The annual NFL Honors awards presentation airs on Feb. 6 at eight p.m. eastern time. The league announces its award winners the night before the Super Bowl, and there are some close races this season. While everyone knows who deserves the MVP, we could see some upsets and surprising decisions, especially regarding the Defensive Player of the Year and rookie awards.
Make sure you check out the predictions I made after Week 9 to better understand of how these choices have evolved over the past few weeks.
After strong campaigns from Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson, Rodgers emerged as the runaway MVP. The 37-year-old authored the best season of his career, leading the NFL in completion percentage (70.7%), passing touchdowns (48), and passer rating (121.5). Entering 2020, Rodgers faced stories about his decline. I guess Tom Brady isn’t the only quarterback giving Father Time a fight.
Henry became the eighth running back in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a single season. The former Heisman Trophy winner tallied 2,027 rushing yards, the fifth-most ever in a season (Eric Dickerson holds the record with 2,105). Henry won the running back triple-crown this year, leading the league in carries, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns for the second consecutive season.
There’s an outside chance another quarterback wins OPOY, but that just seems ridiculous. Travis Kelce is the only non-quarterback with a chance of unseating Henry. The star tight end finished in the top-five for receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. His 1,416 yards were a single-season record for tight ends and ranked second among all players this year. Kelce only played in 15 games.
Myles Garrett had a compelling case for winning DPOY before a mid-season brush with COVID-19 set him back several games. Garrett’s unfortunate circumstances removed him from the three-man race for the league’s greatest defensive honor. Aaron Donald and Watt were the only legitimate contenders remaining until a late-season push by Xavien Howard vaulted the corner onto the podium.
Unlike in previous seasons, there isn’t a clear-cut DPOY. However, Watt led the NFL with 15 sacks and 23 tackles for loss. Pro Football Reference also credits Watt with a league-leading 57 quarterback pressures. Donald is second with 45. Watt also has 41 quarterback hits to Donald’s 28. Meanwhile, Howard led the NFL with ten interceptions and 20 passes defensed.
In an era where All-Pros drop like flies, plenty of players had chances of winning this award entering 2020. However, Smith returning to football after nearly losing his leg far outpaces any hardships overcome by players in recent history. Even though Smith only appeared in eight games and didn’t play particularly well, he should unanimously win this award.
While Smith is the runaway favorite to win Comeback Player of the Year, a few other players deserve honorable mentions. Ben Roethlisberger missed 14 games because of elbow surgery last season before leading his team to a 12-4 record and throwing 33 touchdowns. Ultimately, Roethlisberger’s arm failed him in the season’s final weeks.
Aldon Smith hasn’t received enough attention this year. The former All-Pro signed with Dallas in the offseason after missing four consecutive seasons. While he’s no longer one of the game’s best pass-rushers, Smith still manned multiple roles along Dallas’ defensive front, amassing five sacks and 48 tackles in 16 starts.
Almost half a dozen coaches have legitimate claims to this award. Kevin Stefanski went 11-5 in his first season as head coach of the Cleveland Browns, leading the snake-bitten franchise to the Divisional Round. Ron Rivera beat cancer and controversy, leading Washington to a division title. Matt LaFleur polished off the second consecutive 13-3 season to start his head coaching career, while Brian Flores went 10-6 in the second year of Miami’s rebuilding project. Finally, Andy Reid led his team to an NFL-best 14-2 record.
Despite all of the qualified candidates, McDermott stands out for possibly having the most well-rounded team. After a slow start, Buffalo’s defense began playing at a borderline elite level. On offense, Josh Allen played like an All-Pro, and Stefon Diggs set new personal bests.
Before McDermott became head coach, the Bills hadn’t made the playoffs since 1999. They’ve gone three times since he took over in 2017.
I could include as many as five players in the OROY debate, but it boils down to Justin Herbert and Jefferson. Thrust into action in Week 2, Herbert exceeded expectations. He completed 66.6% of his throws for 4,336 yards, a rookie record 31 touchdowns, and only ten interceptions. The Oregon product posted a 98.3 passer rating and authored three game-winning drives. Herbert ranked 12th in passer rating and 13th in QBR.
While Herbert set records, so did Jefferson. The LSU product broke Anquan Boldin’s 17-year-old rookie receiving yards record, setting the new bar at 1,400. The Associated Press and Pro Football Focus selected Jefferson as a Second-Team All-Pro. Finishing fourth in the NFL in receiving yards as a rookie and earning an All-Pro selection outweighs Herbert’s production.
Once again, five or six players could hear their names passed around in the DROY debate, including Jeremy Chinn and Antoine Winfield Jr. However, Young possesses a clear lead over his competition. The Ohio State product was the only rookie with over four sacks. He finished the season with 7.5, four of which came in Washington’s final six games.
Young’s play doesn’t even begin to approach Nick Bosa’s incredible rookie campaign in 2019, but the younger defensive end still made the Pro Bowl. He set a solid foundation for his NFL future with four forced fumbles, 44 tackles, ten tackles for loss, and 24 quarterback pressures.
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