Final NFL Award Predictions Before the 2012 Regular Season Begins
Take it in, folks; football season is officially upon us!
As the season stats expand like the couch-ridden waistlines of fans across the nation, keep these names in mind, as they may be the individuals going home with the hardware at year's end.
With each year awash with unpredictable outcomes and surprises, who in their right mind would attempt to make any prediction in a sport of such high turnover and devastating injuries? Well, me and just about every other writer on Bleacher Report.
But fear not of redundancy or recycled rhetoric spewed out in tasteless fashion, this is the prediction piece of all prediction pieces. Allow me to rub my crystal ball in hopes of revealing the names of every major award winner in the NFL.
Sure, there will be names you can count on seeing, but there will also be some you may not expect. Either way, the players chosen here were all based on my best shot at predicting correctly.
So sit back and enjoy the slideshow.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Before the start of the preseason, I had Courtney Upshaw as my favorite to win DROY given his impressive football ability displayed while at Alabama, as well as the situation regarding Terrell Suggs, who will likely miss the first half of the season due to injury.
Since then, I’ve watched Upshaw demonstrate a severe lack of readiness both mentally and physically throughout the preseason, as he failed to land a starting job in the absence of Suggs.
A player who is off to a more impressive start, however, is the Eagles' second-round selection, Mychal Kendricks. Kendricks may not be the best defensive rookie this season, but I believe he’s in the best position to put up numbers worthy of Rookie of the Year.
Kendricks has a great opportunity to amass a ton of tackles as he starts at strong-side linebacker for a team which should go deep into the playoffs. Kendricks has the athletic ability to run sideline to sideline better than any other rookie in the league, which should allow him plenty of opportunities for big plays.
Last year, while playing for California, he was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. His aggressive style of play really seemed to carry over into the NFL as he consistently impressed both his coaches and teammates throughout training camp and the preseason.
For a rookie starting on a defense sure to be one of the year's best, look for Kendricks to get a ton of national recognition, which is sure to aid in the voting process at the end of the season.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Robert Griffin III
RG3 is a rare talent with the capabilities to throw accurately as well as run with world-class speed. It's in his ability to make plays with his legs that should give him the edge over Andrew Luck for OROY.
This is not to say Luck is an immobile statue or anything, because he's a fantastic athlete and runner in his own right. But RG3’s rush numbers should be significantly better than Luck’s this season, and he may put up similar passing stats.
This boost in stats and production through his rushing ability should bode well for him in the eyes of the voters.
But don’t underestimate the passing capabilities of RG3. He has built a reputation as a guy who can hang in the pocket, look downfield while going through his progressions and make a pinpoint throw to his receivers.
Griffin is a pass-first player who just happens to have the bonus of being perhaps the fastest player on the field at any given moment. This should come in handy as he learns the position and goes through the natural rookie struggles every quarterback must endure.
However, he should be able to improvise when the going gets tough as he develops cognitive awareness while acclimating to the speed of the game.
Another decisive advantage RG3 will be working with this year is the luxury of playing within a Mike Shanahan offense. There's little doubt in my mind Shanahan will put Griffin in the best possible position to succeed by utilizing the things he does best.
This should equate to tons of bootlegs and play-action roll-out passes designed to get him out of the pocket while taking away half the field to read.
Shanahan has also installed some spread-option plays Griffin ran at Baylor. This makes sense considering it reduces his learning curve and helps with his comfort level during such a major adjustment.
When the year is all said and done, RG3 will have put up bigger numbers than Luck while adding that electrifying element of big-play ability and many impressive highlights.
Unfortunately for Luck, RG3 will be taking away another valuable piece of hardware Luck has been highly favored to win. Hopefully, Luck can maintain good sportsmanship as Griffin fills his trophy room with items Luck seemed once destined to win.
Coach of the Year
One of the most likely ways to win this award is not necessarily by being the best team or even the best coach, but by being a coach who was able to turn a team around. It seems Crennel is in the right place at the right time after having taken over as the coach of Kansas City Chiefs.
Last year, the Chiefs were riddled with injuries and failed to replicate the 10-6 season they had just two years prior. By all accounts, the Chiefs still have playoff-level talent on the roster and should be more explosive and experienced than the team that made the playoffs in 2010.
If the Chiefs are able to muster up 10 wins under Crennel, it seems logical to assume he would be the front runner for Coach of the Year. I fully expect the Chiefs to have a winning record this year and at least match that season from two years back.
When considering that projected success combined with the fact that three of the last six winners have come from coaches in their first year as head coach of the team, I believe the highly respected Romeo Crennel will receive his first Coach of the Year award.
Comeback Player of the Year
I wish I could be surprising and creative with this prediction, but I'd have to be stupid not to pick Manning. He should be expected to play all 16 games in his comeback season, just as he has done every season of his career, save for when he missed all of last season due to a series of neck surgeries to repair nerve damage.
Furthermore, considering Manning’s consistent level of play throughout his career, he should, at the very least, be able to play at a Pro Bowl level.
Watching him dissect the starting unit of the 49ers defense in their dress rehearsal preseason game was a good sign of things to come. Manning is the type of player who will maximize the potential of the entire Broncos offense while leading the boys in orange to another division title and playoff appearance.
Given this season’s outlook for Denver led by Manning’s arm, there really isn’t a second thought about it. The combination of highly likely scenarios described here should make him a virtual lock for Comeback Player of the Year.
Defensive Player of the Year
After years of playing at a high level, DeMarcus Ware should finally be given his due. Last year many argued the individual play of Ware was second to none on his way to accumulating 19.5 sacks, but it seemed the lack of team success resulted in Ware falling short of Defensive Player of the Year recognition.
Expect an improved Cowboys team in 2012 while Ware should continue to play at an elite level. Even if the race is a close one, in the end, Ware’s history of excellence should give him the edge.
A few stipulations which may determine Ware’s faith could be the Cowboys' ability to earn a playoff spot, as well as their ability to finish as a top-10 defense. Should they fail to make the playoffs, Ware’s chances will drop significantly.
Most notable was Seahawks defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy, who won the award on a team which finished the season with a record of 2-14. In fairness to Kennedy and the Seahawks, their defense was ranked 10th in the league despite the horrible record.
In addition, only four players have managed to win the award despite being on defenses which failed to rank among the top 10 in the league. The worst-ranked unit to produce a defensive MVP was the '87 Eagles, who were ranked 23rd, yet Reggie White still won the award. That team also failed to reach the playoffs after finishing with a 7-8 (strike season) record.
Since DeMarcus Ware entered the league in 2005, no player has accumulated more sacks. In a pass-happy league, his consistency to produce as a pass-rusher should make him a good bet to finally be named the Defensive Player of the Year.
Offensive Player of the Year
The last wide receiver to win this award was Jerry Rice way back in 1993, but alas, this is the year of “Megatron.”
Johnson may be the most valuable non-quarterback in the NFL; he can change the course of an entire game with a single catch. Given his ability to run a sub-4.4 40 despite weighing over 240 pounds and standing 6’5”, he is the ultimate matchup problem in the NFL.
Last year, Johnson was able to stay healthy and combine his physical abilities with valuable experience, which, in combination with a reliable QB with a big arm, nearly made him unstoppable. It seems quite feasible for Johnson to become the first wideout in the history of the league to amass over 2,000 yards receiving.
Considering the lack of a running game and no established second receiving option, the Lions should be relying heavily on Johnson in 2012. And with the type of touches per game he's likely to see, get ready for some record-breaking numbers out of Detroit.
Prepare to see Calvin Johnson break the 19-year drought for wide receivers by winning Offensive Player of the Year.
Winning back-to-back MVP Awards is a rare feat achieved only by a select few now ubiquitously linked to the NFL. Since the origin of the award in 1957, only Jim Brown, Joe Montana, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre have ever accomplished consecutive MVP seasons. Favre is the only person to win three times in a row.
Putting Aaron Rodgers in this group of legends is a decision I don’t come to lightly. It’s frustratingly difficult trying to think of a more complete player than Aaron Rodgers. From his ability to throw 60-yard bullet passes with little air or hang time to his intelligent, yet athletic mobility, “A-Rod" is a man with little to no weaknesses.
His value to the Packers in the 2012 season will be greater than ever. With Rodgers at the helm, Green Bay is arguably the most talented and feared team in the league. If for some reason Rodgers were to get injured and miss the season, the team’s Super Bowl hopes would be virtually wiped out.
In 2011, Aaron Rodgers put together perhaps the greatest season at quarterback in the modern-day era. Every year since taking over the starting job, he has improved significantly, so we should only anticipate similar progress moving forward.
Even if Rodgers has a statistical setback in 2012, the chances are still extremely good that he'll win the coveted honor of league MVP.