Comeback Player of the Mid-Year
There were two deserving candidates for this award, but for now, it has to go to linebacker Anthony Barr. As much as Jerick McKinnon has improved compared to last season, the fact the offensive line was horrendous in 2016 played a huge role in that. Additionally, McKinnon looks healthier and it’s made him a more dynamic back this year.
With Barr, the expectation was that he needed to have a big season in order to earn an extension with the team after performing poorly last year. Although he made the Pro Bowl in 2016, he produced career-lows in tackles for loss (2), pass deflections (4) and sacks (2.0). Overall, he displayed poor pass coverage and tackling, while failing to make the “splash” plays fans had grown accustomed to from him. This prompted Coach Zimmer to suggest that Barr tends to coast at times.
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In response, Barr has reemerged into the linebacker he was in his first two seasons. Already, the fourth-year player has 46 tackles, a career-high in tackles for loss with six and has five pass deflections, two short of his career-high. While he’s only sacked the quarterback once, he’s consistently made plays in the opposing team’s backfield. As matter of fact, PFF ranks him sixth among linebackers with a 86.2 rating.
Furthermore, he likely ended Aaron Rodgers’ season, what’s better than that? To his credit, the hit was perfectly legal and a great play on a mobile quarterback.
Kidding aside, the Vikings’ 2014 first rounder is playing out of his mind right now and is well on his way to the best season of his career. In fact, he very well could reach 100-plus tackles for the first time in his career. In the process, he’s helped elevate an already elite Minnesota defense.
Strongly considered: Jerick McKinnon