I was originally thinking I would make this a series of posts, one for each award with candidates the membership would then vote for in a fan poll. Yet as I thought about the awards and leading contenders for each it seems to me a poll isn't needed as I have a clear winner in all cases.
Offensive Player of the Year - TE Greg Olsen
With another 1,000 yard season Olsen became the first TE in NFL history to record three straight 1,000 yards receiving seasons. His 1,073 yards led the Panthers as he averaged 13.2 yards per reception with a log of 78 yards. When the Panthers needed a big catch it was usually Olsen making it. He really upped his game and has been a bit of an iron man too. I can't say enough good things about the guy really.
Runner Up - RB Jonathan Stewart
Defensive Player of the Year - DE Mario Addison
The strength of the defense ended up being the pass rush and Addison paced the Panthers team effort with 9.5 sacks on the season (17th in NFL) and 15 QB hurries. This total was on a rotational snap count for a least half of the season if not more. Addison became a more well rounded DE in 2016, showing that he is more than just an edge speed rush guy, he can turn it inside on stunts and even get leverage over tackles much bigger than he is. Hopefully we can keep him in Carolina.
Runner Up: S Kurt Coleman
Rookie of the Year - CB James Bradberry
For me Bradberry went from 'Who the hell is James Bradberry?' last April after his 2nd round selection to a solid starting outside CB who has a very bright future. I think he's going to be a rock in the secondary for many seasons. Bradberry made some mistakes early int he season as any rookie does, but late in the season he really turned it on. He held Julio Jones and Mike Evans in check for the most part in these past two games (that cheap Evans TD aside).
I will add this is no indictment of DT Vernon Butler. I still like the pick and think he's going to be a beast. Though he missed some games with injury he was still never going to be more than a rotational guy behind Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei this season.
Runner Up: CB Darryl Worley
Most Disappointing Player of the Season: DE Kony Ealy
Some might think the expectations for Ealy were way too high because they were based on a single game performance, the 3 sack/1 INT SB 50 performance he had. That might be true but certainly it wasn't too much to expect him to improve on his 5.0 sacks from 2015 right? Wrong. He only logged 5.0 sacks again, giving him 14 in three seasons in Carolina. The Falcons 2nd year DE Vic Beasley just put up 15.5 this season. What's worse though is that Ealy essentially got benched, moved from the starter on the right side to the back-up on the left because 'that is his stronger side'. It's not like Ealy is devoid of talent around him that means he gets double teamed. Just the opposite actually. So while Mario Addison went from situational pass rusher to starter, Ealy has gone in the opposite direction. I'm not ready to give up on the guy but he is playing on the last year of his rookie contract in 2017. Time to step up.
Runner Up: QB Cam Newton
I still think the world of Newton but he ended the season on a real down note. It's apparent the season has taken a toll on him, both physically and mentally. I give him a bit of a pass though as I don't think he had the protection and personnel around him to overcome the hits he was taking. But I expect him to bounce right back given the Panthers front office is going to fix the offensive line problems that contributed to his downfall.
They are also going to give him an additional weapon via the draft, WR Mike Williams. (That's for you Jeff!)