It’s that time of year again. The 2012 NFL season has reached Week 9 and, with most of teams having played 8 games, it’s time to hand out the Mid-Season Lofty Awards.
In case you missed out last season, let me bring you back up to speed. Loftys are awarded to players and coaches who have gone above and beyond the call of duty.
“The Man” Lofty:
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings – 20 years ago, an ACL injury was just about career-ending or at the very least it altered the trajectory of one’s career path. Today, ACL reconstruction with a cadaver graft can have an athlete back to full strength in as little as 6 months. That being said, this is the NFL we are talking about. The elite of the elite – where a tenth of a second is the difference between All-Pro and pizza delivery guy. Incidentally, I like mine with pepperoni and extra cheese.
Coming off his knee injury, all AP has done is lead the league in rushing thus far with 775 yards and an average of 5.1 yards per carry and he’s brought the Purple Guys back to life.
“The Kid” Lofty:
Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins – 3rd in the NFL in rushing and three 100-yard games under his belt through only 8 games of his NFL career. Morris was drafted in the 6th round out of Florida Atlantic and is making a dent in the NFL with his powerful running style.
Lots of people might argue that it is Mike Shanahan’s system, but systems don’t make players. Players make systems. The West Coast offense without Jerry Rice is just a bunch of nice drawings. This kid Morris is tough and physical, and if you play against him you better buckle up and wear your big boy pads.
“The Big Guys” Lofty:
Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, CBs, Seattle Seahawks – Once upon a time, there were big guys in the secondary. Guys like the Raiders’ Lester Hayes and Mike Haynes. Haynes, a Hall of Famer, was long and tall and fast. Lester was a former linebacker at Texas A&M and, yes, he was covered in glue. Today’s corners look like ants – except in the Emerald City.
Sherman played wide receiver in college, then moved to defensive back late in his career at Stanford. He’s 6’3″ and weighs 195. Browner, who spent four seasons in the Canadian Football League after a nice career at Oregon State, is 6’4” and 221. A couple of weeks ago, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh gave the duo the highest compliment, saying they were too physical on his guys! Boo Hoo.
“Mr. More Than Mr. Irrelevant” Lofty:
Vontaze Burfict, LB, Cincinnati Bengals - Seven rounds of NFL draft picks in 2012 and this guy wasn’t one of them. It happens and we scratch our heads. Burfict was a head-turner at Arizona State: explosive, fast and instinctive, but not always on the same page as the coaching staff. No worries for Marvin Lewis and the Bengals. When starting outside linebacker Thomas Howard was lost for the year with a knee injury, in comes Burfict. And when you watch tape on him, man, does he wow you. On a defense with loads of young talent, Burfict stands out.
“These Boots Are Made for Kicking” Lofty:
David Akers/Jason Hanson, Ks, San Francisco 49ers/Detroit Lions – Going into Week 9, there are an astonishing 17 kickers hitting 90% of their field goals or better. Four kickers are perfect. The all-time career record for accuracy by kickers with more than 100 attempts is held by Nate Kaeding at 87%. Kaeding was just released by the San Diego Chargers after he was injured – but, oh by the way, he was a perfect 7 for 7 on the season before he got hurt. To give a little perspective, Jan Stenerud — the only pure kicker in the Pro Football Hall of Fame — made just 67% of his field goals.
This year, Akers tied the NFL record by hitting a 63-yarder for the 49ers against the Packers, while Hanson of the Lions has hit on 16 of 17 field goals. In his 21st season in the league!
The “Speed Bump” Lofty:
J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans - We really should have seen this coming. Watt had just 5.5 sacks during the regular season in 2011, but followed that up with a breakout postseason performance in which he managed 3.5 sacks and an interception return for a touchdown in the Texans’ two games. Through 7 games of the 2012 season, Watt has 9.5 sacks and 10 passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage. Nobody slows down an offense like a defensive end that can get to the quarterback or cause havoc even when he doesn’t. That’s what I call a speed bump.
Enjoy the second half of the NFL season and make sure to check back with me for the full-season Loftys at the end of the year.
James Lofton is the analyst for Westwood One’s coverage of Sunday Night Football. This week James will be in Atlanta as the 7-0 Falcons host the Dallas Cowboys. Coverage begins at 7:30 Eastern on Westwood One Sports.