Two weeks into a grueling, 17-game NFL schedule, some the gridiron’s finest have already begun to separate themselves from the pack, with sights set on the glory of year-end awards and honors.
The 2021 NFL season kicked off on the evening of September 9, when the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosted ‘America’s Team’, the Dallas Cowboys. The two sides were led by their respective franchise quarterbacks, Tom Brady and Dak Prescott. Brady and Prescott two of the very best in the league at the most important position in the sport. As such, they are also among the frontrunners for the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award – an honor that Brady has already earned on three occasions.
In the fortnight since, neither has done anything to his chances of listing the award. However, around them an impressive and star-studded field of contenders has developed, consisting both of longtime household names and younger players taking star turns. Here is an updated look at top candidates for not only NFL’s MVP award, but also for a host of honours that will be awarded at the NFL Honors ceremony following the 2021 season.
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Most Valuable Player (MVP)
Kyler Murray (Arizona Cardinals; +550, or 11/2)
Murray is one of the NFL’s fastest rising stars. That he is the catalyst for a 2-0 Cardinals team that’s got designs on serious contention has sent his MVP odds skyrocketing.
Through two 2021 regular season games, he’s completed 73.5% of his pass attempts, for 689 yards (more than ten yards per attempt), with seven touchdown passes, and another two rushing TDs.
Murray’s got help, of course, in the form of all-word wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, as well as Christian Kirk, former Bengals star A.J. Green, rookie Rondale Moore and running back Chase Edmonds. However, there can be no mistake as to who exactly is engine that makes the Cardinals offense run.
Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs; +600, or 6/1)
The 2018 NFL MVP, Mahomes is at this point a perennial favourite for the award, and will be until further notice.
Leading an attack put together by offensive guru Andy Reid, Mahomes is surrounded by top-tier playmakers such as tight end Travis Kelce, wide receiver Tyreek Hill, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and protected by one of the NFL’s deepest and most talented offensive lines.
Boasting an incredible 39-9 record as a starter in Kansas City, Mahomes has yet to record a season with fewer than 11 wins. Although, he did just lose his first game in September as an NFL starter, so maybe his star is fading… just kidding! Barring something totally unforeseen, Mahomes will once again be among the leading MVP vote-getters.
Tom Brady (Tampa Bay Buccaneers; +700, or 7/1)
It’s starting to feel a bit silly outlining Brady’s case for such honors. The aforementioned three-time MVP and consensus greatest quarterback of all time, is leading a Super Bowl winning roster that lost NO ONE over the offseason and is exceedingly likely to be favoured in every game it plays.
No need to overthink this one.
Matthew Stafford (Los Angeles Rams; +1100, 11/1)
After an individually productive but loss-laden dozen years in Detroit, Stafford has hit the ground running in his opening days at the helm of a contender. Through two games Stafford has completed nearly 70% of his passes, for 599 yards (or almost eleven yards apiece), with five touchdowns, as as Rams have charged out to a 2-0 start, and drawn rave reviews.
Whether the sailing is this smooth throughout the season remains to be seen. However, based on the early results, it appears that Stafford’s partnership with coach Sean McVay could a very fruitful one .
Best of the Rest
The NFL MVP has essentially become an award for the league’s best quarterback. Thus, unsurprisingly, rounding out the top ten favourites among the bookies are the reigning winner, the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers (+1300), the Buffalo Bills’ Josh Allen (+1400), Dak Prescott (+1600), the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson (+1600), the Baltimore Ravens’ Lamar Jackson (+1800), and Las Vegas Raider (and very intriguing value bet) Derek Carr (+2000).
Another pair of interesting, slightly lesser-known names to consider are the Los Angeles Chargers’ Justin Herbert (+3000), who’s picking up after a phenomenal rookie campaign, and Baker Mayfield (+5000), who’s heading up a loaded offense for potentially excellent Cleveland Browns team.
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Rookie of the Year
Trevor Lawrence (Jacksonville Jaguars)
The No.1 overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence is tasked with turning around the fortunes of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Lawrence has been lauded as a ‘generational talent’ and the best QB prospect to come out of the draft since Andrew Luck back in 2012.
Lawrence will be helped by a plethora of talented playmakers on the offensive side of the ball who could be primed for breakout seasons. RB James Robinson was exceptional in 2020 and the Jags also drafted RB Travis Etienne, with pick No.25 the overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Throw into the mix WRs D.J. Chark and Laviska Shenault, and there is a lot of young talent for Lawrence to grow with in Florida.
Justin Fields (Chicago Bears)
The fourth quarterback taken in the 2021 NFL Draft, Fields could potentially be the best of the bunch. He, sooner rather than later, is likely to be handed the keys to the Chicago Bears offense.
WR Allen Robinson will be his go-to-target, while RB David Montgomery is an up-and-coming talent in the running game, so Fields could be in with a shot of taking home the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.
Micah Parsons (Dallas Cowboys)
No.12 overall pick, Micah Parsons will instantly improve a woeful Dallas Cowboys defense in a number of ways.
Parsons is powerful enough to hold his own against offensive linemen, adept enough to tackle running backs of all sizes and explosive enough to cover opposing TEs and RBs in pass coverage. The Penn State product could be the difference-maker for America’s Team.
Best of the Rest
Offensively, the five first-round quarterbacks spring to mind, with Lance, Wilson and Mac Jones all in the mix should they start for large portions of the season.
