As the regular season concludes, players have made their closing arguments for where they stand in the eyes of voters for the major awards presented by the Associated Press. While I am not a voter (unfortunately), I still love to make these predictions every year. That said, here are my 6 award picks for the 2020 season.
MVP: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
The best quarterback ever at putting up points without turning the ball over turned in another efficient season, throwing for 48 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions. In doing so, he broke his own record for the fewest interceptions thrown in a 40-touchdown season while setting a new career high in TD throws as well as the Packers franchise record (breaking his own mark of 45).
The former Super Bowl MVP (XLV) led the Packers to another NFC North division championship as well as the NFC's number-one seed, cementing that the road to be the conference's representative in Super Bowl LV will run through Lambeau Field.
He did this by working around an early-season injury to his top receiver Davonte Adams, throwing for 7 scores to only 2 picks in Adams's absence, before torching Minnesota with a 4-touchdown game in his receiver's return. According to Pro Football Reference, Rodgers is the only signal caller in NFL history with over 300 touchdown passes and fewer than 100 interceptions. Less than 100 interceptions in 13 years as a starter for the greatest thrower of the football ever.
After leading the league in passing touchdowns and passer rating, Rodgers edges Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes, Tennessee's Derrick Henry, and Buffalo's Josh Allen for Most Valuable Player.
Offensive Player of the Year: Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
The Titans' offense runs through Henry. The bruising back became the league's first back-to-back rushing champion since Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006 and 2007 with 2,027 rushing yards (5th-most all time) - also making him the only the eighth back to crack 2,000 rushing yards in a season and the first since Adrian Peterson in 2012. By pacing the league in rushing attempts (378), rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns (17), Henry became first player in league history to lead the NFL in all three categories twice (he did so last season as well).
Throughout the season, the former Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama became famous for his signature stiff-arms, most notably on Buffalo's Josh Norman, proving to be a lethal combination of size (6'3" 238 lbs.), speed, and devastating power. "King" Henry, as he has been dubbed, appeared in at least 60 percent of Tennessee's offensive snaps in a single game 11 times, an incredible workload, in which he only fumbled once.
Finishing behind the Titans running back for OPOY are Green Bay's Devante Adams (league-leading 18 touchdown catches), Seattle's DK Metcalf, and Kansas City's Travis Kelce (1,416 receiving yards are new record for a tight end).
Defensive Player of the Year: T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers
Just how good was Watt this season?
The Steelers linebacker not only was a terror to opposing quarterbacks with his league-leading 15 sacks, but also was impossible to run against ending 13 such plays either at or behind the line of scrimmage. He did a good chunk of this damage without his outside linebacker partner, Bud Dupree, who was lost to a torn ACL at the beginning of December.
Watt's play has been perhaps the only consistent piece of the Steelers' season which saw an 11-0 start before collapsing for three games, falling to 11-3 and surrendering the AFC's top seed to the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs. During that 0-3 skid, Watt himself registered five tackles for loss (including two sacks), 10 solo tackles, and a forced fumble.
Watt's consistent 2020 campaign, for me, puts him ahead of Miami's Xavien Howard for the award, even though Howard's league-leading 10 interceptions (including a pick in six consecutive outings to end the season) were highly impressive. Also in the running for DPOY were the ever-ferocious Aaron Donald (13.5 sacks), and Kansas City's do-it-all safety Tyrann Mathieu (career-high 6 picks).
Rookie of the Year: Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings
LSU sure has a knack for grooming NFL receivers. Six years after Odell Beckham Jr. set the league on fire, winning this very award after his spectacular 2014 campaign with the New York Giants, Jefferson is in prime position to win this award following his historic 2020 season.
Heading into Week 17, Jefferson needed 111 receiving yards to break Anquan Boldin's mark for receiving yards by a rookie (Beckham's season placed him 3rd on that list). And he did just that, becoming the first rookie to eclipse 1,400 receiving yards. The historic campaign placed him 4th in the league in receiving yards, seven yards behind DeAndre Hopkins and sixteen behind Travis Kelce, along with a team-leading 88 receptions.
Finishing behind Jefferson are LA Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert and Jaguars running back James Robinson. Herbert, the 6th selection in the draft, broke Baker Mayfield's rookie record for touchdown passes in a season with 31, while Robinson, an undrafted free agent signing, emerged after the surprising release of Leonard Fournette, to pace Jacksonville in rushing yards with 1,070 and added 10 total touchdowns.
Comeback Player of the Year: Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
As the Browns are now in the postseason for the first time since I was a one-year-old (2002), a fair amount of credit has gone to signal caller Baker Mayfield, and deservedly so. After an exciting rookie season in 2018 in which he broke the record for the most touchdown passes in a season by a rookie (which was broken by Justin Herbert this season), the former first overall pick regressed immensely in a much maligned 2019 campaign, turning the ball over 25 times while only throwing 22 touchdowns as Cleveland stumbled to a 6-10 record.
This season, under new head coach and offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, Mayfield cut the turnovers in half while throwing 26 touchdowns and posting career highs in passer rating (95.9) and total QBR (72.4, 9th best in the NFL). After the 11-5 season, the 2017 Heisman winner is now 23-22 as a starter after being 12-17 after his second season in the league.
Coach of the Year: Kevin Stefanski, Cleveland Browns
Stefanski entered Cleveland with a young, exciting defense. His offense was loaded with two dynamic running backs, two Pro Bowl receivers, and two of the more athletic tight ends in football.
His task was reversing the regression of his quarterback Baker Mayfield. Stefanksi's solution: ask him to do less - and it worked.
Only Baltimore and Tennessee were better at running the ball than Cleveland and the result was Mayfield's turnovers decreasing drastically. When he did need to put the ball in the hands of his signal caller, Stefanski successfully schemed Mayfield to success with exquisite play-design and timely play calling. The former assistant with the Minnesota Vikings enjoyed immediate success in his first NFL head coaching job, taking the much maligned Browns franchise to its best season since 2007 and its first postseason birth since 2002.