Column: Predicting the NFL’s award winners

FILE - In this Aug. 26, 2017, file photo, Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller (58) watches as Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) calls time out during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, in Denver. The Broncos begin their season on Sept. 10 against the Los Angeles Chargers. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney, File)

The 2017 season kicks off Thursday night when the New England Patriots host the Kansas City Chiefs and preview week is in full swing. I’m here to toss my two cents into the mix by predicting the winners of the big awards handed out to individual players at the end of the season. Let’s get into it.

MVP: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

The league’s best individual player fell short of MVP honors last season because he was stuck behind Matt Ryan, who posted astonishing numbers as the leader of an explosive Falcons offense. Ryan certainly deserved the award but, had Rodgers got off to a faster start, he may have been able to steal the trophy.

A Ryan repeat doesn’t seem likely. The best bet is on Rodgers or Tom Brady, but Rodgers gets the edge for his ability to extend plays with his legs and the fact that he will go through a tougher schedule. Brady will be beating up the dregs of the AFC East and taking his spot on the pine relatively often.

Four thousand yards and 35 touchdowns seems like a lock, but Rodgers should go further than that with a very talented receiving core and Ty Montgomery by his side in the backfield from day one.

Offensive Player of the Year: Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Here’s where Brady should reasonably land, but the Patriots love will come later. Bell, like David Johnson in Arizona, is an excellent runner with legitimate wide receiver skills but Bell has better offensive pieces around him and should have more room to run.

It’s not impossible to imagine Bell topping 1,000 rushing and receiving yards. He reached 854 yards in 2014 and went for 616 yards last year in 12 games. An award win probably means his fantasy owners are very, very happy.

Defensive Player of the Year: Von Miller, LB, Denver Broncos

Miller won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2011 but has yet to take home the top prize at the end of the season. J.J. Watt has grabbed three, while Luke Kuechly took it in 2012 and division rival Khalil Mack won last year. Of course, that should have been Landon Collins, but I’m just a salty Giants fan with a column.

There have been rumblings for Joey Bosa, another AFC West pass rusher, to take this hardware home but I’m going with Miller to win his first. Watt shouldn’t be at the same level of statistical production as he works back from injury and he won’t be carrying the Texans defense like he used to. Miller will stuff the stat sheet for one of the league’s five best defenses and sack high-profile quarterbacks a whole bunch of times.

Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick, New England Patriots

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, right, walks on the field as quarterback Tom Brady (12) warms up during an NFL football practice, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

One day this may be the Belichick Award, but the Patriots’ wizard of a leader has somehow only won it three times – 2003, 2007 and 2010. With a joke of a division and an even better team than last year’s Super Bowl-winning roster, 14 wins seems like a fair estimate. No other surprise teams are jumping off the list, so give me consistency.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings

Without a rookie quarterback or wide receiver expected to jump right into a huge role, this year’s offensive rookie race is a game of “pick your favorite running back.” Cook, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Joe Mixon and late entry Kareem Hunt are the choices.

I’m picking Cook and not just because he’s on two of my fantasy teams. The Vikings should turn things around after a disappointing 2016 campaign, and it may start with a reinvigorated rushing attack powered by Cook, a runner who doesn’t jump off the page but always turns in good results. McCaffrey should also be great immediately, but I’m taking Cook by a hair.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Myles Garrett, DE, Cleveland Browns

No way the Browns screw this one up, right? Garrett is an incomparable talent who should have free rein to run all over the field and wreak havoc. Pass rushers usually win this award, and Garrett’s competition doesn’t pose much of a threat. So he is probably the safest pick of them all.

Comeback Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans

Just kidding. This is the safest pick. The NFL’s fiercest workout warrior is back from a difficult injury and talking a big game about his physical shape. The Texans are going to be running roughshod over a weak offensive schedule this year and Watt will receive most, if not all, of the credit. Pencil it in.


Tyler Keating is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at tyler.keating@uconn.edu. He tweets @tylerskeating.