already 410 yards and five touchdowns, the former second-rounder has dazzled for the Vikings, looking potentially like the league-leading rusher. 

    Now healthy, Cook is showing why he could be considered one of the league’s best backs. The Vikings are 2-2, and it’s because of Kirk Cousins. It’s early, but expect Cook to be taking home this award should his production remain. 

    Offensive Rookie of the Year: Jacksonville Jaguars QB, Gardner Minshew

    This all started as a joke considering the guy looks as though John Holmes and Uncle Rico had a baby. Now, the Gardner Minshew Mania craze has been the focal point of Jacksonville’s success this season. Before the year, many were unsure if Minshew would even be on the 53-man roster. Now, he’s dazzling his way to keep the Jaguars in contention for the AFC South. 

    Nick Foles was hurt on the team’s second drive of the season. Fans were introduced to the former Washington State quarterback making plays with his legs and scoring a pair of touchdowns. Last week, he helped the team pick up their first win of the year. Despite being down 17-3, Minshew led a 223 yard, two-touchdown performance to help Jacksonville defeat the Broncos.

    Kyler Murray has made several highlight plays, and Daniel Jones is looking like the future for New York. David Montgomery is averaging 3.4 yards per carry, and Marquise Brown is torching NFL defenses. But Minshew’s consistencies have been the difference-maker for Jacksonville.

    Look, the magic has to run out at some point, right? You know what, who cares. Grab your headbands and mustache cream; let’s ride this out for the remainder of the year.

    Defensive Rookie of the Year: Carolina Panthers EDGE, Brian Burns

    Although playing in a 3-4 set, Brian Burns has probably made the smoothest transition of any edge player from the rookie class thus far. Drafted for his speed and pass-rushing skills, the former Florida State product is currently second in sacks among rookies.

    But it’s Burns’ ability against the run that has been his best skill. Closing the gap and forcing quarterbacks to change their direction has been the Panthers’ biggest weapon on defense. Meanwhile, Burns has been a quality run defender up the middle. 

    It’s hard to pick one defensive rookie since so many still are coming into their own. For now, Burns has been the most fun to watch thanks to his versatility. Come back in five weeks, and we can re-evaluate. 

    Breakout star: Baltimore Ravens TE, Mark Andrews 

    With the loss of Rob Gronkowski, the race to become the NFL’s top tight end looked to be between three players. Zach Ertz has been a beautiful security blanket for Carson Wentz, George Kittle has been better as a blocker, and Travis Kelce is likely going to become the true face of the position. Meanwhile, Mark Andrews might have been the second tight end taken by Baltimore, but he’s their most consistent offensive weapon. 

    Displaying similar traits to Kelce, the Oklahoma tight end was selected in the third round last season. He put up decent numbers his rookie year with 34 catches and three touchdowns. Four games into the 2019 season and he’s already matched his touchdown percentage from a season ago. Throw in 23 catches for 266 yards, and it’s hard not to like what you see.

    The Ravens have predominantly relied on the run game this season, but when Lamar Jackson needs a consistent target, Andrews is the guy. Already taking reps over Hayden Hurst, the former third-rounder could be entering the conversation of top young tight end. Everything he’s shown up to this point has been impressive. 

    Struggling sucker: Chicago Bears QB, Mitchell Trubisky 

    If this had been written before Sunday, Baker Mayfield likely would have taken home that hardware. For a guy who talks as if he still has that chip on his shoulder, you’d expect the production to back it up. Then, he threw for nearly 350 yards and picked up a win. 

    Mitchell Trubisky, on the other hand, can’t get things going in the Windy City. The offense is struggling, his coach is screaming at him, and now, he’s doubtful to play next week against Oakland. 

    The Bears defense has carried the team to a 3-1 record. Trubisky’s most significant accomplishment during the team’s three-game win streak is taking a questionable late hit from Bradley Chubb that set up a game-winning field goal from Eddy Pineiro. Anyone could have thrown three touchdowns against Washington the way they’re playing. 

    Year three is where you can truly see where a first-round player ranks. So far, Trubisky is looking like a bust. Even if he can change the narrative, there’s likely no way he’s more than just a mid-level starter in the NFL. Ryan Pace could have drafted Pat Mahomes or Deshaun Watson. This is likely going to be his legacy in Chicago. 

    Surprise start: Buffalo Bills 

    Even with a loss to New England, it’s hard not to be impressed with Buffalo’s roster as a whole. The team likely would have given the Patriots the loss if not for three Josh Allen interceptions, but the defense stepped up, allowing the team to make a late push. 

    For the season, Buffalo’s third rank total defense has kept them in contention. The team has collected seven sacks and five interceptions, trailing only New England. They are eighth in run defense despite losing veteran Kyle Williams in the offseason. 

    And Allen is improving under center. Sure, he’s still making rookie mistakes, but the team has been built around him, giving him the proper tools to succeed. John Brown and Cole Beasley have been difference-makers while the offensive line has allowed only 10 sacks on the year. 

    Buffalo is a contender thanks to their defense. If Allen can improve each snap, depending on when he plays again, it will be hard to imagine the Bills missing the playoffs. Much like Chicago, Brandon Beane built around his quarterback and relied on defensive talent to let them succeed. It’s working out in his favor through the quarter mark. 

    Losing losers: Pittsburgh Steelers

    Everything was supposed to be ok with the departures of Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. The rumor was they were the problem in the locker room, leading to the team missing the postseason last year. 

