Ranking the Top 25 NFL Offensive Player of the Year Candidates

Dan HopeContributor IIIJuly 7, 2013

Ranking the Top 25 NFL Offensive Player of the Year Candidates

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    Since 1972, the Associated Press has annually recognized the NFL's most outstanding offensive player with the NFL Offensive Player of the Year award.

    That description comes with a caveat. While the award is technically open to players at any offensive position, it has never been won by an offensive lineman or tight end.

    The award is typically given to the league's most productive quarterback or running back. Of the 41 times it has been given, it's been won 39 times by either a quarterback or running back. The exception is San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice, who won the award in both 1987 and 1993.

    While team success is certainly taken into consideration with the NFL MVP Award, the Offensive Player of the Year award typically trends most toward the quarterback or running back who has the year's most impressive statistical production. Therefore, the following slideshow breaks down the players most likely to put up the league's most impressive statistical production, with a heavy emphasis on quarterbacks and wide receivers.

    *All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference, unless otherwise noted.

Honorable Mentions

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    Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers

    Rivers is coming off of arguably the worst season of his career as a starting quarterback, but he still threw for 3,606 yards and 26 touchdowns. He could end up being among the league's leading passers if he can have a bounce-back season, but he'll go into the season as a long shot for postseason awards. 

     

    Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans

    The 2009 Offensive Player of the Year is still capable of breaking for huge runs and putting up big numbers, but he hasn't run with the same consistency over the past three years that he did in 2009. He could also be in line to lose some carries to free-agent addition Shonn Greene this season. 

     

    Trent Richardson, RB, Cleveland Browns

    Failing to break 1,000 yards in his rookie season came as a disappointment, but Trent Richardson has the ability to be one of the NFL's elite running backs if he can stay healthy. That said, it is more likely that he will a candidate for the award in 2014 and beyond. 

     

    A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

    Two years into his career, A.J. Green has already established himself as one of the NFL's elite wide receivers. That said, he will need to take his game to an even higher level to be a serious candidate for this award.

     

    Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals

    Larry Fitzgerald may be the NFL's most well-rounded receiver, but his statistical production has been hampered by poor quarterback play in Arizona. And Carson Palmer likely won't bring him back to putting up elite numbers. 

     

    Brandon Marshall, WR, Chicago Bears

    Marshall put up huge numbers last season (118 receptions, 1,508 yards and 11 touchdowns), but he didn't even make a blip on the radar in contending for the award. He is an elite talent who is likely playing at the wrong position to be a serious candidate.

25. Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens

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    Joe Flacco hasn't come close to playing like an Offensive Player of the Year in his five-year NFL career, but he has never looked better than he does going into the 2013 season.

    Flacco played the best football of his career during the 2012-13 postseason. He had a combined touchdown-to-interception ratio of 11-to-0 and a passer rating of 117.2 over the course of four playoff games, leading the Baltimore Ravens to their first championship since the 2000-01 season.

    No quarterback is going into the 2013 season on a better run than Flacco. He was the MVP of Super Bowl XLVII, and he signed a six-year, $120.6 million contract this offseason to remain with the Ravens.

    To be a serious contender for the award, however, he must continue to play the way he did during the Ravens' championship run. He has never finished among the NFL's top 10 in passing yards, and he has only finished in the top 10 once in passing touchdowns (10th in 2010 with 25).

24. Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants

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    The last quarterback to win a Super Bowl before Joe Flacco, two-time champion Eli Manning has certainly earned his place among the NFL's top quarterbacks. Statistically, however, he has not put up the numbers to seriously contend for an Offensive Player of the Year award at any point in his nine-year NFL career.

    Manning came closest in 2011, when he threw for a career-high 4,933 yards while completing 61 percent of his passes for 29 touchdowns. Last season, though, he completed less than 60 percent of his passes and threw for less than 4,000 yards.

    The play of both Manning and the New York Giants as a whole took a step back in 2012, but Manning has shown that he is among the NFL's great quarterbacks when he is at his best. He is unlikely to win the Offensive Player of the Year award, but that's not to say he doesn't have the talent to do so.

23. Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys

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    While Tony Romo may be best known for his propensity to make mistakes in important games and clutch situations, he has been one of the NFL's top quarterbacks in recent years in terms of personal production. If he can cut down on his mistakes in 2013, he has a legitimate chance of contending for this award.

