Predicting the Darkhorse Candidates for Every Major NFL Post-Season Award

Marc Lillibridge@NFL_BridgeContributor IAugust 9, 2012

Predicting the Darkhorse Candidates for Every Major NFL Post-Season Award

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    Before every NFL football season, especially if a fantasy football draft is involved, fans all around the world try to figure out who will be the “breakout” NFL stars. Aaron Rodgers was a bench-warmer for a couple years behind Brett Favre; now he is the reigning NFL MVP. 

    Tom Brady was an afterthought behind Pro Bowler Drew Bledsoe until New York Jets linebacker Mo Lewis changed the fate of the Patriots future. 

    Running back Arian Foster started his career on the practice squad, now will surely be a top-10 fantasy pick and in the discussion for NFL MVP as well.

    The following list may not be virtually unknowns, but they are NFL players who have longer than average odds to win postseason honors. Certain awards seem to always be awarded to certain positions, example: NFL MVP goes to quarterbacks or running backs. This list will step out of the box and look at players who should be in the awards discussions when the NFL season concludes.

NFL Most Valuable Player

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    Calvin Johnson, wide receiver, Detroit Lions

    A wide receiver has never won the MVP award, and that includes the greatest receiver of all-time, Jerry Rice. So the argument can be made that if Rice cannot win the award, how will Calvin Johnson? 

    Johnson plays in an offense where he is far and away the best player on the field. His quarterback, Matthew Stafford, looks to him in every pressure situation. 

    Detroit’s offensive coordinator, Scott Linehan, calls 80 percent of the pass plays with Johnson as the primary target. The Lions have zero rushing attack. Their leading rusher from 2011, Jahvid Best, is injured and only rushed for 390 yards. His backups are injured as well.

    Stafford threw for over 5,000 yards last season. Look for the quarterback to repeat that feat and for over 2,000 of those yards to be to Johnson. Rice holds the record with 1,848 yards in a single season. Johnson will obliterate that record and be named the 2012 NFL MVP.

NFL Offensive Player of the Year

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    Matt Ryan, quarterback, Atlanta Falcons

    Ryan has improved every year he has been in the NFL and should continue this trend in 2012. Ryan was eighth in the NFL for quarterback rating in 2011 and his touchdown numbers have increased each season. 

    Ryan returns every significant offensive starter from a year ago when he threw for 4,177 yards and 29 touchdowns. Receiver Julio Jones will only get better, Roddy White is a Pro Bowl talent and tight end Tony Gonzalez is heading to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

    The running attack is still strong with Michael Turner and Jason Snelling. This will force teams to stack the tackle box and open up seams deep down the field.

    The usage of scat-back Jacquizz Rodgers is a valuable tool Ryan can use out of the back field. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will open this offense up even more. Look to Ryan to pass for over 5,000 yards and be named the Offensive Player of the Year.

NFL Defensive Player of the Year

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    Jason Pierre-Paul, defensive end, New York Giants

    The reigning winner of the award, Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, is on the shelf. That means there will be a new winner of this honor in 2012. Pierre-Paul will be walking home with the statue come February. 

    Names like Ray Lewis, Jared Allen, DeMarcus Ware, Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu get tossed around for this award every year. Justin Smith, Patrick Willis and Darrelle Revis are in the discussion.

    Pierre-Paul is still learning how to play the game. He is possibly the most talented athlete in the NFL. JPP will improve on his 16.5 sacks in 2011. 

    According to, Pierre-Paul was in the top five for all defensive ends in tackles, sacks, quarterback hits and total stops.

    Pierre-Paul will outplay them and all the other big-name defensive players mentioned above and will be the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year

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    Doug Martin, running back, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Quarterbacks Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill would be easy picks for players competing for the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012. But none of them will win the award.

    A player who is not even listed as the starter heading into the first preseason game will receive the honor at the end of the 2012 season. Running back Doug Martin is listed as a backup to returning starter LeGarette Blount. Do not expect that to last long!

    Head coach Greg Schiano drafted Martin to fill the role at tail back in Tampa Bay that Ray Rice filled for the coach while at Rutgers. The Buccaneers went out and spent huge free-agent dollars on offensive guard Carl Nicks.

    Coupled with guard Davin Joseph, the Buccaneers have one of the best interior lines in the NFL. Martin will be the beneficiary. 

NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year

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    Janoris Jenkins, cornerback, St. Louis Rams

    The Rams had major health issues to their defensive backfield in 2011. The only healthy returning cornerback from last season is Josh Gordy, who should be the nickel cornerback.  Bradley Fletcher finished the year on injured reserve.

    With a new coaching staff comes new players, and no one will benefit more from this than Jenkins. Lined up opposite of him is Pro Bowl cornerback Cortland Finnegan. 

    Jenkins will get tested early and often. But look for the young player to have the same resolve and fight his new head coach, Jeff Fisher, has.

    Jenkins will get plenty of chances to come away with interceptions, and by leading his rookie class with five, Jenkins will be named the Defensive Rookie of the Year.

NFL Comeback Player of the Year

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    Matt Schaub, quarterback, Houston Texans

    The easy bet on this award is going with Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. The dark horse is Schaub. 

    Before missing the last six games and playoffs last season, Schaub was on his way to a 4,000-yard passing season and the highest completion percentage of his career. Schaub also showed excellent decision-making skills and, if averaged out, would have only thrown a career-low nine interceptions.

    Schaub still has wide receivers Andre Johnson and Kevin Walters as his main targets. Tight end Owen Daniels will have a big year with Schaub returning.  Having Arian Foster to check the ball down to is great for statistics as well.

    2012 will be Schaub’s best as a professional, and he will be named the Comeback Player of the Year.

NFL Rookie of the Year

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    Ryan Tannehill, quarterback, Miami Dolphins

    Taking Martin and Jenkins out of the picture, Tannehill will have the greatest impact for his NFL team in 2012. No other rookie coming into the NFL this season knows their team's system better than the former Texas A&M product. This is the same offensive scheme he ran in college.

    There is no team in the NFL that needs an image makeover more than the Miami Dolphins.  Tannehill will be put in positions to make plays with veterans like running back Reggie Bush and wide receiver Chad Johnson.

    Though Tannehill will go through growing pains like all rookies do (Peyton Manning threw 28 interceptions), Tannehill will put up better offensive numbers than his rookie colleagues and be voted Rookie of the Year.

NFL Coach of the Year

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    Greg Schiano, head coach, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Schiano has already instilled toughness in Tampa, and this should amount to a vast turnaround in victories. Quarterback Josh Freeman is one of the best young players in the NFL. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson gives the Buccaneers a big-play threat they have not had in years.

    The defensive line is young, but the players have bought into the head coach’s system.  Free-agent signing cornerback Eric Wright, coupled with Aqib Talib, gives Tampa two good cover players on the edges.

    Though not many coaches that leave the college ranks have success in the NFL, look for Schiano to buck that tread and be named the Coach of the Year for 2012.