2021 NFL Award Predictions: Najee Harris, Patrick Mahomes in line for some hardware

The NFL is back! Before the season gets underway in full on Sunday, I wanted to go on record with my predictions for who will win the major awards handed out at the end of the regular season. I am so glad that football finally here again!

Offensive Rookie of the Year

Harris scored 30 touchdowns in his senior year at Alabama.

Winner: Najee Harris, RB, Steelers
I am incredibly way of the Steelers’ offensive line, but this is going to be about volume. No one else in Pittsburgh’s running back room has proven themselves in the NFL. Harris is going to be in line for a 350-touch season. The team seems committed to running the ball and relying on its defense to win games. That sets up a great situation for the former Alabama star to shine and take home the award.

Runner Up: Mac Jones, QB, Patriots
Some of this is about Jones’ situation and some of it is due to his talent. He might have been the most pro-ready quarterback in the 2021 draft class. Now, he will play with a revamped Patriots offense behind a good offensive line. He also feels like a great fit for Josh McDaniels’ offense. His ability to make plays from the pocket and take care of the football bodes well for him having an impressive 2021 season. I think there might be too many hiccups for him to win the award. Quarterbacks tend to be dissected more intensely than any other position. I think it is too much to expect him to match Justin Herbert’s numbers from a year ago. He will be in the conversation, but I believe he will ultimately come up short.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

Winner: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Broncos
It only took one preseason game for Surtain to flash the potential that made him the No. 9 pick in the 2021 draft. He raced back a 30-yard pick-six against the Vikings in the Broncos’ preseason opener. Now, it was just the preseason, but that is the type of playmaking ability that will win Rookie of the Year. Without an elite edge rusher in this draft class, at least right out of the gate, there is a good chance we see either a corner or linebacker take home the award this year. I’m backing Surtain, who was my top corner prospect in 2021.

Runner Up: Jamin Davis, LB, Washington
Davis flew up draft boards with his speed and instinctive playmaking style. He has the intangibles to become a sideline-to-sideline linebacker at the next level. Washington also has arguably the best defensive line in the NFL, which means Davis should have plenty of clear sight lines to the quarterback and ballcarriers. That front four eating up blocks will free up Davis to diagnose and go make plays. There will be a decent amount of competition for the award this year with Jaelan Phillips and Zaven Collins poised for big roles early in their careers, but I like Davis to stand out.

Offensive Player of the Year

Jones ran for a career-high 1,104 yards in 14 games in 2020.

Winner: Aaron Jones, RB, Packers
Jamal Williams and his 70 receptions over the past two season are in Detroit. A.J. Dillon might still be there, but he is definitely a change of pace back. He will get carries, but I think Jones is in for a monster season. This offensive line will get better when David Bahktiari returns. Until then, Jones can run behind Elgton Jenkins. He will also continue to be involved in the passing game, where he has seen 131 targets over the past two years. This is going to be one of the best offenses in the league again and I expect Jones to be a huge part of that.

Runner Up: Tyreek Hill, WR, Chiefs
It helps to play with Patrick Mahomes, but Hill is a special talent. After a 1,400-yards-from-scrimmage, 17-total-touchdown season, Hill had a legitimate claim to win the award in 2020. Sammy Watkins is now in Baltimore, so there is potential for Hill’s target share to even increase in 2021. With an improved offensive line, Mahomes will have even more time to drop dimes to Hill deep downfield.

Defensive Player of the Year

Winner: T.J. Watt, LB, Steelers
Well part of this was an assumption that Watt would ball out in a contract year, but I still think he is in line for a special season. He has had at least 13 sacks in each of the past three seasons, including his league-leading 15 a season ago. He plays in a dynamic defense with tons of talent around him. Opposing teams will not be able to zero in on him in pass protection, at least not on every down. In addition to leading the league in sacks, Watt also tallied a league-high 23 tackles for loss. He is a disruptive force on a team that will be led by its defense.

Runner Up: Aaron Donald, DL, Rams
Six straight First-Team All-Pros, seven straight Pro Bowls, four straight seasons with at least 11 sacks. It would unwise to predict anything but another stellar season by Donald. He is the best interior pass rusher in the NFL and one of the best ever. He is going to have plenty of pass rushing opportunities as well with the Rams seemingly poised to score a decent number of points on offense. Opposing teams will definitely need to be playing catch up. I think he will come close to securing another Defensive Player of the Year award.

