Way-Too-Early Dark Horse NFL Honors Predictions for 2020-2021: Part 1

Introduction

It’s never too early to begin making predictions for next year. After the Super Bowl, it often feels as if the offseason is the best time of the year, because the Scouting Combine, Free Agency, and the NFL Draft are all concurrent within those 3 months. However, after that period, there’s a lull in the summer for about 4 months, where there’s almost nothing to talk about until preseason begins in August.

So, my goal with this article is to start some flaming-hot takes, hopefully motivating discussion for the entire offseason so that the 2020 NFL season starts off with a bang. Here are the dark-horse candidates who may make a jump for their respective awards during the 2020 NFL season. Disclaimer: I expect most, or all of these, to be wrong.

AP NFL Most Valuable Player- Drew Lock, QB, Denver Broncos

DREW LOCK, #3 QB, DENVER BRONCOS

Let the roasts begin. While this may be a very bold prediction to begin the new decade, hear me out. Recently, NFL teams have used a simple strategy to develop young, raw quarterback talents coming out of college: Either sit them out for their entire rookie season (Patrick Mahomes with the exception of an insignificant game) or play them midseason when the bridge quarterback hired to mentor them becomes incompetent (Lamar Jackson).

Sometimes one ends up with Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, but they could also end up with Paxton Lynch and Christian Hackenberg. However, I truly do believe that Drew Lock is next in line to have a Year 2 similar to Lamar and Pat Mahomes. While it’s unlikely that he ends up with the level of production that Mahomes and Lamar accumulated in their respective 2nd seasons, I think his scenario is so perfect that anything short of a breakout season would be underperforming.

First off, Lock is a very talented quarterback. At worst, he was the 3rd best quarterback in the 2018 class and he fell all the way to the 2nd round, where the Broncos scooped him up as a value pick. Lock arguably had the best deep ball in the entire draft class, and was projected to the Redskins at 15th overall by most. However, teams must have dropped him on their draft boards due to inconsistencies within his college tape.

A year later, he is prime position for a breakout season, and it feels as if no one is paying attention to him or to the Broncos. Lock’s statistics truly don’t give him enough credit for how well he played last season, and that game against the Texans revealed how well he fit a pro-style offense. If he played that well while game managing the Broncos to wins, imagine how well he’ll play after another offseason with a starter’s reps in a 1st-team offense.

Furthermore, the Broncos hired Pat Shurmur as their offensive coordinator for the next few seasons. While Shurmur failed as a head coach, one could attribute those failures to the fact that Dave Gettleman of all GMs has the keys to the Giants organization. A report came out earlier that Shurmur wanted to draft Lock 6th overall, but Gettleman insisted the Giants over-draft Daniel Jones instead.

A year later, Shurmur, who has coached an extraordinary amount of Pro Bowlers, is working with the quarterback he wanted to work with, and the Broncos offense -for the first time in years- is looking scary. Wide receiver Courtland Sutton and starting running back Phillip Lindsay made the Pro Bowl, Noah Fant was the best tight end in a loaded tight end class, and it’s highly likely that GM John Elway drafts a wide receiver (Henry Ruggs or Ceedee Lamb) to play the WR2 role in Shurmur’s offense.

If this is indeed the case, watch out, because this Broncos offense will turn into Bombs Away All Day. The amount of sheer explosiveness in Lock’s supporting cast cannot be measured, and with a passer as naturally-talented as Lock is, oh boy, the Broncos, led by their MVP-caliber quarterback, will be a problem in 2020.

AP Offensive Player of The Year: Josh Jacobs, RB, Oakland Raiders

JOSH JACOBS, #28 RB, OAKLAND RAIDERS

The best player in the NFL that nobody talks about. Jacobs 100% should’ve won Offensive Rookie of the Year last season, and just the fact that Kyler Murray doubled him in award votes is sad in itself. Jacobs transformed the Raiders in 2019, and while the record doesn’t exactly say so, that’s because the team either got down too early for him to make an impact, or because he was injured.

Either way, whenever a rookie running back has 1300 yards from scrimmage, it gives an offense an identity, which is exactly what the Raiders envisioned when they drafted him. Jacobs is just such a physical runner that it sets up exactly what Oakland wants to do: run the ball over and over again to make life easy for whoever their quarterback is. It’s unfortunate that Alabama didn’t use him enough, because he was by far the best runner in the class, and is a much better pro than collegiate player.

While the Raiders don’t necessarily have a long-term solution at quarterback, it’s clear that everything they do team-building wise must be centered around Jacobs. He is their identity and their future. If that includes drafting new guards to open up running lanes for him, I’m all for it.

If that includes drafting competent defensive players to make stops so Gruden can use Jacobs to run over defenses, I’m all for that too. If that includes drafting some speedy receivers to open up the play action passing game when defenses get sucked in, I’m all for that too.

Because Oakland can’t do all of that in the span of 1 offseason, Jacobs is a dark horse candidate to win this award because he will get the rock over and over and over again. The Raiders didn’t use him enough in the passing game last year, and after seeing what he could do to opposing defenses with a fair share, I would be highly surprised if Gruden doesn’t take off the reins.

After 2020, Jacobs will probably be recognized as one of the most valuable players in the entire league, and with the volume he’ll get in a Gruden system (which feeds running backs), his statistical impact will be bonkers. Think of 2016-2017 David Johnson, who had an All-Pro season with the Cardinals in a similar situation.

Johnson carried the Cardinals similar to how Jacobs will carry the Raiders next season, mostly with garbage time volume in already-lost football games. However, expect Jacobs to provide a similar impact, because while the Raiders aren’t exactly a good football team yet, at least the coaching staff knows how to use the limited talent they do have, and if they use their crown jewel to the fullest extent, there is no limit to how impactful he can and will be.

AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year: Devin White, MLB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

DEVIN WHITE, #45 MLB, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Devin White is going to be the next big thing at the linebacker position. In other words, he is this generation’s Patrick Willis, Ray Lewis, or Luke Kuechly, depending on how you perceive greatness at the linebacker position in the early 2000s. While Willis, Lewis, and Kuechly were all unbelievably talented, there’s a chance that White’s potential alone could make him better than all those guys.

White may be one of the most talented linebackers to have entered the league in the 2010s era, rivaling Jaylon Smith, Myles Jack, Ryan Shazier, Reuben Foster, and Tremaine Edmunds. He is probably one of the most athletic football players in the entire league, and has incredible speed to cut off angles in both the pass and the run.

White’s situation, however, is what compels me to begin this bandwagon. Throughout the entire draft process last year, I knew whichever defensive player the Buccaneers drafted would be a player with high potential, because Todd Bowles turns those kinds of players into monsters, and White is that kind of player for sure.

Tampa Bay’s defense quietly became the best unit on their team (something I never thought I would say), and in large part due to White’s development through the season. White won back-to-back Defensive Rookie of the Month honors for both November and December, which just coincidentally happened to be the months that Tampa Bay’s defense quietly improved.

I’m not saying that White was the only reason for the Buccaneers’ defense improving, but he was a large part of that midseason turnaround. From Week 9 to Week 17 (the 2-month span where he won back-to-back awards), the former Butkus Award winner had 68 combined tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries, 5 QB hits, and 2 defensive touchdowns, making Tampa much tougher to beat near the end of the season.

For the first time in years, it feels like Tampa’s corners will be better than burnt toast. After the release of the once-promising Vernon Hargreaves III, Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting really stepped up and made life difficult for opposing receivers. The continuous development of those two, along with the lanky Carlton Davis III, makes a formidable cornerback trio on the back end.

This all helps White’s case for the NFL Defensive Player of The Year award because he finally has a half-decent supporting cast. When a player of his caliber has actual surrounding talent, there is no limit to how good they really can be.

See Part 2 here: https://thesportswave.net/?p=12196

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