News & Analysis

PFF's 2017 NFL season award winners

FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 29: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots throws during the first quarter of a game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Gillette Stadium on October 29, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

With the Super Bowl teams set, it's time to reflect on the year that was and recognize the fantastic play from the 2017 NFL season, rewarding the achievement of players that put it all on the line every week.

These awards are given to the outstanding NFL performer in each category throughout the regular season — postseason play not included — and strive to recognize the best the league had to offer this year. So, from the best overall player in the game to some more specialized awards, let's take a look at the winners this season:

Offensive Player of the Year:


New England Patriots QB Tom Brady

Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

Brady ranked third in the league in big-time throw percentage at 6.3, as he threw with great ball location down the field and at the intermediate level. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in history at taking care of the football and even with a more attacking approach, he still managed to rank fifth in the league at avoiding turnover-worthy plays. Read more…

Top wide receiver:


Pittsburgh Steelers WR Antonio Brown

Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

Brown was targeted at least two times on 11 different routes in 2017, and on seven different of those routes, he hauled in a passer rating that dwarfed the NFL average. On screens, quick outs, slants, outs, ins, comebacks and ‘go' routes, he fielded a passer rating of at least 20.7 higher than the average across the league. Read more…

Best coverage defender:


Los Angeles Chargers CB Casey Hayward

Casey Hayward, CB, Los Angeles Chargers

Even outside of that stretch, it’s not like quarterbacks were doing themselves any favors by targeting Hayward this season. He led all full-time starters in completion percentage allowed (42.7 percent) and was fourth in passer rating allowed (58.6). Read more…

Stephenson Award:


Minnesota Vikings S Harrison Smith

Harrison Smith, S, Minnesota Vikings

Smith ended the regular season with an overall grade of 98.8, which wasn’t just the highest for a safety this year, it was the highest grade of any player regardless of position. That 98.8 was also by far the highest mark we have ever given to a safety over the past 12 years of grading. Read more…

Special teamer of the year:


S Michael Thomas Miami Dolphins

Michael Thomas, S, Miami Dolphins

Before injury cut his season short after 14 weeks, Thomas had seen at least one snap at 10 different positions on the Dolphins kickoff coverage unit, and he was the Dolphins primary punt protector on punts. In these two roles, he racked up 10 special teams tackles, tied for fifth in the league after 14 weeks. More importantly, he didn’t miss a single special teams tackle attempt. Read more…

Breakout Player of the Year:


DeMarcus Lawrence, edge, Dallas Cowboys

No player embodied the term ‘breakout’ more though than Dallas Cowboys edge defender DeMarcus Lawrence. He spent the first three seasons of his career rarely, if ever, hinting at elite potential. His overall grades in his first three years were 75.4, 80.2 and 68.9, respectively. That’s not the sort of grading trend that suggest he’d be the third-highest graded edge defender this season with a 94.1 overall grade. Read more…

Defensive Player of the Year:


Minnesota Vikings S Harrison Smith

Harrison Smith, S, Minnesota Vikings

Versatile players are crucial on the defensive side of the ball, especially in the back-7 as they have to deal with speedy and shifty receivers, massive tight ends, and sometimes offensive linemen in the running game. No player better exemplified defensive versatility this season than Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith, the 2017 PFF Defensive Player of the Year. Read more…

Run defender of the year:


New York Giants DI Damon Harrison

Damon Harrison, DI, New York Giants

His three-year total of 138 run stops is completely unmatched by his peers, as the next-highest total in that span is just 94. In fact, only three other times in the PFF era (since 2006) has a defensive interior player reached 40. Read more…

Offensive Line of the Year:


Philadelphia Eagles Offensive Line

Philadelphia Eagles

This year, the best line in the game was the Philadelphia Eagles, despite losing one of the best left tackles in the league to injury mid-way through the year and replacing him with one of the worst. The Eagles unit boasted some of the top performers at their respective positions, and as much as they downgraded at left tackle during the year, they upgraded at left guard. Read more…

Matthews Award:


David DeCastro, G, Pittsburgh Steelers

Last season was DeCastro’s real breakout year where he took his game to another level, but in 2017 he had another career season. He pushed the bar even higher and ended the regular season ranked as the No. 1 ranked guard with an overall PFF grade of 92.5. Read more…

Best pass-rusher:


Aaron Donald, DI, Los Angeles Rams

Donald has been the gold standard since 2015 – just his second season in the league – when it comes to rushing the passer from the defensive interior and 2017 may have been his most impressive campaign yet. Donald finished with a 99.7 pass-rush grade while second place among interior defenders had a 90.3 pass-rush grade. Read more…

Best run-blocker:


Philadelphia Eagles C Jason Kelce

Jason Kelce, C, Philadelphia Eagles

His skillset made him a Day 1 starter in Philadelphia during his rookie season – a position he hasn’t relinquished since, mainly due to his run-blocking prowess at the position, as he earns himself our top run-blocker award for the 2017 season. Read more…

Best passer:


Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

The top-graded overall offensive player for the second year in a row, Brady found success in a slightly different style than previous years as the New England passing attack took more of a vertical approach throwing down the field. Brady’s average depth of target of 9.5 yards was the highest we’ve seen since 2006 and ranked 12th-highest in the league, yet he still maintained the accuracy and decision-making that make him an all-time great. Read more…

Best pass-blocker:


Rodney Hudson, C, Oakland Raiders

While we usually focus on offensive tackles when talking about pass protection, but when discussing the best pass-blocking offensive linemen in the game, Hudson’s 2017 season is a good reminder how all five offensive linemen are necessary to keep a clean pocket. Read more…

Comeback Player of the Year:


Los Angeles Rams RB Todd Gurley

Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams

This year, Gurley’s best trait was his game-changing ability to break into open space, make players miss and ultimately take it the distance. He racked up 15 runs of 15 or more yards, which was the third-best mark in the NFL, and more than double his 2016 total. On the ground, he forced a total of 38 missed tackles, which was 10 more than he managed to force last year. Read more…

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