Coach of the Year

The Bills are 23-9 over the past two seasons.

Winner: Sean McDermott, Bills
Expectations are understandably high for the Bills. Following a return to the AFC Championship Game for the first time since 1993. Josh Allen led a high-powered Buffalo offense that won the AFC East, however, the defense took a major step back. The front office invested in some young defensive players over the past few drafts. If the Bills can become a more complete team and McDermott gets this defense back to its 2019 form en route to a 13- or 14-win season, I think he will be more than deserving of the award.

Runner Up: Brandon Staley, Chargers
A rookie head coach winning Coach of the Year? I think it could happen. The Chargers retooled their offensive line, get back some major contributors from injury on defense and have a talented, young quarterback to lead the way. Los Angeles likely won’t win the AFC West, that’s the downside to playing in the same division as the Chiefs, but the Chargers are definitely in contention for a wild card spot. I think if L.A. gets to 11 wins this season, which feels attainable given their talent and schedule, Staley should be in consideration for the award.

Comeback Player of the Year

Winner: Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys
I had Prescott picked well before I saw his season-opening performance against the Buccaneers. He plays in an offense loaded with weapons and was on a legitimate MVP pace in 2020 prior to his injury. I expect we will see a 5,000-yard season from him, especially with the extra regular season game. After coming off a serious ankle injury, it will be great to see Prescott get back to full strength.

Runner Up: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers|
If his brief appearances in 2020 were any indication, McCaffrey is still the best running back in the NFL. He is such a difference-maker in Carolina’s offense with his ability as a runner and as a pass catcher. It will be interesting to see how he gels with new Panthers quarterback, but I think his usage and productivity sets him up well to be in the mix for Comeback Player of the Year.

MVP

Mahomes has thrown 114 touchdowns since taking over the starting job in 2018.

Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs
What if I told you the most talented quarterback in the NFL is going to play behind the best offensive line he has ever had in 2021? Well that is exactly what is going to happen in Kansas City. Mahomes was in the mix for MVP in 2020, but his production slowed a little bit down the stretch. With more time to pick apart opposing defenses a bevy of talented weapons to throw to, I think 50 touchdowns is within reach for Mahomes again. If he plays in all 17 games, I could definitely see him averaging three scores per game.

Runner Up: Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks
I’m not totally sold on the Seahawks in 2021, but I still believe in Wilson. He has two reliable receivers on the outside in D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. I think new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron will help this offense avoid the second-half fallout it had in 2020. Through the first half of the year, no one could touch Wilson. He was tearing apart secondaries and toss touchdowns like it was no one’s business. Despite a major slowdown in his final eight games, Wilson still tossed 40 touchdowns. I think he can match that total while cutting down on the 13 interceptions he threw to truly challenge for MVP.

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All photos are courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

NFL Preseason Award Predictions

It’s that time of year again. Where we can all pretend to being doing work while actually setting our fantasy football lineups. The NFL season is about to kickoff.

This time of year also means it is time for me to (probably incorrectly) predict the 2016 NFL award winners. Prepare for a couple of dark horse candidates.

NCAA Football: National Championship-Ohio State vs Oregon
Elliott was the highest drafted running back since Trent Richardson in 2012. (Wikimedia Commons)

Offensive Rookie of the Year:
Ezekiel Elliott, Running Back, Dallas
Let’s start with an easier one. Put the best running back from the 2016 draft class behind arguably the best offensive line in the league and he is bound to be successful. Tony Romo’s injury probably helps Ezekiel Elliott’s chances even more as he will likely be leaned on more than if Romo was on the field. This kid might end up with 1,800 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns, as a rookie.