    Romo has thrown for at least 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns in his last three full 16-game seasons. Although the Dallas Cowboys went 8-8 for the second straight season and failed to make the playoffs in 2012, he was among the league's top six in completion percentage (65.6), passing yards (4,903) and touchdowns (28).

    That said, he also led the league with 19 interceptions thrown.

    The Cowboys certainly believe Romo is one of the league's elite quarterbacks, signing him to a six-year, $108 million contract extension this offseason. If he can continue to make as many plays as he does passing the ball and avoid his characteristic turnovers, he could prove their investment well worthwhile.

22. Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins

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    No rookie had a more surprising breakout season in 2012 than Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris. The sixth-round pick quickly emerged as the Redskins' feature back last season and finished second among all NFL running backs with 1,613 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns.

    While Morris doesn't have outstanding speed or power, he is a hard, physical runner with good vision who makes a great fit for Mike Shanahan's zone-blocking offense. The question will be whether or not he can duplicate his success in 2013.

    With the exception of Terrell Davis, who was the Denver Broncos' feature back from 1995-98 until his career was derailed by a knee injury, Shanahan has a history of finding success interchangeably with running backs. As a result, a running back can quickly go from massive production to being a backup in a Shanahan offense.

    The most prominent example came with the 2001 Denver Broncos and Mike Anderson. Anderson ran for 1,487 yards and 15 touchdowns on 297 carries as a rookie, winning the 2000 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year. In 2001, however, he only received 175 carries for 678 yards and four touchdowns.

    Morris' job as the feature back certainly looks safe, but don't be surprised if Evan Royster, Roy Helu and rookies Chris Thompson and Jawan Jamison challenge him for carries.

    Even if Morris does duplicate his success, it doesn't necessarily mean he will be a major candidate for the award. Although Morris' 1,613 rushing yards were the third-most by a rookie in NFL history, he did not receive any votes for 2012 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year.

21. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks

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    Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is coming off of the best season of his NFL career. He had career highs of 1,590 rushing yards, 315 carries and 5.0 yards per attempt and was named a first-team All-Pro for his efforts, which also included 11 touchdowns.

    Lynch may be the NFL's best between-the-tackles runner, and he is a crucial component of the Seattle Seahawks offense. That said, he is going to face greater competition for touches in Seattle's backfield in 2013.

    Rookie second-round pick Christine Michael is an explosive athlete with a similar running style to Lynch, but he is likely to steal some carries from Lynch this season. Lynch's touches could also threatened by the addition of offensive weapon Percy Harvin, who is likely to be utilized creatively as a running threat in addition to his usual play at wide receiver.

20. Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens

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    No feature running back in the NFL has made a bigger impact as a receiver out of the backfield in recent years than Ray Rice for the Baltimore Ravens. Even with Joe Flacco coming off of an outstanding playoff run, Rice remains the Ravens' top contender for the Offensive Player of the Year award.

    He has been among the league's top nine in yards from scrimmage in each of the past four seasons, including a league-leading total of 2,068 yards in 2011.

    Rice's numbers were slightly down last season, but he should nonetheless be among the league's leaders in touches this year. His ability to make both key plays and consistent yardage will be crucial to the Ravens' offensive success once again.

    If he can bring his numbers back to where they were in 2011, he has a legitimate shot at challenging for this award.

19. Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Jamaal Charles wasn't the most prominent running back to come back from a torn ACL last season, but he had a very good bounce-back year in his own right. Charles ran for 1,509 yards in 2012, the fourth-highest total in the NFL.

    Under new Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, he could be in for an even better year in 2013. The Chiefs offense is expected to take a step forward with quarterback Alex Smith, which could give him more open running lanes and more opportunities to make plays as a receiver out of the backfield.

    Charles is one of the NFL's explosive and dynamic runners, always a threat to make big plays, but one who also consistently gains good yards per attempt.

    If he can continue to be consistent, he should put up big numbers again in 2013. He should continue to receive the bulk of the Chiefs' carries, as they do not have any other proven running backs on their roster.

18. Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions

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    Playing in a pass-heavy offense, Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is one of only three NFL quarterbacks to throw for more than 10,000 combined yards over the past two NFL seasons. Assuming he can continue to stay healthy in 2013, he should be in line to put up big numbers yet again.

