Predicting NFL Honors awards: Who will win MVP? Defensive Player of the Year? Rookies of the Year?

Award season is nearly upon us in the NFL.

The finalists for the league’s major individual honors were revealed Wednesday morning on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football, and there’s some real intrigue with the condensed candidate lists.

Will Patrick Mahomes take home his second MVP award? Or could another prolific signal-caller like Joe Burrow or Jalen Hurts earn his first? The Offensive Rookie of the Year race is quite interesting, with fewer quarterback candidates than usual. We also have fascinating debates at Comeback Player of the Year and Coach of the Year, with each brandishing multiple quality finalists.

So, who will take home the hardware? We don’t know yet, as the winners will be announced at the 12th annual NFL Honors on Thursday, Feb. 9 (NBC/NFL Network/Peacock). But that won’t stop us from taking some educated guesses on how the voting could shake out.

Here are our predictions for the most prominent Associated Press awards, which are produced via a nationwide media panel of 50 voters who regularly cover the league.

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  • Most Valuable Player
  • Offensive Player of the Year
  • Defensive Player of the Year
  • Offensive Rookie of the Year
  • Defensive Rookie of the Year
  • Comeback Player of the Year
  • Coach of the Year
  • Assistant Coach of the Year

Most Valuable Player

PREDICTED VOTING RESULTS:

There’s a case to be made for Burrow and his late-season magic entering the MVP chat. But Mahomes has been the big favorite since Hurts missed two games with injury. The Chiefs didn’t exactly break scoreboards as often down the stretch as they did early in the season, but Mahomes’ body of work — comfortably leading the league in passing yards (5,250) and passing touchdowns (41) — was just too good from start to finish.

One snub who deserved to be a finalist: Tyreek Hill, WR, Miami Dolphins. His numbers didn’t quite stack up to those of Jefferson, but they were darned close. Jefferson clearly had the better quarterback situation over the course of the season, with the Dolphins seemingly having to shuffle things up at the position every few weeks. For long stretches this season, Hill was Miami’s offense.

Offensive Player of the Year

PREDICTED VOTING RESULTS:

While MVP has become almost exclusively a quarterback award, that’s not the case with this piece of hardware. Over the past five years, just one quarterback (Patrick Mahomes, 2018) has received the honor, with two wide receivers (Cooper Kupp, 2021; Michael Thomas, 2019) and two running backs (Derrick Henry, 2020; Todd Gurley, 2017) filling the remaining slots. That’s why we think Jefferson has a real shot here. He led the NFL in catches (128) and receiving yards (1,809), scored nine TDs (one rushing) and a two-point conversion, completed two passes for 34 yards and didn’t fumble all season. Those catch and yardage totals were each sixth-best all time.

One snub who deserved to be a finalist: Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs. Does his position hold him back? It shouldn’t. Kelce is perhaps the NFL’s toughest cover, and he’s coming off a career season at 33 years old, setting personal highs in targets (152), receptions (110) and TDs (12). Even with Patrick Mahomes throwing to him, Kelce’s individual greatness should not be lost.

Defensive Player of the Year

PREDICTED VOTING RESULTS:

Parsons might one day reach Lawrence Taylor levels of fame, and he’s on the track to be one of the premier non-QB names in the game for years to come. We can’t overlook his impact or the fact that he plays for the Cowboys, which can boost some candidates’ chances. But Bosa and his league-best 18.5 sacks could be too tough for Parsons to overcome. The 49ers feature the top defense in the NFL this season, and Bosa is the unit’s best player. That could end up as the bottom line.

One snub who deserved to be a finalist: Maxx Crosby, DE, Las Vegas Raiders. We’re always impressed by a player who dominates on a bad team, especially when said player receives little help on his own unit. Despite teammate Chandler Jones being held to half a sack through the first 11 games, Crosby was an absolute terror all season, registering a career-high 12.5 sacks, a league-best 22 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. Buffalo LB Matt Milano has a case, too.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

PREDICTED VOTING RESULTS:

Did Purdy play enough to earn the award? Remember, his first start came two weeks before Christmas. Does that deserve to win over the fuller bodies of work from Walker (15 games) and Wilson (17)? We say no, even if quarterbacks tend to trump all when it comes to voting. But in guiding the 49ers to a 5-0 mark in his regular-season starts, Purdy essentially played a third of the season. Perhaps this will look antiquated if Purdy and the Niners mess around and go win it all. But we think Wilson’s tremendous season — posting an 83/1,103/4 receiving line despite the Jets’ uneven QB play — takes it.

