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The 33rd Team’s Consensus 2023 Midseason NFL Awards

Week 9 marked the halfway point in the 2023 NFL season, so we asked a panel of The 33rd Team’s experts who their picks for midseason NFL awards would be.

The awards cover the seven major categories the NFL acknowledges at the end of each season:

Offensive Player of the Year
Defensive Player of the Year
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Comeback Player of the Year
Coach of the Year

Our expert panel of voters includes:

Former NFL executive Mike Tannenbaum; former NFL coaches Jay Gruden, Marvin Lewis, Mike Martz, Chuck Pagano and Dave Wannstedt; Hall of Fame cornerback Ronde Barber; NFL MVP Rich Gannon; owner and president of ProScout Inc Mike Giddings; and The 33rd Team’s NFL Insider Ari Meirov.

2023 Midseason Awards

NFL MVP: QB Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens (3 votes)

Also receiving votes: Patrick Mahomes (2), Tyreek Hill (2), Jalen Hurts (2), Tua Tagovailoa (1)

Lamar Jackson has emphatically answered any and all questions about whether or not the Baltimore Ravens were wise to sign him to a record-setting contract last summer. He gets the nod for MVP in a close call, which speaks to how many elite players are fashioning impact seasons. Jackson has gotten it done as a passer and a runner for the AFC North leaders.

“He’s the best player on an ultra-talented team,” Pagano said.

Jackson has completed 181-of-253 passes for a league-leading 71.5 percent. He’s thrown for 1,954 yards (7.7 yards per attempt) with nine touchdown passes. He has a 100.8 passer rating (sixth) and a 62.9 QBR.

Jackson remains as dangerous as ever as a dual threat. His 440 rushing yards lead all quarterbacks, and he’s run for five touchdowns.

He’s also been very careful with the football. Jackson has not thrown an interception against zone coverage and has just three overall, which is the second-fewest among season-long starters. He’s excelled against zone coverage, where his 107.2 passer rating is tops in the league.

“He’s leading his team and making game-winning plays,” Lewis said.

Tyreek Hill runs after a catch — with no one around him

Offensive Player of the Year: WR Tyreek Hill, Miami Dolphins (7)

Also receiving votes: A.J. Brown (2), Jalen Hurts (1)

Tyreek Hill started fast and has stayed fast in 2023.

“Beep beep… he’s the Road Runner. There’s nothing like him,” Martz said.

The speedy Miami Dolphins receiver leads the NFL in just about every pass-catching category — receiving yards (1,076), receiving yards per game (119.6), receiving touchdowns (8) and yards after catch (408).

“He’s on pace for 2,000 yards,” Tannenbaum said.

Should Hill hit that threshold, he would obliterate Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson’s record of 1,964 yards, which he set in 2012. At his current pace, Hill would finish with 2,033 yards.

Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel has enhanced Hill’s potentness by how he schemes him open. As such, Hill leads the league in receiving yards while in motion at the snap (814). Teammate Jaylen Waddle is second in that category with 474 fewer yards. Hill is the league’s premier deep threat as his NFL-best 31 receptions of 15 or more yards attest.

“He brings explosive, consistent production,” Gruden said.

Defensive Player of the Year: EDGE T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers (5)

Also receiving votes: Myles Garrett (3), Maxx Crosby (1), Fred Warner (1)

When the Pittsburgh Steelers have needed impact plays, they’ve typically come from edge rusher T.J. Watt.

“They have the worst offense in the NFL but a 5-3 record,” Wannstedt said. “He makes a difference in every game and individually has won two games.”

Watt is tied with Myles Garrett and Maxx Crosby with 9.5 sacks, second in the league behind Danielle Hunter. The difference is Watt has the most combined sacks and quarterback hits (19) and is tied for the NFL lead with three fumble recoveries. He’s also forced two fumbles.

“He does it all,” Pagano said. “He sets the edge in the run game. He’s the best edge rusher in the NFL. And he can play in coverage when needed.”

Watt also has an interception to go with his 22 tackles.

“He’s carrying the team on his back,” Lewis added.

C.J. Stroud

Offensive Rookie of the Year: QB C.J. Stroud, Houston Texans (Unanimous)

Also receiving votes: None

C.J. Stroud started the season with a flourish — passing for 242 or more yards in the Houston Texans’ first five games. His completion percentage was above 63 percent in the first three. Then in Weeks 6 and 8, he struggled, passing for fewer than 200 yards and completing just 48 percent of his passes against the New Orleans Saints. Has the league figured him out?

Hardly. The second overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft erupted in Week 9. Really erupted. To the tune of a rookie-record 470 yards passing and five touchdowns in a stirring victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Stroud, who turned 22 in October, became the youngest quarterback in at least 73 years to throw for 450 yards and five touchdowns.

“Dude is HIM,” Pagano said. “His poise, composure, arm talent and decision-making processes all are at an elite level.”

The numbers are great, but Stroud’s ability to go through his progressions and make the proper reads has left plenty of experts impressed.

“Here’s a rookie quarterback playing like a veteran,” Wannstedt said. “His decisions, accuracy and consistency are impressive.”

Added Giddings, “He shows all-around quarterback skills.”

Martz, one of the game’s foremost offensive experts, took it further.

“He is the best I’ve seen. Incredible,” he said.