    Stafford has one of the NFL's best downfield arms, and it certainly doesn't hurt having the NFL's best wide receiver, Calvin Johnson, to throw the ball to. He showed that he could lead the Lions to the postseason in 2011, and he has the talent to be one of the NFL's best quarterbacks.

    That said, his play took a step back last season, even while Johnson had a career year. His touchdown total was cut by more than half (41 in 2011, 20 in 2012), while his interception total went up (16 in 2011, 17 in 2012) and his completion percentage went down (63.5 in 2011, 59.8 in 2012). His passer rating (79.8) ranked 22nd among NFL starting quarterbacks.

    If Stafford can put the Lions back in playoff position and play the way he did in 2011, he could be a top candidate for this award. But if he has another lukewarm season like he did last year, even 5,000 or more passing yards will not be enough to carry him to award contention.

17. LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles

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    LeSean McCoy is already one of the NFL's best running backs, and there is reason to be seriously intrigued about his potential for the 2013 season under new Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly.

    He had a disappointing, injury-plagued 2012 season, but he was a first-team All-Pro with 1,624 yards from scrimmage and a league-leading 20 total touchdowns in 2011.

    Looking forward to this season, McCoy could be a perfect fit for Kelly's offense. A quick, fast and elusive runner and receiving threat out of the backfield, he can be utilized in a similar fashion to how Kelly utilized LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner in recent years at Oregon.

    Kelly is known for his up-tempo offense, which should result in more offensive snaps for the Eagles. In an offense that should heavily feature McCoy, he should be in line to put up huge numbers in 2013.

16. Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts

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    In his inaugural season with the Indianapolis Colts last year, Andrew Luck set an NFL rookie record with 4,374 passing yards. If he can avoid a sophomore slump, he could easily be one of the NFL's leading passers in 2013.

    Luck proved in his rookie season that he can thread the ball between defenders downfield and make big plays. The key for him in 2013 will be to do so with consistency and cut down on his mistakes.

    Luck's completion percentage (54.1 percent) was the league's worst for any full-season starter, and his passer rating of 76.5 was also outside the NFL's top 25 starting quarterbacks. While he put up huge passing yards and threw 23 touchdowns, he needs to cut down on his interceptions, which he threw 18 of last season.

    Luck is a physically gifted quarterback with the mental acuity to overcome his flaws from last season and adjust to defenses adjusting to him to avoid a sophomore slump. If he can do that, his 2013 season could be special.

15. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Ben Roethlisberger isn't known for putting up huge numbers, but the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback is consistently one of the NFL's best signal-callers. If he can avoid the injury bug in 2013, he cannot be ruled out as a potential Offensive Player of the Year.

    Although the Steelers missed the playoffs and Roethlisberger only played in 13 games last season, he put up very solid numbers, completing 63.3 percent of his passes for 3,265 yards and 26 touchdowns with only eight interceptions.

    To be a serious contender for Offensive Player of the Year, the question for Roethlisberger will be whether or not he can take his production to the next level. He has never finished among the NFL's top five in passing yards and has only once finished among the top five in passing touchdowns (third with 32 in 2007).

    The biggest concern for him, however, is staying healthy. He has only played one full 16-game season in his nine-year NFL career, and he is currently working his way back from knee surgery, though he is expected to be ready for Steelers training camp.

14. Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers

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    Fundamentally, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton may still be progressing as a passer and decision-maker going into his third NFL season. That said, his ability to launch the ball downfield and be a dual-threat runner gives him the potential to put up huge numbers year in and year out.

    Newton is a big-play passer who led the NFL in yards per completion last season (13.8). He threw for 3,869 yards and 12 touchdowns, but his passer rating was hurt by a poor completion percentage of 57.7. He also added 741 yards as a rusher.

    Thanks to his big numbers both throwing and running the ball, Newton has ranked among the NFL's top eight in total offense in each of his first two seasons.

    There is no reason to believe he will not continue to put up big numbers in 2013. He needs to bring his completion percentage up, and leading the Panthers to a winning season certainly wouldn't hurt, but he could legitimately end up in the hunt for Offensive Player of the Year.

13. Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans

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    Houston Texans running back Arian Foster has been one of the NFL's most consistent and prolific rushers over the last three seasons. The 2010 first-team All-Pro is coming off of another terrific season, in which he led the NFL in total touchdowns (15) and total touches (391) while gaining 1,641 yards from scrimmage.