One snub who deserved to be a finalist: Chris Olave, WR, New Orleans Saints. Olave put up similar numbers (72 catches, 1,042 yards, four TDs) to his college teammate, Wilson, and Olave did it in two fewer games. Both receivers have positioned themselves to be two of the very best at their position once their respective teams get better at QB.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

PREDICTED VOTING RESULTS:

Hutchinson started strong and also flexed late in the season, living up to his pedigree as the No. 2 overall pick. Woolen was this year’s rookie surprise, going from Round 5 project to Year 1 Pro Bowler. Both are excellent candidates. But Sauce is Sauce, and quality nicknames also can sway voters! In this case, though, Gardner’s hype matches the fun pseudonym. He was a true shutdown corner, something you almost never find in this era, leading the NFL with 20 pass breakups.

One snub who deserved to be a finalist: Jalen Pitre, S, Houston Texans. We forgive you if you were not dialed into Texans action religiously every Sunday afternoon. But if you were not, you did miss out on Pitre, who dished out punishment with a whopping 147 tackles. (Yes, he missed some, too, but part of that was because he was always around the ball.) Add in his five interceptions, and Pitre gets the nod here over the Giants’ Kayvon Thibodeaux, the Jaguars’ Devin Lloyd and others.

Comeback Player of the Year

PREDICTED VOTING RESULTS:

This is a tough call, and we’re going to go against the typical “QBs RULE” forecast. Barkley and McCaffrey are “name” players whose performances clearly helped their respective teams make the postseason. McCaffrey arguably was the 49ers’ MVP after joining the team and has enjoyed the better season in our view, but we’re slightly leaning toward Barkley because of the New York factor. With Smith, we absolutely understand why he’s here: He had a fantastic season, and this has been a QB-heavy award historically. But what is he coming back from? And was he ever truly good before? Smith fits more into a “late-career breakout” category in our eyes.

One snub who deserved to be a finalist: Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans. The Titans’ late-season collapse torpedoed Henry’s case here, but there was real concern after how last season played out that he was headed for a precipitous decline. Backs with the kind of workload Henry has been asked to carry seldom have long careers, but he played 16 games this season, led the NFL in carries and nearly doubled his previous highs for receptions and receiving yards.

Coach of the Year

PREDICTED VOTING RESULTS:

As many know, this award doesn’t necessarily go to the best coach every season. Instead, it tends to go to the coach of the team that exceeded its preseason expectations the most. On the surface, that reads like Pederson and the Jaguars, given how the past two seasons unfolded. But we think the quirky Sirianni is your clubhouse favorite after guiding the Eagles to a brilliant season, losing one regular-season game with Jalen Hurts starting. And despite San Francisco’s lofty preseason expectations, Shanahan leading the Niners to 10 straight wins with two backup QBs was quite a feat.

One snub who deserved to be a finalist: Kevin O’Connell, Minnesota Vikings. It was many NFL fans’ prerogative to bash the Vikings and their overinflated 13-4 record vis-à-vis a negative point differential for the season (minus-3). We get it. And it’s not as if we don’t agree the Vikes played above their skis and overachieved this season. But shouldn’t O’Connell, a first-year head coach, receive some credit for that?

Assistant Coach of the Year

PREDICTED VOTING RESULTS:

Ryans, as a former Pro Bowl player, has the name value to make him a favorite before we consider much from this trio’s coaching chops. But given the 49ers’ defensive success over the past two years, with Ryans helping make them arguably the NFL’s best overall unit this season, he also has the results to back it up. That’s no knock on either Steichen or Johnson, both of whom did excellent work for their high-scoring teams. It just feels like Ryans is the favorite here.

One snub who deserved to be a finalist: Shane Waldron, OC, Seattle Seahawks. A little over a decade ago, Waldron was calling plays in a tiny New England boarding-school league. But having gained NFL experience under Bill Belichick and Sean McVay, Waldron has become one of the league’s sneaky-good offensive coordinators, coaxing a career year out of Geno Smith and helping the Seahawks exceed all expectations with a playoff berth.

Follow Eric Edholm on Twitter.

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