The award selections this year are made by two of our writers, Wyatt Miller and Dhruv Jagannath. Enjoy this collaboration.
AP Most Valuable Player
Wyatt: Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans
Patrick Mahomes owned 2018, 2019 was Lamar Jackson’s season, but it’s Deshaun Watson’s turn in 2020. Before now, Watson simply hasn’t been allowed to put up the absurd stats that an MVP should have. In his two years starting for the Texans, Watson has never been above 15th in the league in passing attempts. However, he’s never ranked below 13th in passing yards. Also, Watson ranked inside the top-10 in touchdowns, TD%, first downs, QBR, and completion percentage last season. So, Watson has the skill to put up MVP-caliber numbers but hasn’t been given the necessary volume. But, what makes me think that Bill O’Brien will give Watson that opportunity this year when he never has before?
First off, the Colts, Jaguars, and Titans all have bottom-tier pass defenses and Watson has better receiver depth than he ever has. The loss of DeAndre Hopkins isn’t ideal, but Brandin Cooks, Will Fuller V, Randall Cobb, and Kenny Stills is probably the second-fastest receiving corps in the league next to the Chiefs. Next up, the money. The Texans just made Watson the second-highest paid player in NFL history, and it wasn’t so he could hand the ball off. With great paycheck comes great responsibility. That’s the line… right? Lastly, the Texans’ run game is mediocre at best. If this team had the Seahawks’ offensive line and running back room then things would be different. However, the injury-prone David Johnson and Duke Johnson shouldn’t garner the 11th-ranked 42.07% rushing percentage that the Texans employed last year with Carlos Hyde as the leading rusher. The Texans paid for a top quarterback and they’re going to get their money’s worth.
Deshaun Watson is one of the most electrifying players in the sports world. Watson has the respect of every coach, player, and fan of NFL football, which brings me to an integral reason for this prediction: The NFL wants to give him this award. The league is branding him, Jackson, and Mahomes as the faces of the sport, the next Brady, Manning, and Rodgers. That marketing only reaches its full potential if all of them win MVPs. If it’s a close race, it doesn’t matter who the other candidate is, it’ll go to Watson.
Dhruv: Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys
The range of opinions regarding the 5th-year quarterback Dak Prescott is quite vast. One side argues that Dak is “literally the definition of mediocre” (a close friend), and on the other, he is worth the $40M+ deal he’s going to get (this column by CBS Sports Reporter Patrik Walker is an in-depth read on how incredible Dallas’s offense will be in 2020). Despite the quarterback demonstrating maturity through his upward learning curve, his 2019 season sparked more question marks than answers, at least for some.
However, just looking at Dak’s CAREER YEAR, with 4902 passing yards to go along with 30 touchdowns and 11 interceptions (per Pro Football Reference), the improvement is obvious from earlier in his career. For example, the Cowboys’ quarterback was statistically the best deep-ball passer in the game, per this article by Around the NFL’s Nick Shook. Using Next Gen Stats, Shook says Prescott’s completion percentage over expected was 13.1%, to go along with a deep-ball passer rating of 109.7.
Thus, Prescott made more difficult throws down-the-field than he should’ve, given the likelihood of completing those throws (expected completion percentage). While he doesn’t have Patrick Mahomes’ arm talent or Russell Wilson’s touch, being in the same conversation as the 2 best quarterbacks in the league further illustrate the upward trajectory Prescott’s heading towards with respect to his learning curve.
For those who argue that Dak’s supporting cast and 2019 strength of schedule (middle of the pack, per this article by Sporting News’ Tadd Haislop) created a facade of a quarterback who’ll regress in 2020, the attempt to discredit Dak fails when asked one fundamental question: Would Dak have made those throws against the same teams in 2018? 2017? 2016? Probably not. While some may then look at the roster Jerry Jones has created around Dak, the old cliche returns: “Iron sharpens iron”.