    Foster is a fluid, graceful yet physical runner who should continue to carry the load for the Texans in 2013. To mount a serious challenge for Offensive Player of the Year next season, however, he must start to turn more of his runs into big yardage.

    While Foster had no shortage of touches last season, he had career lows in both yards per rush (4.1) and yards per reception (5.4). As a result, he ranked only eighth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage, even though he led the league in touches.

    If he can improve his average gains, he could parlay his heavy touches into a huge 2013 season. Another strong and consistent but not quite award-worthy season seems more likely to be on the horizon.

12. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks

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    Among the NFL's three star rookie quarterbacks last season, Seattle Seahawks rookie Russell Wilson was the best of the trio down the stretch. If he can continue to play the way he did in the second half of 2012 for the entirety of 2013, he will be a legitimate Offensive Player of the Year contender.

    Wilson is a talented dual threat who has the arm to make big-play throws, the accuracy and decision-making to complete passes consistently and the ability to create plays with his feet. He looked like an elite quarterback during the Seahawks' run to the playoffs last season, but he will have to prepare for defensive adjustments in 2013 to avoid a sophomore slump.

    Wilson put up outstanding numbers last season, completing 64.1 percent of his passes for 3,118 yards and a rookie-record-tying 26 touchdowns while only throwing 10 interceptions. His quarterback rating of exactly 100 also surpassed the previous rookie record and was the league's fourth-best passer rating. And he added 489 yards and four touchdowns on the ground as well.

    His numbers were especially good during the second half of the regular season. In the Seahawks' final eight games, Wilson had a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 16-to-2, a passer rating above 100 in seven of those games and had all six of his games of 29 or more rushing yards for the season.

    Wilson's rapid progression over the course of his rookie season, which ended with two strong postseason games, makes his potential for the immediate future highly intriguing. With the potential to be one of the NFL's elite pocket passers while also a running threat, an Offensive Player of the Year Award could be in his near future.

11. Colin Kaepernick, QB, San Francisco 49ers

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    Colin Kaepernick is entering his first full season as an NFL starting quarterback in 2013. But in just 10 total starts thus far in his career, he has already shown the potential to be an elite quarterback and an immediate Offensive Player of the Year candidate.

    Although he is technically entering his third NFL season, he could still be culpable to a "sophomore slump," as he's entering the season as a starting quarterback for the first time. That said, he showed during the second half of the 2012 regular season and in the 49ers' run to a Super Bowl appearance that he can make big plays as both a passer and a runner.

    Including his three playoff starts, Kaepernick averaged 252.3 yards per passing start last season. His decision-making will certainly be tested this season, but he has shown the velocity to rifle the ball downfield and the accuracy to fit passes through tight windows.

    He is also a very dangerous runner who can beat defenses with his speed. He ran for 415 yards and five touchdowns during the regular season last year and broke the quarterback playoff record with 181 rushing yards in the 49ers' opening playoff victory versus the Green Bay Packers.

    With his dual-threat ability, Kaepernick could immediately be one of the league's leaders in total offense this season. If he can lead arguably the NFL's most talented team to another great season and continue to play as well as he did during the second half of last year, Kaepernick could make a serious push at winning Offensive Player of the Year.

10. C.J. Spiller, RB, Buffalo Bills

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    2013 could be the year that Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller becomes one of the NFL's true offensive superstars. Although he continued to be underutilized by the Bills last season, he put up huge numbers nonetheless.

    Spiller ran for 1,244 yards on only 207 carries in 2012. He ranked second only to Adrian Peterson among running backs in rushing yards per attempt (6.0) and runs of 20 yards or more (12). He was also one of the league's most productive receiving backs, catching 43 passes for 459 receiving yards.

    All of that came in a season where Spiller received less than 15 touches in six games. That should not continue to be the case under new Bills head coach Doug Marrone, who said he will place no limitations on Spiller's touches this season, according the Associated Press (h/t ESPN).

    If Spiller can continue to make big plays and hold up through a full season with more touches, he could easily end up leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage. He is a serious dark-horse candidate to win Offensive Player of the Year.

9. Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    While top-five draft pick Trent Richardson was expected to be the star running back of the 2012 draft class, another budding star back has emerged.

