Not only did the Los Angeles Rams finish first in the NFC West with an 11-5 record in 2017, but the team also swept our postseason awards, as chosen by NFL Nation NFC West reporters Alden Gonzalez (Rams), Brady Henderson (Seahawks), Nick Wagoner (49ers) and Josh Weinfuss (Cardinals).
Coach of the Year: Sean McVay, Rams
Considering that McVay is the favorite to be the NFL Coach of the Year, it was a no-brainer that he would earn that honor for the NFC West division. McVay was a unanimous choice here, and why wouldn’t he be? All McVay, who at 30 was the youngest head coach in modern league history at the time of his hire, did in his first season was lead one of the most dramatic turnarounds in recent memory. He took a team that was 4-12 and dreadful offensively a year ago and turned it into a supercharged juggernaut that went 11-5 and won the NFC West. McVay’s influence was most evident in the offense, taking a group that averaged a league-low 14 points per game in 2016 and turning it into a unit (with some key additions at receiver and on the offensive line) that posted 29.9 points per game in 2017. It was the first time in the Super Bowl era an offense went from worst to first in one year.
“It’s just everything he’s done since he got here,” Rams quarterback Jared Goff told reporters of McVay’s impact. “From Day 1, it’s been so impressive. He hasn’t changed a bit. Same demeanor every day and goes about his business the same way, and I think it rubs off on the players and rubs off on me, for sure.”
Along the way, McVay helped Goff erase any premature bust labels and helped running back Todd Gurley emerge as a legitimate MVP candidate. — Wagoner
Offensive Player of the Year: Todd Gurley, RB, Rams
A lot happened when Gurley sprinted 57 yards to the end zone against the Seahawks in Week 15. That score gave Gurley’s Rams a 34-0 lead, putting out of reach a game that gave Los Angeles a viselike grip on the NFC West title. And as Gurley raced past Seattle’s defense for his third of four touchdowns that December afternoon, he also thrust himself into the MVP conversation. Gurley led the NFL with 2,093 scrimmage yards, despite sitting out Week 17 with the division already clinched. He finished second in rushing (1,305) and receiving yards (788) among running backs after being edged out in both categories on the final day. Gurley’s 19 combined rushing and receiving touchdowns were five more than any other player.
“He’s really the centerpiece,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of Gurley, whose stats might be good enough for him to become the first non-quarterback to win league MVP since Adrian Peterson did it in 2012 with the Vikings.
“That was the last time a back won the MVP, and this year should be the next time,” Rams center John Sullivan, a teammate of Peterson that season, told ESPN.com. “Who knows how it will play out, but look, Todd is the best back in the league. And that’s what Adrian was at that time.” — Henderson
Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Donald, DT, Rams
Donald missed the first regular-season game, sat out the last one and spent an entire summer in a contractual holdout. He still led the league in pressures and led defensive tackles in sacks, and he might just win NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said Donald is “obviously the best defensive player in the league,” so of course he was voted the best defensive player in the NFC West this season.
“He’s not superhuman,” Phillips said, “but he’s almost unstoppable.”
Despite facing constant double- and triple-teams, Donald registered a career-high-tying 11 sacks in 14 games. (He would’ve had a 12th in Week 16, but the NFL took it away because Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota picked up his own fumble and ran with it.) Donald’s 91 pressures were more than any other player, according to Pro Football Focus, even though it’s significantly more difficult to pressure the quarterback from between the tackles. In a first-round playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons, Donald registered a season-high 11 pressures, 10 of which came in the first half.
“We’ve never seen anybody pressure the quarterback as much as he does,” Rams edge rusher Matt Longacre said of his teammate. — Gonzalez
Rookie of the Year: Cooper Kupp, WR, Rams
Hollywood wasn’t too big for Kupp. The small-school wide receiver shined as bright as any movie premiere as a rookie for the Rams, who selected Kupp in the third round out of Eastern Washington. Kupp, who played alongside the likes of Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods, led the Rams in receiving with 869 yards. He also led the team with 95 targets and converted a team-high 42 first downs. He was counted on by Goff and McVay from the onset of his rookie season, running 24 routes in his debut in Week 1, which resulted in four catches for 76 yards and a touchdown. He ran 425 routes in 2017, the second most on the Rams.
But Kupp’s impact wasn’t limited. He was second on the team in receptions, yards after catch and receiving yards after contact.
“Regardless of where you come from, I believe in myself coming into this and being able to play at this level, so it’s obviously great being able to help produce. But I think just being a part of this team, having coaches that put you in the right position players alongside you that make this game easy,” he said.
Kupp, who had five touchdown catches, was consistent throughout the season, with at least two catches in every game. His biggest games of the year came down the stretch. He had 116 yards on a career-high eight catches in a Week 12 win over the New Orleans Saints. Two weeks later, in a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, he set a career high with 118 yards, complemented by a touchdown, on five catches. That included a 64-yard reception — the longest of his career. — Weinfuss