At the wide receiver position, there are a trio of exciting talents, including Philadelphia Eagles’ Heisman Trophy winner Devonta Smith, Cincinnati Bengals’ Ja’Marr Chase and Miami Dolphins’ Jaylen Waddle in the mix. Meanwhile, Atlanta Falcons’ TE Kyle Pitts is a physical giant and Pittsburgh Steelers’ Najee Harris is in the right situation for success.
Defensively, cornerbacks Jaycee Horn (Panthers) and Patrick Surtain II (Broncos) will be contenders for the award, as will a number of edge rushers, including Kwity Paye (Colts), who were drafted to play-off contending teams.
Coach of the Year
Brandon Staley (Los Angeles Chargers)
Los Angeles Chargers had a top-six passing offence and a top-nine passing defence in 2020 in what is becoming an increasingly pass-orientated NFL. If coach Brandon Staley can improve their rankings on both run defence and run offence, they will improve on their 7-9 record.
The first-year coach worked wonders as defensive coordinator, with the Los Angeles Rams last season helping them become the No.1 defence in both yards and scoring in 2020.
Brian Flores (Miami Dolphins)
A 15-17 record over the past two seasons doesn’t scream a Coach of the Year candidate, but Brian Flores is slowly turning his charges into contenders in the AFC East.
With a 10-6 record in 2020, Flores and the Dolphins have added two first-round talents in the form of WR Jaylen Waddle and DE Jaelan Phillips (and with the expectation that second-year QB Tua Tagovailoa will make a big leap in 2021), Flores could be in contention for COTY.
Kyle Shanahan (San Francisco 49ers)
Some consider this a make-or-break year for Kyle Shanahan after a disappointing 2020 season. The 49ers selected North Dakota State QB Trey Lance No.3 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, with incumbent Jimmy Garoppolo suffering injuries in three of his four campaigns in San Fran.
There is undoubted talent for the 49ers on both offence and defence. If it all comes together in 2021, the franchise will be contenders, as will Shanahan for the COTY.
Best of the Rest
The usual candidates such as Kansas City Chiefs’ Andy Reid, Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin, Buffalo Bills’ Sean McDermott will be in the mix, but there is always a surprise package team in the NFL, with their HC a serious contender for this award.
Offensive Player of the Year (OPOTY)
Derrick Henry (Tennessee Titans)
Derrick Henry is hoping to emulate the great Marshall Faulk in defending his NFL Offensive Player of the Year title in 2021. Faulk earned three consecutive OPOTY awards between 1999 and 2001.
Henry, the rushing title victor in both 2019 and 2020, may receive even more running room in 2021, with the Titans acquiring WR Julio Jones from Atlanta to pair with A.J. Brown. Expect Henry to get stronger as the season progresses.
Christian McCaffrey (Carolina Panthers)
The Carolina Panthers difference-maker, Christian McCaffrey is one of just three players in NFL history to amass 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season.
Missing for the majority of the 2020 season, this will be the first opportunity for McCaffrey to contribute to head coach Matt Rhule’s offense for an entire season. If he puts up the numbers he did in 2019, he’ll once again be in contention for the award.
Davante Adams (Green Bay Packers)
If Derrick Henry hadn’t eclipsed 2,000 rushing yards with 17 touchdowns, Adams would have likely won the Offensive Player of the Year award in 2020.
Adams caught 115 receptions in 14 games last season for Green Bay. He totalled 1,374 yards and 18 touchdowns in the process. A similar performance this season would be hard for the award voters to ignore.
Best of the Rest
New Orleans Saints’ RB Alvin Kamara and WR Michael Thomas, Dallas Cowboys’ QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott, Buffalo Bills’ WR Stefon Diggs, San Francisco 49ers’ TE George Kittle, Kansas City Chiefs’ WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce are all talents who could put up OPOTY numbers.
Defensive Player of the Year (DPOTY)
Aaron Donald (Los Angeles Rams)
Three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald is an obvious candidate to become the first player in NFL history to win the award four times.
Having earned the award in 2017, 2018 and 2020, the defensive tackle is a one-man wrecking crew for the Rams, recording double-digit sack numbers in four consecutive seasons.
Myles Garrett (Cleveland Browns)
The first overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, Myles Garrett is a physical specimen who has recorded 42.5 sacks in his first four seasons in the league. But his success hasn’t been without controversy.
The big defensive end earned a suspension in 2019 for throwing his helmet at Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mason Rudolph, earning an indefinite suspension in the process. All told, however, Garrett is primed for a run at the DPOTY award.
Nick Bosa (San Francisco 49ers)
San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa will be keen to put an injury-ravaged 2020 season behind him after taking the league by storm in his 2019 rookie season, a season in which he won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
As part of a star-studded defensive front seven in San Fran, Bosa is likely to receive ample opportunities to impress in one-on-one battles where the likes of Donald and Garrett could face more double-teams.
Best of the Rest
The 2020 sack leader T.J. Watt of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ must be considered a favourite for the award as well. Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ LB Devin White is an all-round threat, as he recorded 140 tackles and nine sacks in 2020.
Defensive backs who also deserve a shout-out include CBs Xavien Howard (Dolphins) and J.C. Jackson (Patriots) after leading the league in interceptions with 10 and 9 respectively in 2020.