We are just two months away from the NFL season officially kicking off with a game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the New England Patriots on Sept. 7th. We’ve reached that point where every pick of the draft, every free agent acquisition and everything in between has been scrutinized and now we’re just waiting for training camps to begin so it can happen all over again.
So what’s the harm in predicting the awards that will be given out at season’s end? Absolutely none. With what many considered the most promising draft class in the past few years, stars like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers having dynamic new weapons on offense with the acquisitions of Brandin Cooks and Martellus Bennett, and stars like Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott facing their sophomore seasons with higher expectations, it promises to be an interesting season.
So without further ado, let’s predict who will likely have the most success this season and be rewarded for it.
Most Valuable Player: Derek Carr, QB Oakland Raiders
With Drew Brees and Tom Brady approaching the twilight of their careers, the NFL is looking forward to its younger stars like Jameis Winston, Cam Newton, and Carr to take over. Newton showed that it’s possible to up-end the more historically favored players when he won MVP in 2015.
While Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have both shown they are capable of elevating players around them, it’s hard to argue that any offense is more complete than the Raiders. Marshawn Lynch and Jalen Richard will provide a valuable 1-2 punch that the Raiders were missing last season and will undoubtedly take pressure off Carr.
With one of the best receiver duos in the league in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree along with new acquisition Jared Cook at tight end, Carr has all the weapons needed to achieve his already proven potential.
It also doesn’t hurt that Carr finished tied for third in MVP voting last year so he’s already on the map in terms of being the best in the league.
Runner-up: Tom Brady, QB New England Patriots
Offensive Player of the Year: David Johnson, RB Arizona Cardinals
It’s tough for a running back to pull any award away from a quarterback in today’s NFL but if there is one that can do so, it’s David Johnson. The Cardinals’ running back was shunned from most award considerations due to his team’s lackluster performance last year. However, if quarterback Carson Palmer can get his game right for his last few years and the defense can pull themselves together then Johnson’s game will finally get the recognition it deserves.
Johnson finished top in the league with yards from scrimmage, above third-place MVP finisher Ezekiel Elliott, and proved himself as a versatile pass-catcher finishing first in every receiving category except for touchdowns for running backs.
It also helps that two of the three division rivals in the NFC West finished in the last half of the league in terms of rush defense. Of the remaining 12 games, five of the teams finished last year in the last half of rushing defense as well.
Nine out of 16 opponents having lackluster run defenses combined with arguably the best running back in the league is a perfect combination for yet another dynamic season and hopefully one he gets credit for.
Runner-up: Derek Carr, QB Oakland Raiders
Defensive Player of the Year: Joey Bosa, DE San Diego Chargers
Welcome to the first big prediction of this article! Bosa is a dark horse candidate for sure and will be going up against big names like Khalil Mack and J.J. Watt for this award but he has more than a fighting chance to win it.
Mack and Watt have both set a high bar for themselves to repeat the award and that could end up hurting them. Watt would have to finish well and above the league high in sack numbers, as would Mack, and if the number is close both would have to finish better or near their career bests to lock it down.
That leaves the door wide open for a dark horse candidate like Bosa to snag it. The defensive end made headlines last year when he didn’t sign with the Chargers until late preseason then missed the first four weeks of the season due to injury. However, in just 12 games, Bosa posted a team-high 10.5 sacks and won Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
It bodes well for Bosa that the Broncos and Chargers both finished in the bottom-half of the league last year in terms of offensive line rankings and it also helps that another five of their out-of-division opponents fall in the same rankings. Half of the season’s opponents having low-ranking offensive lines, with the division rival Chiefs facing question marks on their own line, is ripe for opportunity for a key defensive end like Bosa.
Runner-up: J.J. Watt, DE Houston Texans
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Christian McCaffrey, RB/WR Carolina Panthers
The same reason David Johnson is a front-runner for the OPOY award is due to his versatility and being on a team that knows how to properly utilize it. The first part of this prediction relies heavily on the proven knowledge that is the first part and very hopefully on the second part.
