Alvin Kamara, Saints dominate NFC South awards

The New Orleans Saints were one of three playoff teams from the NFC South this season, but they are the class of the division when it comes to our postseason awards. Here's how NFL Nation NFC South reporters Jenna Laine (Bucs), Vaughn McClure (Falcons), David Newton (Panthers) and Mike Triplett (Saints) voted for their division awards:

Coach of the Year: Sean Payton, Saints

This was the easiest vote in the bunch, with Payton sweeping all of our first-place votes. He earned it by doing the two things coaches get recognized for: winning the division and turning the team around. A lot of folks had the Saints pegged for fourth place in the stacked NFC South this season, on the heels of three straight 7-9 seasons that made them feel kind of old and stale. But what most didn’t recognize was that the Saints had been rebuilding just about every part of this roster outside of QB Drew Brees over the past three years, culminating with one of the best draft hauls in NFL history this year. Once Payton recognized what he had in third-round rookie running back Alvin Kamara and a rising young defense, he proved that he can adapt his style from pass-first to run-first. The Saints led the NFL in both yards per rush and yards per pass attempt, as Kamara and Mark Ingram both gained more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage. Brees attempted his fewest passes per game in 12 years with the Saints while setting the NFL record for completion percentage (72.0). The Saints and Payton flirted with a mutual separation two years ago. But after Payton kicked the tires on some possible opportunities, they both decided that staying together was their best option and agreed on a five-year contract extension worth more than $45 million. The Saints decided that there is no one they’d rather have overseeing this latest rebuild than the guy who took them to a Super Bowl after the last rebuild. So far, so good. -- Triplett

Rookie of the Year: Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints

This is all you need to know about Kamara: Reggie Bush, the second overall pick of the 2006 draft by the Saints, said the former Tennessee star is "more advanced than I was as a rookie." Bush had an amazing rookie season, with 565 yards rushing and six touchdowns and 88 catches for 742 yards and two touchdowns. Kamara arguably had a more amazing rookie season, with 728 yards rushing and eight touchdowns and 81 catches for 826 yards and five touchdowns. Kamara’s ability to run between the tackles and make catches out of the backfield added a dimension to the New Orleans offense that took the pressure off Brees to carry the team. Kamara makes even the best tacklers in the NFL look bad. Just ask Carolina middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who let Kamara slide past him for a touchdown in Week 3 and had another big miss on him in the NFC wild-card game. "He’s very smooth, and he makes it look easy," Kuechly said. "It’s like he’s just gliding. It’s not like he’s twitch fast, but he makes guys miss. I haven’t seen a guy like him in a while." -- Newton

Offensive Player of the Year: Kamara

The Saints’ duo of Kamara and Ingram was the talk of the NFC South, but Kamara edged his teammate for the division’s offensive MVP because he did it all, and the numbers were jaw-dropping. Kamara averaged 7.7 yards per offensive touch this season, which was the highest single-season rate among players with at least 200 touches in NFL history, according to Elias. His 6.07 rushing yards per attempt were the most in the NFL, as were his 244 receiving yards after contact. "He is excellent. He is a do-everything guy," Bucs six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "He runs a lot stronger than he looks. He just can do it all. ... He has earned everything he is getting." Kamara posted 1,554 yards from scrimmage, sixth in the league. His 13 touchdowns from scrimmage tied for second in the league. He had seven touchdowns in NFC South games, more than any other player in the division and second of any player in divisional games in the league. In a tightly contested division in which three teams had 10 or more wins and each of those made the playoffs, that can’t be overlooked. "He is probably one of the most impressive stories, in my opinion, in the league this year," Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith said. -- Laine

Defensive Player of the Year: Cameron Jordan, DE, Saints

Cameron Jordan was selected to the Pro Bowl for a good reason. The New Orleans Saints defensive end was a disruptive force throughout the season for the NFC South champs. Jordan finished tied for third in the league with 13 sacks and was third with 28 quarterback hits. He recorded multi-sack performances in wins over the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions as well as in a loss to the Los Angeles Rams. Jordan now has 10 or more sacks in three of his seven NFL seasons. "I think his disruptions have been pretty consistent all year, and that’s been very important for us," Payton said in December. Jordan's performance is part of the reason folks are talking about the Saints' defense these days rather than just the Brees-led offense. The Saints finished tied for seventh in the NFL with 42 total sacks. Such pressure, led by Jordan, helped the Saints finish in the top 10 in scoring defense, allowing 20.4 points per game. The Saints ranked 31st out of 32 teams in scoring defense a year ago while surrendering 28.4 points per game. -- McClure