If we look at 2018 alone, trading for Amari Cooper and cementing him as the main piece in the offense kickstarted Dak’s upward trend, but the chemistry between the two, sculpted from the day Prescott threw his first pass to Coop till now, improved both stars. This works both ways. Amari Cooper elevating his game from that of a Pro Bowl receiver to that of a very reliable route-runner (at least early in the season, until injuries (per SportsInjuryPredictor) took over), Michael Gallup’s transformation from an unknown 3rd-round pick to a very solid #2 option (stats per Pro Football Reference), and Randall Cobb’s experience all helped refine Dak’s game (stats per Pro Football Reference).
However, Dak gave the receivers the opportunity to succeed. His ability to convert long downs-and-distances by improvising out-of-structure, throwing ropes down the sideline to give his receivers chances while taking shots in the pocket, and putting the team on his back made Cooper, Gallup, and Cobb better, while their ability to separate from defenders made him a better field general and meshed into the #1 overall offense in 2019 (1st in total yards, 2nd in passing yards, 5th in rushing yards), per Pro Football Reference. It’s a never-ending chain reaction that lasts as long as Dak’s chemistry with his receivers. Furthermore, the 2019 season was not a normal year for the Cowboys, with Ezekiel Elliott’s holdout, Cooper’s aforementioned injuries (per SportsInjuryPredictor), the defense underperforming in important games, awful special teams, and the incompetent coaching, but one thing was clear: #4 was a different quarterback in 2019 than before, no doubt about it.
The team’s lack of success may have been expected because of the hype they received in the preseason, but 2019 was a year the team needed to see the existence of impediments the new coaching hires, free agency signings, and draft picks in the offseason. Outside of Oklahoma All-American wideout CeeDee Lamb now in the slot and 2018 starter, Joe Looney taking the helm at center after Travis Frederick’s retirement (read this article by CBS Sports Reporter Patrik Walker about Frederick’s retirement and its effect on the Cowboys), at least 8 of the 2019 starters are returning, depending on how long right tackle La’el Collins is on IR (read this article by CBS Sports Reporter Patrik Walker about this situation).
That’s 8-9 returning starters, per the Cowboys depth chart on the official Dallas Cowboys’ website, on an offense led by a quarterback who’s only going to get better. At least on the offensive side of the ball, finding chemistry with the supporting cast is much easier when Dak has developed into a very very good quarterback with those very same players.
Even from a schedule (calendar provided by the official Cowboys’ website) perspective, the Cowboys can easily sweep the Giants and WFT based on the difference in talent, and then split shootouts with the Philadelphia Eagles. Dak can easily lead this Cowboys team to a 2-2 record against the NFC West (lose in shootouts to Seattle and San Fran, barely beat Arizona and LA Rams), maybe 3-1 if the team gets lucky. Against the AFC North, Prescott will light up Cleveland and Cincinnati, with a close win against Pittsburgh and a loss to Baltimore. Atlanta is another shootout, and Minnesota is going to be back-and-forth. I have Dallas’ record at 12-4 for the 2020 season.
One way or another, 2020 is the year Dak Prescott plays like the MVP he has the abilities of, and with how much the coexistence between him and his supporting cast mutually benefit both parties, along with the Cowboys being a terrible team without #4, this may be his year to win the league’s highest honor and take his team deep into the playoffs so he can finally get the contract he’s worth.
AP Offensive Player of the Year
Wyatt: Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
Saquon Barkley is the best pure runner in the league, hands down. His combination of speed, explosiveness, elusiveness, tackle-breaking ability, and brute strength is unheard of in today’s game. Saquon led the league in yards created in 2018 with 688 and finished 6th in 2019 with 501 despite missing three games. Yards created include all yards gained after the first evaded tackle; it essentially measures a back’s effectiveness above and beyond their offensive line’s production. For reference, Saquon has 224 more yards created in the past two seasons than Ezekiel Elliot, even though Elliot has played two more games than him. All that being said, Barkley hasn’t won the OPOY award in either of his first two seasons, so what makes this year any different?
