Bleacher Report's Preseason NFL Award Predictions
Football season has arrived.
The first weekend of college football action is in the books. Before the week's out, the NFL will also have kicked off the 2014 campaign.
With Thursday's season opener between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks just around the corner, there's been no shortage of prognosticating in recent days.
Whether it's who will win the Super Bowl or which teams will disappoint, pundits far and wide are offering their two cents as to how this season will unfold.
Well, here at Bleacher Report we're no different. We recently polled the National Lead and Division Lead Writers here at B/R in an effort to find out whom they see as the early favorites for this season's individual accolades.
Who will win this year's MVP award? What about Rookie of the Year?
Read on and find out!
Most Valuable Player
Winner: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints (five votes)
It's a quarterback's world. We're all just living in it.
Only twice in the last decade has the NFL's Most Valuable Player award not been given to a quarterback. Last year, it was Denver's Peyton Manning who brought home the trophy for a record fifth time.
He probably keeps three of them in a drawer with some spare extension cords and the instruction manual for his forehead massager.
However, Manning managed only a pair of votes from this year's panel. In fact, our experts believe we'll have a first-time winner in 2014.
Given that he's topped 5,000 passing yards each of the past three seasons (becoming the only player in NFL history to reach that benchmark even two years in a row in the process) and just missed a third straight year with 40+ touchdown passes by one score last year, it may seem hard to believe that Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints has never won an MVP.
Well, the 35-year-old hasn't, and it's an oversight the panel expects to be corrected in 2014.
Others receiving votes: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers (four votes), Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos (two votes), Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots (two votes), Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks (two votes)
Coach of the Year
Winner: Marc Trestman, Chicago Bears (four votes)
In 2013, Marc Trestman became the latest NFL coach to gain a head coaching job via the well-traveled Canadian turnpike.
OK, so it's not exactly common for a coach to get his first head coaching gig in the National Football League via the CFL.
That's how it went for Trestman last year, and while the Bears narrowly missed the playoffs in his first season (thanks mainly to one of the league's leakiest defenses), their offense made great strides in 2013.
The Bears were aggressive in addressing that defense in free agency, adding a trio of defensive ends in Willie Young, LaMarr Houston and Jared Allen.
Apparently, our voters expect that defense to take steps toward catching up with Chicago's high-powered offense in 2014, so much so that Trestman is our panel's pick for Coach of the Year.
Others receiving votes: Gus Bradley, Jacksonville Jaguars (three votes), Lovie Smith, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (three votes), Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles (two votes), Bill O'Brien, Houston Texans (two votes), Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis Colts (one vote)
Offensive Player of the Year
Winner: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers (five votes)
Well, at least a couple of non-quarterbacks got votes.
However, as is the usually the case when it comes to awards, quarterbacks dominated the voting here, with two-thirds of the panel picking a player from that position.
Those votes were spread among four signal-callers, but with half of them going to Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, the 10th-year veteran gets the nod as this year's OPOY.
A broken collarbone cost the 30-year-old almost half of the 2013 campaign, but Rodgers has looked ruthlessly efficient directing the Packers' new hurry-up offense in the preseason.
After downing the Oakland Raiders in the team's "dress rehearsal" game last week, Rodgers told Vic Ketchman of the Packers' website, "I think we’re ready (for Week 1 at Seattle). It’ll be a good test for us. That’s a great football team. There’s going to be a lot of energy in that place. It’s a tough place to win.”
It would appear our voters agree and that Rodgers and the Packers are ready to take a run at another NFC North title and deep postseason run.
Others receiving votes: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints (three votes), LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles (two votes), Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings (two votes), Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos (one vote), Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots (one vote), Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs (one vote)
Defensive Player of the Year
Winner: J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans (six votes)
You know that a player has ratcheted up expectations when 80-plus tackles and double-digit sacks are viewed as something of a letdown.
Still, that's exactly how many viewed J.J. Watt's 2013 performance after the Houston Texans defensive end went Godzilla on the NFL the year before.
As Pete Prisco of CBS Sports reports, even Watt viewed last year as a disappointment. But after an offseason spent sleeping on a mattress on a friend's floor so he could be closer to the gym, a bigger, stronger Watt is intent on a rebound in 2014.
Just how big a rebound, however, Watt wouldn't say:
No predictions, none of that. It sounds so cliché, but it's the honest truth. I am literally not focused past today. We just finished practice, so I am going to focus on the film from this practice and focus on being the best I can be from that film. I am going to workout. Then I am going into the meetings to prepare for tomorrow. Every single day putting the focus on that day. Just focusing on each task at hand, and that makes you better moving forward.
