With 12 games down and four to go, the NFL’s stretch drive is here.
NFL observers everywhere weighed in with their picks for the best players at the halfway pole. No one ever does a three-quarter-pole analysis.
Lofton played from 1978-93 in Green Bay, Los Angeles (Raiders and Rams), Buffalo and Philadelphia.
Now 56, he’s one of the most insightful commentators in the biz on Dial Global’s radio broadcasts of the weekly marquee Sunday night game, picked up in Canada by TSN Radio 1050 in Toronto and Bell Media Radio stations elsewhere.
Here’s what Lofton sees through his binocs at the clubhouse turn:
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Peyton Manning of Denver, quarterback (above right, Reuters)
Denver’s unlikely playoff run under Tim Tebow last year was exactly that, Lofton said: “Miraculous.”
But this year, the Broncos look the part in every way. Especially at quarterback.
When you consider Manning and his wide receivers had only a few months in the off-season to digest a new offence and familiarize themselves with one another, Manning’s top-shelf statistics – 3,812 yards, 68% completions, 30 TDs, 10 INTs, 104.0 rating – are even more eye-popping.
“I think it’s incredibly impressive,” Lofton said. “He’s throwing to new players.
“But the timing is there, (as is) the trust between the players. And Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are two young players who are unlike any players Peyton has thrown to in the past. He’s always had small, quick guys. Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison were separation guys.
“Now he has big, physical guys, and so he’s made the adjustment to throwing them certain types of balls that they can compete for, and win.”
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Von Miller of Denver, outside linebacker (right, Reuters)
“When you look at pure talent, and you go to Broncos games, these two guys warm up together – Demaryius Thomas and Von Miller,” Lofton said. “And to the naked eye you wouldn’t know which one is the linebacker and which is the wide receiver.
“But Von Miller – when I look at athletes in the league, other than the interior defensive and offensive lines, he could play every other position. You could line him up at tight end, running back, wide receiver, linebacker, cornerback.
“He’s the most explosive player in the league, if you ask me.
“It will be interesting to see how the voters pick. But if I am an offensive coordinator, I sleep less when I’m going to face Von Miller than I do any other player. And that’s not taking anything away from any of the other top guys. But Von Miller is so disruptive, and so fast, and so explosive.”
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Adrian Peterson of Minnesota, running back
“I would think that the correct thing to do is if you’re going to look at Peyton Manning as offensive player of the year, Adrian Peterson has to be comeback player of the year.
“We all SAW Adrian’s injury. With Peyton’s it was like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know Peyton was hurt.’ All his neck surgeries were shrouded in mystery, and then he sits out the entire season.
“Whereas Adrian Peterson got hurt and everybody said, ‘Well, there’s no way he can come back and be ready.’ And when he was ready, everybody said, ‘Well, there’s no way he can come back and be as good as he was.’ Well he’s not as good as he was, he looks BETTER than he was.
“It really is incredible.”
OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR:
(tie) Andrew Luck of Indianapolis, and Robert Griffin III of Washington, quarterbacks
“At the three-quarters pole, it’s almost which guy you saw last. Because they are so impressive when you watch them. If Andrew Luck is playing in the one o’clock game and the four o’clock game is RG3, you think it’s RG3. If it’s the other way, then it’s Andrew Luck. I think they are totally interchangeable when it comes to rookie of the year.
“It’s so tough. I don’t think you’ve ever had the first and second overall picks in the draft be as impactful as these two have been. I’m saying you could go back to every draft that’s ever been held and never before have the (Nos.) 1 and the 2 been as good in their rookie years.
DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR:
Casey Hayward of Green Bay, cornerback
“(He’s) a guy that’s totally under the radar.
“Nobody will mention his name. He’s not a full-time starter.
“Hayward was a second-round pick, and he has five interceptions. He’s started just five ball games for them.
“He’s got good coverage ability, but he also has what you call strike ability – where he’s going to come up and hit people also. That’s a good combination at that position.”
Everyone knows the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year is going to be either Andrew Luck or RG3.
In a way that’s unfair, James Lofton said.
“I think there needs to be a rookie of the year for non-quarterbacks,” said Lofton, Hall of Fame wide receiver and analyst on Dial Sports radio’s NFL Sunday night broadcasts.
“Alfred Morris would run away with that.
“You hate to talk about systems, because every football player plays in a system. But the running back position that the Redskins under Mike Shanahan have is ideal for this bruiser – kind of a one-cut, straight-line guy.”
The Redskins selected the 5-foot-9, 218-pounder in the sixth round. Morris is tied for third in the league in rushing, with 1,106 yards.
“He’s really special,” Lofton said.