Chris Simms' Regular-Season Awards Watch List
The NFL preseason is over, and we now have a full regular season worth of games to look forward to—each of them actually meaningful.
Of course, the NFL season is more than just a collection of 256 games. It's a series of individual and team performances. Some of those performances are award-worthy. So, guess what: I'm here to make my predictions for the 2017 NFL award winners.
Some of my choices are going to seem a bit obvious—hey, I want to be right, after all—but I'm not going to merely pick players from successful teams. Too often, team success impacts the end-of-year awards race. I'm going to look past that.
Instead, I'll use my experience as a former player and scout to analyze individual and team situations in order to make my predictions. There will be three candidates—my top choice and two honorable mentions—for each award.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Honorable Mention: Alvin Kamara
New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara might not be thought of in this category, but he needs to be. If you watched the first two preseason games, Kamara was impressive. He's a dual-threat running back who can line up in the slot or catch passes out of the backfield. In the Sean Payton offense, that makes him invaluable. We've seen over the years that Payton knows how to use this type of player.
Kamara is better as a between-the-tackles runner than Reggie Bush or Darren Sproles ever were. He should be the Saints' top back. Even with Adrian Peterson on the roster, Kamara is the most talented rusher on the team.
It's telling that Kamara didn't play in preseason game No. 3. That says the Saints value him and saw enough in Weeks 1 and 2 to know he's special.
Honorable Mention: O.J. Howard
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard is one in a million. He's 6'6", 251 pounds and ran a 4.51-second 40. That's rare. He also has great people around him and a good quarterback to throw him the football.
With DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans in the offense, Howard will almost be an afterthought when teams prepare for the Buccaneers. This should allow Howard to find a niche in the offense. He'll be able to take advantage because Jameis Winston isn't afraid to squeeze the ball into tight windows down the field.
Top Pick: Christian McCaffrey
You might be expecting Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette in this spot. The problem is the supporting cast around him. While Fournette is probably the most gifted back to come out of the 2017 draft, it's going to be hard for him to shine when the team around him lacks talent. He's playing with a bad quarterback and a shaky offense, which is hard to overcome, even for an athlete like Fournette.
Instead, I'm picking Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey as my No. 1 choice. He's going to play a vital role in the Carolina offense this year.
The Panthers use a lot of college-type looks in their offense, and that fits McCaffrey's skill set. He can be used as a runner, as a pass-catcher out of the backfield and as a wide receiver. What could push him over the edge for this award is the fact he can be one of the best punt returners in all of football.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Honorable Mention: Adoree' Jackson
Tennessee Titans cornerback Adoree' Jackson has looked solid all preseason long. Even when teams have completed passes against him, he's been in tight coverage. The team around him will lead him to a big rookie campaign.
The Titans have some good pass-rushers who can help force poor throws. He also has Dick LeBeau as his coordinator. That's a guy who knows how to get creative with his defense and create mistakes. Jackson might come away with some cheap interceptions because of this.
As is the case with McCaffrey, Jackson's return ability could raise his profile and help put him over the edge here. He's like a running back or an elite slot receiver—special with the ball in his hands.
Honorable Mention: Reuben Foster
San Francisco 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster has earned the nickname of "Waterboy" because he flies around and annihilates people, just like Adam Sandler in the movie. He was one of the five best players in the 2017 draft, and he's in a perfect situation in Robert Saleh's defense.
Saleh runs a Seattle Seahawks-style scheme, which will allow Foster to run around and make plays. View him like San Francisco's version of Bobby Wagner.
Top Pick: Myles Garrett
Sometimes the obvious choice is the right choice. If I had to nail down one and only one choice for Defensive Rookie of the Year, it would be Cleveland Browns edge-rusher Myles Garrett.
Garrett looked like an absolute gem in the preseason, and I've seen no weaknesses in his game at all. If the Browns can stay in football games, Garrett should be in the conversation for NFL sack-leader. Forget rookies, I think Garrett will be up there with Von Miller and Khalil Mack.
Offensive Player of the Year
Honorable Mention: Odell Beckham Jr.
It's almost impossible to have an Offensive Player of the Year conversation and not include New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Aside from some of the top-tier quarterbacks, Beckham is the best offensive player in the league, for my money. He's certainly the best wide receiver.