In related news, a bigger, stronger, more focused Watt, playing opposite rookie Jadeveon Clowney, should mean a spike in business for chiropractors and sports psychologists in Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Nashville.
Others receiving votes: Robert Quinn, DE, St. Louis Rams (four votes), Earl Thomas, FS, Seattle Seahawks (three votes), Lavonte David, OLB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (one vote), Ndamukong Suh, DT, Detroit Lions (one vote)
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Winner: Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints (seven votes).
Two years ago, the Offensive Rookie of the Year race was a two-horse competition from the get-go. There was no doubt that either Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins or Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts would win the award.
It was just a matter of which one.
Last year, however, the NFL draft lacked a consensus "can't-miss" signal-caller. That led to a wide-open race for OROY, with Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy edging out San Diego Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen.
If our panel's votes are any indication, this year's race is wide open as well. Seven players garnered at least one vote, including one player drafted outside the first round.
However, nearly half the panel agrees that playing in the high-octane offense of the New Orleans Saints will be enough for speedster Brandin Cooks to get the nod.
It's a pick that surely meets the approval of Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, who predicts a breakout first year from the former Oregon State star.
When Sean Payton makes a power move to target a particular player, in a year in which he let Darren Sproles walk and with the receiving group a little bit older now, yeah, I'm going to notice. A great kid with no diva bones in his body, he can really fly. Cooks will show up in the screen game and deep downfield. Seems like a perfect fit for this offense playing on a fast track in a dome.
Plus, I hear that the quarterback in New Orleans is pretty good.
Others receiving votes: Blake Bortles, OB, Jacksonville Jaguars (two votes), Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (two votes), Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers (one vote), Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Minnesota Vikings (one vote), Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills (one vote), Bishop Sankey, RB, Tennessee Titans (one vote)
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Winner: Jadeveon Clowney, OLB, Houston Texans
This pick is hardly a surprise. After all, there probably hasn't been a more talked-about defensive player in college football over the past decade than Jadeveon Clowney.
It hasn't been the best of summers for the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, though. Clowney had sports hernia surgery early in the offseason and then missed time later in the preseason after colliding with Denver Broncos tight end Jacob Tamme in a joint practice.
With that said, though, Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller (who knows a thing or two about sacking quarterbacks) told Brian T. Smith of The Houston Chronicle he thinks Clowney is the real deal:
I watched some of his college highlights, the same ones you have all seen, but I’ve been able to watch some of his games too. I think he definitely has everything and more. He has a ton of potential, which he has already shown on the field. I am a fan and I am looking forward to seeing what he can do. I know he will do great things.
Our voters agree, with 60 percent of the panel selecting Clowney as the preseason pick for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Others receiving votes: Khalil Mack, OLB, Oakland Raiders (three votes), Ryan Shazier, ILB, Pittsburgh Steelers (one vote), Christian Kirksey, ILB, Cleveland Browns (one vote), Darqueze Dennard, CB, Cincinnati Bengals (one vote)
Rookie of the Year
Winner: (TIE) Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints (six votes), Jadeveon Clowney, OLB, Houston Texans (six votes)
When the league hands out its hardware at the NFL Honors ceremony in February, the ROY awards are split, with a separate trophy for offense and defense.
But what if there was only one award for all the newcomers?
In today's pass-wacky NFL, where the rules are seemingly changed every season in a way that benefits the offense, would the wide receiver playing in one of the league's most potent passing attacks win the day?
Or would the defensive player who made arguably the most talked-about play of the last 10 years in college football get the nod?
Well, our panel settled that debate once and for all.
Oh wait, no they didn't.
In a vote that would make Congress proud, our voters deadlocked here, with Cooks and Clowney earning six votes each.
Others receiving votes: Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (one vote), Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Minnesota Vikings (one vote), Bishop Sankey, RB, Tennessee Titans (one vote)
Comeback Player of the Year
Winner: Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots (five votes)
Of all the votes in this article, the one for Comeback Player of the Year may be the most surprising.
Not the winner, mind you, or the fact that the votes were spread out over 11 players that ran the gamut from offensive linemen (Ryan Clady of the Denver Broncos) to defensive linemen (Jason Pierre-Paul of the New York Giants and DeMarcus Ware of the Denver Broncos) and wide receivers (Percy Harvin of the Seattle Seahawks and Reggie Wayne of the Indianapolis Colts).
What's surprising is that of the 10 players who received a single vote, only Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins and Matt Schaub of the Oakland Raiders are quarterbacks.
Well, Schaub's technically a quarterback, anyway.
Still, there was one player who managed to garner votes from multiple panelists.
