Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Way-Too-Early NFL Award Predictions

Ah, the offseason. The time when sports fans have nothing to do except speculate and guess on what’s about to happen. Let’s follow that trend and take a quick look into who could possibly be winning NFL awards in 5 months from now.

 

MVP: Aaron Rodgers (QB), Green Bay Packers

Maybe you have forgotten, but Aaron Rodgers is still the best QB in the NFL. After a  stellar season in 2016 where Rodgers threw for 4428 yards and 44 total TDs to only 7 INTs, he had a very disappointing year in 2017. A nasty collarbone injury derailed Rodgers’ 2017 season for all but 7 games. Sufficeth to say, Rodgers did not have a good season.

Injuries aside, the now 34-year-old Rodgers has shown no signs of slowing down. 2018 will be a whole new look for Rodgers & the Packers. Rodgers will be playing without his favorite target, Jordy Nelson, for the first time in his career. The Rodgers-Nelson combo was up there with Stafford-Johnson, Roethlisberger-Brown, and Romo-Bryant as some of the best QB-WR duos in the modern era.

Despite losing Jordy, Aaron Rodgers still has a plethora of weapons. His new no. 1 receiver, Davante Adams, has developed into an elite run-after-catch receiver as well as a red zone specialist. Randall Cobb was widely considered one of the best slot receivers in the league after his 91-1287-12 campaign in 2014 but has suffered a serious dip in his numbers since then. If Cobb can come back to the same productivity he did a few years ago, Rodgers will have a serious weapon on his hands.

Jimmy Graham was easily the most misutilized player in the NFL during his tenure in Seattle. Now playing with the best QB in the league, Graham and Rodgers could form a scary tandem which will bring Graham back to stardom. Rodgers also will have Ty Montgomery, the former WR, in the backfield catching passes, in addition to a few solid running backs.

More important than the weapons, is the fact it’s Aaron Rodgers throwing the ball. Rodgers is the type of QB who can put up numbers without a strong supporting cast, he elevates the play of his receivers and makes them look better. If Rodgers is healthy, he will make a big splash and win his 3rd MVP.

 

Offensive Player of The Year: David Johnson (RB), Arizona Cardinals

Bet you forgot about this guy. David Johnson flashed serious potential his rookie year (2016) when he took the reigns from an injured Chris Johnson. A season highlighted by his 229 total yards and 3 rushing TDs performance on the Eagles. DJ took over as the lead back in 2016 and had a season nobody could have foretold when he put 2118 total yards and 20 total TDs.

In the first game of 2017, Johnson suffered a wrist injury which knocked him out for all but 1 game that season. It was a disappointing turnout for a player who looked to be one of the best running backs in the NFL.

Looking at 2018, Johnson is relatively old (26) for a player in his 4th season. But we’re not talking about longevity here, we’re talking about OPOY. Many people think this award is a waste of time because it should simply just goes to the MVP. However, a strong season from a player on a team with a losing record has quite often won this award. DJ presents exactly that case. A player who could put up huge numbers while the Cardinals are clearly in rebuilding mode, DJ makes sense for OPOY.

Although Arizona is a team with a below average offensive line, DJ has dealt with this situation before. DJ is extremely elusive and strong, he has the ability to shrug off tacklers regardless of how the line performs. He is a true 3 down back, one of the best receiving backs in the league. And don’t forget about DJ’s ability to get into the end zone, one of his biggest strengths.

Another similar running back in Todd Gurley won this award last year. Gurley put up an excess of 2000 yards and 19 TDs for the Rams, numbers which DJ could easily replicate. The Cardinals are deprived of weapons, behind an aging Larry Fitzgerald they have a bunch of unproven and inexperienced players at wideout. With the Cardinals due to struggle in a suddenly tough AFC West, they will look to ride DJ to the finish line where he will be awarded OPOY.

