NFL Award Predictions *Underdog Edition*

As we move into the second half of the NFL season, the conversations around conference supremacy — the Contender/Pretender debate essentially — begin to pick up steam. Dependent on where one’s football loyalties may reside, this time brings out fan bases’ collective bravado (Patriots/Eagles), cautious optimism (Vikings/Bills — for the record, my Super Bowl dream match), or in the case of Giants, Niners, and Browns fans, the reality of a season lost.

Piggy backing on the momentum created from the post-season positioning discussion, it seems like an appropriate time to start theorizing about potential award recipients in a season that has seen the likes of Carson Wentz, Alex Smith, and rookie sensations Kareem Hunt and Deshaun Watson take the league by storm with hardware-worthy performances through eight weeks. Rather than bore you with the OBVIOUS selections for each honour, I’ve decided to go another way with it, focusing on potential dark horses that could complicate matters down the stretch…

 

Everybody loves a good underdog story, so without further delay…


(NOTE: not ALL awards given out are covered below)

ART ROONEY AWARD

– Given in recognition of outstanding sportsmanship on the playing field

Previous Winner: Frank Gore RB, Indianapolis Colts

2018 BOLD Prediction: Joe Thomas, OT, Cleveland Browns

Despite suffering a season-ending injury that ended a 10,363 snap streak, Joe Thomas has been a model player throughout his entire career. Having been selected to the Pro-Bowl TEN times, along with seven (7) First-Team All Pro selections, he’s been the lone bright spot for a Browns franchise that has been spinning its tires for what feels like forever. Thomas’ career might very well be over after a torn triceps ended his 2017-2018 campaign but throughout his 11 year career, Joe Thomas has been special on and off the field. It would be nice to see him rewarded for his humble and gracious dominance.


DEACON JONES AWARD

– Given to the NFL defensive player with the most sacks in a single season

Previous Winner: Vic Beasley Jr., OLB, Atlanta Falcons

2018 BOLD Prediction: Joey Bosa, DE, Los Angeles Chargers

Bosa currently sits at 8.5 sacks — 2 behind league leader DeMarcus Lawrence. He won Defensive ROTY last season, finishing with 10.5 sacks so he’s well ahead of his award pace. As big an Everson Griffen fan as I am, choosing him as he sits only .5 sacks behind Lawrence didn’t seem bold enough, so I opted for the 2nd year pro out of THE Ohio State University. Having tallied six sacks in his previous four games, Bosa has been nothing short of dominant. He does have a couple of tough matchups coming up against the Jaguars and Cowboys, both of whom boast top-end offensive lines — Jags have conceded just 11 sacks so far this season, the Cowboys two less with only 9 given up. Matchups notwithstanding, Bosa, aided by the presence of teammate Melvin Ingram, another elite pass-rusher, has every reason to believe he can catch Lawrence and wind up the league’s sack daddy.


FedEx GROUND PLAYER OF THE YEAR

– Given to the running back who was deemed best at his position. This is an award decided via online vote

Previous Winner: Ezekiel Elliot, RB, Dallas Cowboys

2018 BOLD Prediction: Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

First off, the likelihood of this prediction coming to fruition is minimal, almost nil. However, in keeping with the underdog theme of the post, I went with Fournette who, if not for the dominance of Kareem Hunt and Deshaun Watson would be a legitimate contender for Offensive ROTY honours. Fournette, for his part, has helped a Jaguars offence remain relevant and competent in spite of dodgy QB play. Averaging almost 100 yds/game, and having already reached pay-dirt 7 times (6 rushing), Fournette has proven all those who doubted his ability to adapt to the NFL game wrong, pure and simple.

Oh, and he actually waved on a hit from Steelers DB Mike Mitchell (which should provide grounds to just give him the award. #Boss).


FedEx AIR PLAYER OF THE YEAR

– Given to the quarterback who was deemed best at his position. This is an award decided via online vote

Previous Winner: Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons

2018 BOLD Prediction: Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

An off-season filled with possible rumours of retirement, Big Ben has had an up and down season — 10 touchdowns and 9 interceptions, 5 of which came in a week 5 loss to Jacksonville. Nonetheless, the Steelers remain in the running for an AFC Conference title. Their division is a joke, and with rookie sensation JuJu Smith-Schuster (more on him later) giving that offence an added threat on top of the Antonio Brown & Lev Bell, Roethlisberger could play himself back into contention for league honours before all’s said and done. Just stop throwing it to the other team for *uck sakes!