This offseason the Giants brought in Joe Judge, former Assistant Coach for the New England Patriots and Football Analyst for the University of Alabama. Joe Judge is an extremely passionate and detail-oriented winner. He won three Super Bowls with the Patriots and two National Titles with the Tide. He knows what it takes to win and he’s an offensive-minded coach, so I guarantee you he’s going to find tons of creative ways to get the ball into Saquon Barkley’s hands. I can’t think of a person better suited to revive the Giants’ dying franchise.
Another spot that the Giants were able to upgrade this offseason was the offensive line. The addition of OT Andrew Thomas out of Georgia tells me one thing: The Giants want to run the ball. Thomas wasn’t expected to be the first OT taken in this draft. However, the consensus was that Thomas was the best run-blocking tackle, and the Giants pulled the trigger on him at 4th overall. There is no reason Saquon Barkley shouldn’t surpass 2,000 scrimmage yards and 12 total touchdowns this season provided he and his offensive line stay healthy, and that would put him at the forefront of the OPOY race.
Dhruv: Josh Jacobs, RB, Las Vegas Raiders
Running backs don’t matter. However, Josh Jacobs is going to dominate this year. He may have lost the Popularity Contest, cough, cough, sorry, Offensive Rookie of the Year award to rising quarterback Kyler Murray of the Arizona Cardinals, but Jacobs was one of the best players on the Raiders last season as a rookie. Furthermore, what reason does Jon Gruden have to doubt his workhorse back?
Alex Rollins posted this video just last weekend detailing how there may be some problems in the chemistry between Gruden and current quarterback Derek Carr because of Carr’s conservative decision-making. People always mention the head coaches and the coordinators/position coaches on the hot seat, but not many mention players who are likely to lose their jobs without proving their worth. Derek Carr, along with Jimmy Garoppolo and Mitchell Trubisky (probably wasn’t going to be on the team after this year anyway), are 3 names to watch at the top of that list. In Carr’s situation, the quarterback is facing more pressure than any Raiders’ coach or GM in the last few seasons. Gruden most likely didn’t select a quarterback because he wanted to see what Carr could do when handed the full platter.
Josh Jacobs, Darren Waller, Henry Ruggs III, Bryan Edwards, Hunter Renfrow, and the Raiders’ offensive line, led by Pro Bowlers Rodney Hudson, Richie Incognito, and Trent Brown, compose the group (per this depth chart on the Raiders website) that Gruden hands over to Carr, but will the veteran quarterback make due? No one knows, but if Carr’s trajectory leans south, expect Gruden to force-feed Jacobs the football. After all, why not? If Gruden doesn’t believe the quarterback can get it done (sound familiar, 49ers fans?), he’ll get the ball to the one constant in offense (sound familiar, 49ers fans?): his elite offensive line creating yards for Jacobs, only for Jacobs to create more yards himself, per Pro Football Reference.
Furthermore, the way Jacobs played as a rookie should only Gruden more confidence in Plan B than Plan A. If all hell breaks loose in the passing game, expect Jacobs to carry the load. While Plan B seems more likely, Jacobs thrives either way. He is the freight train for this football team, and Gruden most likely believes that too.
According to this article by TheRaidersWire managing editor Marcus Mosher, “Jon Gruden’s No.1 RB as averaged over 1,200 yards per season as a head coach…His No.1 running back has averaged over 260 total touches in his 11 years as a head coach” (Mosher). Thus, when Gruden wants to commit to a runner, he will do it. But why Jacobs?
Well, in just 13 games, per Pro Football Reference, 683 of Jacobs’ 1150 rushing yards and 183 of his 166 receiving yards came after contact/the catch, respectively, with 26 broken tackles. With regards to the rushing specifically, almost 60% (self-calculated) of Jacobs’ rushing production came after contact. If we extrapolate the 13-game sample size to that of a full season, Jacobs’ total rushing production is 1415 yards and using the same percentage to calculate yards after contact, the total yards after contact is 841, with 32 broken tackles.
Per Pro Football Reference, that rushing total would’ve been 3rd in the league, only behind Derrick Henry and Nick Chubb, and ahead of All-Pros Ezekiel Elliott and Christian McCaffrey. The yards-after-contact extrapolation would’ve also put Jacobs at 3rd behind Henry and Chubb, and Jacobs would’ve been tied with Chubb for the league lead in broken tackles. If not for injury, what an impressive rookie season that would’ve been.
Jacobs is a fair bet to replicate 2019 Derrick Henry. He may not get receiving volume at all, because Las Vegas has better players to do that. All in all, if and when Gruden wants to own time of possession, why not just keep force-feeding the workhorse? If he does, he won’t have to worry about turnovers and that’ll make his life much easier. Vegas can try it…..at least until it stops working, and they can cross that bridge when they get there, but who even knows if they will.
AP Defensive Player of the Year
Wyatt: Myles Garrett, DE, Cleveland Browns
The impact that Myles Garrett has on the Browns defense is even larger than the one he made on Mason Rudolph’s head. All jokes aside, Garrett is an athletic freak and if he can sustain the efficiency he produced last year over an entire season, he will enter the unequivocally elite status that is currently shared by the likes of Khalil Mack, J.J. Watt, Cameron Jordan, and Chandler Jones.
Before “the incident” last season, Garrett was on pace for a monster year statistically: 16 sacks, 46 total tackles, 18 tackles for loss (TFL), and 29 QB hits. That means he was on pace to rank third in sacks, second in TFL, and sixth in QB hits. He was single-handedly saving the Browns defense week in and week out and I don’t think people realize how good he was last season because of what happened with Rudolph. After that, the memes came rolling in at such a high volume that everyone just forgot about the ridiculous season he was putting together.
Myles Garrett has no history of serious injury, he has had plenty of time to rest up, and I guarantee that he wants to repair his reputation after the hit it took, or rather the hit that Mason Rudolph took, from the helmet incident. Not to mention, the entire Browns team has cause to play angry this season. They were a huge disappointment last year. Now, new head coach Kevin Stefanski is in the building and he is the perfect guy to get Baker Mayfield’s career back on track and win some games. As far as awards go, it never hurts to be on a winning team, and that’s what I think the Browns will be in 2020. Garrett is both physically and mentally primed for a huge season this year as the Browns look to make a playoff push.
Dhruv: Myles Garrett, DE, Cleveland Browns
While coming up with these awards, the Defensive Player of the Year was the most difficult to choose from. The forgettable moment was when Wyatt mentioned Myles Garrett as his pick and I spent too much time thinking about everyone else while forgetting him. The Myles Garrett bandwagon was worth joining, especially after digging through the All-Pro’s 2018 tape on NFL Game Pass. He is phenomenal and beginning the write-ups for these awards was so difficult because watching him was too much fun (great in-depth breakdown video of Garrett’s college film by Brett Kollmann).
Where to start? Garrett makes everything look easy. Especially when he’s power-rushing, every offensive tackle looks like a casual punching bag that he practices with every day. While watching tape, it looked like a good amount of pressures and sacks were the result of his ability to overpower tackles with either a long-arm or a bullrush, where he’d end up throwing the tackle into the quarterback. His ability to get off the line of scrimmage is the kick-start for everything else. If Garrett gets a really good jump, that momentum could channel into a power move (long-arm or bullrush), or a regular speed rush. One way or another, the tackle is toast because Garrett plays so low to the ground that figuring him out is another battle.
Differentiating between a rip-n-dip and a speed rush finished by a rip move was very difficult because of how low Garrett rushed. Furthermore, what makes Garrett extra special is that he was dominant using only power moves and speed rushes. He knows how to use his hands very well; there are multiple examples of chop-club combinations on tape, but he doesn’t need to use his hands because tackles can neither stop him from bending around the edge nor can they handle him mowing them into the pocket. Whether that’s a chop-club-rip combination, swipe-rip, or just a bullrush into a long-arm, Garrett can do it all. If he was to play with his hands frozen in ice, he’d still be the best player on the field.
Being this elite plays into run defense too. Blocking Garrett 1-on-1 is a tall task, but pushing him out of the way? Not happening. Per NFL Game Pass, there was a play against the Broncos from 2018, where Denver was running counter with a fullback. Garrett was lined up at the 5-technique defensive end and then attacked left tackle Garett Bolles’ inside shoulder. This threw Bolles a few yards into the backfield and stopped the fullback’s movement, allowing the linebacker to make a play in the backfield, but he didn’t, and Garrett ended up shedding the block to make the play anyway.
After all of the “Aaron Donald is average vs the run…He gets a lot of penetration but it’s ineffective” talk on Twitter (quote from this September 8th Twitter timeline by Brian Burke of ESPN Sports Analytics), it’s high time great run defenders are recognized for what they do, and Garrett is very very good at it. In terms of schedule, per the Cleveland Browns website, Garrett faces Ronnie Stanley/Orlando Brown in Baltimore twice a year, Tyron Smith/La’el Collins in Dallas, Anthony Castonzo/Braden Smith in Indy, Taylor Lewan in Tennessee, Trent Brown in Las Vegas, and Laremy Tunsil in Houston.
Those should be some fun battles with the All-Pros trying to hold off Garrett’s disruptiveness, but games against Cornelius Lucas in Washington, Bobby Hart in Cincinnati twice a year, old Jason Peters in Philly, inexperienced Matt Peart in Big Blue, to go along with Jacksonville’s Cam Robinson and the Jets’ Mekhi Becton will up Garrett’s sack/pressure totals, at least for those who find them significant. One way or another, Garrett will play at an All-Pro level in 2020, so expect his among the names of sack/pressure leaders for the upcoming year.
AP Offensive Rookie of the Year
Wyatt: Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts
Frank Reich and Nick Sirianni love to run downhill behind their top-tier offensive line and Jonathan Taylor has a perfect skill set to be their feature back. A 5’10” 227 lb back who runs a 4.39 40-yard dash is hard to come by, however, speed isn’t even Taylor’s best attribute. The best thing about him is tackle-shedding ability. Taylor led the B1G in forced missed tackles by a huge margin; he forced 75, while then next closest back, J.K. Dobbins, only forced 52.
The criticism that Taylor was only good because of Wisconsin’s elite offensive line is proven null by this statistic. His offensive line was a huge help, but Taylor creates his yardage with elusiveness and power. In three years with the Badgers, Taylor has totaled 6,080 yards and 50 touchdowns on the ground. Do you want to talk about volume? This guy averaged 32 touches a game for his college career and he only missed one game. He’s an absurdly gifted and durable athlete that has experience as a workhorse back in a power run scheme similar to the Colts’.
The Colts are one of the best run-blocking teams in the league, and their statistics from last year indicate that Taylor will do well running behind them. The Colts o-line ranked fourth in 2nd level yards last season with 1.35. Essentially, that means that Colts running backs earned an average of 1.35 yards when in between 5-10 yards downfield. What does this mean for Taylor?
It means that 209 lb Marlon Mack was penetrating deep into the second level of defenses even though he ranked 39th in the league in attempts per broken tackle. It means that Jonathan Taylor is going to have much more success because he consistently evades tacklers and creates yardage for himself. For context, Mack ran for 1,091 yards, 4.4 YPC, and 8 TDs in 14 games last season. I’m expecting even bigger numbers from Jonathan Taylor once he wins the starting job from Mack, numbers that I don’t think Clyde Edwards-Helaire will manage with Kansas City this season.
Dhruv: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Running backs still don’t matter. However, everything about Edwards-Helaire’s fit in Kansas City is lock-and-key when I explain why I repeat the phrase “running backs don’t matter”. When I say that, it does not mean running backs lack talent. The issue with the position is that its dependence on external circumstances nullifies the range/difference in talent among the position. For example, the 2019 Kansas City Chiefs with Damien Williams as the starting running back were not a productive rushing attack at all (23rd in the league, per Pro Football Reference).
Even with the talent, the Chiefs had last year, Williams wasn’t a talented enough player to get it done over 16 games, so the team took a running back who they thought had the talent to complement their passing attack with a great run game. However, this difference in talent only matters if the rest of the offense plays at the same level or better in 2019. If something happens to Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, or Mitchell Schwartz, or if they don’t play at their consistent level, the grand scheme of things changes drastically compared to whether or not the Chiefs’ run game succeeds.