    Coming off of an outstanding rookie season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, expectations are very high for Doug Martin going into 2013.

    He is already the NFL's most complete running back not named Adrian Peterson. He is a quick runner with terrific vision, but he also takes on contact and drives through it. He's a very skilled receiver out of the backfield, although he is also good at picking up blitzes in the backfield.

    Martin ranked third in the NFL in both yards from scrimmage (1,926) and touches (368) last season, and he scored 12 total touchdowns. He is a true three-down back—a rarity in today's NFL—and he can create big plays as both a runner and receiver.

    Like Alfred Morris, competing with last season's standout rookie quarterback class meant that Martin did not receive a single vote for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Expect him to nonetheless put up huge numbers again in 2013, which could be enough to carry him to Offensive Player of the Year if he can lead the league in yards from scrimmage.

8. Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins

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    Adrian Peterson came back from a torn ACL to win the Offensive Player of the Award in 2012. Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III could do the same in 2013.

    Griffin is still recovering from torn knee ligaments suffered in the Washington Redskins' playoff opener last season, but he has been "making cuts and changing direction" with no setbacks, according to Mike Jones of the Washington Post. Assuming he is ready to go for the beginning of the season in September, he could be in for another huge year statistically.

    Griffin's rookie season last year was arguably the best ever for a rookie quarterback. The dual-threat quarterback put up huge numbers both through the air and on the ground. He set the NFL rookie record with a 102.4 passer rating, which resulted from a fantastic season in which he completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 3,200 yards and 20 touchdowns with just five interceptions.

    He was also terrific as a rusher, leading all quarterbacks with 815 rushing yards, along with seven touchdowns.

    Griffin led the league in both passing yards per attempt (8.1) and rushing yards per attempt (6.8).

    Winning the Offensive Player of the Year as a second-year quarterback coming off of a torn ACL would be a remarkable feat, but Griffin is capable of the task. The 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year is already the NFL's best dual-threat quarterback, and he played more like a well-seasoned veteran than a rookie last season.

7. Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions

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    It would take a spectacular season for a wide receiver to win the 2013 Offensive Player of the Year award, but if there is any wide receiver capable of doing it, it would be Calvin Johnson.

    The superstar Detroit Lions wideout had a season worthy of the award last season, breaking Jerry Rice's single-season record with 1,964 receiving yards. Those 1,964 yards were enough to rank him second among all NFL players in yards from scrimmage.

    Yet, even if Johnson can duplicate his record-setting season, the odds of winning the award are still stacked against him. Breaking the NFL receiving yards record was only good enough to earn Johnson two votes in last season's Offensive Player of the Year award voting.

    While Johnson's league-leading receiving yards and receptions (122) totals helped his cause last year, he will look to improve upon last season's total of only five receiving touchdowns. Even with that, he will likely need there to be no standout quarterback or running back candidates, and for the Detroit Lions to be back in playoff contention in 2013, to be a rare wide receiver winner of the Offensive Player of the Year award.

6. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons

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    Matt Ryan proved his status as one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks last season. He completed a league-leading 68.6 percent of his passes for 4,719 yards and 32 touchdowns, all the while leading the Atlanta Falcons to an NFC Championship Game appearance.

    Ryan is one of the NFL's most precise pocket passers. With three of the NFL's best receiving weapons—wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones and tight end Tony Gonzalez—all returning to the Falcons this season, there is no reason that Ryan should not continue to put up big numbers in 2013.

    Ryan is an accurate passer who has the arm strength and ball placement to make big throws downfield. He is not much of a running threat, but with his pocket-passing skills, he doesn't need to be. He is also a clutch quarterback who can lead his team to late-game victories.

    The Falcons are expected to be one of the NFL's best teams once again in 2013, and Ryan is a big reason why.

5. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

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    Going into the 2013 NFL season, two-time Offensive Player of the Year Tom Brady's status as one of the league's best quarterbacks remains unchanged. The group of receivers that he will be throwing to, however, has changed.

    Four of the Patriots' top five receivers from last season are no longer with the team, and tight end Rob Gronkowski is recovering from back surgery.

    Fortunately for the Patriots, Brady is known for his ability to make his receivers look better with his accuracy, timing and decision-making. He is coming off of another terrific season, in which he completed 63 percent of his passes for 4,827 yards and 34 touchdowns while only throwing eight interceptions.

