OPINION: My picks for NFL Honors awards

Rain Mason, Staff Writer

The NFL hosts its Honors ceremony every year on the week preceding the Super Bowl, where athletes, staff, celebrities, and media personnel gather to celebrate the NFL season. A nationwide media panel of 50 people votes on awards for some of the best performing players from the season. This is who I think should win each major award.

Note – Preseason and playoff performance is not taken into consideration in the voting for these awards.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

Awarded to the most outstanding defensive player without prior NFL experience.

Top Candidates

Odafe Oweh / DE / Baltimore Ravens

Micah Parsons / LB / Dallas Cowboys

Patrick Surtain II / CB / Denver Broncos

Who should win – Micah Parsons

This one isn’t up for debate. Drafted 12th overall by the Dallas Cowboys in last year’s draft, Parsons instantly established himself as one of the best defensive players in the league. In his debut season this year, he won NFC Defensive Rookie of the Week three times, NFC Defensive Rookie of the month twice, and NFC Defensive Player of the Week once. He weighs in at 248 pounds and he runs the 40 yard dash in 4.36 seconds (faster than Julio Jones). With his freakish combination of physical tools and technique, he has found success all over the field, taking snaps as a defensive end, an off-ball linebacker, and even a couple as a cornerback. 

Parsons has been so dominant that he also has the chance to win the Defensive Player of the Year award, which no rookie has done since Lawrence Taylor, arguably the greatest defensive player ever, won it back in 1981. Parsons is a special talent blossoming right before our eyes on the Cowboys.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

Awarded to the most outstanding offensive player without prior NFL experience.

Top Candidates

Ja’Marr Chase / WR / Cincinnati Bengals

Jaylen Waddle / WR / Miami Dolphins

Mac Jones / QB / New England Patriots

Who should win – Ja’Marr Chase

In 2020, the Cincinnati Bengals were one of the least explosive teams in football on offense. The team struggled to make big plays, with rookie quarterback Joe Burrow failing to complete a single pass 30 yards or more down the field. Their inability to make these big plays was a large reason why they were able to take wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase at 5th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. 

The following season, the Bengals were one of the most explosive teams in the league, finishing 5th in the league in explosive pass rate, a major improvement from their dead last ranking last year. Their deep passing game has become their greatest strength and Chase was a major contributor to that. He now holds the single-season rookie receiving yards record in the Super Bowl era with 1,455 yards, he is already a top 10 wide receiver in the NFL, and he will terrorize NFL cornerbacks with his dominance at the catch point for years to come.

Defensive Player of the Year

Awarded to the most outstanding defensive player in the NFL.

Top Candidates

Aaron Donald / DL / Los Angeles Rams

Micah Parsons / LB / Dallas Cowboys

T.J. Watt / LB / Pittsburgh Steelers

Who should win – T.J. Watt

The Defensive Player of the Year race has been tight all season. It would be fair if any of the three players listed above won the award this year. However, T.J. Watt separated himself from the other candidates in Week 18 when he tied the single-season sack record with 22.5 sacks. Watt’s high-level strength and athleticism make him a nightmare to deal with off the edge, which has led him to have 28 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, and one of the highest pressure rates in the league. 

Watt did all this as a part of an otherwise lackluster front seven on the Steelers. He’s been one of the best defensive players in the league for years now. He is due for a Defensive Player of the Year Award, and a record-breaking season is the best time to give it to him.

Offensive Player of the Year

Awarded to the most outstanding offensive player in the NFL. It can be given to a quarterback, but it’s more fun to compare non-quarterbacks for this award.

Top Candidates

Cooper Kupp / WR / Los Angeles Rams

Jonathan Taylor / RB / Indianapolis Colts

Deebo Samuel / WR / San Francisco 49ers

Who should win – Cooper Kupp

Kupp is unlike most of the other wide receivers in the league right now, playing more like a tight end. He is strong, very physical, and a good blocker. For these reasons, he lines up mostly in the slot, closer to the offensive line so he can play a larger role in the run game. Lining up in the slot also helps him to produce more in the passing game. It’s easier for him to get open because he has more room to run routes and he runs the majority of them against slower linebackers and slot cornerbacks. 

That being said, he is still a high-level route runner and can catch almost anything that is thrown his way, so it is reasonable to expect that he would still be a great wide receiver if he mostly lined up on the outside. Kupp came up 17 yards short of breaking the single-season receiving yards record and four receptions short of the single-season receptions record. 

He also achieved the triple crown, which means that he led the league in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. No wide receiver has done that since Carolina Panthers legend Steve Smith did it in 2005. He provides a unique play style and skillset, and the Rams have done a phenomenal job of getting the most out of him.

Comeback Player of the Year

Awarded to a player that shows perseverance and the ability to overcome adversity to play at a high level. In most cases, the winner came back from an injury that kept them off of the field for an extensive period of time.

Top Candidates

Nick Bosa / DE / San Francisco 49ers 

Joe Burrow / QB / Cincinnati Bengals 

Dak Prescott / QB / Dallas Cowboys

Who should win – Nick Bosa

Each of these players suffered season-ending injuries last season, and each of them had career years this season. There are good arguments for each of them to win and the award will be given to Prescott or Burrow, but Bosa should be the one who goes home with it. People need to remember that while most of the past winners are quarterbacks, this is not a quarterback award. Even though Bosa is not more valuable to his team than Prescott or Burrow are to theirs, he was a better defensive end this year than Prescott and Burrow were quarterbacks. 

Suffering a torn ACL in Week 2 of last season, Bosa is now back and has played better than he ever has before. Finishing the season with 15 sacks, four forced fumbles, and 22 tackles for loss, Bosa turned in a campaign that would have him in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation most years. Prescott and Burrow each led great offensive attacks this season, but Bosa has been the most reliable player on the 49ers’ defense and is the main reason why the unit was ranked 5th in the league in pass rush win rate. In contrast, the 49ers defense ranked 26th in pass rush win rate last year in Bosa’s absence.

Coach of the Year

Awarded to the coach who is responsible for the most outstanding season.

Top Candidates

Matt LaFleur / Green Bay Packers

Zac Taylor / Cincinnati Bengals

Mike Vrabel / Tennessee Titans

Who should win – Matt LaFleur

Being a head coach in the NFL isn’t an easy job, especially for a storied franchise such as the Green Bay Packers. Taking over in 2019, LaFleur has led the Packers to three consecutive 13 win seasons. This season, he broke the record for most wins by a head coach through their first three seasons, a record that stood for 30 years. He has never lost consecutive games as head coach. Out of his three seasons, though, this season is his most impressive. 

The Packers managed to earn the number 1 seed in the NFC despite dealing with the wild Aaron Rodgers offseason saga (more on this later) and injuries to key players, including all-pro cornerback Jaire Alexander, all-pro pass rusher Za’Darius Smith, starting tight end Robert Tonyan, all-pro offensive tackle David Bakhtiari, and Bakhtiari’s backup. The Packers had no business being as successful as they were this season, but under LaFleur’s leadership, they were a favorite to win the Super Bowl.

Most Valuable Player

Awarded to the player deemed to be the most valuable. It is most often given to a quarterback because quarterback is the most important and valuable position on a football team.

Top Candidates

Tom Brady / QB / Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Aaron Rodgers / QB / Green Bay Packers

Cooper Kupp / WR / Los Angeles Rams

Who should win – Aaron Rodgers

There was a point in time over the summer where it seemed unlikely that future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers would even suit up for the Green Bay Packers this year. Coming off of his third MVP season, Rodgers publicly expressed his issues with the Packers’ front office, specifically the lack of input that he had in roster decisions. His relationship with the organization was so bad that there was heavy speculation that he would get traded away from the team he has spent the entirety of his 17-year career with. At one point, some people even thought that he would move on from football entirely to become the host of “Jeopardy!” It seemed like Rodgers wanted nothing to do with the organization, but he miraculously returned to the Packers late in July to play what many believe to be his last season in Green Bay. 

Despite the interesting offseason, Rodgers has not missed a beat on the field. He has once again led one of the best offenses in the league and reminded everyone that he still has some of the best arm talent the NFL has ever seen. His arm strength, while not the same as it used to be, is still elite and he has no problem placing the ball in tight windows. He makes throws with incredible poise and anticipation. He is not particularly fast, but he is mobile enough to evade pressure and pick up first downs on the ground if he has to. Nobody threatens a defense like Rodgers does.

His closest competition is Tom Brady, who also had a phenomenal season. However, Brady was in the best situation in the league, having a strong core of wide receivers and arguably the best offensive line. Rodgers does not have that luxury, but he was still a more efficient passer than Brady. When Rodgers missed a game due to COVID, we got to see what happens when an average quarterback runs the same Packer offense against a below-average Kansas City Chiefs defense: the Packers scored seven points and lost. Rodgers is clearly more valuable to his team than any other player in the league. He deserves to be the back-to-back winner of the MVP award and the Packers will miss him when is no longer their quarterback.

The NFL Honors ceremony will take place on Thursday, February 13 in Inglewood, California. You can catch the live broadcast at 9 pm on ABC.