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
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
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
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.
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.