This one is easy, and it's not even close. The Peyton Manning of 2013 is reminiscent of the Peyton Manning of 2004, when he broke Dan Marino's single season touchdown record that year only to see that record get fall three years later courtesy of rival Tom Brady and the Patriots. This season, Manning is looking to reclaim his TD record and lead the Broncos to a Super Bowl. Pro Football Focus' premium stats list Manning at 21.8 overall, nearly 5 points ahead of the No. 2 QB on their list, Philip Rivers. Manning has 29 touchdowns at the halfway point. Brady's 2007 record is 50. Don't think for a minute that Manning isn't gunning for that record again.
Best Offensive Player
This award usually goes to the runner-up to MVP, at least in my book. Megatron spent last Sunday nearly breaking former Rams great Flipper Anderson’s single game record for receiving yards, catching 14 balls for 329 yards and a touchdown. He ranks 1st in the NFL in receiving yards with 821 while also averaging 17.5 yards-per-catch. Johnson leads the league in yards-per-game with 117.3, and he seems to be nearly single-handedly keeping Detroit relevant in the NFC North.
Best Defensive Player
Lots of viable candidates here, but Mathis leads the NFL with 11.5 sacks, and he is doing this without longtime mate Dwight Freeney lining up on the other side of the d-line. What Mathis has done in the first half of 2013 has been sensational. He’s accounted for nearly 54% of Indianapolis’ sack production, and has fully completed his transition from defensive end to rush outside backer. Mathis is a major playmaker and has fully emerged from Freeney's shadow.
Best Offensive Rookie
Not many strong options here. Jets quarterback Geno Smith has thrown too many pick-6s to warrant even being thought of for this type of award, and I haven’t seen enough of Steelers back Le'Veon Bell to give him significant midseason praise. I settled on running back Eddie Lacy in Green Bay because of his production. His 443 yards and 3 TDs have given the Packers more balance on offense, helping take some of the pressure off quarterback Aaron Rodgers even though, at the end of the day, Green Bay is Rodgers’ team. DeAndre Hopkins of the Texans also has looked good, leading all rookies with 416 receiving yards. Hopkins was also named NFL Rookie Offensive Player of the Month in September. Not his fault that the QBs in Houston have crapped the bed in the month of October.
Best Defensive Rookie
Richardson has been a big surprise. Many questioned the Jets selected him with the 13th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, especially since they were (and still are) so limited with offensive weapons. However, Richardson is ranked as the 6th best 3-4 defensive end in all of football, per PFF. He has 37 tackles and 2.5 sacks, and he’s helping the No. 1 ranked run defense in the NFL stone opposing running backs. The Jets problem, other than their quarterback, is that their pass defense isn’t very good. However, that’s not necessarily Richardson’s fault. He and Muhammad Wilkerson have Rex Ryan’s defensive line headed in the right direction. Eric Reid of the 49ers is also a strong candidate here. He has 3 interceptions on the season already. Kiko Alonso of the Bills is also extremely good.
Andy Reid, Head Coach, Kansas City Chiefs
Like Manning for MVP, Andy Reid will walk away with the NFL’s Coach of the Year award if he manages to get the Chiefs into the playoffs. After starting 8-0, the chances are very good he’ll succeed in doing just that. After getting run out of Philadelphia for, in my opinion, justifiable reasons (Juan Castillo, refusing to run the football, bad management of the QB position, no playoff wins in 4 years), Reid has found new success in KC, and he’s helped quarterback Alex Smith become reborn again for seemingly the 5th or 6th time in his career. The Chiefs are the first team in NFL history to start a season 7-0 after finishing the previous year with the worst record in the league. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that maybe Reid’s coaching has a little something to do with KC’s undefeated start.
Ryan Grigson, General Manager, Indianapolis Colts
I give this award to Grigson - the man who won the 2012 NFL Executive of the Year award for how he guided the front office in Indianapolis through a tumultuous season – because, unlike many other executives, Grigson is not afraid to take risks. Prior to the start of the 2013 season, many people (including Football Outsiders) said the stars were aligned for the Colts to have a letdown after their miraculous 11-5 season in 2012. Instead, the Colts are 5-2, with big wins over the Seahawks, 49ers, and Broncos. While not all of Grigson’s significant offseason moves have panned out, the key additions of right tackle Gosder Cherilus, defensive end Ricky Jean Francois, and corner Greg Toler have made significant contributions. The jury is still out (and the defendant is sweating) on whether or not the in-season trade for running back Trent Richardson was worth a first round pick in 2014, but Grigson deserves praise for pulling the trigger and doing something to keep his team in the mix despite season-ending injuries to running back Ahmad Bradshaw, running back Vick Ballard, tight end Dwayne Allen, and wide receiver Reggie Wayne.