It's time to hand out the awards for the Raiders' 2010 season. Just like the NFL hands out their awards, the players on this Raiders team have done enough to earn some recognition as well.
In previous seasons, handing out such awards may have seemed trite. After all, when you can't get past the five win plateau, there is little cause for celebration. It would ring more like a 'lesser of the evils' situation. But with the Raiders competing for the first time in eight years, there are several Raiders who deserve recognition for their efforts and contribution.
With that said, here are the 2010 Raiders Team Awards.
Comeback Player of the Year: Darren McFadden
He wasn't really much in the conversation for NFL Comeback Player of the Year but in my opinion, he deserved to be. He started his career with two injury plagued seasons in which he was a decided disappointment at running back. He didn't have the elusiveness he was supposed to have, went down on the slightest contact, and I can't recall him ever running away from defenses the way he did so often in college. The result was a total of just 856 yards rushing after his first two seasons with just one game in which he went over 100 yards. His yards per carry average was a sad 3.9. He also had a total of just five touchdowns in his first two seasons. This season he surpassed his previous career total in ten games and matched his previous career TD total in just five games. He finished the season with 1157 rushing yards, 507 receiving yards, and 10 touchdowns, to earn himself a spot as Pro Bowl alternate. I would say quadrupling his season TD totals, more than doubling his season rushing total, doubling his season receiving yards total, and raising his yards per carry by nearly a yard and a half (5.2 ypc) is quite a comeback.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Lamarr Houston
You often hear the words, "It's not how you start but how you finish." That sentiment is especially true for rookies. Every Raider rookie started slow but no Raider defensive rookie finished stronger than Lamarr Houston. He finished the season with 40 tackles and 5.0 sacks and added a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. 28 of those tackles and three of those sacks occurred in the final seven games of the season, which means he went through the regular rookie growing pains and finished the season with the kind of performance we should be able to expect from him from here on out. He averaged more tackles per game (4.0) than any other Raider defensive lineman in the last half of the season. If he had been at that pace the entire year, his season totals would have equalled 64 combined tackles which would have led all Raider defensive lineman and been fourth on the team. His sack totals would also have tied him with veteran linemen Tommy Kelly and Matt Shaughnessy (7.0). Houston stopped looking like a rookie by week 11.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Jacoby Ford
For the second year in a row, the Raiders found a prize receiver in round four. He wasn't even the first player the Raiders took in the round. He came in with little expectations placed on him, and he literally stole the ball away. Ford had his coming out party in week nine when he had six catches to carry the Raiders from behind for the win. Two of those six catches came late in the game to take it to overtime. His final catch put them in field goal range to win it. After that game, the secret was out, and he continued to show his savvy receiving skills. He finished the season fourth on the team in receiving with 470 yards. Nearly every one of those yards came in the final eight games. He came into that Chiefs game with just four catches for 37 yards, then he averaged 54 yards per game after that. At that pace, his numbers would have equalled 42 catches for 866 yards. That is a pretty nice rookie season for a guy who was seen as just a return specialist.
Best Veteran Acquisition: Kamerion Wimbley
I think when Wimbley first took the field in training camp, his Raider teammates collectively heard an angelic choir sing "Halleluja." Finally, the Raiders had that strong side linebacker they haven't had since -- wow, I will have to check on that one. It has been a while. There were several attempts over the years to find the answer in the draft (Sam Williams being one of the most noted examples) but it never quite worked out. Wimbley plays the run well, he rushes the passer extremely well, and even drops back into coverage proficiently. The Raiders' run defense still needs some work but the addition of Wimbley is a big step in the right direction. If the Raiders can lock him down to a long-term deal, he and Rolando McClain could prove to be a potent combo at the linebacker position.
Under the Radar Contributor: Samson Satele
I won't say that Satele proved his detractors wrong this season because there is no doubt he struggled in the past with larger defensive tackles. But this season he didn't play like he had in previous seasons. Satele had fallen behind earlier in his career mainly because he is on the smaller side. It is his one drawback because otherwise his athleticism makes him an ideal offensive lineman in the zone blocking scheme. But this season, his blocking style was different. I often describe the best offensive linemen as having sumo wrestler skills. There is a famous sumo wrestler who took the sumo world by storm as one of the smallest to ever dominate in the sport. His names escapes me, but you can Click here to see what I am talking about. He makes up for what he lacks in size with his aggressive and relentless technique. That is the kind of technique I am seeing from Satele lately. He attacks his assignments, hand fighting and forcing his will on them, and the result is some big runs through his blocking. He has gotten a lot of negative criticism in the past but it appears he has really come into his own. I personally no longer see the center position as a desperate need. While they could use a good backup for Satele, I see him as the answer at center for the Raiders.
X-Factor: Marcel Reece
He became the talk of the NFL at one point during the season as teams seemed at a loss to stop him. One of the more amazing things about Reece was how no matter where he lined up on the field, he seemed to present a mismatch. Technically he is listed as a fullback. But when you see him play, you would say he is so much more. He is a more than adequate blocker in the run game especially considering this is his first season in that role. He has also proven to be a reliable short yardage runner. Those are the duties in his job description; where he steps outside of his duties and goes above and beyond is in the passing game. He can pop out of the backfield on a screen or a dump pass and take it the distance at any given moment. He can also line up at receiver, the position he played in college, and be a reliable pass catcher with plenty of yards after the catch. He presents a mismatch because teams typically do not want to risk a big play elsewhere so Reece matches up against a linebacker. That is a battle he will win every time. There are few, if any, fullbacks in the league who can claim that. He finished the season with 455 total yards and four touchdowns. That is to say nothing of the gaping holes he opened for his running back teammates, Darren McFadden and Michael Bush, who were able to rack up over 1800 yards rushing behind Reece's blocking. If only there were a statistic that measured number of headaches and sleepless nights caused to opposing coaches trying to gameplan to stop him.
