On the eve of the Super Bowl, the NFL will have the inaugural “NFL Honors” awards special handing out accolades to players for accomplishments this past season. The awards show will air 6:00 pm-8:00 pm PST on NBC however it will be tape-delayed by a few hours, so we will know who won which awards before the actual broadcast. The NFL is going all out for the first-time event with a Red Carpet before the ceremony that you can watch on NFL Network, a live performance from Lenny Kravitz and Alex Baldwin as the host of the show. And why not, its Super Bowl weekend and all of the sports world will be watching.
The reason I will be watching is several 49ers will not only attend but some could end up winning awards for the teams unexpected run to the NFC Championship game this season. Current Niners expected to attend are NaVorro Bowman, Vernon Davis, Aldon Smith, Alex Smith and Patrick Willis. Also attending are former Niners legends Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Steve Young. Jim Harbaugh is also expected to attend since he is the front-runner to win coach of the year. Here is a breakdown of which 49ers could win awards at the “NFL Honors” show:
Jim Harbuagh: Coach of the Year
Jim Harbaugh came to the 49ers with high expectations and we knew he would be the coach to finally turn the team around. But, did you think the turnaround would come this season? I would have bet my money on no with the lockout and Alex Smith at quarterback. I guess that is what makes Harbaugh such a strong candidate for coach of the year. He has taken basically the same roster as last season and made them into contenders.
Last Niner to win coach of the year was Bill Walsh in 1981
Alex Smith: Comeback Player of the Year
The on-again, off-again starter finally showed in his seventh season signs of a franchise quarterback. Smith lead five come-from-behind victories including the NFC Division round win over the Saints. The stats and 49ers 14-4 record show Smith has not only greatly improved over last season, but had the best season of his career.
Smith injured his left shoulder in week seven last season and would only start at quarterback three more times. Fast forward through him re-signing, the lockout, Camp Alex, the preseason, regular season, playoffs and we have seen a completely different player. Smith never really had a great season before 2011 so I am not sure what he is coming back from, but the stats speak for themselves. Smith appeared in ten games in 2010 and he started all 18 games this season.
Last Niner to win comeback player of the year was Garrison Hearst in 2001.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Aldon Smith
As the seventh pick in this year’s draft, Aldon Smith was a below the radar selection that many criticized because he was drafted too high. Smith proved those skeptics wrong with 37 tackles, 14 sacks (tied an NFL rookie record), two forced fumbles and a safety this season. Smith was mainly used as the outside rushing linebacker on passing downs utilizing his 6-4 frame and speed to get to the quarterback. Broncos rookie linebacker Von Miller and Panthers quarterback Cam Newton are also strong contenders to win the award.
Last Niner to win defensive rookie of the year was Patrick Willis in 2007.
Trent Baalke: Executive of the Year
49ers GM Trent Baalke has been rebuilding the 49ers since last year’s draft. Many of those players like Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati and NaVarro Bowman were instrumental in the 49ers 14-4 record in the regular season and playoffs this season. Harbaugh was the one that still saw potential in Alex Smith and Baalke agreed. In his first season as a general manager Baalke could have easily said no and moved on from the quarterback moving the franchise in a different direction.
Baalke showed his eye for talent again this season by drafting Kendall Hunter who was a good backup to Frank Gore, Bruce Miller who was converted from defensive end to fullback and possible defensive rookie of the year Aldon Smith. During the shortened free agency period, integral 49ers players left for other teams while it seemed like the 49ers were not making any moves. Baalke showed patience because he had a plan laid out for filling holes on offense, defense and special teams.
On defense Baalke shored up the secondary with CB Carlos Rogers who entered the season with only eight interceptions in the previous six seasons and had a career year with six interceptions. Another signing on defense was strong safety Donte Whitner who had a great season. Whitner does not always show up in the highlights but his stats this season show why Baalke signed him: 62 tackles, ten pass deflections, two interceptions and one forced fumble. And we will never forgot Whitner’s jarring hit on Saints running back Pierre Thomas.
Of all the acquisitions made by Baalke during the off-season the best one and the MVP for the 49ers this season was kicker David Akers. Akers was automatic all season making 84.6% of his field goals and was seven-for-eight on FG’s of over 50 yards or more. Six times this season Akers made four field goals in a game, was a major part of the scoring for the 49ers and won plenty of games with his leg.
Baalke gathered all the right players for coach Harbaugh to lead on the field. With the 49ers winning the NFC West and advancing to the NFC Championship game, Baalke deserves the executive of the year award.
Last Niner to win executive of the year award was Carmen Policy in 1994.
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