In less than one week, we will have regular season football! As we approach the regular-season opener with the Packers and Bears facing off in Chicago, it’s time to finalize our team and player predictions. Today, let’s look at individual awards: Most Valuable Player (MVP), Defensive Player of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year, Offensive Rookie of the Year, Defensive Rookie of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, and Coach of the Year. These awards all had a vast amount of competitions and were nearly impossible to predict, but by using past performance, supporting cast, and future schedule to predict success this season, I’ve made my picks for who will win each award. Who are these winners? Let’s analyze each major NFL award race this season.
Coach of the Year: Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers
After losing wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell, it’s safe to say the Steelers’ stock is down, particularly from public perception. Still, Pittsburgh still managed to have a productive offseason, and as a result, should be the favorites to win the AFC North this season. Losing Brown will hurt Pittsburgh’s offense, but any offense led by Ben Roethlisberger, an elite offensive line, and an up and coming receiver in Juju Smith Schuster will be amongst the league’s best. Plus, with a strong front seven after drafting linebacker Devin Bush, this defense also should be improved this season. Add in a relatively easy schedule in which all their tough games are at home, and this looks like a potential 10-12 win team. Considering that the Browns currently have the best odds to win this division, a narrative will be clearly built-in head coach Mike Tomlin’s favor in this scenario, especially after the loss of Brown. In the end, being under the radar should turn out to be a positive for a team that still has a roster capable of making a deep playoff run, even if that wouldn’t appear to be the case on the surface.
Second Place: Matt LeFleur, Green Bay Packers
Third Place: Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers
Comeback Player of the Year: QB Jimmy Garappolo, San Francisco 49ers
Although there are plenty of reasonable candidates to win the Comeback Player of the Year award, quarterback Jimmy Garappolo has to be the overwhelming favorite. After sitting behind Tom Brady for the first three seasons of his career, the 27-year-old was traded midseason to the 49ers, and his debut could not have gone better. The Eastern Illinois product went 5-0 in five starts with the team, and in that span, he posted an elite 86.6 overall grade, according to Pro Football Focus. Last season was supposed to be the 49ers’ year, but after Garappolo tore his ACL in Week 3, the season fell apart in a hurry. Now, however, Garappolo is back, and once again, in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s incredibly quarterback friendly offensive scheme. Furthermore, Garappolo should benefit from pass protection from the sturdy tackle duo of Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey, multiple receiving backs in Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida, and an intriguing group of receivers including Dante Pettis, Marquise Goodwin, and Deebo Samuel. There’s a lot working in Garappolo’s favor to the point that he’s even a dark-horse MVP candidate, but without a doubt, he’ll at least win the Comeback Player of the Year award.
Second Place: FS Earl Thomas III, Baltimore Ravens
Third Place: WR Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams
Offensive Rookie of the Year: QB Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals
Shocker! Ever since Kyler Murray was selected with the first overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft, he’s practically become a shoo-in to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. The reasoning is fairly obvious; Murray is potentially a generational talent that draws Russell Wilson comparisons, and in head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s scheme, he’ll be asked to pass a lot. That extra volume of plays should allow his compiling statistics (passing/rushing yards, touchdowns) to be extraordinary and near the top of the league, and if that’s the case, he’ll be the unanimous pick, even if the Cardinals struggle this season. After all, Murray positional value as a quarterback will carry much more weight than any of the rookie running backs or receivers.
Second Place: RB Josh Jacobs, Oakland Raiders
Third Place: RB David Montgomery, Chicago Bears
Defensive Rookie of the Year: LB Devin Bush, Pittsburgh Steelers
Ever since they lost Ryan Shazier in a gruesome injury, the Steelers clearly have lacked any sort of athleticism and excitement at the linebacker position, and that weakness clearly showed last season. That’s why the team was so aggressive in trading up to select Michigan linebacker Devin Bush; they gave up a second-round pick and a third-round pick to move up ten spots to select him. It’s clear that there will be no limits for the 21-year-old, who’ll be a centerpiece of this defense immediately. With that, means a lot of chances to accumulate tackles, which voters tend to emphasize way too much. Considering he had an 86.5 tackling grade this preseason, and was known to be an elite tackler, there’s a chance he’ll lead the entire league in tackles, which also being a productive player all around from more important statistics as well. That sounds like the Defensive Rookie of The Year to me, though Bush faces heavy competition from 5th overall pick Devin White, the other terrific rookie linebacker.