Because Kansas City’s passing attack is their ace, the talent of their running backs is insignificant to their win total. Furthermore, even if that upgrade from Williams to Edwards-Helaire met expectations, none of it would matter if the Chiefs’ passing game regressed below its usual level, because that’s the foundation of the offense and it compromises the team’s game planning much more than a subpar running back does. Edwards-Helaire’s talent may be the rooftop, but every house needs a foundation first. So, the team’s win total is much more dependent upon Mahomes, Kelce, and Hill to maintain their passing attack than it is on a workhorse running back to put the team on his back.
That being said, this situation is too great for Clyde to not dominate. My favorite Wyatt Miller anecdote, for these purposes, is “I don’t see a world where he doesn’t win”, and this was in the context of Chase Young on the opposite side of the ball. Similarly, I don’t see a world where Edwards-Helaire and former LSU teammate Joe Burrow aren’t finalists for this award. While dominating (statistically, per Pro Football Reference) in yesterday’s season opener, Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s unique lateral explosiveness, quick feet, and tackle-breaking ability were on prime time. When one accounts for his vision and pass-catching ability (volume will increase later in the season) along with those skills (a very in-depth breakdown on Edwards-Helaire from Brett Kollmann here), picking Clyde to win this award is just too easy because of how well his game translates to the Chiefs’ offense.
AP Defensive Rookie of the Year
Wyatt: Chase Young, DE, Washington Redskins
There isn’t much to be said about this one. Chase Young is undoubtedly the best player from this draft class and I think he’ll have the best rookie performance we have seen in the NFL since Patrick Willis in 2007. Analysts are saying that Young is the best college prospect they have ever seen in their professional career, and I don’t doubt it for one second.
Last year, Young put together an incredible season for the Buckeyes totaling 16.5 sacks, first in the FBS, 21 tackles for loss, fourth in the FBS, and 7 forced fumbles, first in the FBS, all in 12 games. You can’t ask for a more productive season than that, especially in a competitive conference like the B1G.
If you were to make the ideal defensive end on Madden, he would look like Chase Young. Young is 6’5” 265 lbs of pure muscle with an abundance of pass rush moves, electrifying quickness off the snap, and ridiculous speed to chase quarterbacks out of the pocket and running backs down the line. The beauty of Chase Young is that he can do everything: he can bull rush, speed rush, employ spin moves, swim moves, anything that you could ask a defensive end to do, Chase Young can do it.
The situation in Washington isn’t ideal right now, but it could be far worse. Their defensive line has loads of potential. They have 4x Pro-Bowler Ryan Kerrigan on the left end opposite Young as well as two solid DTs, former first-rounders Jonathan Allen, and Da’Ron Payne. That line has some real talent on it, which will free up Young to go to work without getting doubled every snap. I predict at least 12 sacks from Young this year, and that alone is an instant ticket to the top of the DROY race both because of his performance and because of the popularity he will gain with fans.
Dhruv: Patrick Queen, MLB, Baltimore Ravens
If you went back to my Offensive Rookie of the Year write-up and replaced every instance of “Clyde Edwards-Helaire” with “Patrick Queen”, the message remains the same. Queen is a very similar player to Edwards-Helaire but on the opposite side of the ball. He’s really fast (sideline-to-sideline range), can read eyes to make plays on the ball (see INT vs Alabama), can play man coverage (see this tweet by NFL Network’s Ben Fennell), and puts himself in the right position against the run. I thought his fit in New Orleans alongside All-Pro DeMario Davis would complete the Saints’ defense.
Queen is also very similar to Davis in the sense that he has the explosiveness to be used on creative blitzes, he has great instincts in coverage, he understands how to position himself correctly against wherever the run goes, and he often blows up plays before they can get going. While Davis is the stronger of the two and Queen is probably faster, which makes both players valuable to their defenses is very similar.