Defensive Rookie of the Year:
Xavien Howard, Cornerback, Miami
This might be a bit of a headscratcher for some, but Xavien Howard is in the best position to make his presence felt early and often. Starting alongside Byron Maxwell, Howard likely won’t draw the top receiver on each team, but he will be on the field to make plays. Joey Bosa would have been a likely candidate here, but well, I’m sure you know by now…

Offensive Player of the Year:
Todd Gurley, Running Back, Los Angeles
Le’Veon Bell continues to miss out on this award with his suspensions, which opens the door for the second year bruiser, Todd Gurley. He won’t be a huge asset in the passing game, but he will likely carry the Rams offense for most of the 2016 season. Case Kennum, Sean Mannion and Jared Goff probably won’t be lighting up the score board, so expect Gurley to have a monster season.

Khalil_Mack.JPG
Mack is the only player in NFL history to be named All-Pro at two different positions. (Wikimedia Commons)

Defensive Player of the Year:
Khalil Mack, Defensive End, Oakland
J.J. Watt will likely start the season for Houston, but he is not going to be at full strength coming off surgery. That means Khalil Mack gets his shot at taking the award. Mack had 15 sacks and 77 tackles in just his second year as a pro in 2015. He has become a disruptive force in the NFL and moves fluidly between the defensive line and linebacking core. Oakland has also added some other pieces around Mack in the form of Sean Smith and Bruce Irvin, which means he will have even more opportunities to make explosive plays. If Mack manages to take another step forward in his development, he could be threatening some records this year.

Comeback Player of the Year:
Jamaal Charles, Running Back, Kansas City
This is definitely a risky pick. Jamaal Charles will turn 30 in December and he is coming off his second major knee injury of his career. However, Charles has never more than 285 carries in a season and is not a volume touch player. He is very effective when he gets the ball, averaging 5.5 yards per carry in his career. Look for Charles to hit the 1,000 yard rushing mark and score at least 10 total touchdowns in 2016.

Coach of the Year:
Andy Reid, Kansas City
Another member of the Chiefs’ organization taking an award. Kansas City has been a solid team for the last few years, but this year, Andy Reid has his team set to win the division and possibly earn a buy into the divisional round of the playoffs. A strong defense and a reliable running game is how Reid has built this team, and it will carry them to a division title and another playoff appearance.

Russell_Wilson
Wilson has led Seattle to the playoffs in each of his four seasons. (Wikimedia Commons)

Most Valuable Player:
Russell Wilson, Quarterback, Seattle
Saving the best for last. At this point, the MVP award just goes to a quarterback. Adrian Peterson is the only non-quarterback in the past 10 years to win the award and he rushed for over 2,000 yards that season. In Seattle, the ground game is as uncertain as it has maybe ever been and Russell Wilson just continues to grow as a passer. In 2015, he tossed 34 touchdowns to just 8 interceptions and threw for over 4,000 yards. That doesn’t include anything he did with his legs either. Wilson accomplished all of that with a porous offensive line that got better this offseason. Look for the former third round pick to snag his first MVP award this year.

 

Mid-season NFL Award Predictions

Much like I did earlier this week with changing my preseason playoff picks, I am taking a look at who I had winning various awards across the NFL and making some edits.

I think I did much better on this than I did initially on my preseason picks, but there were still plenty of changes to be made. Half of the season has already gone by for at least every team. Some teams have played only eight games while others have played nine so I will stick to per game averages when comparing stats.

MVP
Preseason pick: Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Mid-season pick: Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Runner up: Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals

Tom_BradyFor everyone who really wants to see Cam Newton here, sorry. He is not an MVP candidate. Yes he has provided a ridiculous chunk of his team’s offensive production but his completion percentage and interception numbers are far from MVP-caliber. No, instead we have to give the award to the no-brainer on the list. Tom Brady has picked up right where he left off last season and dominated the league. He leads the league in touchdown passes and ranks second in yards per game. He has thrown an interception on only 0.6 percent of his throws, which is the best mark in the league by a considerable margin. He has posted a healthy 8.3 yards per attempt average, not to mention that he is undefeated this season. This conversation is not completely wrapped up yet, as there are a couple of people who could outperform Brady down the stretch, but that is unlikely.

