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.

 

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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.