News & Analysis

PFF's 2018 NFL season award winners

By PFF Analysis Team
Jan 22, 2019

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Dec 15, 2018; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) attempts to catch a pass in the fourth quarter against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. The Texans defeated the Jets 29-22. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With the Super Bowl teams set, it’s time to reflect on the year that was and recognize the fantastic play from the 2018 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:


DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans

There are two distinct traits Hopkins possesses that he is unquestionably the best in the NFL at. The first is obviously his hands. Hopkins didn’t drop a single ball all season. He’s not the first wide receiver to accomplish such a feat, but he is the first to do so on more than 60 catches. Read more…

Top wide receiver:


DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans

It didn’t matter where Hopkins was on the field either, as he was an equal opportune receiver, hauling in 48 receptions when he lined up out wide to the left, 35 receptions out wide to the right and a combined 32 from any of the slot alignments on the inside. In fact, at every alignment he was targeted from this season, he saw a passer rating when targeted well above the league average. Read more…

Best coverage defender:


Eddie Jackson, S, Chicago Bears

In his two seasons with his team, our Lane Award winner has scored almost as many defensive touchdowns (5) as he’s allowed while in coverage, he ranks third among safeties in that span with 12 pass breakups, and he’s tied for third with eight interceptions. While his two-year coverage resume is good enough to make even the most confident of offensive coordinators think twice, it’s Eddie Jackson‘s stellar play this year that has pushed his name among the league’s best at the position and, quite rightly, earned PFF’s award for best coverage defender. Read more…

PFF’s MVP:


All the data points to the quarterback position being by far the most valuable in football. In fact, 11 quarterbacks had a higher WAR than the most valuable position player (DeAndre Hopkins). However, topping them all with a whopping 7.49 wins above replacement this season, Patrick Mahomes is the 2018 recipient of PFF’s Most Valuable Player. Read more…

Stephenson Award:


In the 2018 NFL season there really is no question who the best player in the game was, and what is remarkable is that he took his game to another level from an already ridiculous starting point. Aaron Donald was the single most destructive force in the game from his interior alignment on the Rams defensive line, earning an overall PFF grade of 95.2, the best of any player in the league. Read more…

Special teamer of the year:


The standard of punting in the NFL is at the highest level we’ve seen, with our data and grading stretching back to the start of the 2006 season. We’ve seen a rookie phenom emerge in Seattle’s Michael Dickson, while Baltimore’s Sam Koch continues to deliver at a high level.  As good as they have all been, our 2018 PFF Special Teams Player of the Year has been the highest-graded punter in the NFL for the past two seasons, and he ranked second in 2016 too. The winner of the award this year is none other than New Orleans Saints punter Thomas Morstead. Read more…

Breakout Player of the Year:


Jaylon Smith, LB, Dallas Cowboys

After wrapping up the 2018 regular season with playoffs looming, Smith has developed into one of the league’s most dominant all-around inside linebackers in just his second year. Alongside rookie sensation Leighton Vander Esch, Smith’s pass-rush prowess as an inside linebacker was unparalleled. Read more…

Defensive Player of the Year:


Aaron Donald, DI, Los Angeles Rams

Donald’s 95.6 overall grade led all qualifying defenders in 2018 and bested his 94.0 mark that earned Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2017. He also earned career-high run-defense (93.0) and pass-rush (94.3) grades this past season, pushing past what we thought was possible at the defensive interior position. Read more…

Run defender of the year:


Damon Harrison, DI, Detroit Lions

Damon Harrison added yet another chapter to his prolific run-stopping career, as his 93.1 run defense grade this past year makes 2018 the fourth consecutive season in which he has achieved an elite grade at the discipline. Read more…

Offensive Line of the Year:

The Steelers offensive line has been one of the most dominant units over the last couple of years. With the Pittsburgh line putting together another impressive season in 2018, they earned PFF’s Offensive Line of the Year award. Read More…

Matthews Award:


Mitchell Schwartz, T, Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City Chiefs‘ right tackle Mitchell Schwartz was the league’s top offensive lineman in 2018, as he was consistently dominant against some of the best pass rushers in the NFL. The fact that he plays right tackle and not left just means he gets to face better pass-rushers like Von Miller more. By season’s end, Schwartz was one of only three tackles with a top-10 pass-blocking grade and a top-10 run blocking grade (Joe Staley and Andrew Whitworth were the others). Read more…

Best pass-rusher:


Aaron Donald, DI, Los Angeles Rams

You’ve surely seen the stats repeated ad nauseam on PFF’s site and Twitter account. 106 pressures. 25.9 percent win rate. Both head and shoulders above anyone else in the NFL. What hasn’t been repeated is exactly what makes him so special. The short answer is everything.  Read more…

Best run-blocker:


This year’s PFF award for best run blocker is going to a second-year offensive tackle who rarely failed on his assignment. He went out there play after play and did his job and then some. That player? New Orleans Saints‘ Ryan Ramczyk. Read more…

Best passer:


His season may not have ended in a way that he deserved, but after a tumultuous, record-breaking season, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees‘ 2018 performance was more than enough to earn PFF’s top passer award. Read more…

Best pass-blocker:


There may be no more coveted skillset in today’s NFL than an offensive tackle you can leave on an island from the first snap of the game to the last. The set it and forget it method appeals to every offensive coordinator in the NFL and sets their mind at ease from a game-planning perspective. Those tackles are decidedly rare which is why they’re so in demand. In 2018, there was no tackle in the NFL more comfortable on an island in 2018 than Green Bay Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari, and it’s the reason why he’s the recipient for PFF’s Best Pass-Blocker award. Read more…

Comeback Player of the Year:


Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts

There once was legitimate concern about whether Andrew Luck would ever play football again. There were even more questions about whether he would ever return to the elite level of play that he showcased just two years ago when he recorded an overall grade of 90.4 in 2016. Read more…

Offensive Rookie of the Year:


Baker Mayfield, QB, Cleveland Browns

At the end of the day though, what Baker Mayfield did as a rookie at the quarterback position was historic. Mayfield earned the second-highest grade we’ve ever given to a rookie quarterback but unlike Russell Wilson – the previous leader – Mayfield achieved that grade in a pass-heavy offense. His 531 dropbacks were 55 more than Wilson despite coming in three fewer starts. Read more…

Defensive Rookie of the Year:


Derwin James, S, Los Angeles Chargers

James logged at least 56 defensive snaps and put forth game grades of 70.0 or higher in his first four contests this season, grabbing an interception and two additional pass breakups on his first seven targeted passes in coverage. A solid season debut is one thing, a full season with such prowess on the backend of one of the league’s better defenses is another. Read more…

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