 

Defensive Player of The Year: J.J. Watt (DE), Houston Texans

There’s no question. When J.J. Watt is healthy he is the best defender in the NFL and one of, if not the best player in the NFL. After a slow rookie year where Watt dropped a modest 5.5 sacks, the real breakout occurred. From his sophomore year (2012) until 2015 Watt had one of the most dominant stretches in NFL history.

Watt dropped an absurd 69 sacks in just 4 seasons. This included 2 campaigns of 20.5 sacks. Some of the most elite pass rushers in history do not even have 1 season of 20+ sacks, and Watt picked up 2 in his first 5 years.

In 2012 Watt recorded 16 pass deflections. A ridiculous number considering he’s a defensive lineman. J.J. “Swatt” has set a new trend in football. When pass rushers know they can’t reach the QB, they put their hands up, jump, and try and block the ball.

J.J Watt is a big, scary man. At 6’5” 295 lbs, you expect him to be slow and sluggish. But Watt is one of the most explosive athletes in the league. His combination of speed, size, and power has been absolutely deadly to this point.

There’s no questioning Watt’s talent and productivity. The obvious factor here is his health. After playing in just 8 games over his last 2 seasons, the questions arise. If Watt is healthy, he will easily take home DPOY. After missing so many games, I’ll bet Watt is ready to come back and show what he’s got.

 

Coach of The Year: Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers

It’s almost like talking about a breakout player with Kyle Shanahan. Shanahan is on the verge of becoming one of the best coaches in the NFL. After taking over as the head coach of the 49ers in 2017, Shanahan had a rough start. Shanahan had to deal with wannabe starting QBs Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard for most of the season, leading to a disappointing 1-11 start.

A midseason trade for one of the most highly touted breakout candidates in this league, QB Jimmy Garoppolo, changed the 49ers outlook in the snap of a finger. In the last 5 games of the season with Garoppolo as the starting QB, the 49ers went a crisp 5-0. This was no coincidence for Shanahan however.

Kyle Shanahan first came in the spotlight in 2012 as the offensive coordinator for the Washington Redskins under his father, Mike Shanahan. He led this prodigious offense with the rookie phenom Robert Griffin III at the helm, leading him to an insane season. We now know Griffin is a bust. RGIII was a serious beneficiary of Shanahan’s system.

Where Shanahan really caught fire was from 2015-2016 when he was the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons. He led Matt Ryan and Julio Jones to career seasons with Ryan ending up as the MVP in 2016. Predictably, Ryan and Jones struggled in 2017 without Shanahan leading the offense.

It’s no coincidence. Kyle Shanahan’s offensive system does wonders for players. This includes SF WR Marquise Goodwin who looked like he could be a no. 1 receiver in this league. Despite a much improved NFC West, the 49ers will look to make it back to the playoffs while Kyle Shanahan will win coach of the year for this revamped 49ers squad.

 

Offensive Rookie of The Year: Saquon Barkley (RB), New York Giants

Let’s not get cute. Saquon Barkley is the best prospect in this draft. Obviously, winning OROY is more than just talent, opportunity is just as important. Saquon most definitely has that opportunity with the New York Giants. The Giants have no real threat behind Barkley and will be sure to ride him to the finish line.

Fans are concerned about the offensive line and rightfully so. I’m not going to lie to you, this was a bad unit last year. However, the Giants have signed Nate Solder, in addition, few more moves that should elevate this line’s play greatly. Pat Shurmur did wonders for his offense in Minnesota, especially for running back Dalvin Cook. Shurmur will have the same impact for Barkley and the Giants alike.

Saquon was a menace in college. I don’t need to sell you on him as a runner, but there’s a reason he was the no. 2 overall pick. Saquon is an elite receiver. He has the ability to burn you on wheel routes or simply just line up at receiver a la Le’veon Bell. Barkley will do damage no matter what happens.