Second Place: LB Devin White, Tampa Bay Buccanneers
Third Place: DT Quinnen Williams, New York Jets
Offensive Player of the Year: RB Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
The Giants will not only be a bad team in 2019, but there’s a likely chance they’ll be the worst team in all of football. I only have them projected to win two games this season, as outside of running back Saquon Barkley, there’s no exciting talent on the roster. Still, in terms of individual awards, New York’s poor roster shouldn’t hamper Barkley’s chances of winning the Offensive Player of the Year. In fact, it may help him. There are no receiving options, outside of maybe tight end Evan Engram, that offer any sort of intrigue, and since Barkley is true dual-threat back, quarterback Eli Manning will likely resort to checkdowns with the Penn State product to create any sort of positive yardage. Therefore, there’s a chance the 2018 second overall pick could have 1000 receiving yards, and if that’s the case, this award could be a blowout. After all, Barkley is also a tremendous runner of the football – he had an 84.6 rushing grade last season from Pro Football Focus – and should benefit from an upgrade at right guard to Kevin Zeitler. If Barkley indeed is able to accumulate 2000 yards from scrimmage this season, which I believe he’ll be able to do, this could be another award decision that is unanimous.
Second Place: RB Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
Third Place: QB Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
Defensive Player of the Year: EDGE Von Miller, Denver Broncos
Defensive Player of the Year will undoubtedly be the tightest award race this season; edge rushers Khalil Mack, Demarcus Lawrence, Myles Garrett, JJ Watt and Cameron Jordan, interior defensive linemen Aaron Donald, Fletcher Cox, and Chris Jones, as well as linebacker Bobby Wagner all have tremendous cases to winning this award. Still, one player stands out from the rest, and that’s Von Miller. With 568 total pressures in his career, the 30-year-old needs no introduction; he’s probably still the best edge rusher in the league. It’s hard to improve from the 64 total pressures and 90 pass-rushing grade he had last season, but yet, Miller’s situation is tremendous this season. For starters, edge rusher Bradley Chubb was solid in his rookie season, and only figures to improve and take more attention away from Miller as a top-five pick in 2018. However, the main intrigue with Miller is with the Broncos’ new defensive play-caller, head coach Vic Fangio. Fangio, a known edge-rusher whisperer, got tremendous production from mack and Chicago’s other top pass rushers last season, and is arguably the second-best defensive mind in football, after Bill Bellichick. That’s a significant upgrade from former head coach Vance Joseph, who never established an identity for this defense. Therefore, with Fangio at the helm, Chubb’s breakout on the way, and more talent in the secondary as well, there’s a legitimate chance Miller post 20 sacks this season. If he can, he’ll definitely win the Defensive Player of the Year award, despite the heavy competition.
Second Place: EDGE Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears
Third Place: DT Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams
Most Valuable Player of the Year: QB Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
There were several intriguing quarterbacks to consider for the MVP award, including Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Patrick Mahomes. Still, by the slimmest of margins, the case for Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz appears the best out of all those quarterbacks. Before he tore his ACL in Week 14 on the 2017 season, there’s a great chance he was on his way to winning the MVP award, so he’s clearly capable of elite quarterback play. Obviously, he was bound to struggle last season while fighting injuries, but a 79.4 grade from Pro Football Focus still wasn’t bad. The other four quarterbacks mentioned may all be better than the North Carolina product, but what Wentz has working in his favor, is his supporting cast. The Eagles have one of the most talented and deepest offensive lines in football, especially at tackle (Jason Peters, Lane Johnson, Andre Dillard), so Wentz will have plenty of time to let plays develop and take chances down the field. That’s important, because the receiving talent in Philadelphia is also tremendous. Alshon Jeffrey is a low-end #1 receiver, DeSean Jackson is a tremendous deep threat once he’s back healthy, JJ Arcega Whiteside is a great catch-n-traffic specialist, and Nelson Agholor is solid in the slot. Furthermore, tight end Zach Ertz is one of the best receiving tight ends in football, and second-round rookie running back Myles Sanders also should be a receiving threat out of the backfield. That’s an absurd amount of talent; regardless of your opinions of Wentz as a quarterback, it’s pretty easy to see him putting up MVP numbers behind arguably the most supporting cast in all of football.
Second Place: QB Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Third Place: QB Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers