With no shortage of exceptional performances, handing out this season’s year-end awards in the NFL will be no easy task. Winners of the MVP, coach of the year, offensive and defensive players and rookies of the year, comeback player of the year, and more will be announced during the league’s annual NFL Honors show on February 10 at 9 p.m. (Eastern time). The show will be broadcast on ABC, ESPN+, and the NFL Network.
Here are our best guesses at who should win each award.
Although it certainly doesn’t have to go to a quarterback, the league’s MVP award rarely goes to a non-QB. The last time a non-quarterback won was in 2012, when running back Adrian Peterson took home the award. Since 2000, only four non-quarterbacks have won it (Peterson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Shaun Alexander, and Marshall Faulk).
This season, there is certainly a running back in the conversation. Indianapolis star Jonathan Taylor led the NFL in rushing with 1,811 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also had 40 catches for 360 yards and two more touchdowns. For comparison’s sake, that is nearly the same number of total yards Peterson had in 2012 when he won it and Taylor’s 20 touchdowns are significantly more than Peterson’s 15 that season.
The problem for Taylor is that there are no shortage of quarterbacks this season who had MVP-level seasons. Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Dak Prescott, Matthew Stafford, Justin Herbert, and Kyler Murray all had dominant stretches this season and have legitimate cases for the award.
Prediction: There may be some hesitancy to support Aaron Rodgers for the award because of his COVID-19 vaccine stance, which has drawn significant criticism, but from a strictly football perspective it shouldn’t. He’s the best player on the best team and has played at a high level despite injuries to several key Green Bay weapons at different points in the season.
Coach of the Year
This award is another with several intriguing cases. Matt LaFleur led the Packers to the best record in the NFL despite having a franchise player in Rodgers who started the season by trying to force a trade away from Green Bay and brought no shortage of other off-field scrutiny and unwanted attention to the team with his numerous anti-COVID-19 vaccine interviews.
Rich Bisaccia took over a Las Vegas Raiders team in turmoil after coach Jon Gruden was fired after racist emails sent by Gruden were leaked in media. Former receiver Henry Ruggs III killed a person in a drunk driving accident, and the team had other significant off-field distractions. Bisaccia, as an interim coach the team was not committed to, navigated the team through that turmoil and into the playoffs.
Nick Sirianni led the Eagles to the playoffs in a year most expected would be a rebuilding one. Zac Taylor led the Bengals from last place in the division a year ago to first place this year. Mike Vrabel led the Titans to the best record in the AFC.
Prediction: No coach dealt with more uncertainty than Bisaccia, but the fact that he was only the head coach for part of the season probably hurts his chances. The Bengals have quickly become not just a nice turnaround story, but a Super Bowl contender, and that will get Taylor the award.
Offensive Player of the Year
Taylor won’t get the MVP, but he should get this award. He’ll have competition here too, though. Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp led the league in yards, receptions, and touchdowns and came within 18 yards of setting the NFL single-season record for most receiving yards in a season.
Prediction: Taylor’s season was overshadowed somewhat by the fact that the Colts missed the playoffs in the season’s final week with a terrible loss to Jacksonville. His impact on the Indianapolis offense was unquestionable, though, and the Colts would’ve been contending for the No. 1 pick rather than a playoff spot without him.
Defensive Player of the Year
TJ Watt tied Michael Strahan’s single-season NFL sack record this season with 22.5, and there was even an appeal to statisticians that would’ve given him the record had they decided to reverse a decision. They didn’t and Watt will have to settle for a tie, but that should make him a slight favorite for the Defensive Player of the Year award. He’s a “slight” favorite only because there were several major impact players on that side of the ball this season. Myles Garrett, Micah Parsons, Aaron Donald, Trevon Diggs, and Nick Bosa all have compelling arguments for the award.
Prediction: Although Donald always has to be considered a favorite (he’s won it three times previously, and could even have a case for the MVP award in several of those seasons), Watt tying the record is likely enough to edge him past Donald this season.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
This is really a two-person race between Cincinatti receiver Ja’Marr Chase and New England quarterback Mac Jones. Najee Harris, Kyle Pitts, Jaylen Waddle, and a few other rookies had nice seasons, but Chase became a legitimate go-to threat in one of the league’s best offenses and Jones led the Patriots to the playoffs after a one-year hiatus.
Prediction: Chase’s statistical impact is certainly greater, but Jones quickly becoming a reliable, steady quarterback for one of the league’s most successful franchises at the most important position in football likely makes him the favorite.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
This award might be the easiest to predict, as Parsons is also a candidate for the Defensive Player of the Year award. Parsons leads all linebackers in All-Pro voting and has been the leader of a rejuvenated Dallas defense that is one of the best in the league. No prediction necessary here, as there is only one real candidate for the award.
Comeback Player of the Year
A couple of quarterbacks are in the conversation here, Cincinatti’s Joe Burrow and Dallas’ Dak Prescott. Burrow missed the final six games last season with a leg injury. Prescott played in only five games last season. Both players came back healthy and led teams that missed the playoffs to the postseason and division titles this season.
Prediction: Not to undersell Burrow’s injury, but the fact that Prescott is older and his injury rehab was complicated probably makes him the pick for this award.