It might still be the preseason, but it’s never too early to venture at predictions for the major awards. Training camp is in full swing, and with less than 40 days before the season starts, many players are establishing themselves in the rotation of their team. Contracts have been dished out, players have gone down injured, and there are still players holding out in hopes of a contract or an extension.
Nonetheless, as the season begins to take shape, many fans will be hoping for a season that improves on last year. Some of the players in this list will be looking to contribute in the quest for the Lombardi Trophy, come February. Others will be looking to turn around the fortunes of their struggling franchise. So, who makes the cut?
Comeback Player of the Year Award: Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Injury took a large toll in 2017-18. Key players such as Aaron Rodgers, J.J. Watt, Carson Wentz, Odell Beckham Jr., David Johnson and Deshaun Watson all suffered season-ending injuries. However, no player has had the unfortunate history of Andrew Luck, who saw his entire season ruled out with a shoulder injury. Luck is expected to be back in action for Week 1 of the season, and has been taking part in training camp with the Colts. Luck has played 70 games for a record of 43-27, and established himself as one of the premier signal callers in the league during his first three seasons.
Now, with many doubters and a point to prove, expect Luck to come roaring back to his dominant self in 2018-19. With a bolstered offensive line boasting sixth overall pick Quentin Nelson, Luck is set for a big year. I predicted him to have the ninth-best season for a quarterback this year, and return to some of the form that saw him earn three consecutive Pro Bowl selections to start his career. If he stays healthy, he should be a lock for this award.
Other Candidates: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers, David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
Defensive Rookie of the Year Award: Bradley Chubb, Denver Broncos
Bradley Chubb was widely regarded as the best defensive talent in the 2018 NFL Draft. However, he was overlooked for that crown in favor of cornerback Denzel Ward, who was the fourth pick in the draft. The Cleveland Browns decided against pairing Chubb with 2017 first overall pick Myles Garrett, instead bolstering their secondary. The Denver Broncos were all too happy to snap up the defensive end with the fifth pick, forming a pass-rushing tandem of their own. Von Miller and Chubb will emerge in 2018-19 as a symbiotic pairing, one deflecting attention from the other. There is no doubt that having been passed over will motivate Chubb, and add to his ferocious streak. A full season of starting will aid his claim to the award, as he adds instant impact to an already fearsome Denver defense.
Other Candidates: Roquan Smith, Chicago Bears, Denzel Ward, Cleveland Browns
Offensive Rookie of the Year Award: Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
Taken second overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, Saquon Barkley is one of the most touted prospects to enter the NFL since Adrian Peterson in 2007. At 6’0 and 233 lbs, Barkley is built for the hard hits the NFL has in store. However, it’s his off-the-charts athleticism that has analysts raving about his potential. At the 2018 NFL Draft Combine, Barkley recorded a 4.4 second 40-yard dash, to go along with a 41-inch vertical jump and 29 bench press repetitions. To put that into perspective, he ran faster than Devin Hester, jumped higher than Julio Jones and bench pressed more than Joe Thomas. Put this kind of a freak athlete in an offense that also boasts Odell Beckham Jr., Evan Engram and Sterling Sheppard. Not to mention two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning. Opportunity is clear for Barkley, and everything points towards a rookie season for the ages.
Other Candidates: Sam Darnold, New York Jets, Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Defensive Player of the Year Award: Von Miller, Denver Broncos
Aaron Donald has Ndamukong Suh. Khalil Mack is reaching his peak. Joey Bosa has emerged as a premier pass rusher. J.J. Watt is back. All these are good arguments for the other contenders for this award. In fact, any of these four deserve to win the award for what they bring to their positions and teams. But it’s Von Miller, the versatile and dominant outside linebacker that is my pick for the award. Now partnered with Bradley Chubb, Miller will explode off the edge, more than likely one-on-one in most cases. See, both Bosa and Mack will be double-teamed on most snaps. Donald, in my opinion, will benefit Suh, rather than vice versa. J.J. Watt’s health remains a concern. Comparatively, Miller has contributed 10+ sacks in six of his seven years, and remains an elite disruptive force. Now at 29 years old, he will elevate his case to the Hall of Fame as he wreaks havoc across the NFL.
Other Candidates: Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders, Joey Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers
Offensive Player of the Year Award: Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
This may seem a little bit out of left field, but hear me out. The Offensive Player of the Year is often a player that contributes in both the run and the pass game. Last year, Todd Gurley won the award for being both a dominant rusher and a dominant receiver. He placed second among running backs in both categories. Watson was on track for 40 touchdowns, 3800 passing yards and 600 rushing yards last season, before a torn ACL derailed his campaign. Those stats would have placed him first in touchdowns, tenth in passing yards, and second in rushing yards. All in his rookie season. Boasting a 4.6 second 40-yard dash, expect Watson to unleash his athleticism even more in his sophomore year. Expect him to build upon his 2017-18 season. Expect him to win the Offensive Player of the Year Award.
Other Candidates: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers, Ezekiel Elliot, Dallas Cowboys
Coach of the Year Award: Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams
Sean McVay turned around a franchise in his first season in charge of the Rams, leading them from 4-12 to 11-5. He changed Jared Goff from a bust into a promising NFL quarterback. Todd Gurley from average into the OPOY. Donald into the DPOY. Now comes the second phase of the challenge. All great coaches can simultaneously get the best out of their players, win games and manage the locker room. McVay has proved that he fulfills two of the categories, but this year will be the big test of the third. With notable firebrands Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters now all a part of one defense, McVay will have his hands full. If he displays the poise and control of last season, expect the Rams to be a fearsome competitor come the playoffs. My bet is that he gets them firing on all cylinders.
Other Candidates: Bill Belicheck, New England Patriots, Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints
Most Valuable Player Award: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
There isn’t much to say about Aaron Rodgers that hasn’t already been said. Mercurial talent, plagued by a lack of championships. The former disciple of Brett Favre, Rodgers is one of the best individual quarterbacks the NFL has ever seen. He has already won the MVP award twice, in 2011 and 2014, and is predicted by many to win in 2018. Rodgers is coming off a season that was ended prematurely by a broken collarbone, suffered in Week 6 against the Vikings. To that point, Rodgers was amassing yet another successful season. In 2018, it will be his combination with wide out Davante Adams that will propel him back to his best. The narrative is strong for Rodgers, as he looks to advance his personal legacy. Should he produce his best, he is capable of putting an entire team on his back and leading them all the way to the playoffs and beyond. The ensemble is assembled, the spotlight fixed, and it’s time for Rodgers to make his return to the center stage.
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