Week 1 NFL MVP, Award Rankings

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistSeptember 7, 2017

Week 1 NFL MVP, Award Rankings

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    Tom Brady is the preseason favorite for multiple awards.
    Tom Brady is the preseason favorite for multiple awards.Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    How early is too early to start breaking down the races for top NFL awards? November? The midway pole? Week 1? How about before the start of the regular season? It's never too early here because speculating on awards—regardless of how premature that speculation might be—is a freakin' joy.  

    Of course it's too early to start making predictions, but that doesn't mean we can't begin tracking the horses out of the gate. And every week in this spot, we'll being doing exactly that.

    Because we don't have much—and by "much," I mean "anything"—to go off right now, this is more of a prologue. It's a chance to establish the pre-regular-season front-runners for all of the awards—fictional and nonfictional—for which we'll be ranking contenders on a weekly basis this season. 

    In most cases, the contenders have been listed and arranged based on preseason odds from Bovada. In other cases, we've tapped into Bleacher Report's top-secret documents to mine leading candidates based on B/R expert consensus.

    Let the vicious debate begin.

Coach of the Year

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    Bill Belichick is the favorite.
    Bill Belichick is the favorite.Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    No. 1 Contender: Bill Belichick, New England Patriots (Last Week: N/A)

    The Las Vegas odds back Belichick, but this could be a tough one for him. Even with top receiver Julian Edelman out for the year, the Pats are overwhelming favorites to win Super Bowl LII. In fact, there's been plenty of buzz this offseason that they could be primed for another run at an undefeated campaign, exactly a decade after they fell just short of accomplishing that feat in 2007. 

    Belichick won the award that year, but would that have been the case had New England lost a game or two? If the Patriots don't go 16-0 this season, they won't meet the expectations of many. And under those circumstances, it's hard to win Coach of the Year. 

    The point is Belichick's margin for error is as razor-thin as the blades on the Gillette Fusion5 ProShield (you're welcome, Bob Kraft). This award often goes to head coaches who overachieve, and it's almost impossible for Belichick to do that.

    No. 2 Contender: Jack Del Rio, Oakland Raiders (Last Week: N/A)

    No. 3 Contender: Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers (Last Week: N/A)

    The same applies to Del Rio and McCarthy but to a lesser extent. The margin for error is a little larger, especially for Del Rio because the Raiders haven't won their division since George W. Bush's first term. If he helps them accomplish that in 2017, he'll have a shot.

    But we'd also like to take this opportunity to throw a few other names on to the radar: Hue Jackson, Doug Marrone, Anthony Lynn, Doug Pederson and Kyle Shanahan. Expect to see some of those guys listed in this spot in the weeks to come.

Comeback Player of the Year

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    J.J. Watt is back, guys.
    J.J. Watt is back, guys.Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    No. 1 Contender: Houston Texans DE J.J. Watt (Last Week: N/A)

    Watt didn't miss a game during his first five seasons in the NFL. He recorded 17.5 sacks and won his third Defensive Player of the Year award, despite playing with torn muscles in his torso, groin and upper legs in 2015, but his body finally got the better of him after that. 

    He underwent major surgery last January, went under the knife again last July to repair a herniated disc and then re-injured his back three weeks into the 2016 regular season. That required a third procedure, which cost him the rest of his 2016 campaign, but the 28-year-old is all fixed now. He was a full participant at Texans training camp and was able to take part in preseason action. 

    And you know he's going to do everything in his power to dominate again in 2017. 

    "This is the best running, conditioning and recovery shape he's ever been in," Watt's longtime trainer, Brad Arnett, told Bleacher Report's Dan Pompei recently.

    That's scary.

    No. 2 Contender: Kansas City Chiefs LB Justin Houston (Last Week: N/A)

    No. 3 Contender: Raiders RB Marshawn Lynch (Last Week: N/A)

    There are soooo many juicy candidates for this award entering the regular season. You've got Watt, of course, and Houston (two years removed from a 22-sack season but played just five games in 2016) and Lynch (back from retirement).

