A few stars shine brighter than most. The NFL players who take home individual trophies help pen the story of what can be a grueling five-month season. Their accomplishments, their capacity to shine, tell us more about what transpired, sans-January, of course, than any other pro football emblem. I don’t know how warranted it is that they have their own separate award night in primetime television, but the NFL permeates everywhere now, so whatever, I suppose.
In the first piece of a season preview, the Windy City Gridiron staff collaborated and voted in our little version of The Academy.
Who took home top rookie honors? What about MVP? We were indiscriminate, and I assure you, we were not unfair.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Jacob Infante: Trevor Lawrence was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft for a reason.
It was expected upon his selection that he would start at quarterback for the Jaguars come Week 1. Their decision to trade Gardner Minshew indicated that any “quarterback competition” was over. Lawrence is the man at the helm for Jacksonville, and if he stays healthy to start a full 17 games, that alone should make him an Offensive Rookie of the Year favorite.
He should face tough competition from fellow rookie quarterbacks and other offensive weapons like Najee Harris and Ja’Marr Chase. Still, Lawrence’s sheer arm talent, accuracy, and athleticism should see him translate well to the NFL level. If he puts together the numbers that his tape at Clemson showed that he should be able to in the pros, this award should be coming home with him.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Jacob Infante: Perhaps no defensive rookie stepped into as good of a position to succeed right away as Jamin Davis did when the Washington Football Team drafted him.
The former Kentucky linebacker has the opportunity to play behind arguably the best defensive line in the NFL. Chase Young and Montez Sweat form an extremely talented, young duo off the edge, while Jonathan Allen and Da’Ron Payne are quality interior defenders. That doesn’t even include Matt Ioannidis, who should take on a rotational role but still plays at a high level inside.
That said, Davis will have plenty of space to roam free at the second level. He is a lengthy and athletic linebacker whose extensive tackling radius should see him put up significant production in Year 1. With how deep that pass-rushing unit is, he could also contribute as a blitzing option. Given how thin the 2021 draft was at edge rusher, a productive tackler like Davis is a solid pick for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Comeback Player of the Year
Robert Schmitz: There’s no way it’s anyone other than Dak Prescott.
Last year Alex Smith had this award all but locked up the instant he stepped back on a football field. This year I’d say it’s a direct competition between Prescott and Joe Burrow with all other comers as afterthoughts. Both of these quarterbacks suffered gruesome leg injuries that ended seasons early, so while players like Christian McCaffery and Saquon Barkley may deserve the award by year’s end, they won’t be getting it unless they blow the roof off the NFL’s rushing totals.
Give me Prescott at the end of the day — Dallas loves to throw the ball and has enough statistical success doing it that I’ll take Prescott, a talented deep thrower, over Joe Burrow and a smaller arm. Flashiness and highlights often make or break a candidate’s chances, so while both quarterbacks have talented WR corps, I think Prescott makes better use of his than Burrow.
Offensive Player of the Year
Erik Duerrwaechter: Tyreek Hill will burn down the league as he sets new records across the board on Kansas City’s high-octane offense.
People will claim Patrick Mahomes is the biggest beneficiary of a rebuilt offensive line. However, this means even more opportunities for the “cheetah” to zip through secondaries for highlight reels set on an endless loop. You can’t cover him. He’s too fast, and his route running has evolved into a standard of its own. Ask Jalen Ramsey what happens when you run your mouth at Hill.
I see Hill setting new records for receiving yards (1,964-plus) and touchdowns (23-plus). And that’s a conservative prediction.
Defensive Player of the Year
Robert Schmitz: This award is always hard to predict because it involves the player recording flashy stats instead of simply “playing really well,” so I’ll take Myles Garrett. The Browns’ secondary is nasty with Grant Delpit andJohn Johnson playing safety for Greg Newsome, Denzel Ward, and Troy Hill. I think Garrett will have plenty of time to sack the hapless quarterbacks he’ll be facing. Also, while Baker Mayfield looks to be on the incline, I don’t expect the Browns’ offense to run away with so many games that Garrett will be deprived of potential “DPOY Moments” — he’ll get his chances, and, knowing him, he’ll convert enough to win the award.
Most Valuable Player
Lester A. Wiltfong Jr: Last year, I got cute with my prediction for league MVP. This year I’ll play it safe and pick the sensational Patrick Mahomes to take it home. He’s the best player on the best team, and the Chiefs made a point to bolster their offense, even more this offseason. Not only will Mahomes win the MVP, but with the new 17-game schedule, he’ll flirt with the all-time, single-season passing yards mark of 5,477.