Last week, I gave my two cents on how I believed the NFL season would play out in January and February. This week, it’s onto the awards. Obviously, the only hardware players truly strive for is the Lombardi trophy, but if they can win one of the awards below, it means they had a season that may help their team reach the promised land. With that, here are my picks for the 2018 NFL Honors.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ronald Jones II, RB, Buccaneers
It’s hard to win any of these awards on a bad team, but sometimes that is what allows players to shine. The Buccaneers are projected (and are likely) to finish last in the NFC South because Jameis Winston hasn’t played to his full potential. And with Doug Martin out of the equation, the opportunity for Ronald Jones II to step in and become the featured back is golden. Yes, the obvious candidate for this award is Saquon Barkley, but sometimes you have to go against the mold when predicting the NFL. Jones was a human highlight reel at USC. He has the ability to stop on a dime like vintage Adrian Peterson, and he only fumbled twice in his college career—look for a big season from Jones.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Roquan Smith, LB, Bears
It pains me to give credit to the Bears, but I’m going to go as far as to say that they drafted a player with Hall of Fame potential in Smith. Bears fans should be thrilled that Smith will be paired with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who has this defense headed in the right direction in 2018. Smith is a lead-by-example type of player—he goes hard every play, and if the ball is past him, he is using that 4.5-40 speed to chase it down. He was critical to Georgia on their path to the championship game, and he’ll be a key piece if the Bears want to reach the postseason for the first time since 2010.
Comeback Player of the Year: David Johnson, RB, Cardinals
This award will be nearly impossible to pick at season’s end because this pool of possible players is absolutely stacked. J.J. Watt, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Deshaun Watson, and Odell Beckham Jr. are all on the comeback trail this year, but my pick dons the Cardinals uniform. When healthy in 2016, Johnson dominated the league on the ground and through the air—he finished with 80 receptions, 11th-highest in the league. If Josh Rosen ends up winning the starting job out of training camp, Johnson will be called upon even more to lighten the load for his rookie quarterback. Arizona won’t win much this year, but this will be a bright spot to their season.
Coach of the Year: Pat Shurmur, Giants
I’m basing this prediction on the fact that I think the Giants are in for a historic turnaround. They were not a good football team last year. In fact, they were terrible.
But there are a few reasons for hope. For starters, Odell Beckham Jr. is back. Eli Manning clearly missed his number-one target, and his presence alone is good enough for a few more wins. They are also hoping they drafted a future Hall of Famer in Saquon Barkley. He’s already projected to be a top-10 back and he hasn’t even had an NFL touch yet, and they’ve given him a veteran lineman to run behind in Nate Solder. And lastly, they have a fresh start at head coach–the Ben McAdoo experiment did not pan out, and the Giants can only go up with new blood in the house. Look for Shurmur to get the job done in 2018.
Defensive Player of the Year: Joey Bosa, DE, Chargers
The Chargers are my sleeper team to come out of the AFC in February, so naturally, they’re going to need some big play from key contributors, and Bosa can be that guy. He’s reached double-digit sacks in each of his first two seasons, even after missing four games his rookie year. The former third-overall pick is the best player on a defense that features Melvin Ingram, Casey Hayward, and now Derwin James—the Chargers have something special brewing in 2018. He’ll have to beat out the likes of J.J. Watt, Luke Kuechly, Aaron Donald, and Khalil Mack, but with my predicted Chargers success, this is Bosa’s year.
Offensive Player of the Year: Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers
How Antonio Brown hasn’t won this award yet is beyond me—he already holds the record for the most consecutive 100+ reception seasons with five, and he’ll look to tie Brandon Marshall this season for the most ever. The emergence of JuJu Smith-Schuster will give Brown a viable option on the opposite side of the field, taking away double teams and opening the door for another elite year from the league’s best receiver.
However, Brown will have to overcome great odds if he wants a shot at Offensive POY—a receiver has only won the award twice, and it happened to be the greatest receiver to set foot on the field in Jerry Rice. With the help of Roethlisberger, Brown can produce his best season yet.
MVP: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
The last time Aaron Rodgers missed time due to injury, he came back the next season and threw 38 touchdowns on the way to his second MVP award. I’m going down the history-repeats-itself path to say that Rodgers joins Johnny Unitas, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady as the only three-time winners of the MVP award. Not bad company.
Rodgers will have to overcome the loss of his favorite target in Jordy Nelson, but I really believe that Jimmy Graham will be unlike any weapon Rodgers has ever had–yes, he’s in his thirties and past his prime, but he still put up 10 touchdowns last season, a number he could easily match this season with Rodgers. Davante Adams has also emerged as a top-end receiver, and Packer fans should be thrilled to see the connection he establishes with Rodgers. The NFC will be a gauntlet this season, but the Bad Man is ready for another career year.