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has lost big chunks of the past two years to injuries. As Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Ty Schalter recently pointed out, if the Patriots are going to make it back to the Super Bowl, they need that stretch of bad luck to end:
It could be Brady's last hurrah. It could be the beginning of the end of the Belichick era. Per Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com, it could even be Gronkowski's last season in New England. But as long as Gronk is Gronk for all of 2014, there's no reason to believe he won't be the best tight end in football—and the Patriots won't be Super Bowl contenders.
Enough of our panel believes that will happen for Gronkowski to bring home this pre-award.
Others receiving votes: Ten players with one vote each
Fantasy Football Player of the Year
Winner: LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles (eight votes)
Now that we've gotten the insignificant awards like MVP out of the way, it's time to answer the question that people are really wondering about.
Which player will be the most dominant in fantasy football in 2014?
In the opinion of over half our voters, that player will be Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy. McCoy led the NFL with just over 1,600 yards on the ground in 2013 but finished second to Jamaal Charles of the Kansas City Chiefs in most fantasy scoring systems.
McCoy started a social media Twittercane recently when he proclaimed his intent to rush for over 2,000 yards in 2014, but the 26-year-old admitted to Zach Berman of The Philadelphia Inquirer that may be a tall order even for him.
"The ball's going to be spread around a lot, so 2,000 is going to be tough," McCoy said. "But I just have fun with it. I let the media and all the fans react to it. The fantasy [football] people."
Two-thousand rushing yards may be wishful thinking, but frankly, in a Chip Kelly offense that suits his skill set perfectly, 2,000 total yards isn't.
And seasons like that win fantasy championships.
Others Receiving Votes: Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs (two votes), Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings (two votes), Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers (one vote), Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos (one vote), Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints (one vote)
Breakout Player of the Year
Winner: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota Vikings (five votes)
These last couple of awards are a bit enigmatic. After all, what exactly constitutes a "breakout" season? Is it a youngster posting the first big year of his career? A veteran putting up stats that dwarf anything in his career to date? Both?
It would appear that our panelists lean toward the former, as of the eight players to receive votes in this category third-year wide receiver T.Y. Hilton of the Indianapolis Colts is the "old man" of the group.
It was another wide receiver who brought home the most votes here, a player whose physical gifts are so imposing that Thomas Johnson of The Washington Post recently asked whether he could be "the next Josh Gordon."
As in leading the league in receiving, not bong-hitting himself right out of the NFL.
That player is Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson:
Many wide receivers peak in year two. However, it would be a stretch to expect Patterson to be the second-coming of Gordon next year. Since 2000, only five receivers besides Gordon have posted 1,600 receiving yards and at least nine touchdowns in their second seasons— Marvin Harrison, Torry Holt, Calvin Johnson, Randy Moss and Rod Smith.
Yes, asking Patterson to lead the league in receiving yards in 2014 may be a bit much.
But there's no denying that Patterson is a freakish talent. If the Vikings' quarterback play improves (and after last year's dumpster fire at quarterback in the Twin Cities, how can it not?) then big things could be in store for the big receiver in 2014.
Others receiving votes: Kenny Vaccaro, SS, New Orleans Saints (three votes), Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals (two votes), T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts (one vote), Geno Smith, QB, New York Jets (one vote), Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs (one vote), Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins (one vote), Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals (one vote)
Most Improved Player of the Year
Winner: Geno Smith, QB, New York Jets (seven votes)
We'll close our look at preseason awards with some news that should make fans of the New York Jets very happy.
After suffering through the end of the Mark Sanchez era and the circus that was Tim Tebow's short stint with the team, the Jets selected West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft.
Smith struggled through an uneven and turnover-filled rookie year, but as the season progressed, he showed definite signs of improvement.
According to what New York wide receiver Jeremy Kerley told Darryl Slater of The Star-Ledger, that improvement has carried over into training camp and the preseason:
I think definitely his composure under pressure is definitely showing up this year. He’s showing [that he won’t be] rattled in pressure situations. Just his learning ability has taken over. He’s definitely picking up on things quicker. And he’s been a more vocal guy out there and getting guys lined up and getting guys in the right positions. That’s definitely changed this year [from] last year.
If our panel is any indication, Smith is going to continue trending upward, as he was the easy winner here.
Others receiving votes: Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints (two votes), Marcus Cooper, CB, Kansas City Chiefs (one vote), Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee Titans (one vote), Toby Gerhart, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars (one vote), Rashad Jennings, RB, New York Giants (one vote), Eric Fisher, OT, Kansas City Chiefs (one vote), Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions (one vote)