Image: Wikimedia Commons / All-Pro Reels
Image: Wikimedia Commons / All-Pro Reels

Who should win the 2021/22 NFL Honours?

The NFL Honours ceremony is a yearly event that is held the day prior to the Super Bowl. Looking back over the regular season, the television special presents the individual accolades for the year.

It is important to note that the awards are handed out based on players’ performance during the regular season – their playoff performances do not count.

The NFL Honours awards are as follows:
Most Valuable Player (MVP)
Offensive Player of the Year (OPOY)
Defensive Player of the year (DPOY)
Comeback Player of the Year (CPOY)
Offensive Rookie of the Year (OROY)
Defensive Rookie of the Year (DROY)
Coach of the Year (COTY)

The MVP award has been criticised for its quarterback bias of late. Since the award’s creation in 1957, just 18 non-quarterback players have won it – the most recent was Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson in 2012.

Perhaps an even more shocking discovery is that only two defensive players have ever won MVP – Alan Page in 1971 and Lawrence Taylor in 1986. Due to this, many people have started referring to the MVP as ‘The Most Valuable Quarterback’ award and the DPOY as ‘The Defensive MVP’.

The quarterback bias can be found in the OROY award too – the most recent winners were Chargers and Cardinals quarterbacks Justin Herbert and Kyler Murray, with players such as Justin Jefferson and James Robinson ‘snubbed’ supposedly due to their non-quarterback position.

The ‘quarterback bias’ narrative surrounding the NFL MVP award will likely be around another year as Aaron Rodgers is expected to retain the title.

The Green Bay Packers quarterback has once again proved to be indispensable within the franchise through his excellent performances that have carried the Cheeseheads to the NFL’s top spot despite the many injuries that the team have faced.

For Rodgers, however, individual accolades will only help his ego and potential contract negotiations – it is no secret that his true objective is one final ring.

The Packers have had their hiccups in the NFL Playoffs of late and have built an infamous reputation of losing in the Conference Championship game, falling one step short of the Super Bowl fixture. With all the pieces now in place and many players returning from injury, things are looking bright for the NFC’s top seed.

There is no doubt that Rodgers is the MVP-favourite, and rightly so, but, for the future Hall-Of-Famer, the main concern will be winning another Lombardi Trophy.

One point that might be worth bringing up, however, is the ‘immunisation’ scandal that Rodgers was tied up in. This will not deter him from the MVP award but could be something that hurts his legacy, marring an impressive season with political drama.

Outside of Rodgers, Brady is the only other likely candidate to win the MVP award (funny how people keep saying the league is getting younger, right?). The NFL MVP award is all about narratives, and which NFL player has a better narrative than Tom Brady?

Tom Brady continued to prove his doubters wrong by putting together an MVP-calibre season

Having led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to Super Bowl stardom last year, Brady continued to prove his doubters wrong by putting together an MVP-calibre season. He led the league in passing yards and touchdowns, at the age of 44. His season also saw him become the NFL’s all-time passing yards leader.Like Rodgers though, Brady will likely be more concerned with the postseason than any individual accolades at this point in his career.

There are a small number of people that are campaigning for Jonathan Taylor to win the MVP (though these are largely Colts fans). Given the quarterback bias of the award and how outstanding Rodgers and Brady have been, Taylor seems like a long shot. There is also the argument that Derrick Henry put up similar numbers to Taylor in 2021, and he failed to win the MVP.

With that said though, ‘King Henry’ did win the OPOY award that year. This seems a much more probable outcome for Taylor, who has been outstanding in his sophomore season.

Taylor faces tough competition from Cooper Kupp, however. The Rams receiver put up a historical season which fell short of Calvin Johnson’s receiving yards record (in a season) by just 18 yards. Kupp was also the receptions and receiving touchdowns leader on the season.

Aside from Kupp and Taylor, there are no other names worth considering for the OPOY award – it is essentially a two-horse race.

