Here are my 2015 season award winners for the Arizona Cardinals:
David Johnson. If you could do the 2015 draft over again, there's no doubt Johnson would be a first-round pick. The way he's played the last month leads me to believe he has more upside than Todd Gurley, who was the first running back taken, 10th overall. Johnson's ability to catch the ball out of the backfield or when he's lined up as a receiver has changed the Cardinals offense. Johnson is special, and is only going to improve.
Markus Golden was my midseason pick before Johnson emerged. Golden should be a solid player for years to come on
the Cardinals defense.
Deone Bucannon has been terrific all season, and is one of the most unique players in the NFL as a "dollar linebacker." Bucannon will stick his face in there against the run, and loves to hit. Along with defensive tackle Rodney Gunter, fellow inside linebacker Kevin Minter (who has had a breakout season) and safety Rashad Johnson, a team leader, Bucannon has made the Cardinals as strong up the middle as any team in the league. Bucannon is also starting to create turnovers, which will raise his national profile. Other candidates for this award included tackle Jared Veldheer, guard Mike Iupati, defensive tackle Frostee Rucker, cornerback/special teamer Justin Bethel and wide receiver Michael Floyd.
Most Improved Player
My midseason pick was cornerback Patrick Peterson and I'm sticking with him. Why? Simply because he is the most improved Cardinal from last year's team. Peterson wasn't himself last year as he battled to get his blood sugar levels under control. This season, he's been one of the best defensive players in the entire league. Peterson is in the prime of his career, and can shut down any receiver in the game. Minter also deserves consideration for most improved Cardinal, as does tight end Darren Fells.
The Cardinals are the best team in the NFL right now and a Super Bowl contender because of Carson Palmer. He might be the MVP of the entire league. This Cardinals offense has set franchise records that surpass the Kurt Warner led teams of 2008 and 2009. Palmer has better tools to work with than Warner. This offensive line is better than Warner had, and with David Johnson in the backfield, the rushing attack is better. With all of that said, the Cardinals are 13-2 first and foremost because of Carson.
The Cards will go as far in the playoffs as Palmer takes them. He is throwing the ball with incredible accuracy and is moving around in the pocket like never before, despite last year's knee injury. But what I love most about Palmer is his toughness. Other candidates for MVP include Peterson, safety Tyrann Mathieu, and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Mathieu's injury might be felt in the playoffs, depending on who the Cardinals face. Mathieu covered tight ends, slot receivers, and is arguably the Cardinals' best tackler and playmaker. The way the defense played without him against Green Bay, a 10-win team, was encouraging. As for Fitzgerald, what can I say? He's been spectacular in a "turn back the clock" season, adding to his Hall of Fame résumé. He will no doubt go down as the greatest Arizona Cardinal of all-time.