Greatness Measured: Opta Analyst’s 2022 NFL Awards
The trophy every player in the NFL wants to lift will be hoisted in Arizona a week from Sunday when the Kansas City Chiefs face the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII.
On the preceding Thursday, a host of players and coaches will receive recognition for their individual efforts at the annual NFL Honors ceremony.
The candidates for the awards are furiously debated throughout each season, though this year the field has been trimmed for each prize with the NFL releasing a list of finalists for the first time.
In the case of MVP, the top two candidates are the quarterbacks facing off in the Super Bowl, with Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts also going head-to-head for the game’s most illustrious award.
But who does our advanced data say should be the recipients of the prizes given out at Symphony Hall in Phoenix? Here is the list, which includes one winner not among the finalists who’ll be on the red carpet next week.
Though these are regular-season awards, Mahomes’ heroics on one leg against Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC championship game were the perfect illustration of why he’s both our most valuable player and probably will be named the NFL MVP as well.
Even when physically impaired by a sprained ankle, Mahomes can produce magical plays through the air and on the ground in the biggest moments. And this season, he has elevated a supporting cast after the departure of downfield threat Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins.
Only Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills had a higher QB EVE than Mahomes’ 1.66 yards gained over expected in anticipated passing situations (minimum 100 such plays). Mahomes, though, had the edge in terms of accuracy, delivering a well-thrown ball on 82.1% of his attempts, outperforming both Allen (79.7%) and Hurts (81.0%).
Mahomes, who surpassed 5,000 passing yards and 40 passing touchdowns in a single season for the second time in his career, was the best player in the NFL in 2022 – and the reality is, it wasn’t especially close.
The Raiders’ acquisition of Davante Adams in a blockbuster trade with the Green Bay Packers did not produce the team results they desired in 2022, but individually, his debut season with Las Vegas ranked as one of the finest of his career despite being apart from Aaron Rodgers.
Adams’ 14 receiving touchdowns led the NFL and his combined open percentage across man and zone coverage of 52.2 was superior to Justin Jefferson and Tyreek Hill, though his 1,516 receiving yards trailed them both.
With 10 touchdown receptions of 20 yards or more in 2022, Adams was the NFL’s most explosive receiving threat in a season in which he once again reaffirmed his status as one of the finest route runners of his generation. The Raiders may want to forget this season in a hurry, but Adams’ campaign was one well worth remembering as the winner of our offensive player of the year award.
This award will almost certainly go to Nick Bosa of the San Francisco 49ers next week, but there’s a strong case for Chris Jones as a more impactful defender on a down-to-down basis in 2022.
Indeed, Jones’ pass-rush win rate of 58.0% and his run-defense win rate of 72.7% outstrip those of Bosa, who finished a season in which he led the NFL in sacks (18.5) with a pass-rush win rate of 51.4% and 63.6% run-block win rate.
Like his quarterback, Jones shines when the situation is at its most pressurized, with his ability to rush the passer both from the interior and off the edge making him a ceaseless nightmare for opposing offensive lines. If the Chiefs are celebrating under confetti in Arizona next Sunday, Jones will likely have been a big reason why.
Brock Purdy not only kept the 49ers afloat after Jimmy Garoppolo joined Trey Lance in heading to the sideline with a serious injury, but he helped the offense improve as San Francisco won all five of his regular-season starts as part of a 10-game winning streak to end the 17-game campaign.
Albeit undoubtedly aided by the cavalcade of offensive talent like Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey at his disposal and the play-calling of head coach Kyle Shanahan, Purdy threw to an open target on 84.7% of his attempts.
The last pick in the 2022 draft piloted at an offense that was remarkably efficient in expected passing situations, averaging 1.20 yards over expected in true passing situations – fifth among quarterbacks with at least 100 such plays.
Other rookies like Garrett Wilson of the New York Jets may have played well for a longer period, but in terms of the level of influence on his team’s performance, no first-year offensive player matched Purdy. Unfortunately, our offensive rookie of the year now faces a long recovery after tearing an elbow ligament on the first offensive series of the NFC championship game loss in Philadelphia.
Sauce Gardner backed up his ostentatious nickname by quickly establishing himself as one of the league’s premier defenders and a lockdown corner at the highest level.
Gardner, who is also one of our All-Pro first-team cornerbacks, lost just 19 of his 92 matchups in man coverage and 24 of his 92 in zone. His combined open percentage allowed of 18.8 was bettered by only four defenders across the entire NFL.
In addition to his remarkably impressive coverage skills, Gardner showed a knack for finding the football in the air, registering a league-leading 20 pass breakups.
If he can improve on his interception tally of two, Gardner could go from defensive rookie of the year to defensive player of the year in the coming years.
He went from the forgotten man whose hopes of becoming a starter in the NFL looked to be over to the most accurate quarterback in pro football.
Geno Smith led all quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts with a well-thrown rate of 87.1%, improbably guiding a Seattle Seahawks team that appeared to be rebuilding to a playoff berth.
The former New York Jet also had the best passer rating (125.8) on throws of at least 21 air yards among all signal-callers with at least 10 such attempts. He threw for 13 touchdowns and one interception on his 52 attempts of that distance.
Smith unexpectedly emerged as the answer at quarterback for the Seahawks in the wake of the Russell Wilson trade and wound up playing in the Pro Bowl (for whatever that’s worth). But with a better ecosystem around him in 2023, our comeback player of the year could be the leading man for a true contender.
Brian Daboll of the New York Giants and Doug Pederson of the Jacksonville Jaguars deserve a great deal of credit for transforming also-rans into playoff teams in short order, while Nick Sirianni’s case is an extremely compelling one after turning the Eagles into the favorite to win the Super Bowl next week.
But for a combination of overcoming adversity and leading a Super Bowl-contending team, no coach can compete with Kyle Shanahan.
Shanahan calmly navigated his team through the stormy waters of losing not one but two starting quarterbacks during the regular season. He put Purdy in a position to succeed, with the rookie’s readiness and the support he received from one of the NFL’s best defenses a testament to the head coach’s ability to assemble a top-tier staff.
Winning 13 games (15 when counting playoff victories over the Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys) in the circumstances the 49ers faced on offense is a remarkable achievement. San Francisco finished the season first in overall EVE, doing so after being forced to turn to Purdy is a feat worthy of the NFL’s Coach of the Year.