Dark Horse NFL Awards Candidates

Every year, there is a shakeup at the NFL Honors, held the night before the Super Bowl. Last season, Lamar Jackson’s torrid pace rewarded him with just the second unanimous MVP in league history. Now, it’s time to look ahead to what promises to be a tumultuous 2020 season and try to predict an under the radar player for each award.

Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick, New England Patriots

Only the Bill Belichick-led Patriots could come off a 12-4 season and feel like it’s a failure. 

After a Wild Card Weekend loss at the hands of the Tennessee Titans, New England embarked on perhaps the rockiest offseason of Belichick’s tenure. On top of Tom Brady heading to Tampa Bay, the Patriots also lost Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, and Rob Gronkowski, among others. 

But this, after all, is still the best coach in the NFL. A team that loves to manufacture motivation and a chip on its shoulder, New England doesn’t need to make up anything to see that the rest of the league is eagerly awaiting the downfall of the Patriots. If Belichick can lead second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham to a 9-7 and a wild card berth, he deserves his fourth Coach of the Year award.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts

Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow is the popular pick here, but don’t discount Jonathan Taylor to snag this award. 

There is precedent for running backs taking this award, with Saquon Barkley winning two years ago, and Josh Jacobs finishing runner up last season. The Wisconsin product landed in Indy, the ideal situation for a running back. Led by Quentin Nelson, the Colts possess perhaps the best offensive line in the league, and Taylor will be relied upon heavily in order to complement aging quarterback Philip Rivers

Taylor rushed for over 2,000 yards his final year in Madison, and the Colts moved up three spots to select him at No. 41 for a reason.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Kenneth Murray, Los Angeles Chargers

Chase Young and Isaiah Simmons are the popular picks here but don’t discount Oklahoma product, Kenneth Murray.

A tackling machine, Murray’s ability to blossom is not just predicated on his sideline-to-sideline abilities, but also the hole in the Chargers defense. L.A. has Casey Heyward, Derwin James and Chris Harris Jr. on the back end to complement a pass-rushing duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, but no real presence in the middle of the field. If Murray can provide any sort of push for Gus Bradley’s unit, the Chargers could have a top-five defense by season’s end.

Comeback Player of the Year: Bradley Chubb, Denver Broncos

When John Elway selected Chubb fifth overall in 2018, the idea was to recreate the fearsome one-two combo of pass rushers that led Denver to a Super Bowl win in 2015. 

Chubb’s knee had other plans, as after a great first season, Chubb tore his ACL in a Week 4 matchup with Jacksonville last season.

Denver is clearly loading up, acquiring expensive veterans in Jurrell Casey and A.J. Bouye during the offseason. Franchise cornerstone Von Miller still looks to be at the top of his game. With Miller commanding the most attention and Casey swallowing up blockers, Chubb could have the chance to clean up on opposing quarterbacks and beat his career-high in sacks of 12.

Offensive Player of the Year: Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

While Henry isn’t that much of a “dark horse” in the literal sense, context is important here. Henry isn’t even the odds-on favorite for running backs to win this award. That would be Christian McCaffrey

After Ryan Tannehill cashed in this offseason, the Titans and Henry were unable to reach a long-term agreement and he will be playing this season the franchise tag. Fans and bettors would be smart to put money on Tannehill regressing, but Henry looks to repeat at 2019-20 season which saw him capture the rushing title. Henry’s coming-out party was the 2020 postseason, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see pundits second-guessing the Titans’ decision to pay Tannehill over Henry at season’s end. Compared with other awards hopefuls in Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, and the aforementioned McCaffrey, Henry easily qualifies as a dark horse.

Defensive Player of the Year: Chandler Jones, Arizona Cardinals

Since being traded to the Cardinals during the 2015 offseason, Chandler Jones has been great year-in and year-out for Arizona.

Jones finished runner-up for this award last season to Stephon Gilmore, yet somehow isn’t listed among the top 10 in odds for the 2020 award. Jones finished a half-sack off the league-lead of 19.5 and tied for the league-lead in forced fumbles (eight). With eighth-overall pick Isaiah Simmons and nose tackle Jordan Phillips now in the fold, Jones can lead a unit that looks to improve on a league-worst 402 opponent yards per game.

Most Valuable Player: Drew Lock, Denver Broncos

A second-year quarterback has won the MVP the last two years, and although Kyler Murray might be a popular pick among this year’s second-season signal callers, Drew Lock logically is a better pick. 

Lock is set up better than Murray, and his offensive line is in much better shape. New offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has a plethora of weapons at his disposal, including Denver’s first two picks in the 2020 draft in Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler. Courtland Sutton, Philip Lindsay, Noah Fant, and Melvin Gordon round out an impressive group of skill players. 

The Broncos also have an easier path to the playoffs than the Cardinals, a necessity for an MVP-winner. Denver has a chance to win more than 10 games if Lock can take that leap, and if he does, he deserves consideration for the MVP.

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One Response

  1. Great article Jeremy let’s hope there will be football this fall. Keep writing great articles, looking forward to the next one. Pepere

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