WALTER PAYTON NFL MAN OF THE YEAR AWARD

– Honouring a player’s volunteer and charity work, as well as his excellence on the field

Previous Winners: Eli Manning (QB, New York Giants) & Larry Fitzgerald (WR, Arizona Cardinals)

2018 BOLD(less) Prediction: JJ Watt, DT, Houston Texans

I won’t even go bold with this one, as I don’t anticipate much of a debate over who’s most deserving of one of the more prestigious awards handed out by the National Football League each and every year. While he may not qualify for the “excellence on the field” component of the award given the fact a broken leg abruptly ended his season, JJ Watt, through his foundation, raised upwards of $37 MILLION to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey — his original goal, after kicking off the program with a personal donation of $100,000, was $200,000. A truly remarkable commitment to helping those in need, paired with his historical dominance on the field should result in him being recognized come award night. 

For more detailed information on Watt’s charitable efforts, check out his foundation’s website at http://www.jjwfoundation.org/.

***Honourable mention to Eagles LB/DE Chris Long who has pledged his entire years salary towards the funding of programs promoting educational equality. This is after he already donated six (6) game checks to help provide two scholarships for students in Charlottesville, Virginia. His 2017 base salary is $1 million.


AP COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR

– Given to a player who has shown perseverance in overcoming adversity, in the form of not being in the NFL the previous year, a severe injury, or simply poor performance

Previous Winner: Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers

2018 BOLD(est) Prediction: Colin Kaepernick, QB, ??? (debated Teddy Bridgewater here)

While this is close to a throw away prediction, I still hold out hope that Kaepernick is signed prior to season’s end — His lawyer recently went on record as saying he will be on an NFL roster before Veteran’s Day — and regardless of how the criteria for receiving the award is interpreted, If Kaepernick winds up on a roster and plays at a appropriately deemed high level, the award should (and won’t) be his. I realize the boldness of this selection,  it’s full of optimism for a progressive resolution to all of this non-sense. Pardon my ignorance.

*Honourable mention to Tony Romo who, while not impacting the game on the field, has breathed new life into the broadcast booth, and his football career, with his commentary and play-by-play predictions — such as this one — alongside his “Butler Cabin loving” broadcast partner Jim Nantz.

grab-2016-01-25-09h27m36s221.png
Jim in his happy place

AP DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

– Self explanatory, no?

Previous Winner: Joey Bosa, DE, San Diego Chargers (he was, at the time, not playing in LA — #Details)

2018 BOLD Prediction: TJ Watt, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Yeah, yeah, I’m high on…WATTever you say!

The younger Watt has been an impactful player for a Steelers defence that ranks 2nd in the league in Scoring % — % of drives resulting in an offensive score — at 26.7% (Jaguars are 1st at 24.1%). Watt, for his part, has contributed 21 tackles, 6 assists, 4 sacks, and an interception. He’s a force all over the field and has shown the versatility required to be a dominant outside linebacker in today’s game, able to effectively rush the passer and also be a factor in pass coverage. If the Steelers wind up making the type of noise in the AFC many predict they will come playoff time, expect Watt to be a main contributor, vaulting him into the discussion for D-ROTY honours.


AP OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

– Take a WILD guess

Previous Winner: Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys

2018 BOLD(esque) Prediction: DeShaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans

So, between this and the PEPSI NEXT Rookie of the Year Award — the difference between the two I’ve yet to uncover — all signs point to Watson and Hunt being the two offensive rookie standouts. Looking at Watson’s numbers (or just watch him one week), it’s probably not a bold selection to tab him as the eventual winner. He will have stiff competition from Hunt, who has looked more and more like a young Jamaal Charles with each dual-threat performance. But through eight weeks, Watson has thrown for 19 touchdowns, rushed for 2 more, and has almost single handedly turned the Texans into a must-see team on any given week. If they go on to win the division (which they should despite a 3-4 record), Watson is sure to be the main reason. AND HE DONATED A GAME CHECK TO CAFETERIA PERSONNEL AS PART OF HURRICANE HARVEY RELIEF EFFORTS!

*UPDATE (Nov 2/2017) – DeShaun Watson suffered a torn ACL during practice and will miss the rest of the season. Devastating!


PEPSI NEXT ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

– I assume to be eligible, you must a) be in your first NFL season and; 2) love Pepsi?

Previous Winner: Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys

2018 BOLD(erriffic) Prediction: JuJu Smith-Schuster

On name alone, this kid deserves something. While the reality of the rookie landscape suggests Kareem Hunt and DeShaun Watson to be the inevitable recipients of offensive rookie honours, I can’t stress how impressive JuJu has been in his first NFL season. For one, he’s the youngest player in the league (20 years old) and has already put the league on notice with his play (and elaborate celebrations such as the chained up bike, or hide-and-seek collaboration with Lev Bell). However, the most impressive aspect of Smith-Schuster’s season to date has been his ability to perform amidst the Martavis Bryant circus in Pittsburgh. Typically, a young player would be unable to drown out the noise created by a disgruntled teammate, let alone one that he’s essentially usurped. However, JuJu has simply laced up each week and proved why he, not Bryant, deserves to line up opposite Antonio Brown. Keep doing *YouYou* JuJu! (Again, there’s ~1% chance he wins)


