Way-Too-Early Dark Horse NFL Honors Predictions for 2020-2021: Part 2

AP Offensive Rookie of The Year: Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama

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Bombs Away All Day. Whoever drafts Henry Ruggs III is essentially committing to that philosophy the second they turn in that card. Ruggs is a special talent, straight up. It’s hard to find receivers with Olympian-level speed, even in today’s NFL, where it feels like every receiver entering the NFL has done track at some level.

Ruggs is my pick for this award because he can score a touchdown on literally every play where the ball is given to him. He can thrive in a variety of roles, and if he develops into a DeSean Jackson-caliber player, there’s no limit to how much he can raise the explosiveness of an offense.

Having a guy like Ruggs who can stretch the field always forces defense to reveal their tells. Outside of a few corners (Jamel Dean, Sean-Bunting, Greedy Williams, Byron Jones, Jalen Ramsey) who are freaks of nature, the average corner cannot cover Ruggs 1-on-1, because that’s a touchdown waiting to happen.

If the quarterback throwing that deep ball is Drew Lock, I pray for the rest of the AFC. Ruggs doesn’t need to be the best receiver on his team to win this award, and if he gets volume that is remotely significant, he’ll be what Marquise Brown was supposed to be last year and take this award by storm.

AP Defensive Rookie of the Year: Cameron Dantzler, CB, Mississippi State

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In every draft class, there always seems to be some corner who I really like during the pre-draft process. In 2019, it was Deandre Baker; in 2018, it was Jaire Alexander; in 2017, it was Marshon Lattimore, and in 2016 it was Jalen Ramsey. However, the corner who I’m getting that vibe from is not getting as much media hype as those other guys, yet I think he’s going to be a very good pro corner.

Cameron Dantzler from Mississippi State is getting very little media recognition, and would probably get my vote for most underrated defensive player so far. In 2018, he gave up a 42.9 passer rating, which was good enough for 2nd in the SEC. Against receivers like Jerry Jeudy, A.J. Brown, Henry Ruggs III, Jaylen Waddle, Devonta Smith, and Deebo Samuel, Dantzler didn’t even surrender a single touchdown. Think about that.

He held his own against the best that college football had to offer, and he continued that streak even in 2019. Against LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase, a Unanimous All-American and Biletnikoff Award winner (best receiver in the nation), Dantzler gave up 2 catches for 15 yards in coverage, and both were in press-man. This can be attributed to his 6″2, 185 pound frame.

Because he’s so lanky, Chase was able to body him, and make him lose his balance. If this kid puts on 15-20 pounds during the offseason, look out. Dantzler’s a very talented corner who can thrive in off-man, bail, or just zone coverage in general. His football IQ is very high, and when he’s in zone, he reminds me of a much smaller Marcus Peters with the way he reads plays.

However, my favorite aspect of his game is his tackling. I guess it’s a Mississippi State thing to get really low and make perfect form tackles against the run. Tackling is such an undervalued part of a cornerback’s game, but in my opinion, it should be as important as footwork and IQ.

Dantzler rarely misses, and the way he dives shoulder-first so that wrapping up becomes easier makes me wonder if this kid’s best position is outside corner at all. If he builds on that frame, his best role might be a box safety who can lock down an opposing team’s best receiver in the slot, but also can protect the edge running game with lightning speed and fierce tackling, like a Chauncey Gardner-Johnson or Kenny Moore II-esque player.

Dantzler’s draft stock is very Combine-dependent. If he can show that strength and speed are above average for his position, he may be drafted in Round 1 or Round 2. His ability to diagnose run plays and then fill to make tackles like a linebacker is just incredible, especially for a corner.

The fact that he can do this while locking down receivers makes his pro comparison Tyrann Mathieu, and if he can come close to that potential, I’d say this kid can definitely make enough noise to win the award.

AP Comeback Player of The Year: T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts

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Call this pick what you want, but the Colts are kind of in a mini-rebuild. They are supposedly enamored with Utah State QB Jordan Love, and for good reason. He has a very high ceiling and a great deep ball, which opens up plays for an offense led by Frank Reich. However, the reason I pick Hilton to win this award is because he missed nearly half of the 2019 season, and the Colts were 5-2 when he was on the field.

If a raw quarterback talent is in the building, guess who gets the ball. Even if defenses clamp down on Hilton, his impact is much higher because the Colts’ dominant offensive line then takes over, and Reich can just pound Marlon Mack to the ground, which forces defenses into a predicament. Do you allow Jordan Love to make T.Y. Hilton his receptions magnet, or do you commit to stopping Hilton and just get run over because of how talented the Colts’ offensive line is?

Either way, Hilton will be the most impactful skill position player on the Colts next season, and if he gets back to Pro Bowl form, he for sure can take this award for what it’s worth.

AP Coach of The Year: Mike McCarthy, Dallas Cowboys

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McCarthy has wasted absolutely no time after landing the Dallas job. He’s kept who he’s wanted to keep, and he’s let go of who needed to be let go. Finally, his idea of integrating 2nd-year offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s Air Raid offense with West Coast principles could make the Cowboys’ offense even scarier than it was last season (by the way, draft Zeke in fantasy).

It’s safe to say McCarthy has learned from his time in Green Bay that running the football is important. Expect Ezekiel Elliott to return to rookie form, and expect a lot of play-action passing as a result of that (Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup will benefit too). However, expect McCarthy to let Blake Jarwin loose, as he is by far the best tight end on the Cowboys roster, but was missing in large part due to the incompetence of Jason Garrett.

McCarthy has also pushed for change in the Cowboys’ defense and special teams units. John “Bones” Fassel was hired away from the LA Rams after a spectacular tenure. After the Cowboys’ special teams was the worst in the NFL last season under Keith O’Quinn, it’s obvious that McCarthy wants that to improve. This probably means Dallas will draft a new punter, along with new gunners.

However, McCarthy’s most prized additions have been the ones to his defensive staff. McCarthy hired former Saints’ linebackers coach Mike Nolan to be the defensive coordinator for this team. Nolan has already announced he wants to create pre-snap confusion with his blitz packages and coverages, making sure that his best 11 are on the field, regardless of whether the front is a 3-4, a 4-3, or a hybrid.

Who better to enhance the defensive creativity that the Cowboys have lacked for many years than George Edwards, former defensive coordinator with the Minnesota Vikings from 2014 to 2019 under Mike Zimmer, the king of disguised blitzing and ambiguous coverages? Edwards was hired as a senior defensive assistant, meaning he can provide valuable insight on a lot of what Dallas wants to do defensively.

The amount of creativity that McCarthy has brought into one room is enough to magically transform Dallas’s identity overnight. There is a new emphasis on getting turnovers, another lacking aspect of the Cowboys’ defense last season, and getting the ball back to this offense as much as humanly possible is the recipe for the Cowboys to win games.

Finally, McCarthy also hired former 49ers and Redskins defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, who created very disruptive pass rush units with the 49ers (Ray McDonald, Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Glenn Dorsey, Ahmad Brooks, Isaac Sopoaga) and with the Redskins (Jonathan Allen, Caleb Brantley, DaRon Payne, Montez Sweat, Ryan Kerrigan, Ryan Anderson).

There’s no doubt that the Cowboys want to add more defensive talent, especially at defensive tackle and defensive back. Whether that’s in the draft or in free agency, it doesn’t matter. The Cowboys are changing, and if they win 12 or more games in the upcoming 2020 season, this award definitely belongs to the man who made it all possible.