2010 Next-Level Awards: WR, RB, Defense

For the second straight year, ESPN Stats & Information did video analysis of every NFL game, tracking a new collection of statistics and storylines. With the regular season now over, we wrap it up by recognizing the best of what these new stats had to offer. We unveil the 2010 NFL Next-Level Awards. This section covers receivers, running backs and the defensive side of the ball.

Deep Threat: Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers

Best WR on passes thrown more than 20 yards downfield

Mike Wallace

WallaceWhile not “receiving” as much attention as fellow Pennsylvania speedster DeSean Jackson, Mike Wallace was the most efficient deep threat this season. Despite ranking tied for ninth in targets, Wallace led the league with seven touchdowns on passes thrown more than 20 yards downfield. His seven touchdowns at that distance were more than the Cardinals, Dolphins, Rams and Raiders COMBINED.

Wallace’s reliability was evident: he did not have a single drop on the season; all of his deep incompletions were either overthrown or defended.

Locked and Loaded: LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles

Best RB facing a loaded box

LeSean McCoy, literally, ran away with this award thanks to some hard-nosed running -- an aspect of his game that often is overlooked. Being surrounded by weapons like Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin overshadowed the fact that McCoy was the league’s best back in 2010 when there were more defenders in the box than available blockers (creating a loaded box).

LeSean McCoy

McCoyFourteen running backs had at least 30 attempts against a loaded box this season. McCoy finished in the top four in rushing yards (207), touchdowns (three) and attempts per first down (2.8), despite having the fewest carries of those 14 backs (36).

Also, McCoy was more than up to the task of running out the clock. One-third of his rushes against a loaded box came in the fourth quarter with the Eagles leading. McCoy rushed 12 times for 85 yards and three first downs in those situations. His 7.1 yards per rush was tops among backs with at least 10 carries.

Speed Rush: Kansas City Chiefs

Best pass defense when blitzing one DB or more

The Kansas City Chiefs’ defense can give all the love to Romeo. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel brought about big change in his first season with the team. In 2009, the Chiefs were the second-worst team in the NFL when bringing pass pressure with one or more defensive backs. Kansas City’s opponents' passer rating with secondary pressure was 101.9, worst in the AFC.

Chiefs Pass Rush This Season
Sending 1 or More Defensive Backs

This season, the Chiefs set the standard in this area, topping the league across the board when blitzing. One reason may be the addition of strong safety Eric Berry, the fifth pick in the 2010 draft. Berry started every game for the Chiefs, picking up four interceptions and 3½ tackles for loss (each led the team by a defensive back).

Another reason may be the excellent coverage of cornerback Brandon Carr, who led the NFL with 19 passes defended, as scouted by ESPN Stats & Information.

Defensive Coordinator’s Best Friend: Cameron Wake, Miami Dolphins

Best defender on 3rd-and-5 or longer

Cameron Wake

WakeCameron Wake excelled in demanding situations this season, particularly when opposing offenses faced a third down with at least five yards to go. In those circumstances, Wake recorded 6½ of the Dolphins’ league-leading 21 sacks, and helped them shed 1.4 yards per attempt off their 2009 season average (7.9). He also recorded five of his sacks on pass rushes of four players or fewer (T-1st in NFL), allowing the Dolphins to drop more defenders into pass coverage.

Also playing into Wake’s favor was the end result of those sacks. Two of Wake’s 6½ sacks resulted in fumble recoveries by the Dolphins (one resulting in a touchdown), equaling DeMarcus Ware and Justin Tuck's sack-turnover total combined. Wake recorded four of his sacks in Miami territory, which pushed two field goal attempts from inside 40 yards to more than 45 yards.

Ball Hawk: Devin McCourty, New England Patriots

Best DB on passes at least 15 yards downfield

Patriots rookie Devin McCourty was one of the best defensive backs against the deep ball. He led the league with seven interceptions and 14 pass disruptions (interceptions plus passes defended) on balls thrown at least 15 yards from the line of scrimmage.

Most Int This Season
Passes 15+ Yards Downfield

McCourty recorded all of his picks this season on deep balls, and he did not do it against slouches either. He intercepted passes intended for Calvin Johnson, Pierre Garçon and Braylon Edwards, as well as defending balls intended for Terrell Owens, Percy Harvin and Todd Heap.

McCourty showed a penchant for making a big play when the Patriots needed one. Five of his seven picks came in the second half of games, and of those five interceptions, three came with the Pats up by two scores or fewer, halting any potential comeback.