Now that I’ve had over a week to allow the Browns’ season, and specifically the rather disappointing end to it, to sink in, I am going to go ahead and declare who would win my awards for most valuable player, most valuable rookie, least valuable player (hint: he couldn’t put a ball through the uprights to save his life), and the players and rookies who most and least impressed me – that is the player who exceeded expectations the most, or fell the furthest short. So, here goes…

Most Valuable Player…

Joe Thomas

When trying to decide who most deserved this, I considered two factors: their leadership (both on and off the field), and their performance above their replacement level on the team (that is, how much better they played than the second stringer behind them). The perfect candidate would be someone like Alex Mack, who was not only a leader at center, but tremendously better than his backup, as was evidenced by the disintegration of the Browns’ running game post-Mack-injury. However, I could not pick Mack simply because he missed so much of the season. I narrowed my list of potential candidates down to Thomas – who was the only offensive player I thought was worthy of consideration – all four starters in the secondary, Craig Robertson, and Karlos Dansby. Dansby and Tashuan Gipson were the first two I eliminated, as both missed multiple games, during which time Christian Kirksey and Jim Leonhard stepped up to play at a high level, meaning there wasn’t a large dropoff in production at the position. Similarly, when Joe Haden missed a game, Pierre Desir filled in quite admirably. Additionally, both Buster Skrine and Haden committed too many penalties at big times, and both suffered bouts of inconsistency. That left me with Thomas, Robertson, and Donte Whitner. Whitner came in and did what he was supposed to do – provide a veteran presence in the secondary while performing at a very high level (he led the team in tackles). Roberston was second on the team in tackles, and consistently made big plays in both the passing and running games. However, he only started 12 games and had weeks where he made relatively little impact. In the end, I had to choose Thomas over Whitner because he is irreplaceable to the Browns. Thomas held together a line that started to collapse in on itself after Mack went down. He played at a Pro Bowl level at one of the most important positions in the NFL. And he helped Joel Bitonio (who had a wonderful season) play at a much higher level than he would’ve had anyone else been alongside him. Thomas was the only consistently bright spot on the Browns’ offense, and for that I have to give this to him.

Most Valuable Rookie…

Christian Kirksey

A very good argument could be made for Joel Bitonio, but I decided to go with Kirksey for the way in which he stepped into Karlos Dansby’s role when he got injured. Kirksey played well enough that Dansby’s absence was scantly noticed, at least among the common viewer. Not only that, but he played in every game this season and made big plays in most of them. He tied for fifth on the team in solo tackles (with 47), and had a forced fumble to go along. He was also very serviceable against the pass, covering athletic and talented tight ends quite well. I also considered K’Waun Williams, but because he only played in 13 games, I had to give the nod to Kirksey.


Least Valuable Player…

Billy Cundiff

If you have ever read my column before, you shouldn’t be at all surprised by this choice. I hate Cundiff with a fiery passion. I’m sure he’s a wonderful guy to talk to and all, but he is a god awful kicker. Just terrible, terrible, terrible. He kicked a mere 75.9% on the season, ranking him 30th out of 33 qualifying kickers (those who attempted at least 10 field goals). He missed more field goals from between 30 and 39 yards than any other kicker in the league. And he managed to miss in close games. In the Browns’ Week 2 loss to the Ravens (you know, that one that we lost by 2 points), he missed not one, but two field goal attempts. In the one-point Week 14 loss to the Colts, he missed from 40 yards out, giving the Colts solid field position (not to mention momentum) to start a drive in which they would score and tie the game up. He consistently let the team down, and for that he wins this prestigious LVP award, which from now on will be referred to as the Cundiff award.

Most Impressive Player…

 Paul Kruger

In 2013, Kruger was one of the most disappointing players on the Browns’ squad. He signed a large contract (5 years, $40 million), and completely failed to live up to it. This year was different; Kruger racked up 11 sacks along with 4 forced fumbles. He made numerous plays at big moments, and he was one of the few consistencies in a defensive front that was demolished by injuries. His hair and beard also were impressive this past season, just reinforcing the decision to put declare him the Browns’ most impressive player of the season. (I also considered putting Buster Skrine here, but lack of facial hair cost him).

Most Impressive Rookie…

K’Waun Williams

I also heavily considered putting Taylor Gabriel here, but I had to go with Williams because he was not on my radar. Like at all. I wrote about Gabriel joining the team during the summer, and although I did not expect him to perform at this level, I nonetheless was at least aware of his existence. Williams, on the other hand, came out of nowhere. I honestly had no idea who he was when he first took the field for the first time. Additionally, he made the Browns better in a way that Gabriel didn’t and couldn’t. Williams allowed Buster Skrine to move inside to the slot, a position that he is more effective at, making the secondary better as a whole. But individually, Williams was no slouch either, amassing 29 solo tackles, 8 passes defensed, and 1 sack in 13 appearances (4 starts).

Least Impressive Player…

Josh Gordon

This one was also very difficult to decide. I almost went with Ben Tate because…well, he lost his job to two rookies and got cut. That’s pretty low. I also thought about putting Jordan Cameron here due to his plethora of injuries that prevented him from playing anywhere close to the level where he was last year. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized the only Gordon could truly sit in this spot. His time on the field was limited due to his suspension, but when he finally returned, I was nothing but disappointed. Granted I had huge expectations for him, but rightfully so, seeing as he was the best receiver in the NFL in 2013. In the few games he played, he was merely average. But that isn’t what won him this spot. Despite having nearly been suspended for a whole season, he showed no growth in maturity. Quite literally zero. I mean, what kind of player misses his first ten games, comes back, and then misses a walkthrough and gets suspended by his coach for the final game of the year. Honestly, grow up Gordon. You’re not in high school anymore, and this shit doesn’t make you cool. What makes you cool is leading your team to the playoffs. Figure things out and make that happen next year.

Least Impressive Rookie…

Justin Gilbert

This was a no-brainer for me. I didn’t expect Johnny Manziel to do much of anything this year, but I expected Gilbert to start across from Haden and be in the conversation for rookie of the year. Instead his season was a story of poor decision after poor decision. There was a constant storyline regarding his lack of effort in practice, and he too missed the final game due to what amount to poor decisions. He’s real talented, and I’d really like to write this year off as him adjusting to real life. Hopefully he can come back next year and make a real impact, but we will see I guess.

And that is it. I’d love to hear where y’all agree or disagree, so feel free to tweet at me (@nicstapig) or just comment here. Cheers.

 

NOTE: It was announced earlier this morning that both OC Kyle Shanahan and QB coach Dowell Loggains have parted ways with the Browns. I will discuss this in length next week, but for information about it now, you can check out here.