    But you've also got New Orleans Saints running back Adrian Peterson (still feels weird writing that) coming back from a major knee injury, as well as Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (back injury cost him the majority of his 2016 campaign) and Tyrann Mathieu and Keenan Allen and Desmond Trufant and Eric Decker and Eddie Lacy and Jamaal Charles and Brandon Marshall and Todd Gurley. 

    I made an executive decision and left off Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who is coming off a major injury but was still an MVP runner-up last season. But that still leaves us with about a dozen popular players looking to redeem themselves in 2017.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

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    Myles Garrett was a heavy favorite for DROY.
    Myles Garrett was a heavy favorite for DROY.Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

    No. 1 Contender: Cleveland Browns DE Myles Garrett (Last Week: N/A)

    This is complicated. When Vegas odds were last available for this award, Garrett was unsurprisingly the favorite. The No. 1 overall pick out of Texas A&M has the look and feel of a superstar in the making, and it doesn't appear as though it will take long for his star to be made. 

    The problem is it looks like he's going to miss some time. 

    Garrett was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain and could be out four to six weeks, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport

    But let's keep in mind that last year's highest-touted rookie, Chargers edge-defender Joey Bosa, easily won this award despite missing the first four games of the 2016 campaign. If Joey can do it, Myles can too.

    Garrett, San Francisco 49ers defensive end Solomon Thomas and New York Jets safety Jamal Adams were the only defensive players selected with top-10 picks in April's draft. Thomas isn't as far along, and the odds aren't in Adams' favor because only one defensive back has won this award since the turn of the century. 

    We'll keep Garrett in this spot. That ankle is a concern, so we won't officially crown him yet.

    No. 2 Contender: 49ers LB Reuben Foster (Last Week: N/A)

    No. 3 Contender: Jets S Jamal Adams (Last Week: N/A)

    Foster is getting more love from Vegas than his fellow first-round pick and teammate, Thomas, which is interesting because the reigning Butkus Award winner has been hampered by shoulder issues for much of his first NFL offseason. Still, he's slated to start, and he has the ability to dominate right away.

    Adams would have to put up big numbers to contend with those guys, as well as Thomas and promising first-round defensive linemen Derek Barnett and Jonathan Allen. Again, defensive backs rarely win this award, but first-round picks almost always do.

    For what it's worth, the last 10 players to win this award were first-round picks. 

Offensive Rookie of the Year

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    Christian McCaffrey enters the regular season with an edge here.
    Christian McCaffrey enters the regular season with an edge here.Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

    No. 1 Contender: Carolina Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey (Previous Week: N/A)

    This is shaping up to be an entertaining battle between at least a pair of running backs, because Jacksonville Jaguars No. 4 overall pick Leonard Fournette was the talk of the league leading up to the draft, but McCaffrey has since stolen a significant amount of that spotlight. 

    While Fournette missed a large chunk of the preseason and training camp due to a foot injury, McCaffrey put on a show by lighting up opposing defenses on the ground and in the air. He might be more ready than his fellow former top-10 pick, and it appears he'll have more support (Cam Newton > Blake Bortles). 

    So, while a lot can and probably will change as the season wears on for two of the game's brightest young stars, McCaffrey has the edge over Fournette entering Week 1.

    No. 2 Contender: Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette (Previous Week: N/A)

    No. 3 Contender: Minnesota Vikings RB Dalvin Cook (Previous Week: N/A)

    Cook is an intriguing dark horse because he consistently put up video game numbers in college, but it's not entirely clear how much work he'll get with highly paid veteran back Latavius Murray also in the mix in Minnesota.

    And we'll, of course, have to keep a close eye on quarterbacks DeShone Kizer, Nathan Peterson, Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes II. There are a lot of strong candidates this year, and Fournette is no longer the clear-cut favorite.