Per the Saints’ official depth chart on the team website and the Ravens’ official depth chart on their team website, Davis is starting at WILL and Queen is starting at MIKE, so the roles of the two players will be slightly different. However, per the Ravens’ depth chart, the Ravens have so much talent on defense, with Calais Campbell, Matt Judon, Brandon Williams, Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Jimmy Smith, and Tavon Young. They just needed new linebackers, and that’s what they got with Queen and fellow rookie Malik Harrison, two guys who could run and chase from sideline-to-sideline.
Furthermore, Baltimore blitzed a lot last year. In this article by Football Outsiders’ Derrik Klassen, Klassen writes, “Per Pro Football Reference, the Ravens blitz on 54.4% of their plays. The next-closest team is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 44.3%” (Klassen). While this article was written before Week 17, and thus, the stats changed, it’s clear Baltimore loved pressuring the quarterback. LSU brought Queen on blitzes in 2019 to use his speed, and the Ravens can do the same thing this year. The reason I have Queen winning this award is that his situation allows for him to make the most plays.
Similar to how Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s situation makes his rushing contribution a real threat, all the talent around Queen should allow him to run down plays, create havoc in the backfield with blitzes, read the eyes of quarterbacks, make plays in coverage, and match opposing weapons 1-on-1, ingredients to DeMario Davis’ All-Pro season in 2019. Queen is an amazing player, but being surrounded by so many other amazing players elevates his play, and that’s why he’s my pick for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
AP Comeback Player of the Year
Wyatt: Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Big Ben is back in the black and yellow with a championship-level squad behind him. I am a big believer in the Steelers this season. They have the most complete defense in the league, their pass-rush is filthy, they have great depth at wide receiver, and their franchise quarterback is looking happy, fit, and healthy both mentally and physically.
Last season the Steelers managed to make a run at the playoffs with Mason Rudolph and Delvin Hodges under center. Neither of those guys is even the slightest bit equipped to run the Steelers’ high-volume vertical passing offense. They finished 8-8 with those guys under center, so, with a healthy Big Ben and a bulked-up James Conner, I am giving them at least 2 more wins this season, which would make them a 10-6 team at worst and a Wild Card contender. Most people don’t appreciate just how much Mike Tomlin trusts Big Ben. The last time he played for a full season in 2018, he threw for 5,129 yards and 34 touchdowns while leading the league in attempts, completions, and unfortunately, interceptions. But, with that kind of volume, you’re bound to throw some picks.
These awards are all about media coverage and politics. Kyler Murray won OROY last season not because he played better than Josh Jacobs, but because he was the “sexy” pick. Everyone knows and loves Kyler Murray; everyone wants him to succeed. Well, when Big Ben throws for 4,400 yards and 28 TDs this season and the Steelers are the first Wild Card spot in the AFC, he becomes the “sexy” pick. Ben himself is NOT sexy, that much is clear, but his performance, better or worse than the likes of Matthew Stafford or A.J. Green, is what the fans want in a CPOY.
Dhruv: Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions
Did you hear any hype about Matt Stafford at all coming into this season? Neither did I. Stafford’s consistently been a great player on the field, but because of the Lions’ lack of winning, no one gives him the credit he deserves. However, with the NFC North being a less competitive defense than usual, the Lions may have their chance this year. Through 8 games last season before suffering a “back tailbone fracture” (per SportsInjuryPredictor), Stafford threw for almost 2500 yards, per Pro Football Reference, a self-calculated average of about 312.5 passing yards per game, 2nd in the league only behind Jameis Winston, per Pro Football Reference (different page).
He was on pace for a 5,000-yard season, and because the Lions were not a very talented team last season, their record was 3-4-1, per Pro Football Reference, when their MVP-caliber quarterback got injured. With how much help the Lions added this offseason in Desmond Trufant, D’Andre Swift, Jeff Okudah, Jonah Jackson, Julian Okwara, Jamie Collins, and Nick Williams, this will be a much better team in 2020, per the depth chart on the team’s website. Keep in mind, they are a much better team than they were last season, and with something to prove.
Per the schedule on the Lions’ team website, they play the AFC South, a division with limited talent, and the NFC South, all 4 teams with high-powered offenses. Furthermore, these are great opportunities for Stafford to get his team some wins. Even with the 6 divisional games, they can easily sweep the Bears, and at worst, split with the Packers and the Vikings. Their two 4th-place games are against the Cardinals and the WFT, both of which are winnable. This team can easily go 10-6 and win their division. Better yet, Stafford can add another great season to his underrated career when he gets unfairly snubbed from winning this award or when the media knowingly chooses to hype up others while ignoring him.
AP Coach of the Year
Wyatt: Doug Pederson, Philadelphia Eagles
This is not a popular take, and it’s not in the best interest of the NFL if it turns out to be true. The Cowboys are a young, shiny, extremely talented team with enormously high expectations. They and the Bucs will probably bring in the most revenue for the league this year. However, Pederson and the Eagles are going to [insert Odell’s sexual kink] all over the Cowboys’ Championship run by taking the division. If the Eagles win the division over the glamorous Cowboys, winning 12+ games in the process, Dough Pederson will be the COY.
Bold prediction, I know. However, the Dallas passing defense ranked 17th in the league last season, and that was with Byron Jones, who is now the fourth-highest-paid cornerback in the league. The Cowboys offense is among the best in the game, that’s obvious, but the Eagles are simply a more complete team.
The Eagles’ wide receiver depth has been replenished with the additions of Desean Jackson and Jalen Reagor, and a healthy Carson Wentz will be throwing them the ball. Also, despite the loss of Brandon Brooks, they still have one of the league’s best offensive lines. However, the Eagles’ biggest issue last season was their secondary. Since then, they have brought over All-Pro cornerback Darius Slay and slot specialist Nickell Robey-Coleman. Jalen Mills has transitioned to safety, which is a much better fit for him anyway, and, while their linebacker corps has some new younger starters who may take some time to develop, their pass rush improved with the addition of Javon Hargrave.
As far as their returning players go, all eyes are on Miles Sanders. After an intriguing rookie season with an impressive second half, Sanders will have featured back duties in Philadelphia, something the team hasn’t enjoyed since LeSean McCoy in 2014. If Sanders fulfills his RB1 duties, this Eagles offense should be incredibly hard to stop. Not only is this the Eagles’ most complete team since 2017, but they have the eighth-easiest schedule in the league. Doug Pederson has the pieces to win this award and make a deep playoff run, but the first and most important step on the way to both is beating the Dallas Cowboys.
Dhruv: Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
When one has lemons, just make lemonade. Bill Belichick always seems to find guys who the league didn’t want and then turn them into great players. J.C. Jackson was an undrafted free agent in 2018, per this article from NESN’s Doug Kyed, and Belichick’s turned him into a great corner. Anyone remember former 7th-round pick Julian Edelman (per this article from NBC Sports’ Darren Hartwell), who was on the Patriots’ roster for a while as a special teamer until he became the #1 receiver for 3 more Super Bowl titles? Oh, and what about 2000 6th-rounder Tom Brady (per this article from Business Insiders’ Cork Gaines and Scott Davis)? I heard he might be the greatest player ever. Belichick will do this over and over again; find guys who are less-liked by the NFL and at times, the media, and either pay them or trade Day 3 picks for them. Somehow, most of those guys ball out (unless the position is WR on R2 corner).
This year, that “guy” is former NFL MVP Cam Newton, who signed a cheap contract (per Spotrac) with the team to prove himself. Belichick himself praised Newton’s performance in training camp and how his leadership and commitment to the team has been great on an interview with SiriusXM, using compliment after compliment to describe Cam’s great work ethic, competitiveness, personality, and leadership, per this article from NBC Sports’ Nick Goss.
New England may not have Tom Brady anymore, but with Bill Belichick and something to prove, they can win games. The AFC East is not a strong division and hasn’t been for a while. Many see the Bills as the “next team-up”, but Bill and Cam can take this team to 10 wins, even if they have the worst receivers in the game. Belichick will find a way to make that team look decent, and because Cam has something to prove as well, this tandem is perfect, and the results may be better than most think.