Special Teams Player of the Year: Rock Cartwright
This was probably the toughest decision among these awards. When Jacoby Ford has three return touchdowns and Sebastian Janikowski sets a single season scoring record, it can be a difficult choice. But how can we overlook Cartwright's contributions on special teams? He plays in coverage and blocks on returns. Ford ran to paydirt through some great blocks by Cartwright and the Raiders didn't give up any kick return touchdowns thanks in large part to coverage tackles by Cartwright. He also blocked a punt in the week five win over the Chargers that was recovered for a Raider touchdown. Heck, Rock even returned kicks. He was everywhere! He was the Raiders' all-purpose special teams guru. And he performed every duty he had with veracity and enthusiasm. That cannot be underrated and every coach in this league would probably tell you they would like to have five guys just like him on their team.
Defensive Player of the Year: Richard Seymour
The unquestioned leader of this defense since the moment he stepped into the locker room just before the season opener two years ago, Seymour makes the players around him better on every snap. While he stayed home to hold his gap, he opened the door for his linemates on each side, Matt Shaughnessy and Tommy Kelly, to have 7.0 sacks apiece. Please do NOT think I am trying to give him credit for Kelly having his best season in a while, but it had to help Kelly strive to be the best on every play when he had a guy like Seymour playing next to him. Seymour didn't let his teammates have all the fun though. He had 5.5 sacks of his own and had the best solo tackle total (36) of his career. It earned him his first Pro Bowl invite since 2006. And as a direct correlation, his standout play helped the Raiders lower the value of the draft pick they are set to give to the Patriots in return for his services. The Raiders' 8-8 record lowered their draft pick selection to pick 17 from last year's position at pick 7. And it comes in a year that the new rookie cap lowers the financial burden on teams with high draft picks, making them that much more valuable.
Offensive Player of the Year: Darren McFadden
1157 yards rushing, six games over 100 yards (145, 105, 165, 111, 123, 119), 10 touchdowns (3 rushing, 7 receiving). All of those were team highs. He also had 507 receiving yards to make him the Raiders' first 1000/500 man since Marcus Allen in 1985. His rushing total is the fourth best single season rushing total in Raider history. There is little doubt that McFadden deserves this award.
Coach of the Year: Mike Waufle
The Raiders finished the season with the 11th best defense in the NFL. Most of that was pass defense. So why is the defensive line coach the coach of the year? Because the reason the Raiders had such a good pass defense is that they were tied for second in the NFL in sacks (47). That is to say nothing of hits and hurries on the quarterback. The Raiders' defensive line, combined with Wimbley (who often lined up as a defensive end), had 38 of those sacks between them. Opposing quarterbacks had precious little time to throw the ball which, when it didn't result in a sack, often resulted in a pass thrown away or just thrown off target. Waufle took the Giants to a Super Bowl win with the schemes he drew up. There is no question that bringing him on board is what had this defensive line playing at a level we have not seen in a long while. He has a way of getting the best out of his players. When he has some fine players to work with, such as he does now, that is an extremely powerful thing.
Team MVP: Darren McFadden, Kamerion Wimbley, Nnamdi Asomugha
Now before anyone thinks I've taken the easy way out here, you must realize how much I agonized on this award. Who the MVP is on this team first of all depends on how you define value.
Darren McFadden seems like the obvious choice for many. He had the best numbers on the team for certain. His play was crucial to the success of the team. But what about when he was out? Michael Bush had at least 95 yards in three of the four games in which he replaced McFadden. So the offensive line deserves a lot of credit too, right? Yes, and most notably the interior linemen Robert Gallery, Samson Satele, and Cooper Carlisle.
Kamerion Wimbley led the team with 9.0 sacks and may not have missed a single play all season. All the while he was extremely versatile. We didn't need to see how the Raider defense would perform without him because we have seen for many years how bad the linebacking corps could be without a capable presence on the strong side.
Nnamdi Asomugha is the type of player who is irreplaceable. That was proven when he was out one game and played limited minutes in the next due to injury. Those two games were blowout losses to Pittsburgh and Miami, in which the Raiders gave up a combined 68 points. Most of the passing yards and touchdowns given up were through the patchwork of corners that were trying to pick up the slack from Nnamdi's absence/injury. I said at the time that the value of Asomugha to this team is often not fully realized until he is not there. The Raiders will be hoping they can re-sign him so they won't have to learn that lesson the hard way.
I was half tempted not to name a team MVP at all because the season's success was so much a team effort. I went back and forth and even considered a couple of guys that weren't mentioned here. Cases can be made for the value of several Raider players. But that just goes to show you how well the Raiders played in different areas this season. The fine play was spread around with heroes coming out of nowhere. Remember what this year's Raider slogan was? "Next man up." They definitely lived up to that motto.