Defensive Player of the Year

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    J.J. Watt is in for another big year.
    J.J. Watt is in for another big year.Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    No. 1 Contender: Texans DE J.J. Watt (Last Week: N/A)

    This is the best bet you'll find here. Because, generally speaking, when Watt is healthy, he wins the Defensive Player of the Year Award. He's done so in three of his last four healthy seasons, and he's the odds-on fave to win the award in 2017 now that he appears to be fully recovered from back surgery. 

    The guy is relentless, and as long as his body holds up, it's hard to imagine anyone else winning this award in 2017. 

    No. 2 Contender: Raiders LB Khalil Mack (Last Week: N/A)

    No. 3 Contender: Denver Broncos LB Von Miller (Last Week: N/A)

    Mack won it last year and should be in the mix as he enters his prime at the age of 26. His best season (2016) doesn't compare to any of Watt's top campaigns, but it's possible he hasn't reached his potential in Oakland. And while Miller has been a terror since coming into the league in 2011, the 28-year-old could be running low on opportunities to win his first DPOY award. He's always a part of the conversation, though, and that shouldn't change in 2017. 

    As for dark horses, we'll be watching Landon Collins, Joey Bosa, Jalen Ramsey, Nick Perry and Markus Golden. 

Offensive Player of the Year

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    Tom Brady hasn't been the Offensive Player of the Year since 2010.
    Tom Brady hasn't been the Offensive Player of the Year since 2010.Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

    No. 1 Contender: Patriots QB Tom Brady (Last Week: N/A)

    This might seem obvious, but the reality is Brady hasn't won this award since 2010. He might be the greatest, most decorated player in NFL history, but he was the Offensive Player of the Year and the MVP in 2007 and again three years later but hasn't been able to capture either honor since. 

    It's not surprising that he's the favorite coming off a phenomenal Super Bowl season in which he posted a 28-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, but let's not pretend this is a toss-up between Brady and the field. There are a lot of good quarterbacks in this league and Brady is the oldest among them. Sure, he's defied precedents throughout his career, but No. 12 is 40 now.

    Only two quarterbacks in league history—Brett Favre and Warren Moon—have made the Pro Bowl at or beyond Brady's age. None have won OPOY or MVP. 

    He's got his work cut out for him, but he's still the guy most of us would cite when cornered. 

    No. 2 Contender: Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (Last Week: N/A)

    No. 3 Contender: Raiders QB Derek Carr (Last Week: N/A)

    Rodgers was arguably the Offensive Player of the Second Half of the Year last season, and he's smack dab in the middle of his prime while in possession one hell of a track record. He's right there with Brady, while Carr is widely considered to be the next big thing. He might have had a shot at winning the award last year had he not broken his leg in Week 16. 

    Of course, plenty of other quarterbacks will enter the regular season in this conversation, as well as top backs Le'Veon Bell, David Johnson and—if he can avoid missing extended time due to a looming suspension—Ezekiel Elliott. 


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    Don't forget about Aaron Rodgers.
    Don't forget about Aaron Rodgers.Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    No. 1 Contender: Patriots QB Tom Brady (Last Week: N/A)

    Brady is really good at football, his team is expected to be better at football than all of its counterparts in 2017 and four of the last five Offensive Players of the Year have also won MVP.

    So, right now, Tom Terrific is the guy. But don't forget that this will be revised on a weekly basis throughout the 2017 regular season. 

    No. 2 Contender: Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (Last Week: N/A)

    No. 3 Contender: Raiders QB Derek Carr (Last Week: N/A)

    At this stage, you can name almost any starting quarterback a contender. That's because they all have the same statistics (0-for-0, 0 yards, 0 touchdowns, 0 interceptions and a nonexistent passer rating) but also because the last four MVPs have been won by four different quarterbacks, three of whom aren't listed here. 

    Reigning MVP Matt Ryan, 2015 winner Cam Newton and future Hall of Famers Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees can't even be considered dark horses, and yours truly wouldn't be shocked to see Russell Wilson, Philip Rivers, Andy Dalton, Marcus Mariota, Andrew Luck, Dak Prescott, Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford or Jameis Winston win this thing.

    And maybe even some non-quarterbacks, too.