One of the fun parts about the NFL preseason is attempting to glean some perspective to apply towards the regular season. Predicting is fun. And while, most of the time, your predictions don’t turn out well… when they do, well, it’s freakin’ awesome! As part of our NFL preview, here are predictions for the regular season awards. Making these types of predictions comes with all kinds of caveats, with there being one bigger than anything else: health. We have already seen last season’s leading receiver, Jordy Nelson, go down with an ACL tear, which will undoubtedly hurt both Aaron Rodgers’ MVP chances and the Packers Super Bowl ambitions. These predictions are all made based on the assumption that there won’t be any more season altering injuries. This won’t be true, but it’s the only way to reasonably predict things in the NFL. So, by nature, some of these things will be wrong but hopefully some are also right.
Also important to note – this isn’t necessarily who I think should win the award, simply because you have to have an all-time great season to win the MVP as a non-QB. That said, I am not going to repeat MVP candidates (there are two, you’ll see, it’ll make sense later) as Offensive Player of the Year. I think it’s stupid when that award goes to the same person.
Without further ado, let’s run it from the top.
NFL Regular Season Award Predictions
Most Valuable Player: Tom Brady (if he serves 2 or less games) or Aaron Rodgers (if TB12 serves >2 games).
This is the only time I’m mentioning this obnoxious fiasco in this article. Because I don’t care about it. But the one thing you should know, as an NFL fan, is that Brady and the Pats do not take badmouthing lightly. Quite the opposite. I expect the Patriots to go on a tear, and I expect the best season from Brady since his last MVP award. Regardless of how many games he plays, I think he’s going to have a numerically insane season. It’s year two with this wideout set, year two with an improving young offensive line, and Brady is showing no signs of slowing down. The only thing that will stop him is the possibility of a suspension – he’s not going to get the MVP votes if he misses three or four games. Two might be a stretch, and a single game missed shouldn’t be a problem at all.
Pre-Jordy Nelson knee shredding, I probably would have given this to Rodgers again. He is the best player in the NFL. He does things that other humans cannot do. Watch this play:
Uhhh…. What?! That’s not a singular occurrence either. His arm and downfield accuracy are absolutely unmatched in the NFL. Losing Jordy is going to hurt his numbers, but if the Packers put together a season of 13-3 or 14-2, he’ll win because he did it without Jordy. However, the polish that Brady puts on the game, and the fact that he gets to throw to Gronk, is going to push him above the Nelson-less Rodgers as long as he can start 14+ games. And just in case you think that was a fluke, here’s Rodgers doing more amazing things:
Sidenote: can we all agree that it is insanely unfair that Green Bay cast off Hall-of-Famer Brett Favre and ended up with an even better, also surefire lock for the Hall in Rodgers? The Packers have magical football pixie dust stored somewhere at Lambeau Field.
Offensive Player of the Year: Andrew Luck
I know, I know. Quarterbacks, Quarterbacks, and more quarterbacks. Look, there’s a very good reason for all the bias towards this position in the NFL. They have the hardest job on the field and they matter the most to their teams’ success. A lot of people are picking Luck as a possible MVP this year. He’s… definitely not there yet. There is still a clear difference between Rodgers, Brady, and everyone else (sorry Peyton, you’ve officially dropped out of the Top Two). That said, Luck gained a workhorse running back in Frank Gore, and replaced future Hall-of-Famer Reggie Wayne with slightly-younger-also-likely-future-HoFer-and-fellow-Miami-product Andre Johnson. Phillip Dorsett, their first round pick, has blown even the Colts’ defenders away with his speed during training camp. Luck has an absolute cannon, and his ability to get the ball downfield should lead to, by far, his best statistical season yet. He just has to work on not throwing so many interceptions.
Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt
Another boring pick! I know, you guys expected something radical with these first three picks. That’s your fault. J.J. Watt is, in my opinion at least, the second best player in the NFL behind Rodgers. His athleticism, motor, and technique are insane. And he’s now going to be playing on a defensive line with Vince Wilfork and a hopefully healthy Jadaveon Clowney. Which means that he can’t get double- and triple-teamed every down. It’s going to be a scary year for people playing the Texans.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Amari Cooper
Derek Carr seems to have a wild range of opinions about his potential. Personally, I liked what I saw, and I found it hard to blame him for making rookie mistakes on a young team filled with bad-to-mediocre talent. The biggest issue, which was solved in this draft, is that his top wideout was James Jones, who was never more than a number three slot receiver in Green Bay. Amari Cooper is, quite frankly, the most polished wideout I have ever seen coming out of the draft. He doesn’t have the insane physical skills of a Larry Fitzgerald or a Calvin Johnson, and a lot of people poo-pooed his metrics at the combine and his lack of true top end speed. I’d counter with the argument that plenty of insane physical talents have been huge busts in the NFL, and Cooper’s route running is the level of a ten-year vet. His ability to gain separation at the line of scrimmage is unmatched by any rookie I’ve ever seen. Watch this:
That’s just not the kind of skills you ever see from a rookie in their first training camp. He goes in and out of his breaks so quickly, and so smoothly. Even if his agility and top-end speed don’t have that “wow” factor, the footwork is so good it won’t matter. I’m excited to watch this kid play, and I think he will provide a huge boost to Carr in his second year. I expect Cooper to put up some impressive numbers, possible Pro Bowl caliber. I know he’s competing against two strong quarterbacks in Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota for the award, but I don’t see them performing at a Cam Newton-type level their rookie year. I think they will both be solid, and they will both struggle, and the professional polish of Cooper will win him the award.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Leonard Williams
Somehow the Jets stole Williams, who was considered by most analysts to be the top prospect in the draft, with the sixth pick. I was furious. Normally, I wouldn’t expect Williams to have much of an impact sharing snaps with Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, two borderline all-stars, but with Richardson already suspended for the beginning of the season, and facing more punishment after being caught driving at 143 MPH with a 12-year-old child in the back seat of his car, Williams might unexpectedly become a starter from week one. I think he will, and I think he is the most talented and versatile defender in this draft class and I expect him to have a big year. Also, the Jets suck.
Comeback Player of the Year: Sam Bradford
I hate the Comeback Player of the Year award, because it’s a crap shoot. Occasionally, you know who is going to win it. After Brady tore his ACL you knew he’d win comeback player of the year because he has no history of injury. But then you get guys like Sam Bradford and Carson Palmer, whose careers have been littered with torn ACLs and dings and scrapes, and you have to confidently say “I think this player will play a whole season!” So, this award always comes with a big “IF.”
And, IF Bradford can stay healthy, he should win this award. Chip Kelly’s offense does a couple things well that Bradford never had going for him in St. Louis: they run the ball and they throw it quickly. The quick read offense that Kelly runs is perfect for an accurate passer who struggles with long balls, like Bradford. He has never been a great downfield passer, but Kelly’s offense uses simple, quick reads to move the ball and uses the running game and play action to open up deeper looks. It’s the perfect offense for Bradford’s skill set, and if his paper ACLs can stay intact, he should have by far his best season as a pro, enough to win this silly award.
Most Improved Player: Super Bowl Hero Malcolm Butler
This isn’t an actual award in the NFL but I like the concept so much more than the “Comeback Player” award that I always add it anyways. And here there seems to be a clear candidate for “most improved.” Undrafted free agent turned seldom used reserve turned Super Bowl Hero turned starting cornerback, Malcolm Butler. He’s taken every snap with the first team at left corner this training camp, and gotten the star treatment in the preseason, only playing a series in each game. He’s by all accounts had an incredible training camp, with the exception of one brutal day in West Virginia during the Saints joint practices, a day he wished he could have back and followed with one of his best practice days of the camp. So he has a short memory, is an avid learner, and is always working to get better. Belichik clearly loves his attitude. He’s going from nowhere to being a top corner on the defending Super Bowl Champs, and if he can continue his momentum throughout this season we could be seeing an actual, homegrown, shutdown corner, that truly came from nowhere.
Thanks for reading. That wraps up our NFL regular season award predictions. I’d love to hear all of you readers argue with me. Who do you think should win?
I’ll be back next week with regular season and playoff predictions! Football is here, baby!