Offensive Player of the Year
Preseason pick: LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills
Mid-season pick: Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Runner up: Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers

Julio_JonesI thought that McCoy would seamlessly transition into the stout Buffalo running game and I think he has. However, hamstring injuries have limited his effectiveness all season and the emergence of Karlos Williams has stolen much of his scoring production. Instead, we now shift our attention to Atlanta, where Julio Jones has simply torn it up this season. Jones leads the league in receptions and receiving yards. He is second in yards per game only behind the oft-injured Alshon Jeffrey. He is second in yards after the catch, only behind Danny Woodhead. And he is second to only DeAndre Hopkins in first downs. Jones continues to be the most reliable target in the league, picking up big chunks of yardage and catching the majority of balls thrown his way. He is explosive as well, with 13 receptions of 20 yards or more. He may not lead the league in touchdowns (he has six), but he scores enough to be considered the best offensive weapon we have seen this season.

Defensive Player of the Year
Preseason pick: J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
Mid-season pick: J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
Runner up: Josh Norman, Carolina Panthers

JJ_WattI honestly think that if he had stayed healthy, Cameron Wake would have won this award in 2015. But he didn’t so I must consider other candidates. Josh Norman has evolved into a shutdown corner. He is second in the league with four interceptions and he brought two of them to the house. His 13 pass deflections are good for third in the league as well. However, Watt has been nothing short of remarkable. He is second in the league with 8.5 sacks and leads all defensive linemen with five pass deflections. He has racked up 40 tackles to this point, which is a good season for some linemen. In addition to his pass rushing abilities, he has excelled at stopping the run, with nine run stuffs on the year. Watt hasn’t been the same flashy, touchdown scoring machine he was last year but he still having a major impact on the Texans defense. It will be a much closer race than last season, but as of right now, Watt is still my pick for defensive player of the year.

Offensive Rookie of the Year
Preseason pick: Melvin Gordon, San Diego Chargers
Mid-season pick: Todd Gurley, St. Louis Rams
Runner up: Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders

Todd_GurleyOnce again Amari Cooper finds himself the runner up to a running back in my selections. Although, I wish I had never put Melvin Gordon in as my selection. As soon as I watched him play this preseason, I knew he was in for a rough year. But I digress. Instead, Cooper finds himself behind the phenom that is Todd Gurley. Gurley has easily been the most dominant rookie back to this point, despite only playing in six games. Gurley leads the league in yards per game and yards per carry among all backs to touch the ball at least 75 times. He hasn’t been much of an asset in the passing game but right now, Gurley is the source of the Rams offense. St. Louis has the league’s worst passing offense in terms of yards per game. Opposing teams know that Gurley is going to be getting the ball and they still can’t stop him.

Defensive Rookie of the Year
Preseason pick: Leonard Williams, New York Jets
Mid-season pick: Leonard Williams, New York Jets
Runner up: Marcus Peters, Kansas City Chiefs

Leonard_WilliamsI nailed this one. I am keeping both my preseason pick and runner up selection the same. Peters is having a great rookie campaign, with three interceptions, including a pick-six, to his name already. The man they call Big Cat is proving to be a lot to handle though. Williams has been the most dominant defensive lineman to this point in the season in terms of rookies. He might not be much of a pass rusher but he has been a mammoth in run defense. He has 32 tackles already and six run stuffs on the year. If Peters ends up snagging a couple of more passes this season then he might be in line for the award but for right now the dominant run stuffer is my pick going forward.

Comeback Player of the Year
Preseason pick: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
Mid-season pick: Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
Runner up: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

Carson_PalmerI went into the season expecting AP to dominate the league. He has played very well up to this point but he hasn’t made his return quite like I thought. In any other year, I think he would be a lock to win the award but Carson Palmer is coming off a major ACL injury and has been phenomenal in his return. As I mentioned before, Palmer is definitely in the MVP conversation. He has the second most touchdowns and the best yards per attempt average in the league. His completion percentage is only average but he ranks fifth in yards per game. Palmer has also thrown a touchdown on 7.7 percent of his passes, which is the best mark in the NFL. His six interceptions are roughly average as well. After we saw how quickly Arizona fell apart last season without Palmer at the helm, it is clear that his value to this team is immense and he absolutely deserves this award.

