Early Predictions for NFL's Major Award Winners Next Season
For the first time ever, the NFL held its annual awards show, the NFL Honors, on the Thursday before the Super Bowl. It helped draw a prime-time audience to a showcase of the best players, people and moments from a surprise-filled season.
Did anyone really see the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams facing off in Super Bowl LVI? Put your hand down, we don't believe you.
The 2022 season might be even more unpredictable than the 2021 campaign. Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger have retired, Sean Payton has stepped down as the New Orleans Saints head coach, and there's plenty of uncertainty surrounding Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
In short, it's hard to know who will be called to the podium at next year's NFL Honors. We're going to have a little fun and make some way-too-early predictions for next year's biggest awards anyway.
Here, you'll find picks for the 2023 NFL Honors based on past production, projected role, supporting cast and any relevant situation-specific factors.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: WR Drake London
Because of the importance of the position, we've recently seen quarterbacks edge out arguably more deserving players for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Kyler Murray beat Josh Jacobs after the 2019 season, while Justin Herbert topped Justin Jefferson last year.
This year, however, Bengals wideout Ja'Marr Chase (1,455 yards, 13 TDs) was too impressive to be overshadowed by a signal-caller. Given this year's underwhelming rookie quarterback class, we may see something similar next year.
USC wideout Drake London has all the tools to make an immediate impact like Chase and Jefferson before him. While having the right supporting cast will obviously help his case for OROTY, London should be a difference-maker regardless of where he lands.
"Overall, London's size, athleticism and route-running ability project him as a valid Day 1 X WR for NFL teams with true mismatch potential every week of the season," Nate Tice of the Bleacher Report Scouting Department wrote.
London should be a team's top target from day one. In eight games before suffering a fractured ankle this past season, London amassed 1,084 yards and seven touchdowns on 88 receptions. He could easily have even better numbers as an NFL rookie.
Projected Runner-Up: RB Kenneth Walker III, RB, Michigan State
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Edge Aidan Hutchinson
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons was the common-sense pick for Defensive Rookie of the Year because of his ability to pressure the quarterback. Though not regularly asked to rush off the edge, Parsons still finished with 13 sacks to go with 84 total tackles.
Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson may be similarly in multiple defensive situations. He was an all-around difference-maker for the Wolverines in 2021, finishing with 62 total tackles, 14 sacks, 16.5 tackles for loss and three passes defended.
While Hutchinson might not have the highest upside of any incoming pass-rusher, his floor should allow him to have great early production.
"One NFC exec put it this way with Hutchinson: He might not be a home run, but he's, at worst, a stand-up double," ESPN's Jeremy Fowler wrote. "In other words, people around the league believe Hutchinson has virtually no risk of being a bust."
The 2021 Heisman runner-up, Hutchinson has a penchant for impact plays. Expect him to parlay that into next year's Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
Projected Runner-Up: Kayvon Thibodeaux, Edge, Oregon
Offensive Player of the Year: WR Cooper Kupp
Rams receiver Cooper Kupp had a historically great season in 2021. While he didn't set new records in receiving yards (1,964 yards, Calvin Johnson) or receptions (149, Michael Thomas), he came close to doing both.
Kupp finished the NFL's inaugural 17-game season with 145 receptions, 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns. He led the NFL in all three categories.
What's scary to consider is that Kupp might be even more productive next year. This marked Kupp's first season with quarterback Matthew Stafford. Yet, the two had incredible chemistry from start to finish in the regular season.
"Much like a bruising running back who seems to get stronger as the game goes on, the connection between Stafford and Kupp connection never wavered as the 17-game season dragged along," Ryan Weisman of Pro Football Focus wrote. "While other QB-WR connections may suffer from attrition, the Rams duo managed to stay at an elite level all year."
With another year in Sean McVay's offense, Stafford could be even better next season—and his connection with Kupp even stronger. It won't be a shock to see Kupp set a new high-water mark in receptions, receiving yards or both in 2022. That should be enough to earn Kupp Offensive Player of the Year honors.
Projected Runner-Up: Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts
Defensive Player of the Year: LB Micah Parsons
Parsons was simply tremendous as a rookie, finishing with 13 sacks, 20 tackles for loss, 84 total tackles and three forced fumbles. He also registered 47 quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Reference.
What was truly remarkable about Parson's inaugural campaign, however, was his versatility.
