As NFL teams wrap up organized team activities (OTAs), we’re still not any closer to knowing the answers to some of the league’s most talked about questions—come on, it’s just June. We are, however, a bit closer to the start of the season.
Thursday, Sept. 5 can’t get here quick enough for football fans. Teams still have training camp and preseason games to wade through before the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos kick things off for the 2013 season, but you don’t have to wait to hear my thoughts on the hardware that’ll be given out at season’s end.
No, I’m not sharing my Super Bowl predictions, but here are my early thoughts on every major NFL award for 2013.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.
The 5’8” Tavon Austin needed the right situation on draft day, and the St. Louis Rams gave him exactly that when they selected him eighth overall.
Austin was not only a dynamic pass-catcher and return man at West Virginia, but he's also a marvel with the football after the catch and has the ability to do a number of things on the football field extremely well. But he needed to go to a team that had enough options in place already so Austin didn’t have to carry the entire load.
Austin had quarterback Geno Smith while he was playing collegiately with the Mountaineers, and he now has Sam Bradford tossing the ball at him. Because this relationship will become instantly symbiotic, Austin will come away with the Offensive Rookie of the Year crown.
DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans: If enough goes right, and everyone (namely Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson) stays healthy in 2013, Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins could emerge as an awfully talented first-year target for the Houston Texans.
Chance Warmack, Tennessee Titans: Since the inception of the AP NFL Rookie of the Year Award in 1967, only quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers have been chosen. But 2013 is a time for change.
Nine offensive linemen were selected in the first round of the 2013 draft, and according to Comcast Sports Southeast, Alabama offensive guard Chance Warmack is not only talented, he’s got two Hall of Fame offensive linemen on the Tennessee coaching staff.
It’s absolutely impossible to argue with the recent track of the Carolina Panthers and Rookie of the Year awards.
In 2011 quarterback Cam Newton was the award winner on the offensive side of the football, and the following season, Luke Kuechly took home the hardware on defense.
Carolina’s first-round draft pick this season, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, will make it two defensive ROY winners in a row and a triumvirate of winners for the Panthers in recent memory.
Lotulelei is the prototypical defensive tackle in terms of his size, and he has the versatility to move around on the defensive line to give the Carolina coaching staff opportunities to disguise his looks.
The Panthers had a glaring need in the middle of the defensive line, and Lotulelei will be benefactor of a lot of teams focusing on the pass rush from defensive ends Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson.
Desmond Trufant, Atlanta Falcons: Opposing offenses are going to pick on former Washington Huskies cornerback Desmond Trufant now that he’s the likely starter in Atlanta and playing opposite of Asante Samuel.
That’s fine. Trufant is going to get schooled every day in practice by the best wide receiver tandem in the NFL (how nice will it be to face Roddy White and Julio Jones every day?).
Barkevious Mingo, Cleveland Browns: Mingo has to be considered on the merits of his name alone, right? Joking aside, Mingo has the rare combination of pass-rushing speed and more-than-competent coverage skills that will make him a force in the league.
Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew rushed for 4,321 yards between 2009 and 2011 and scored 28 touchdowns on the ground. The only thing that kept him from repeating at that same level in 2012 was missing 10 games with a foot injury.
Jones-Drew was on NFL Total Access on April 11 and said he’d be back up to full speed by the end of May or the beginning of June.
If Jones-Drew has the benefit of a full training camp (something he did not have in 2012), there’s no reason to believe he won’t return to the rusher who can’t be stopped on the ground and catches approximately 40 passes a year.
Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins: Robert Griffin III seems to be in a race with himself to make it back from his ACL surgery by Week 1 of the NFL season. If he’s under center for the Redskins at season’s start, he’ll give MJD a run for his money for Comeback Player of the Year.
Jon Beason, Carolina Panthers: Linebacker Jon Beason has the skill set to be the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. The Carolina Panthers would settle for a full 16 games from him. The former first-round pick has played just five games combined over the last two seasons.
Sure, the Green Bay Packers lost wide receiver Greg Jennings to the Minnesota Vikings. I say, good riddance.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers still has wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb as main targets, as well as a very capable tight end in Jermichael Finley. But the Packers gave Rodgers a gift in the offseason that the passer hasn’t had since the 2009 season: a potentially potent running game.
Green Bay selected Alabama running back Eddie Lacy in the second round of the 2013 draft and grabbed UCLA rusher Johnathan Franklin in the fourth round. Both runners are capable of breaking out in 2013, and it’s quite possible that both will be beneficial.
Can you imagine how great Rodgers could be in the passing game with the real threat of a rushing attack?
Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers: With only five passing attempts to his professional career, San Francisco handed quarterback Colin Kaepernick the keys to the 49ers offense, and he led the team to the Super Bowl. With the extra experience and first-team reps all offseason to build upon, Kaepernick can only get better.
Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints: Quarterback Drew Brees has his buddy head coach Sean Payton back in New Orleans, and we’ve all seen how dynamic that duo has been in the past. With something to prove in 2013, how above and beyond can Brees push himself?
There are far too many cautionary tales of early-round draft picks that become colossal busts. JaMarcus Russell is a prime example.
Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller is not.
The Broncos selected Miller second overall in the 2011 draft, and the rookie from Texas A&M notched 11.5 sacks. To follow up that campaign, Miller pulled down 18.5 quarterbacks in 2012.
Miller keeps getting better each year, and 2013 could be a special season in the Mile High City.
Michael Strahan holds the all-time, single-season record for sacks with 22.5, a record set in 2001. If Miller improves by approximately 60 percent in 2013 (his jump from 11.5 to 18.5 was a 62.2 percent jump), he'll completely obliterate Strahan’s record.
Yes, Miller’s good enough to do that.
J.J. Watt, Houston Texans: Defensive end J.J. Watt may be the best defensive player in the game, but he might also be a one-hit wonder. I doubt that very seriously, so watch for Watt to once again lead the Texans on the defensive side of the football and cause sleepless nights for opposing offensive coaches.
Aldon Smith, San Francisco 49ers: CSN Bay Area reporter Matt Maiocco expects outside linebacker Aldon Smith to be ready for the start of training camp after surgery on his left shoulder. That’s bad news for opposing quarterbacks.
Before you go digging around on the Internet, yes, Jim Harbaugh has already won the AP Coach of the Year award. He did so in 2011. He could add another trophy to the mantle in 2013.
Harbaugh’s 49ers not only played in the Super Bowl last season, but they reloaded in the offseason with more talent. Offseason additions like wide receiver Anquan Boldin and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, combined with a very well-orchestrated draft, means Harbaugh will have another shot at a title in 2013.
Former San Francisco running back Roger Craig had a glowing review of Harbaugh on ESPN and compared him to a former coaching great. He predicted a 49ers dynasty.
He's very similar to Bill Walsh that way. He makes you accountable for what you do on and off the football field, but the main thing is he's a tough coach and he expects you to be professional.
If I could play right now, I would play for Jim Harbaugh. That's my guy. I love Jim Harbaugh.
Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons: The Atlanta Falcons also reloaded in the offseason. More importantly, head coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff found a way to convince tight end Tony Gonzalez to return to the team instead of retiring.
The 2013 season is Smith’s best shot at winning a Super Bowl title. If he does, he’ll walk away with the Coach of the Year award too.
Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs: The Kansas City Chiefs were 2-14 last season and only won their two games by a combined nine points. New head coach Andy Reid might have a playoff team under his finger if things go well, and that’d be too big a turnaround to ignore.
How did Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider follow up the foresight of his decision to take a chance on quarterback Russell Wilson in the third round of the 2012 draft? He won the 2013 version of NFL offseason transactions.
Schneider brought in pass-rushers Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, and traded for wide receiver Percy Harvin. That gave the Seattle war-room staff the opportunity to feel comfortable drafting solely for skill and not need back in April.
The Seahawks are stacked from top to bottom and have assembled one of the best defenses in the NFL. Schneider is largely responsible for Seattle’s recent success and newfound winning ways.
Thomas Dimitroff, Atlanta Falcons: The Atlanta Falcons were going to be more limited on offense without tight end Gonzalez, who played the 2012 season “95 percent sure” he would retire at season’s end. Instead of panicking and attempting to bring in a replacement, Dimitroff and company convinced Gonzalez to play another year.
Mark Dominik, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: General manager Mark Dominik pulled off the most drawn-out trade of the offseason when he acquired cornerback Darrelle Revis from the New York Jets. Add that to the addition of offensive line depth in Gabe Carimi from the Chicago Bears and last year’s rock-solid draft, and Dominik has the players and head coach in Greg Schiano to make a run at the playoffs.
Let’s make this simple.
Prior to adding wide receiver Wes Welker, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning threw for 4,659 yards for the Broncos in 2012. He also threw 37 touchdown passes, the second-most in his 15-year career (Manning only played 14 seasons after sitting out the 2011 season with a neck injury).
Welker has averaged 120 catches a season for the last two years and is one of the most reliable slot receivers in the game. Adding Welker is only going to make Denver’s offense massively more potent, which in turn makes Manning more dangerous.
No one has won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award more than Manning, who’s won it four times. Expect him to add trophy No. 5 in 2013.
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings: Forget for one second that Peterson shouldn’t have been able to perform like he did in 2012 because he wasn’t far enough removed from knee surgery. The Vikings running back defied odds and ran for 2,097 yards, which is magical in and of itself.
Now think about what Peterson could do with another year’s worth of distance away from being under the knife.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers: You’ll likely remember that Aaron Rodgers was my prediction for 2013 Offensive Player of the Year. If he can lead his team to a Super Bowl, he may pluck the MVP award away from Manning.