    Still, Brady's unfamiliarity with the majority of his new receiving corps could cause a statistical dip for the Patriots passing offense in 2013. While Brady still has the talent to win Offensive Player of the Year, he falls below the top tier of award candidates because of the adjustments he will have to make to a less-talented group of receiving options this year.

4. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints

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    Drew Brees won his second Offensive Player of the Year Award in 2011, a year in which he broke the NFL's single-season passing yards record.

    Brees continued to be one of the league's most prolific passers last season, throwing for league-leading totals of 5,177 yards and 43 touchdowns, even though the New Orleans Saints had a disappointing season without their then-suspended head coach Sean Payton.

    However, he also tied for the league lead with 19 interceptions, and his completion percentage dipped more than five full percentage points to 63.0.

    Regardless of those factors, Brees will always have a chance to win the award if he can continue to put up league-leading marks in passing yards and touchdowns.

    Payton will be back this season, and the Saints are expected to have a bounce-back year. Meanwhile, Brees will continue to have a diverse group of passing weapons at his disposal, including wide receivers Marques Colston and Lance Moore, running back Darren Sproles and tight end Jimmy Graham.

    It is well within reach for Brees to earn a record-tying third Offensive Player of the Year award in 2013.

3. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos

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    After missing the entire 2011 season following neck surgery, Peyton Manning bounced back in a big way last season. In his first year with the Denver Broncos, the 2012 AP Comeback Player of the Year completed 68.6 percent of his passes for 4,659 yards and 37 touchdowns with only 11 interceptions.

    He finished second in Offensive Player of the Year voting with eight votes last season—and deservedly so. Although his arm strength appears to be somewhat diminished at this point in his career, Manning continues to be one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks thanks to his passing accuracy and smart decision-making.

    He should additionally benefit this season from the free-agent addition of Wes Welker, the NFL's best slot receiver. Manning has always been known for making the players around him look better, but he will have arguably the NFL's best receiving trio in Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Welker.

    Given the addition of an outstanding receiving weapon who is terrific at gaining yards after the catch, Manning should chase the 5,000-yard and 40-touchdown marks this season. If he can do so while leading the Broncos to another division title, last year's first-team All-Pro quarterback should be a prime candidate for this year's Offensive Player of the Year award.

2. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings

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    Even with a record-setting season from Calvin Johnson and a great comeback year for Peyton Manning, the 2012 Offensive Player of the Year award was won decidedly by Adrian Peterson—and deservedly so. The Minnesota Vikings running back had one of the NFL's all-time great seasons and was rewarded by receiving 36 of 50 total votes for the award.

    Peterson ran for a whopping 2,097 yards on the ground last season, the second-most rushing yards ever in an NFL season. He averaged six yards per carry and had 27 runs of 20 yards or more. Meanwhile, no other NFL running back had more than 12 runs of 20-plus yards. He also scored 13 total touchdowns (12 rushing, one receiving).

    Peterson gashed NFL defenses last season with big-play runs and consistent yardage both outside and inside the tackles. He even led the Vikings to a playoff berth in the process.

    Peterson is clearly the NFL's best running back, but he goes into the 2013 season with the tough task of following up his spectacular 2012 season. Expecting him to do so is a tall order, but another 2,000-yard season is certainly possible. Should he meet that milestone again, he is likely to join Marshall Faulk and Earl Campbell as the only players to win consecutive Offensive Player of the Year awards.

1. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

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    Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has not yet won an Offensive Player of the Year award in his NFL career, but that's certainly not because he wasn't deserving. Rodgers has established himself as the NFL's best quarterback, and 2013 could well be the year he finally breaks through and wins the award.

    He's led the NFL for two consecutive seasons in passer rating. Across his five seasons as an NFL starting quarterback, he has completed at least 63.6 percent of his passes and thrown for at least 3,922 yards and 28 touchdowns each year. And he has not thrown more than 13 interceptions in any given year.

    Rodgers has received votes for Offensive Player of the Year each of the past two seasons, and he would have been a well-deserving winner in either season (he was the 2011 NFL MVP). He has been the NFL's most consistently great offensive player over the past five years, and there is no reason to believe he won't be one of the league's top candidates for this award again in 2013.

     

    Dan Hope is an NFL draft featured columnist for Bleacher Report.