McCaffrey has proven to be one of the most, if not the most, versatile offensive non-quarterback player college football has seen in the past five years. Despite being hurt for part of last year McCaffrey ran for just over 1,600 yards He also set the NCAA record for all-purpose yards in 2015 with 3,864 yards and was the only FBS player to lead his team in both receiving and rushing.
With Kelvin Benjamin’s weight concerns a highlight heading into training camp and the Panthers’ inability to find a viable second receiver for Cam Newton, McCaffrey is primed to be the best option for offensive production.
As long as Carolina’s offensive coordinator Mike Shula can utilize him in the proper fashion, McCaffrey could be one of the most dynamic players in the league for years to come and most certainly the most dynamic rookie this year
Runner-up: Leonard Fournette, RB Jacksonville Jaguars
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Malik Hooker, S Indianapolis Colts
One of the few bright spots of the Colts’ defense is safety. Hooker was deemed the steal of the draft by many experts after he fell to the Colts at the 15th spot. With him there, the Colts are stacked at safety with Hooker, Darius Butler, and Clayton Geathers.
Hooker will likely start the season for the Colts as Geathers is recovering from a neck injury so he already has a leg-up on most rookies as they will have to battle out healthy veterans for the starting spot. Once Geathers returns, defensive coordinator Ted Monachino will have a lot of corner/safety combos to play around with likely allowing the safeties in a situation to thrive in pass coverage.
It also doesn’t hurt that division rival Jaguars will be putting out Blake Bortles who hasn’t finished with less than 15 interceptions in a season in his entire career. Meanwhile, the Texans will likely be playing with Tom Savage to start the season at quarterback then switching to rookie DeShaun Watson. Neither option really bodes well for team success especially in terms of preventing turnovers.
All the pieces are there for Hooker to succeed in his rookie year, it all depends on if he lives up to his top-10 hype he had going into the draft.
Runner-up: Rueben Foster, MLB San Francisco 49ers
Comeback Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, DE Houston Texans
Unless Watt gets hurt yet again, this award is his for the taking. Watt’s health for last season was in question even before the preseason kicked off due to a herniated disc. After spending the entirety of preseason on the PUP list, Watt was able to return to the field for the Texans in time for the regular season.
Unfortunately, he was only able to play in three games posting 1.5 sacks before undergoing season-ending back surgery. While Houston’s rush defense definitely missed his presence, it was the team’s sack numbers that went down the most, more than any other stat. Houston finished tied for 24th in the league in total team sacks, down from 5th in 2015.
So if Watt can come back and have a fully healthy 2017 season, he more than likely will continue to post sack numbers in the double digits as he has done for most of his career, and lock up the comeback award.
Marshawn Lynch is another strong candidate for this award but given he will have to split carries with second-year back Jalen Richard, it would be surprising if he could post numbers that would outdo Watt’s.
Runner-up: Marshawn Lynch
Coach of the Year: Mike Mularkey, HC Tennessee Titans
While it is hard for a coach coming off a winning record and a near playoff appearance to win the Coach of the Year award, Mularkey is primed to do just that. The Titans lost the division crown in 2016 to the Houston Texans who haven’t done much to succeed more in the short-term while the Titans have done exactly that.
With Marcus Mariota cementing himself as one of the more promising young quarterbacks in the NFL surrounded by one of the best offensive lines in football, a dynamic one-two running back duo in DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, and adding promising first round pick Corey Davis and veteran Eric Decker at receiver, the Titans have one of the best offenses in the league.
Tennessee also addressed huge defensive holes by drafting cornerback Adoree’ Jackson in the second round despite many teams having him graded as a first rounder. They also addressed the secondary in free agency by signing corner Logan Ryan and safety Jonathan Cyprien, the latter has an added bonus of poaching him from the Jaguars.
If all of these transactions and draft picks work out like they should, the Titans could be poised to battle it out with the Patriots, Raiders, and Steelers for the top seed in the NFL. Even finishing with a commanding lead in the division would be enough for Mularkey to be a front-runner for turning the Titans around in just two years.
Runner-up: Jack Del Rio, HC Oakland Raiders