Not only has Stroud answered the franchise quarterback question for the Texans, he has them in second in the AFC South and in the playoff picture at 4-4, one season after they went 3-13-1 and missed the first overall pick only because they won on the 2022 season’s final day.

Stroud has accomplished all this despite receiving little run support. The Texans’ 87 yards rushing per game rank 27th.

“He’s played well despite a lot of offensive line health issues,” Tannenbaum said.

And the experts expect Stroud’s upward trajectory to continue.

“Minus a mid-season regression, I think him being the OROY is a foregone conclusion,” Barber said. “He’s been better than the first pick (Bryce Young) by a mile. No one other than (Los Angeles Rams receiver) Puka Nacua is even close in this conversation.”

Devon Witherspoon

Defensive Rookie of the Year: CB Devon Witherspoon, Seattle Seahawks (5)

Also receiving votes: Jalen Carter (4), Will Anderson Jr. (1)

Devon Witherspoon fills up the stat sheet. The Seattle Seahawks cornerback not only has returned an interception for a touchdown, he has two sacks and five quarterback pressures. Those stats lead rookie defensive backs.

“He makes plays,” Gruden said. “He’s physical, and he has good ball skills.”

Witherspoon’s reach extends beyond that to tackling. His 39 total tackles are fifth on the Seahawks, and his nine passes defended are tied for sixth in the NFL. And he’s accomplished all this despite missing the opener because of an injury.

“He can cover, blitz and support the run,” Pagano said.

Jalen Carter has four sacks for the Philadelphia Eagles, and Will Anderson Jr. has two to go with 20 tackles for the resurgent Texans.

Comeback Player of the Year: Tie — QB Tua Tagovailoa (2), QB Baker Mayfield (2), S Damar Hamlin (2), WR Calvin Ridley (2)

Also receiving votes: Kenneth Walker III (1)

Will the real Comeback Player of the Year please stand up? In a season with no consensus candidate, there is a quartet of strong contenders.

All Damar Hamlin has done is come back from a terrifying cardiac incident during a late-season game for the Buffalo Bills in January.

“Any other answer would seem ridiculous, really,” Barber said. “Even though he’s a reserve player and has been inactive most of the year, the fact he is even playing makes any other choice seem shortsighted.”

There were questions about whether or not Tua Tagovailoa would return to football after a series of concussions ended his 2022 season prematurely. He’s back and powering a blistering Miami offense. Tagovailoa leads the NFL with 2,609 yards passing, 19 touchdowns and a 106.4 rating. His 69.5 completion percentage is fourth.

“After multiple concussions, he has performed at a high level with no fear,” Gruden said.

Baker Mayfield’s return was from oblivion. Cast aside by the Cleveland Browns before the 2022 season, he started that campaign with the Carolina Panthers, only to be cut after seven games, a 1-5 record and a 57.8 completion rate.

Mayfield eventually caught on with the Rams and had his moments, including a Christmas Day blowout of the Denver Broncos. After the season, he again found himself waiting by the phone. His task this season? To replace Tom Brady for Tampa Bay. He hasn’t been half bad. His 64.9 completion percentage is a career high. He’s on pace for 3,963 yards passing, which would be a career-high, and he’s cut way down on his turnovers (four picks in eight games).

“He was done, gone,” Martz said. “He redirected and is playing at a high level. He’s playing better than he has ever played in the NFL.”

It was fair to wonder if Calvin Ridley would return to the NFL, much less start for a playoff contender in the Jacksonville Jaguars. After a massive 2020 season (90 catches, 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns), he endured an injury and a lengthy suspension for gambling in 2021. The Jaguars acquired him at the 2022 trade deadline, even though he wasn’t eligible for reinstatement until the offseason.

After playing five games since 2020, Ridley has re-emerged with the Jaguars, catching 33 passes for 451 yards and two scores through eight games.

“It’s great production after missing a long time,” Lewis said.

Dan Campbell

Coach of the Year: Dan Campbell, Detroit Lions (3)

Also receiving votes: Demeco Ryans (2), Nick Sirriani (2), Doug Pederson (1), Mike Tomlin (1), Robert Saleh (1)

It was almost a year ago to the day when the switch flipped for the Detroit Lions. And coach Dan Campbell was the guy with his hand on it.

The Lions beat the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers on Nov. 6, 2022, to kick off an 8-2 run to finish last season after a 1-6 start. And Detroit has kept the Motor City mojo going in 2023, starting 6-2 when the element of surprise was gone.

“Detroit has been on a heater since the middle of last year,” Barber said. “You haven’t been able to say that in 20 years! They’re likely gonna win the NFC North by early December and have a home playoff game. That solidifies this award.”

Mike Martz, who spent time in Detroit as the Lions’ offensive coordinator, is all too aware of what Campbell has been up against.

“Seriously? Detroit! He’s made them a winner,” Martz added.

The closeness of this vote reflects the number of excellent coaching jobs around the league.

Demeco Ryans guided the Texans to a 4-4 start after they went 3-13-1 in 2022. Nick Sirriani’s Eagles are the NFL’s last one-loss team, despite losing both coordinators to head coaching jobs and seeing several veterans depart in free agency.

Doug Peterson has the Jaguars in first in the AFC South, while Mike Tomlin has kept the Steelers competitive in the hard-scrabble AFC North. And Robert Saleh has the New York Jets on the fringe of the playoffs despite Rodgers sustaining a season-ending injury on his first series in the Big Apple.