Coach of the Year
Preseason pick: Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings
Mid-season pick: Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings
Runner up: Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers

Mike ZimmerI understand that the Panthers are undefeated and that Ron Rivera has coached his butt off to get his team to where they are now. However, Mike Zimmer has taken one of the youngest teams and turned them into a top four team in the conference. Getting Adrian Peterson back certainly helps but managing to find a balance between run and pass for a second-year quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater has been extremely difficult. Yet, Zimmer has accomplished that and constructed one of the best defenses in the league. Minnesota ranks seventh in yards per game against and second in points allowed per game. Zimmer has done an extraordinary job turning the Vikings into a playoff contender one year after finishing under .500.

NFL Preseason Awards

The NFL season sort of officially kicked off last night with the annual Hall of Fame game between the Vikings and Steelers in Canton, Ohio. The starters only played a handful of minutes but it was good to see players back in uniform playing against another team.

With the start of the season comes thoughts of how it will project. Which teams will make the playoffs, which will be bad and who will make the Super Bowl are among the common questions asked. Right now I am going to look at individual performance though for players who will truly have an impact on the game this year. Some of these are no-brainers. Others are a little bit trickier. Either way, here is my best shot at predicted the end of the season award winners.

MVP: Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
Runner up: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
The popular pick is probably Rodgers with all of the weapons he has at his disposal. Weapons that are nowhere close to as effective with him out of the lineup either. However, Luck has been winning since day 1 in Indianapolis. This team is built around Luck and truly will go as far as he can take them. Adding Andre Johnson and Frank Gore gives the Colts some veteran options to work with and I expect Luck to get the most out of them. Expect another AFC South crown from Indy and this time Luck will be the catalyst to a top spot in the AFC.

Offensive Player of the Year: LeSean McCoy, RB, Buffalo Bills
Runner up: Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
This seems like an odd pick considering McCoy had a down year last season and is starting with a brand new team. But think for a second what Rex Ryan likes to do more than pretty much anyone in the world. Run the football. McCoy will get more than his fair share of touches in the backfield and will be able to stay fresh with Fred Jackson spelling him whenever he needs. With no reliable quarterback in place either, McCoy will be the main source of offense in Buffalo this season.

Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
Runner up: Robert Quinn, DE, St. Louis Rams

This is one of those no-brainers when making these selections. J.J. Watt has simply been superhuman over the past three seasons and I see no reason for that not to continue here. He consistently dominates the competition and with some potential help coming the form of Jadeveon Clowney, Watt could have even more opportunities to be disruptive. Look for another strong showing from the league’s best defensive player.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Melvin Gordon, RB, San Diego Chargers
Runner up: Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders

Amari Cooper might very well be the best player from this draft when all is said and done but for now Melvin Gordon is taking home the honors. Gordon enters a great situation in San Diego. They have a well established offensive line and a team that likes to light things up on offense. You can assume that Gordon will get 15 to 18 touches per game. Which should be more than enough to make his impact felt. He won’t need to be the key source of offense at all times with Phillip Rivers under center but Gordon will still make a major impact.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Leonard Williams, DE, New York Jets
Runner up: Marcus Peters, CB Kansas City Chiefs

When it first happened, the Jets selection of Leonard Williams seemed kind of redundant. Once Sheldon Richardson received his suspension for violating the NFL drug policy and then the ensuing legal run in, Williams seems like he will play a much more important role. He will play alongside Damon Harrison and Mo Wilkerson so there is not much of a chance Williams sees too much of the attention when blocking. He will be a disruptive force in the running game and could wind up with his fair share of sacks with the way Todd Bowles likes to blitz. Williams will have a big year for this defense.

Comeback Player of the Year: Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Runner up: Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona Cardinals

If it wasn’t for the fact that Adrian Peterson is one of the best running backs in the NFL then Palmer would have this award locked up. However, Peterson is returning from a year where he played one game before missing the whole season due to legal trouble. With an offense that seems to have a much more solidified passing attack than when he left, Peterson won’t need to carry this team but he will still be the best player on it. That will be good enough to earn Peterson the award.

Coach of the Year: Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings
Runner up: Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
I think Andy Reid will have a successful year coaching the Chiefs in the wide open West. However, the job that Mike Zimmer has already done with the Vikings should earn him the award. He dealt with the Peterson drama all offseason and now has the Vikings looking like a playoff team. They won’t surpass the Packers for the NFC North title but he will get them into the wildcard. Zimmer will coach this group up to a 10-6 record and get the most out of his guys.