There's reason to worry about the Giants offense ruining Beckham's shot at this type of award. It isn't creative, and Eli Manning is among the bottom half of the league's quarterbacks. The offense is dependent on Beckham catching a six-yard pass and taking it 70 yards for a touchdown.
Yet, Beckham is talented enough to overcome these limitations. Even if he isn't healthy for Week 1, he has to be in the conversation.
Honorable Mention: Ezekiel Elliott
From a pure running back standpoint, Dallas Cowboy Ezekiel Elliott is the best in the NFL. Period. If you need to convert a 3rd-and-2 or are looking to run on 1st-and-10, there's no one you'd rather trust than Elliott.
He's built like a piece of steel. His ability to run between the tackles, break tackles, have people bounce off him and maintain balance is rare. Having that kind of power combined with long speed is nearly unheard of. People might not realize just how special he is.
I'm picking Elliott believing he'll push off his suspension until next year. With appeals in place, I don't think he misses a game until 2018.
Top pick: David Johnson
My top candidate for Offensive Player of the Year is Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson. Like Elliott, Johnson is one of the three top pure runners in the game. It's what he does in the passing game, however, that could set him up to receive this award.
Johnson is going to have the rushing statistics. And, he's in a Bruce Arians offense where he can be moved around and make contributions in multiple areas. Carson Palmer looks like he did a couple years ago, which is going to help Johnson as a receiver. Don't be surprised if he rushes for 1,300 yards and also flirts with 1,000 receiving yards.
Defensive Player of the Year
Honorable Mention: Landon Collins
The first thing people have to realize is that Giants safety Landon Collins has officially become the best safety in football. He's surpassed guys like Earl Thomas, Eric Berry and Kam Chancellor. He's a great free safety and strong safety.
Collins is terrific in coverage, and he's as effective as Chancellor playing close to the line of scrimmage, almost like an extra linebacker. His skill set perfectly complements the Steve Spagnuolo defense, which is creative at the back. In addition, the Giants have a fearsome front four, which can get after the quarterback and force rash decisions. That usually leads to guys in the secondary having more turnover opportunities.
Honorable Mention: Jadeveon Clowney
If I had a Defensive Player of the Year vote last season, it would have gone to Houston Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. He deserved it. Unfortunately, there's no statistic saying this guy broke into the backfield and messes up 25 plays. If there were a disruptive stat, Clowney would have led the NFL in that category.
There's nobody who can overpower offensive tackles, split a gap and fly into the backfield like Clowney. He's one of the best defensive players in the NFL. In fact, I had Vince Wilfork on my podcast this summer, and he said Clowney is the best defensive player he's ever been around. That includes teammate J.J. Watt.
Top Pick: Von Miller
If you made me pick one guy for the Defensive Player of the Year award, it would be Denver Broncos pass-rusher Von Miller. Everything I've seen and heard during the preseason leads me to believe he's poised for a special campaign. He had the Pass-Rush Summit, where some of the league's best sack artists got together to swap trade secrets.
Miller has probably gotten better over the summer, and that's scary. We're talking about perhaps the most explosive pass-rusher in the game and one of the best in the history of the NFL. We're looking at an all-time great in Miller. Hopefully, people realize that. We're looking at a Derrick Thomas or a Lawrence Taylor. Miller is that gifted.
Expect him to be one of the top sack leaders.
Comeback Player of the Year
Honorable Mention: Martavis Bryant
Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Martavis Bryant is one of the most physically gifted athletes in all of football. He's in the conversation with guys like Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Julio Jones in that regard. Now that he's back from suspension, Bryant could be in store for a huge year.
In addition to individual talent, Bryant benefits from a great supporting cast. He's got a guy named Antonio Brown playing opposite him who will command defensive attention. Bryant also has Ben Roethlisberger—one of the best deep-ball quarterbacks in the NFL—tossing him the football.
Honorable Mention: J.J. Watt
Texans defensive end J.J. Watt is easily a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He's one of the top defensive linemen in the history of the NFL. Do I expect him to be the same J.J. Watt of years past? No. Back injuries are hard to overcome.
What will help Watt is having Clowney—who has finally reached his potential—playing opposite him. For the first time in Watt's career, offensive coaches aren't going to say. "We have to double J.J. every single play."
There are going to be games where the plan is to double-team Clowney and leave Watt with one-on-one situations. If Watt's even 80 percent of what he was in his prime, he'll be able to take advantage and rack up stats.