AP DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Given by the Associated Press (AP) to the league’s most outstanding defensive player

Previous Winner: Khalil Mack, DE/LB, Oakland Raiders

2018 BOLD Prediction: Everson Griffen, DE, Minnesota Vikings

Griffen has 10 sacks through 8 weeks, including at least one in every game. He is part of a dominant front-seven up in Minnesota and while I would love for him to be recognized for his efforts, the collective dominance of the Vikings defensive unit ultimately hurts Griffen’s bid for individual accolades — one could also make a case of teammate Harrison Smith being considered for this award. Originally selected 100th overall, Griffen was an enigma early on in his career. The Vikings stood by the former Trojan, signing him to a 5-year, $42.5 million deal (coming off a season with zero starts, 27 total tackles, and 5.5. sacks) and it paid off swimmingly. He’s long flown under the radar in the discussion surrounding elite pass rushers in the NFL. Not anymore, and as much an honour as DPOTY would provide Griffen, it isn’t required to legitimize his dominance.

*Griffen signed yet another extension earlier this year — 5 years, $58 million — that will keep him in Minnesota through 2022.


AP OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Given by the Associated Press (AP) to the league’s most outstanding offensive player

Previous Winner: Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons

2018 BOLD Prediction: Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City Chiefs

I judge the boldness of this pick solely on the fact that despite how Rodgers’esque Smith has looked so far this season, one still can’t help but expect him to fall off a cliff (or simply be outplayed by the likes of Brady down the stretch). Smith, along with Kareem Hunt has transformed the league’s second most proficient offence (in terms of yards), trailing only the perennial powerhouse New England Patriots. That in mind, I couldn’t have a list of potential award recipients without including one (or several) Chiefs on it. Smith is sporting a 115.4 QB rating, has thrown 16 touchdowns to ZERO interceptions and sits second in the league in passing yards — behind the eventual MVP of the League. Whether it’s him or backfield colleague Kareem Hunt, one of them will take home hardware this season. Lombardi Trophy perhaps? Pump the Brakes…


AP COACH OF THE YEAR

– Presented annually by the Associated Press (AP) to the head coach adjudged to have had the most outstanding season

Previous Winner: Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys

2018 BOLD Prediction: Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings

Going back to last season, he loses Teddy Bridgewater to a potentially career threatening knee injury roughly a week before the regular season. His team starts out 5-0 then misses the playoffs. Next, he begins a series of surgeries aimed at saving his eye from some sort of explosion (I’M NOT A DOCTOR!). Moving on from that, he loses his replacement starting quarterback to an ambiguous knee injury after a promising week one performance. That not enough? Ok, his prized rookie running back goes down for the year and he’s left with Latavius Murray, Jerrick McKinnon, and Case Keenum — throw in a rehabbing Teddy Bridgewater too). Zimmer has built one of the leagues most vaunted defensive units, one so dominant, it can mask any and all shortcomings associated with a Keenum led offence. Fuelled by the often preached Next Man Up mentality, Zimmer has given the Vikings Super Bowl aspirations (in a host year) when many thought their season was lost early on — The Rodgers’ injury helped with that as well.

*Honourable mentions: Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams; Sean McDermott , Buffalo Bills; and the likely front runner, Doug Pederson, Philadelphia Eagles


AP MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

Given by various entities to the player who is considered the most valuable in the NFL

Previous Winner: Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons

2018 BOLD(not really) Prediction: Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia Eagles

The ultimate underdog in a race with favourites like Brady, Rodgers, Ryan, Peterson(???) — “All-Day”, back in 2012, was the last non-QB to win the award — , Carson Wentz has left all of them in his dust. The Eagles, at 7-1 show no signs of slowing down — having recently acquired Jay Ajayi from the Dolphins — and the sophomore from North Dakota State has been as elite as they come through eight games. Sure, Brady will challenge him, aided heavily by the Gregor Clegane of NFL tight-ends. Maybe Alex Smith too (what the hell is happening this year?!). Brady has Gisele, and doesn’t need another MVP (Brady, in a way, is like LeBron. You could give either of them the MVP award every year, and you wouldn’t be wrong). Fly Carson Fly!


2018 HALL OF FAME NOTE

I’m not going to predict the 2018 class, but all I ask for is a one-and-done ballot appearance for Randy Moss — 1) His numbers merit it! and; 2) It would further annoy Terrell Owens, and that’s something I will forever be onboard with.

 

Namaste folks.

 

*kudos to NFL.com & Pro Football Reference for providing all statistics quoted within

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