Top 8 takeaways from NFL Honors awards presentation

By Vincent Frank
Courtesy of Kyle Terada, USA Today Sports

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton earned NFL MVP honors Saturday night during the league’s annual awards ceremony on the eve of the Super Bowl.

Meanwhile, Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry — completing his dramatic return from overcoming cancer — earned the Comeback Player of the Year award.

These were among the biggest awards announced on Saturday.

Here are our top-eight takeaways from the event.

1. Eric Berry, a feel-good story

There is not another story around the NFL over the past year that should be welcomed as much as what Berry has done to not only beat cancer, but come back and play at an All-Pro level.

When Berry missed the final 10 games of the 2014 season after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the concern wasn’t over his football career. Instead, the then 25-year-old safety knew he was going to be in for the battle of his life.

He responded by showing a strength and courage that few of us possess. And less than a year after the diagnosis, Berry was back on the field for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Not only did he return to the gridiron in time to play a major role in a surprisingly good Chiefs defense, he earned First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors. That’s an absolutely amazing story.

2. No real drama regarding Cam Newton

NFL Offensive Player of the Year. NFL MVP. The night before taking the field at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara for Super Bowl 50, this Carolina Panthers quarterback was recognized by the Associated Press as the best football player during the 2015 regular season.

This isn’t a surprise. Newton tallied nearly 4,500 total yards with 45 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while leading his Panthers to a 15-1 regular season record.

While the likes of Carson Palmer and Tom Brady were mentioned as possibilities for this award throughout the year, it became abundantly clear as the season drew on that Newton would be the odds-on-favorite to earn league MVP.

In the end, Newton earned 48 of a possible 50 first-place votes:

It is, however, interesting that votes decided to hand him the hardware for both awards. It’s something that has been avoided by the Associated Press over the years.

It’s also something that simply needed to happen, as Newton proved himself to be both the best offensive player in the NFL and the most valuable player to his team.

3. Wade Phillips is still a genius

It was 40 years ago that Phillips earned his first coaching job in the NFL. The role he was tasked with back then was working with the Houston Oilers as the team’s defensive line coach under his father Bum.

Nine stops later, Phillips has once again been recognized as one of the best football minds in the league. He was named the NFL’s top assistant coach during Saturday’s awards show.

This comes on the heels of Phillips leading the Denver Broncos defense to top-five rankings against both the pass and the run. Denver also ranked No. 1 in total defense while yielding the fourth-fewest points during the regular season.

While all the talk has surrounded Peyton Manning and whether this will be his last game, the primary reason Denver is actually playing in the Super Bowl is due to its defense. As the coordinator of that unit, it’s nice to see Phillips get recognition.

4. Todd Gurley’s amazing season

Some believed that Oakland Raiders receiver Amari Cooper should have the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award. After all, he did record over 1,000 yards for a vastly improved offense. Though, what Gurley did for the then St. Louis Rams was beyond ridiculous.

Despite putting up a total of six rush attempts in the Rams first three games, Gurley still found a way to tally nearly 1,300 total yards and 10 touchdowns. When all was said and done, he averaged 5.2 yards per touch on an offense that boasted the fewest passing yards in the NFL. That’s simply insane.

Like most of the awards that were announced Saturday night, there should be much criticism thrown the voter’s way here. Gurley was simply the best rookie on the offensive side of the ball in the NFL.

5. West coast tape delay

There is no rhyme or reason for this. The Super Bowl is being held in the Bay Area. Saturday’s award show was being held in the Bay Area. Still, the NFL (and maybe CBS) decided that the show would be served best on the west coast on a tape delay.

This means those within miles of where the show was being held had to rely on social media and other instant news updates in order to find out who won each award.

That’s about as archaic as it gets.

6. J.J. Watt is simply the best

This Houston Texans stud earned his third Defensive Players of the Year award in four years. Coming off a 2015 regular season that saw him tally 17.5 sacks, Watt has racked up a whopping 69 quarterback take downs over the past four seasons. That’s absolutely absurd.

In perfect Watt-like manner, the defensive end made sure to tell all the doubters off while accepting the award:

“I was a 2-star recruit coming out and now I have three (Defensive Player of the Year) awards,” Watt said, via NFL.com. “So … screw all of you guys for doubting me.”

While Watt might have been unheralded in high school and during the early part of his college career, he’s surely made a name for himself in the NFL.

At his current pace, the 26-year-old Texan will go down as the best defensive player in the history of the league. That’s how dominating he’s been thus far in his career.

7. Ron Rivera justifiably earns Coach of the Year honors

Just two years after being on the hot seat in Carolina, Rivera has been named the top coach in the NFL by the Associated Press. It’s a dramatic turnabout for a coach that didn’t seem like he was going to be long for the Panthers job.

And in reality, there wasn’t a ton of competition for this award. Sure Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians might have been in consideration, but the Cardinals were expected to be good this season.

Heck, Arians has earned two of these awards in the past. Outside of that, there really wasn’t much to see behind Rivera on the totem pole.

8. Anquan Boldin is the man

Boldin “beat out” both Eli Manning and Ben Watson to earn the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award.

This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. Anyone who has paid attention to Boldin’s career knows full well that the San Francisco 49ers wide receiver has been an godsend within the communities he’s represented.

Throughout the years, Boldin has set up charitable events in Arizona, Baltimore, Florida and the Bay Area.

More than this, Boldin has done a tremendous job helping those less fortunate in Africa. Since 2010, he’s taken trips to both Ethiopia and Senegal. In addition to this, Boldin and his wife contributed $1 million back in 2014 to help fund the Anquan Boldin Foundation.