    But now it’s looking like they were the talent and Pittsburgh is lost without them. Credit to James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster for stepping up, but they’re not at that level just yet. Meanwhile, after struggling during his first start, Ben Roethlisberger was ruled out for the remainder of the season with an arm injury. Mason Rudolph has been slightly below-average at best through two starts. 

    But the biggest blunder of all came when Kevin Colbert traded a first and fifth-round pick for Minkah Fitzpatrick and Nick Vannett. Should Rudolph transform into a promising player, the deal for Fitzpatrick makes sense in the long-term. But three good throws in a game does not offer enough promise to give up a potential top-10 pick for anyone justifiably.

    Pittsburgh is now 0-3 for this first time since 1986. There’s a legitimate concern they could go 0-4 following Monday’s outing against the Cincinnati Bengals. The defense was able to commit five turnovers against San Francisco and still lose. The offense is a mess right now with young talent trying to replace the veterans. It’s just been a bad time to be a Steelers fans. 

    Offensive Player of the Year: Kansas City Chiefs QB, Patrick Mahomes 

    Let’s make this short and sweet. The Chiefs are 4-0, Patrick Mahomes has thrown over 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s yet to throw an interception and even when struggling, the former Texas Tech star has broken free to keep drives alive. 

    The award is going to him. It has too. That’s just the way the world works. 

    Defensive Player of the Year: Tampa Bay Buccaneers OLB, Shaquil Barrett 

    Remember when Jadeveon Clowney was willing to sit out until he received a new contract? It’s a good thing he’s playing because Shaquil Barrett is about to set the tone for pass rushers this offseason. Initially signing a one year, $4 million deal, he’s already earned all the incentives through four games of play. 

    Barrett currently leads the NFL with nine sacks. Last week against the Giants, he collected four on Daniel Jones. This past weekend against the Rams, Barrett added another to his impressive resume. One of the hardest players to stuff, the 26-year-old linebacker has become a star down in Tampa. 

    This will likely be a two-man race between Barrett and Myles Garrett (hey look, that rhymes). One was the former number one pick in the draft, while the other went from undrafted practice squad member to full-time starter. If Barrett’s production keeps going, he’ll be on pace to finish the season with 36 sacks. 

    That would be an NFL record. 

    Most Valuable Player: Kansas City Chiefs QB, Patrick Mahomes 

    We are literally seeing one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time play right now. A year removed from college, many believed that Mahomes would struggle in his first game. He went on to throw for 50 touchdowns and win the MVP.

    That’s going to be a pretty consistent thing we see for the future. While the Chiefs defense still has holes, the offense is going to be the reason they succeed. Mahomes is on pace to throw for nearly 6,000 yards and 40 touchdowns. Even if those numbers are less than a season ago, who is going to challenge him?

    Lamar Jackson had some bright moments, and Matt Ryan is at least close in passing yards. That doesn’t mean either is worthy of being in a conversation. Cook could be a late bloomer if the league takes running backs more seriously, but the award usually goes to a quarterback unless another position is just insane. 

    Get used to seeing Mahomes’ name on this NFL list consistently; it’s going to happen. 

    Parting Shots 

    10.) If there’s one game you will want to watch next week, it’s going to be the Bears against the Raiders. Khalil Mack had some words to say about his former team and what it means to face Jon Gruden after he basically let him walk. 

    9.) The hope is that Devin Singletary will be the future of the Buffalo Bills running game. Here, however, is former running back LeSean McCoy making a name for himself out in Kansas City. It looks like the team might not need to rely on Patrick Mahomes as much. 

    8.) Can we all admit that the NFC South is just weird now? The Saints beat the Cowboys without a touchdown, Kyle Allen had three fumbles and won, while Matt Ryan nearly threw for 400 yards. He didn’t connect in the end zone, however. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay is a contender, like what is going on? 

    7.) How you can root against Teddy Bridgewater is beyond me. This is exactly what I’d want in a teammate. Pure class. 

    6.) Earlier this week, I wrote an article covering all eight teams that were undefeated and when they would get their first NFL loss. I have a chance to get six right as Detroit, Buffalo, and Green Bay all fell this week. Thanks a lot, Los Angeles and Dallas, for making me look stupid. 

    5.) Maybe Landon Collins is mad that the Giants gave Jabrill Peppers his old number? Either way, this wasn’t going to end well between the two safeties following Peppers’ pick-six. 

    4.) Let’s talk about the hits. Oakland Raiders linebacker Vontaze Burfict was suspended for the remainder of the NFL season following this hit on Colts’ tight end Jack Doyle

    Meanwhile, others around the league believe Patriots’ cornerback Jonathan Jones deserved to be ejected for this hit on Josh Allen

    I personally do not like either hit, but Burfict’s was the worse of the two. In fact, comparing this hit to the other is just far from correct. They’re two very different plays. 

    3.) Have yourself a quarterback like Deshaun Watson. Here he is following the team’s loss to the Panthers working with quarterbacks coach Quincy Avery. 

    2.) Congratulations to one of the most underrated players in the NFL for making history. On Sunday, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald passed Tony Gonzalez for second all-time in receptions. He now trails the G.O.A.T. Jerry Rice

    1.) Make sure you check out the PFN’s Podcast network. This week, Corey and Kai talk about Melvin Gordon’s holdout coming to an end, while George discusses a scary situation surrounding former coaches and the Super Bowl halftime show.  

    Cole Thompson is the Lead NFL writer for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter at @MrColeThompson.

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