"He's not only the best rookie PERIOD, but he's the best defensive player in the league," former NFL safety and current ESPN analyst Ryan Clark tweeted. "He'd have 20 sacks if he just rushed, or 130 tackles if he only played middle! He might be the best at both."
What might catapult Parsons from Defensive Rookie of the Year to Defensive Player of the Year is his experience. While Parsons was superb as a rookie, he was also learning the NFL game on the fly.
"I can become a better pass-rusher. I can become a better linebacker. Like, anything. I just feel like I'm just out there raw and I was just learning and I grew," the 22-year-old said, per ESPN's Todd Archer.
With a full year of experience and another offseason under his belt, we may see Parsons emerge as the sort of all-around defensive terror the NFL hasn't seen since the heyday of Ray Lewis.
Projected Runner-Up: T.J. Watt, Edge, Pittsburgh Steelers
Comeback Player of the Year: RB Derrick Henry
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry might have challenged for one of the top awards this season if not for the foot injury that required surgery after only eight games.
Despite playing his last regular-season game in October, Henry ranked ninth in the NFL in rushing (937 yards) and tied for sixth in rushing touchdowns (10). Prorated over the full 17-game season, Henry was on pace for 1,991 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns.
Had he stayed healthy, Henry likely would have been the NFL's rushing champion for the third straight season.
Henry made it back for the playoffs and immediately handled 20 carries in the Divisional Round loss to Cincinnati. There's virtually no chance that his workload takes a sudden dive in 2022—provided he stays on the field, of course. He has averaged 23.1 carries per game over the last three seasons.
It is worth noting that Henry's yards-per-carry average dipped from 5.4 in 2020 to 4.3 in 2021. He could see a ball-carrier like Jonathan Taylor or Nick Chubb pass him for the rushing title. However, Henry should again be one of the most statistically impressive runners in the league.
With a heavy workload practically guaranteed, Henry should have little trouble cracking the top five in rushing yards. After missing more than half the season in 2021, that will be enough to earn him Comeback Player of the Year.
Projected Runner-Up: Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens
Coach of the Year: Mike Tomlin
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has never experienced a losing season at the helm, but he's never been named NFL Coach of the Year either. Expect that to change next year—and not as some sort of lifetime achievement award.
Tomlin's Steelers made the playoffs despite getting very little out of Roethlisberger down the stretch. The 39-year-old former gunslinger averaged just 6.2 yards per pass attempt and posted a passer rating of only 86.8.
The Steelers, meanwhile, ranked just 24th in total defense and 23rd in total offense. Yet, Tomlin found a way to make it work. Pittsburgh was swept by the Bengals, but it also swept the rest of the AFC North. While the Steelers got blown out by the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card Round, they made it to the playoffs after starting the year 1-3 and looking like a team ready to fold.
The Steelers don't fold under Tomlin, and that's not going to change in the post-Roethlisberger era. While Pittsburgh will have a new quarterback—be it Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins, a free-agent acquisition or a rookie—and it will still find ways to win games in 2022.
No one should be shocked if the Steelers are back in the playoffs next year, but the optics of doing it without Roethlisberger, longtime defensive coordinator Keith Butler and longtime general manager Kevin Colbert will be huge.
Tomlin is an all-time great coach, and he'll finally be named the best in the NFL next year.
Projected Runner-Up: Zac Taylor, Cincinnati Bengals
NFL MVP: Joe Burrow
It's Joe Burrow's world, and we're all just living in it. While this isn't a factual statement, the reality is that Burrow is the hottest second-year quarterback the NFL has seen since Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
Burrow, by the way, went 3-0 against Mahomes and Jackson this season.
The Bengals gunslinger is the new "it" quarterback in the NFL, and it's hard to envision Joey Blaze cooling off next year.
Consider that Burrow passed for 4,611 yards with 34 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in only his second pro season—a year after suffering a torn ACL. Burrow also led the league in completion percentage (70.4) and yards per attempt (8.9).
He seemed to get better as the year went on too, passing for 971 yards and eight touchdowns in his last two regular-season starts. Expect him to continue getting better as he puts more time between him and the ACL injury while gaining more chemistry with top wideout Ja'Marr Chase—not that he needs it.
"They got such a great sense for each other," Bengals offensive coordinator Bill Callahan said, per ESPN's Ben Baby. "A lot of it is because they communicate so easily."
Whether they win the Super Bowl or not, expect Burrow and the Bengals to be formidable in 2022. Burrow is unquestionably Cincinnati's most valuable player, and he'll be the league's MVP a year from now.
Projected Runner-Up: Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills