NFL Honors: Who will win vs. who should win
On Thursday night, the 11th annual NFL Honors ceremony will celebrate a group of talented players and coaches who excelled at their position and outperformed their competition throughout the 2021 NFL season.
During the event, set to air at 9 p.m. ET on ABC, the NFL will crown the 2021 league MVP, Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, and name the best rookies on offense and defense.
The parity among teams and players was greater than ever in 2021, and voting for the aforementioned awards is expected to be tight in almost every category.
Let’s examine the frontrunners for each of these coveted NFL honors, and predict who will win compared to who we think should win on Thursday evening.
2021 NFL MVP
Who will win: Aaron Rodgers
Coming off his third league MVP win in 2020, Aaron Rodgers returned to Green Bay (following an offseason filled with turmoil) and led his team to a third straight NFC North title, third consecutive 13-win season, and the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
So Aaron Rodgers' final season numbers will be:— Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky) January 9, 2022
366 of 531 (68.9 percent), 4,115 yards, 37 touchdowns, four interceptions, 111.9 passer rating.
For the second straight season, the 38-year-old topped the league in touchdown percentage (7.0) and interception percentage (0.8), and finished the regular season with 37 touchdown passes (fourth most) and just four interceptions.
Who should win: Tom Brady
The oldest active player in the NFL this season, 44-year-old Tom Brady outplayed almost every other quarterback, from a statistical standpoint.
The seven-time Super Bowl winner ranked first in passing yards (5,316), touchdown passes (43), completions (485), and attempts (719), and guided the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 13-4 record, tied with Green Bay for the best record in the NFL.
Like Rodgers, Brady's season was not without adversity. He dealt with a number of injuries to his teammates and lost star wideout Antonio Brown when the troubled veteran ran off the field mid-game in Week 17 and was later released from the team.
Despite those difficulties, Brady kept Tampa Bay in line for a title defense all season.
You could argue he was far more valuable to his team than Rodgers, who was a major distraction at times, especially during his offseason feud with the front office and in the middle of the season, because of his COVID-19 vaccination controversy.
2021 Offensive Player of the Year
Who will win: Cooper Kupp
No receiver had a better year than Los Angeles Rams wideout Cooper Kupp, who achieved the Triple Crown at his position and became the first player since 2005 to lead the NFL in receptions (145), receiving yards (1,947), and touchdown catches (16).
The 28-year-old is just the fourth player since 1970 to accomplish the feat, joining Jerry Rice (1990), Sterling Sharpe (1992), and Steve Smith (2005).
Who should win: Jonathan Taylor
Interestingly, neither Rice, Sharpe, nor Smith won Offensive Player of the Year the season they achieved the Triple Crown.
Quarterbacks beat out the first two, and a running back won the award in 2005.
While Kupp had an outstanding season and deserves plenty of consideration for Offensive Player of the Year, Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor was equally special.
The second-year back led the NFL in rushing yards (1,811) and rushing scores (18), as well as scrimmage yards (2,171), 100-yard rushing games (10), first down runs (107), and tied for first in total TDs (20).
Taylor also became the third player in NFL history with a rushing touchdown in at least 11 consecutive games in one season and recorded at least 100 scrimmage yards and at least one rushing touchdown in eight straight games, which tied LaDainian Tomlinson and Lydell Mitchell for the NFL's longest streak.
Taylor may even see some MVP votes thrown his way, as he completely transformed Indy's outlook once the team began to lean on the offensive stud.
2021 Defensive Player of the Year
Who will win: T.J. Watt
Last season, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt lost by seven votes to perennial contender Aaron Donald in Defensive Player of the Year voting.
This season, Watt has the upper hand. The 27-year-old made an otherwise mediocre Pittsburgh team a playoff contender, and tied Michael Strahan's single-season record for sacks, with 22.5.
Who should win: T.J. Watt
While the NFL added a 17th game to the schedule in 2021, Watt only needed 15 to tie Strahan's long-standing record.
The defensive playmaker missed two games with injury, but finished with 64 total tackles, five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and seven passes defensed.
2021 Comeback Player of the Year
Who will win: Dak Prescott
If voting occurred after the postseason, Burrow would undoubtedly take home the honor, but the Associated Press cast their ballots at the end of the regular season.
Prescott returned this year after suffering a gruesome ankle injury in Week 5 of the 2020 season and piled up 4,449 yards (seventh most) and 37 passing touchdowns (tied for fourth most), while his offense ranked first in total yards and scoring.
454 days ago, Dak Prescott suffered a compound ankle fracture which ended his 2020 season— J ✭ (@AMERlCASTEAM) January 9, 2022
The following season, Dak
Led his team to a 12-5 record.
Threw for 37 TDs in a season, a franchise record
& swept the NFC East. First time since 1998
THE comeback player of the year 👏🏾 pic.twitter.com/pXFCqxCvW8
Who should win: Joe Burrow
Burrow tore his ACL and MCL in Week 11 of the 2020 season, and bounced back to help Cincinnati go from a 4-11-1 record to a 10-7 campaign and an AFC North title.
He also ranked first in completion percentage among starting quarterbacks (70.4), sixth in passing yards (4,611) — which was also a Bengals single-season franchise record — racked up the eighth most touchdown passes, with 34 (also a franchise record), and had the second best quarterback rating (108.3).
2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year
Who will win: Ja’Marr Chase
With his college quarterback throwing passes to him, rookie Ja'Marr Chase got off to a swift start in Cincinnati, with 786 receiving yards and seven touchdown catches through his first eight games.
His production hit a brief snag midseason, which opened the door for rookie New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones to jump to the top of the oddsboard for a moment.
However, a record-shattering 266-yard, three-touchdown outing against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 17 reestablished Chase as the favorite to win OROY.
Who should win: Ja’Marr Chase
At the conclusion of his breakout season, Chase had set the record for most receiving yards by a rookie in a game (266) and a season (1,455), which is also a single-season record for any Bengals receiver.
2021 Defensive Rookie of the Year
Who will win: Micah Parsons
The only player who will likely win by unanimous vote, Micah Parsons is the Defensive Rookie of the Year, and could even steal some votes for Defensive Player of the Year.
Parsons' size, speed, and versatility reshaped a previously abysmal Cowboys stop unit into a major threat to opposing offenses.
With 13 sacks, he nearly broke Jevon Kearse's record (14.5), set in 1999.
Who should win: Micah Parsons
Parsons excelled as an off-the-ball linebacker and situational pass-rusher. In addition to leading all rookies in sacks, he finished with 84 total tackles, three forced fumbles, three passes defensed, and was one shy of the lead for most tackles for loss this season.
2021 NFL Coach of the Year
Who will win: Mike Vrabel
Coach of the Year has recently turned into a first-year coaches award, but fourth-year Tennessee Titans front man Mike Vrabel will buck the trend.
Vrabel steered his team to back-to-back AFC South titles, and did so without star running back Derrick Henry for much of the season, while his top receivers, Julio Jones and A.J. Brown, both dealt with injuries.
The Tennessee Titans have used EIGHTY-NINE players this season. At most, they’ll finish with 10 guys who played in every regular-season game. They’re 11-5, division champs and a win away from the AFC’s No. 1 seed.— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_ATH) January 2, 2022
Mike Vrabel is absolutely the NFL Coach of the Year.
Despite their health issues, the Titans finished 12-5 and earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC, with decisive victories over Kansas City and Buffalo in the regular season.
Who should win: Zac Taylor
Vrabel's success is noteworthy, but no coach executed a greater turnaround than Zac Taylor during the 2021 season.
As the leader of a forlorn franchise that finished with the worst record in 2019 and just four wins in 2020, Taylor and his group of young talent shocked the NFL with a 10-7 season and Cincinnati's first AFC North title since 2015.
The Bengals also beat perennial playoff contender Kansas City in the regular season and endured just one divisional loss (if you throw out Week 18's defeat against Cleveland, in which Cincy rested its starters).
From worst to first, Taylor pulled off an unthinkable rebuild way ahead of schedule, and virtually no one expected him to be capable of doing so.