Saquon piled up over 1900 yards and 21 total TDs in the BIG 10, debatably the toughest football conference in America last year. He had the best defenses in the country scheming to stop him and he still burned them. Whether it’s picking up the short yardage for the first down or striking a big play in the heart of opposing defenses, Saquon did it all.

Saquon will have every opportunity to lead this team in touches. Barkley is the type of running back who can elevate his offensive line and make them look better. Saquon was the most electrifying running back in college and will make the same splash in the NFL taking home the OROY.

 

Defensive Rookie of The Year: Roquan Smith (LB), Chicago Bears

There are quite a few candidates for this award, but we’re going with Roquan Smith, the stud linebacker from Georgia. At 6’1” 236 lbs, Smith is a bit undersized but is an elite athlete. He ran a 4.51 40 time, a fantastic time for a linebacker. But just turn on the game tape and you see the quickness, speed, and explosiveness from this young man.

The Chicago Bears took Smith with the no. 8 overall pick in this year’s past draft. The Bears DC Vic Fangio quietly led this defense to a top 10 finish in 2017. With several strong pieces in the fold, Smith will slide in and make an impact whether he is asked to play the MLB or OLB position.

Smith was the heart & soul of Georgia’s defense, one of the very best in the country. Smith is a fantastic run stopper, he ended up top 5 in tackles across college football. He has great range and instincts, he has a nose for the ball.

One of his key strengths is his elite coverage skills, something important in today’s NFL. Teams love to split out running backs and tight ends to create mismatches, having a linebacker who can match up gives you the advantage, however. Smith can make plays in coverage that very few can match.

Smith is a fantastic player, but what gives him the edge is his talent and situation. Landing in Fangio’s scheme will do wonders for him. Fangio knows how to use his players to their strengths and will do so with Smith. Roquan Smith is not just talented, he has a perfect skill set for today’s NFL. While there are many fantastic defenders in this year’s draft class, Roquan Smith will come away with the DROY award.

 

Comeback Player of The Year: Jimmy Graham (TE), Green Bay Packers

Jimmy Graham has not missed a single game since 2015. So it might seem odd mentioning his name with this award. Philip Rivers did us the honor of helping us understand the criteria for CPOY when he won back in 2013. After a tumultuous 2012, Rivers came back from low productivity for a nice bounce-back season and won CPOY. While the thought was CPOY was to be a player that comes back from injury, we learned it could be re-emerging from poor play.

There are quite a few candidates for this award. Aaron Rodgers, Odell Beckham Jr, J.J Watt, David Johnson, Andrew Luck and many more. But people forget just a few years ago, Jimmy Graham was the NFL’s best tight end.

It was in 2013 where Graham dropped an insane 86-1215-16 line playing as future HOF QB Drew Brees’ no. 1 target. Graham was at the top of the game before a trade in 2016 sent him to Seattle. The last 2 years Graham has been criminally misutilized by the Seahawks. While he has shown his red zone prowess, the Seahawks are reluctant to throw Graham the ball in situations where he can make plays, the way Brees did.

Now in 2018, the Green Bay Packers have signed Graham to a 3 year $30 million contract. Graham will once again get the chance to play with another future HOF QB in Aaron Rodgers. Graham is the type of player you simply throw the ball up to when he is double covered and he will make plays. He has enormous size at 6’7” 265 lbs but also has elite speed and quickness which makes him an absolute nightmare to match up with. He’s too big for safeties and too fast for linebackers.

The Packers will be looking to replace Rodgers’ favorite target in WR Jordy Nelson. While DeVante Adams has been fantastic, he has yet to show the chemistry with Aaron Rodgers that Nelson has. Graham will have spent a whole offseason to develop chemistry with his new QB. Jimmy Graham is a wide receiver in a tight end’s body, and the Packers know that. They will scheme Graham to get him open and create mismatches. While the majority of the NFL has already written off Jimmy Graham, he’s gonna show what he has left and win CPOY.

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