The NFL offseason can drag on a little bit once OTAs finish up. We’ve already exhausted the discussion on rookies coming into the league and assessed their fit with their new team; the impact of the few big names that switched teams in free agency has already been over-analysed; and we’ve had a couple of weeks to formulate and promulgate our perspective on the vague information coming out of OTAs.
Unfortunately, training camps don’t open until the end of July, so we’ve got about two weeks in which the only drama emanates from players fighting the franchise tag and Ocho-Cinco trying his hand at coaching in the NFL. And, apologies, but I’m about to spoil that drama: Von Miller and the Denver Broncos will come to an agreement on a lucrative contract before the season begins, while Chad Johnson will come to the conclusion that he should still be playing in the NFL after seeing the Browns’ receivers in action.
There are some unresolved storylines for the upcoming 2016 NFL season, of course. Chief among them: who will take home the league’s most prestigious individual awards.
Will we see a repeat of 2015 when Cam Newton dabbed his way to MVP and J.J. Watt furthered the debate over whether he is human by claiming his third Defensive Player of the Year award in five seasons?
Most Valuable Player
- Aaron Rodgers, Packers: 16/3
- Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: 6/1
- Cam Newton, Panthers: 8/1
- Carson Palmer, Cardinals: 19/2
- Russell Wilson, Seahawks: 12/1
- Andrew Luck, Colts: 14/1
- Tom Brady, Patriots: 18/1
I’m not going to beat around the bush: Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL, not Cam Newton. Rodgers gets his most reliable target (Jordy Nelson) back this season and the Packers will be looking to reclaim the NFC North. The over/under on discount double-checks is set at 42.5.
Newton falls to third simply because there is too much parity in the NFL, and it is difficult to put up back-to-back MVP-caliber seasons. Since 1998, Peyton Manning is the only player to win the award in consecutive seasons.
Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers are trending in the right direction, and the Killer Bs are poised for an offensive outburst, even without Martavis Bryant. A healthy Le’Veon Bell makes the Steelers a very dangerous team, and provides Big Ben with another big-play threat in the passing game. Look out, Bengals.
Brady is almost certainly going to serve his four-game suspension, by the looks of things. His odds would be a lot higher if he wasn’t going to miss a quarter of the season. However, if the Pats stumble out of the gate and then Brady returns to save the day, he’ll get MVP consideration even in a shortened season.
Defensive Player of the Year
- J.J. Watt, Texans: 13/3
- Von Miller, Broncos: 5/1
- Luke Kuechly, Panthers: 7/1
- Khalil Mack, Raiders: 15/2
- Aaron Donald, Rams: 10/1
- Patrick Peterson, Cardinals: 10/1
- Richard Sherman, Seahawks: 12/1
It’s not often a player arises in the sports world who lacks any naysayers, but does anyone not believe that J.J. Watt is the most dominant defensive player in the game? Better question: would any doubter be willing to say that to Watt’s face? The Texans defensive-end has been named DPOY each of the last two seasons, and three of the last four. Keep in mind, he has only been in the league for five years.
Watt’s primary competition will come from Von Miller, barring the preposterous outcome that he sits out 2016. The Super Bowl 50 MVP is looking to get paid for his contributions to the Broncos rise to the top. There is no way Broncos GM John Elway allows this situation to get to the point where Miller would sit out. He’ll be buckling up his chinstrap on Thursday, September 8th, and ready to wreak havoc.
Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald haven’t wasted any time in becoming household names. Heading into their second and third seasons, respectively, they have both emerged as leading candidates for the best defensive player in the league. Mack’s odds would be even shorter had five of his 15 sacks last year not come in one week.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
- Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys: 4/5
- Jared Goff, Rams: 8/1
- Corey Coleman, Browns: 12/1
- Derrick Henry, Titans: 12/1
- Sterling Shepard, Giants: 15/1
Ezekiel Elliott could not have asked for a better situation. Not only does he get drafted by a running back-hungry team, but he also winds up with the best run-blocking offensive line in the league. Elliott is set to explode in his rookie campaign. His big-play ability, plus a healthy Tony Romo, has the Cowboy offense in great shape.
It’s great that Todd Gurley has spoken positively about his new quarterback, Jared Goff, but if we listened to teammates’ perspectives on players, then we’d also be saying RGIII is poised for a return to superstardom. The presence of Gurley should dramatically reduce the pressure on Goff – and that will lead to a solid rookie year for the no. 1 overall pick – but he won’t garner the attention that Elliott is going to.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
- Joey Bosa, Chargers: 8/1
- DeForest Buckner, 49ers: 25/3
- Jalen Ramsey, Jaguars: 9/1
- Vernon Hargreaves, Buccaneers: 9/1
- Myles Jack, Jaguars: 10/1
Bosa being taken third-overall by the San Diego Chargers was something of a surprise. The former Buckeye is a good pass-rusher, but isn’t expected to dominate like a Watt or a Mack. However, the Chargers will ensure he’s in situations where he can succeed, since they neglected their gaping holes on the offensive line when drafting him.
The pass-rusher with the most upside in this class is DeForest Buckner, but how many defensive players have had success on a Chip Kelly-led team?
Jalen Ramsey’s odds would have been better had I not found out what he’s eating for dinner. But maybe that’s why I never became a pro athlete: too much broccoli, not enough hot dogs and Cheetos. His new teammate Myles Jack may have fallen in the draft due to injury concerns, but if his knee holds up, he’ll have a great rookie season.
As you can see from the odds, though, this award is up for grabs.
Coach of the Year
- Bill Belichick, Patriots: 11/2
- Mike McCarthy, Packers: 6/1
- Bruce Arians, Cardinals: 8/1
- Ron Rivera, Panthers: 8/1
- Gary Kubiak, Broncos: 17/2
Over the last four years, only two different coaches have taken home this award: Bruce Arians and Ron Rivera. However, since 1985, no coach has won the award in consecutive seasons.
For this reason, Bill Belichick becomes my odds-on favorite to take the award home for the first time since 2010. If the Patriots still win the division with Jimmy Garoppolo starting the first four games of the year, Belichick will be a huge favorite.
Gary Kubiak does not get enough credit for what he did with the Broncos last season. Not only was he able to convince an ageing, physically-deteriorating Peyton Manning to stop taking chances, but he also made the offensive line work with a bunch of outcasts. When he extracts a playoff run out of Mark Sanchez, he’ll get a lot of consideration.
(Photo Credit: Mike Morbeck (Aaron Rodgers) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)