The Bengals.com awards assembly has gathered in the Paul Brown Stadium draft room because there is no time to spare. Even when the last bit of business is handing out our awards for the 2019 season.
KEN ANDERSON MVP AWARD: RB Joe Mixon
For the first time in 10 years, you could have legitimately come up with Co-MVPs, dating back to the 2009 season with the deadly duo of Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph on the corner.
(Which, by the way, is just another example of how defense and running the ball solve most problems in the NFL. Never mind how Mike Zimmer's Vikings upended the heavily-favored Saints in New Orleans on Sunday. Go back 10 years ago when Zimmer's No-Name Bengals defense finished fourth in the league and allowed a No. 26 passing game and Cedric Benson to sweep the division.)
The estimable folks at the Cincinnati chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America voted wide receiver Tyler Boyd as MVP and you can't quibble with that in what was its closest vote in history. Boyd plays the game the way it is meant to be played and he was worth every cent of his $40 million extension.
But when the Bengals began to run Mixon in their offense designed by new head coach Zac Taylor, they began to have a chance. When they landed in London for the eighth game of the season, Mixon was averaging 12.5 carries a game with just 254 yards and they were dead last in rushing. He had one more carry than Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and 50 fewer than Browns running back Nick Chubb.
But in the last nine games he went for 883, trailing only NFL rushing champion (and playoff hero) Derrick Henry in that same stretch. And Mixon had 127 more yards than the next closest, Chubb. But here's why he's the MVP, besides his contagious energy that seemed to spread to both sides of the ball and his steel-belted production that was the A.J. Green-less offense's only calling card.
In the final nine games Mixon carried it 194 times to lead the league by 26 carries over Henry in that same stretch. Mixon was so good, he changed the texture and character of the offense. He was so effective it was almost as if Mixon reminded Taylor what made the Rams so good last year, which is how he got this job. Heavy run and play-action opening up a QB-friendly offense running wild with wide receivers coming out of every angle.
ISAAC CURTIS OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: WR Tyler Boyd
After last season's break-out year of 1,028 yards, this year's 1,046 has to be more impressive since he never had Green to run with him. With Green missing 23 of the last 24 games, you have to look at how Boyd, one of the league's more devastating slot receivers, has had to be their No. 1 for the last year and a half and he hasn't blinked. Profootballfocus.com this year had him rated ahead of Odell Beckham, Jr., Larry Fitzgerald, Marquise Brown, DK Metcalf and Adam Humphries.
Boyd continues to find every nook and cranny, whether it is third or fourth down. His 22 third-down catches were the same as the Texans' DeAndre Hopkins, two more than the Patriots' Julian Edelman and three more than the Browns' Jarvis Landry.
How about all that hot air balloon stuff about Beckham? Who would you rather have when the chips are down? According to PFF, Boyd and Beckham had the same amount of drops in 16 games (seven) while Boyd had 12 more targets, 16 more catches, 11 more yards, one more touchdown and nine more catches on third down.
After becoming the fifth Bengal to have at least 90 catches in a season (Green, Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Carl Pickens), here are Boyd's four-season totals: 242 catches, 2,902 yards and 15 TDs.
Boyd is in some fast company. After four seasons, Houshmandzadeh had 135 catches, 1,698 yards and five TDs. Pickens was at 239 catches, 3,252 yards, 35 TDs. Cris Collinsworth went 246 for 3,828 yards and 20 TDs. And the two guys Boyd replaced, Marvin Jones went 134 for 1,729 and 15 TDs while Mohamad Sanu was 152 for 1,793 and 11 TDs.
There are some caveats. Collinsworth played just nine games one of those years because of a strike, Jones missed one of those four seasons with a foot injury and Houshmandzadeh didn't have a catch in one of his first four seasons he was active in just two games.
Still, Boyd is making his mark.
KEN RILEY DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: RE Sam Hubbard
Tough one here. Hubbard gets it over Carlos Dunlap, but it is an extremely close call and maybe you can talk me out of it tomorrow. After all, Dunlap was a monster in their two wins, when he had 5.5 of his team-leading nine sacks in games he was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week.
And Hubbard is the first to tell you how many times Dunlap helps him get a sack.
But if you look at the entire season, Hubbard, who finished with 8.5 sacks after getting at least a sack in his last five games, was the most consistent and versatile lineman on a line that went through a challenging spate of injuries and changes.
According to PFF, Hubbard led all NFL ends in tackles while leading the Bengals line with 854 snaps for 80 percent of the plays despite missing a game. Plus, new defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo ended up playing what was more of a 3-4 than anything. Hubbard, the old Moeller safety, showed he was able to drop a little bit in coverage as a linebacker while also kicking in at times to pass rush up the middle.
Dunlap also dropped, but 25 fewer times than Hubbard. He missed two games with a knee injury in October and that might have been the reason for a slow start that saw him go 10 games between full sacks. Still, despite missing those two games, Dunlap played 70 percent of the downs.
Close call. But Hubbard's consistency, versatility and overall production over the course of 80 percent of the plays gives it to him in a cliffhanger.
LEMAR PARRISH SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE YEAR: S Brandon Wilson
It may very well have been the best season a Bengals special teamer ever had.
Third-year man Brandon Wilson joined Adam Jones to become the second Bengal to win an NFL kick return title in the last six seasons even though he missed the last four games with a broken hand. His 20 returns for a 31.35 average, which came within a percentage point of tying Jones' franchise-best, held up for nearly a two-yard win over the Bears' Cordarrelle Patterson and his 28 returns.
Wilson not only broke the Bengals' spell of 10 years without a kick return TD when he became the first Bengal to take back an opening kickoff in Baltimore, but he finished second on the team with six teams tackles in his role as a gunner. He was a big reason the Bengals led the league in forcing 30 fair catches on punts, along with other gunners Tony McRae and Stanley Morgan, Jr.
This is exactly why they traded up to get Wilson in the sixth round in 2017. He was versatile enough to play a little running back at the University of Houston and he put that on display with his 4.4 speed.
A.J. GREEN ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: MLB Germaine Pratt
Close call here, too. Two guys that finished fast were left guard Michael Jordan, a fourth-rounder out of Ohio State, and Morgan, an undrafted wide receiver out of Nebraska that made his mark on special teams. And Jordan really came on. Yes, he got blown up on the game-changing fourth-and-one against the Patriots, but he also wrecked people in Mixon's career-high 162-yard game against Cleveland in which he was dominant. Watch out for this kid. He's still 21 and they can't wait to get him in the weight room for an entire offseason.
But Pratt, a third-rounder out of North Carolina State, probably got his feet settled a little bit quicker, playing 41 percent of the defensive snaps and 43 percent of the special teams snaps. He ended up playing at least 47 percent of the snaps in the last seven games, coinciding with the Bengals' best defensive run.
Pratt had back-to-back double-digit tackle games in December against the Pats and Dolphins to go with three tackles for loss. And he saved his best for last when he helped deny the Browns' Nick Chubb the NFL rushing title. He hit him for another tackle-for-loss during a game the Bengals allowed Chubb just 41 yards on 13 carries. No question he looks to be pretty good in the run game (PFF had him rated 19th among backers in run-stop percentage), but they want him to shore up his coverage abilities.
T.J. HOUSHMANDZADEH MOST IMPROVED PLAYER: WR Auden Tate
How far has this guy come? Remember when he was a seventh-round pick last year and the coaches wouldn't let him near the field? Somehow he got off the practice squad for seven games and they let him have four catches. And he was inactive for this year's opener with a knee problem that cut short his training camp.
But with Green out for the year and John Ross sidelined for half the year, they had no choice to put him out there because all he did was catch anything in his zip code. The man with that super hero wing span delivered with 40 catches in 12 games before he missed the last three with a knee injury.
They loved his 6-5, 228-pound frame, but they just weren't convinced he had enough juice to separate. It doesn't seem to matter because get it close and he'll catch it. Say all you want about speed. But the man had 14.4 yards per catch. You have to go all the way back to 2011 to find someone other than Green to have at least that with at least 14 catches.
(That would be Jerome Simpson at 14.5 on 50 catches.)
And you have to love his toughness. He lay on the grass in Oakland for 10 minutes, got put on a board, went to the hospital, caught the plane home in surgical sweats wearing a neck brace for a cervical sprain, sat in Andy Dalton's first class seat and played the next week.
PAUL BROWN COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR: P Kevin Huber
In his 11th season, Huber had every Bengals punting record that matters. But you wondered if he was on the wrong side of 34, which he turned a couple of weeks before training camp. He'd been up and down, but the ball popped off his foot like the old days once the season got going.
He matched his franchise-best season net average of 42.1, set in his Pro Bowl season of 2014, and led the NFL in forcing fair catches with 30. But it was how he dominated the two wins. He pumped three inside the 20 against the Jets, including putting one on the 2 to set up the game-sealing safety. Then in the finale against the Browns he posted 46-yard net.
(Note: No one in the NFL quite had a comeback like Bengals founder Paul Brown. He was already in the Hall of Fame when he led his expansion Bengals to the earliest post-season berth ever for a franchise.)
SAM WYCHE ASSISTANT COACH OF THE YEAR: Special Teams coordinator Darrin Simmons
While the offense and defense lurched through changes in schemes and coaches, Simmons provided the kind of stability and production you would expect from the most experienced Bengals coach in his 17th season running the Cincinnati specialists. It didn't help injuries on both sides complicated things, but the Bengals were still ranked the No. 1 special teams by football outsiders.com
When kick returner Darius Phillips was lost for eight games with a knee injury, Simmons shepherded Wilson to the league title in his first season returning kicks. When Phillips, Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard were all injured and one of his gunners, Tony McRae, had to play corner, they kept it together. With guys like Wilson and Morgan stepping up, Huber led the NFL in forcing fair catches and the Bengals finished tied for fifth covering punts.
Simmons got a big year out of Morgan, an undrafted rookie out of Nebraska. Even though he began the season on the practice squad and played just 11 games, PFF ranked him tied for seventh among coverage players. Morgan sustained his season-ending concussion after he made the decisive play on an on-side kick Simmons and kicker Randy Bullock schemed into a rare recovery during the final 29 seconds of regulation in Miami.
Simmons, the former Kansas punter, got terrific seasons from his kickers. In that same game against the Dolphins, Bullock unloaded a franchise-record 57-yard field goal and finished 27 of 31 for the season. That means Simmons has coached the two most accurate kickers in Bengals history, minimum 75 attempts as deemed by the record book.
Shayne Graham, who worked Simmons' first seven seasons, is at 86.76 on 204 tries. Bullock, who has been his kicker in the last 50 games, is 69 of 80 as a Bengal, 78 of 96 elsewhere.