Top Pick: Jay Cutler
If I had to pick just one guy for Comeback Player of the Year, I'd take Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler. He's looked great in the preseason and is a natural fit for Adam Gase's offense.
Cutler has worked with Gase before. He and Mike Shanahan were the only decent offensive minds Cutler has ever been able to work with, and both led him to good seasons. Cutler has also dealt with some crap talent around him. He won't have that in Miami.
Pass-catchers like Julius Thomas, Kenny Stills, Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker help give Cutler the best supporting cast he's ever had.
Coach of the Year
Honorable Mention: Adam Gase
Speaking of Gase, we have to have him in the Coach of the Year discussion. First of all, he's a hell of a coach. He understands how to run a football team. He knows how to manage his roster and to get his players to complete every game. He also knows how to handle himself off the field and with the media.
We also cannot overlook the fact that Gase is a coach who lost his starting quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, in the offseason. With Cutler under center, Miami should still be a contender this season. This entire scenario is going to help put Gase in the conversation.
Honorable Mention: Pete Carroll
I'm expecting big things from the Seahawks this season. This is the first time since 2014 Seattle has felt like a true Super Bowl contender. Russell Wilson looks phenomenal, the offensive line is improved and the Seahawks may again have a top-five rushing attack.
Seattle should definitely be in the conversation for the best team in the NFC.
Along with general manager John Schneider, Carroll deserves a lot of credit for revamping this team. He also deserves credit for how he handled all the crap the Seahawks had to deal with during the offseason. He managed all the talk of a fractured locker room like a true professional.
Top Pick: Sean Payton
Sean Payton is one of the best coaches in the NFL. He has been ever since he joined the New Orleans Saints. Forget the record over the past few years. He isn't the general manager and doesn't deserve the blame for having a talent-starved roster. Even without a lot of talent, though, Payton has kept the Saints competitive.
They finally seem to have talent across the roster again, and they're going to surprise people. I think they're going to win the NFC South. Drew Brees has weapons around him, a stable of running backs and he has Payton crafting the offensive game plan.
More importantly, though, the New Orleans defense has begun to fix itself. There's talent and depth on that side of the ball now, and it's going to help New Orleans be a complete team that Payton can take deep into the postseason, and that's why he's my top pick for Coach of the Year.
NFL's Most Valuable Player
We might as well call the MVP the Best Quarterback in Football award. That's pretty much what it has become, unless you get a running back or a pass-rusher with a truly historic season.
Even being a former quarterback, this annoys the crap of me. But this is the reality and I want to be right, so I'm going to give you three quarterbacks who can win 2017 NFL Most Valuable Player.
Honorable Mention: Tom Brady
I'm no fool. The New England Patriots are the best team in football. Tom Brady is a better quarterback now than he was in 2011, 2012 and 2013. His developed ability to throw downfield has really raised his game and made him a more dangerous quarterback and the Patriots a more dangerous team.
Even without Julian Edelman, New England has put plenty of weapons around Brady. All of this, along with this being his 18th year in the same offensive system, leads me to believe Brady will be in the MVP conversation.
Honorable Mention: Aaron Rodgers
Plain and simple, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the best player in football and the greatest quarterback I've ever seen in my lifetime. How special is he? Green Bay has felt like it would be a 6-10 football team with any other quarterback over the past few years. Yet, Rodgers has made magic and turned them into a regular playoff participant.
It's hard to know what to make of the Packers as a team this year. Regardless, we know Rodgers is going to be great. Green Bay has some talented receivers and added tight end Martellus Bennett to the mix. If the team can get even a decent running game, the stage will be set for a special season from No. 12.
Top Pick: Russell Wilson
If you made me bet my house on one MVP candidate, my pick would be Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. I've talked about him all preseason for good reason. Wilson is a man on a mission. He's lost weight, and as a result, has become even faster. His movement and release have gotten quicker, and he's more dangerous.
The Seahawks offensive line appears improved, which is going to make life easier on Wilson. Seattle also seems to have put together a strong stable of running backs, which the team lacked last season. In addition, this may be the best cast of skill-position players Wilson has ever had around him. Guys like Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Jimmy Graham and C.J. Prosise are all dangerous pass-catchers.
Wilson should be in line for a special year.