Over on the defensive side of the ball, the current frontrunner for the DPOY award is T.J. Watt, someone who has been deserving for quite a few years now.

T.J. Watt had a record-matching season, tying Gordon Strahan’s 22.5 sacks in a single season. He was the best defensive player by far, leading the league in sacks. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger even suggested that Watt should be considered for MVP, emphasising just how important Watt is to Pittsburgh.

In terms of the CPOY, no one has affected their team quite like Dak Prescott on return from injury. The Cowboys signal-caller suffered a gruesome ankle injury last season, which derailed Dallas’ hopes of a successful season.

He proved his worth to the franchise this year, however, turning a struggling Cowboys offence into one of the most dynamic in the league. His efforts were rewarded with a playoff berth and an NFC East division title. Prescott also broke Tony Romo’s single season passing touchdowns record for the Cowboys.

Having signed Prescott to a massive extension, there is no doubt the Cowboys will be relieved to see their star man perform so well in his comeback year.

While Prescott is the favourite, the Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Burrow is also worth a mention. Burrow’s season highlights are numerous, including a historic passing game where he hit 525 yards and five touchdowns against rivals Baltimore Ravens.

Ja’Marr Chase is the top candidate for the OROY award

Burrow suffered a season-ending knee injury last year, which led to a lot of criticism of the Bengals organisation for not doing their best to build a better offensive line for him.

Behind a slightly improved offensive line and with more experience under his belt, Burrow looked exceptional in the second half of his sophomore season. His lethal connection with former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase was particularly impressive.

In fact, Chase himself benefitted so much from Burrow’s presence that he is a top candidate for the OROY award. The receiver was awarded with a second team All-Pro award in just his first season in the league, and broke Justin Jefferson’s receiving yards record. In short, he played like lightning for the Bengals.

Chase’s main competition for the OROY award is undoubtedly Mac Jones.

Last year’s award was won by Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert ahead of Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson, despite Jefferson’s record-breaking season. Given how favoured quarterbacks are, it would not be surprising to see a similar situation resulting in a third consecutive quarterback taking home the OROY award.

Jones helped the New England Patriots to the sixth AFC seed in the playoffs and is a key cog in Bill Belichick’s well-oiled machine. His season surpassed all expectations, even though he was a first-round quarterback, and he played with extreme composure and coolness. Jones winning the award would certainly be deserved, but ahead of Chase? Hard to call.

The DROY award situation is a little clearer. Micah Parsons is the clear frontrunner, putting together a dominant season. Prior to the 2021 NFL Draft, Parsons was advertised as one of the most versatile players in recent history, and his play proved exactly that.

The Dallas Cowboys had a lot of fun lining Parsons up in multiple different fronts, confusing opposing coaches about what defensive formation they were using. His versatility shows on the stat sheet too, delivering a well-rounded defensive display in all categories.

For the DROY award, it would be hard to look past Parsons given the impact he has had for the Cowboys defence.

With all the player awards discussed, the top coaches for the COTY award are the Bengals’ Zac Taylor, the Packers’ Matt LeFleur and the Titans’ Mike Vrabel. All three are top candidates, with all their respective teams reaching the playoffs this season.

While LeFleur and Vrabel have bragging rights at the top of their respective conferences, there is no doubt that Taylor’s team has seen the biggest improvement of the three. The award could also be dependent on how the other awards play out, as it is quite rare for a team to win more than one individual accolade on the season.

With all the candidates for the awards discussed, here are my predictions for each award:

MVP – Aaron Rodgers, Quarterback, Green Bay Packers
OPOY – Cooper Kupp, Wide Receiver, Los Angeles Rams
DPOY – T.J. Watt, EDGE/Linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers
CPOY – Dak Prescott, Quarterback, Dallas Cowboys
OROY – Ja’Marr Chase, Wide Receiver, Cincinnati Bengals
DROY – Micah Parsons, Linebacker, Dallas Cowboys
COTY – Mike Vrabel, Head Coach, Tennessee Titans.

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