It's time for some fearless forecasts. Because, well, what else would you do in June?
Who do we like? Who don't we like? What is getting better and what is getting worse? Same for individuals. Which clubs are progressing and which are regressing? Who is about to win some individual hardware (real or imagined), and which teams are about to win some hardware (real or imagined)?
And if we're going to do this, then, dang it, let's go bold. If we are going to do way-too-early predictions and projections, then let's go pretty extreme. Right? Why not?
I have some thoughts – lots of thoughts – about this upcoming season. So I might as well share them in this particular forum, with the categories of my choosing. Because, again, why not? Some of these might actually come true.
MVP: Patrick Mahomes
Okay, this is not going out on a ledge whatsoever. This is chalk, But chalk is necessary here. Dude threw 50 TDs his first season as a starter. And, well, now he has a legit offensive line in front of him for the first time in a long time. He is going to kill it. Just accept it.
Defensive Player of the Year: Tremaine Edmunds
This guy is about to breakout in a massive way, and I get the sense the Bills already know it. Best get this extension done, ASAP. His speed and strength and wingspan and balance and instincts are all other-worldly. He is about to register the kind of statistics that gain national attention and the mainstream acclaim that he is worthy of. This defense is about to make another leap forward, and this will be the best of that bunch. Metrics meets production.
Offensive Player of the Year: Russell Wilson
I don't think he will play out this contract in Seattle and I am not sure Russ will love everything going on around him, but I do see 38 TD passes in his future and 5 more on the ground, and I suspect his future whereabouts in 2022 are every bit the story that Aaron Rodgers' are in 2021.
Comeback Player of the Year: Von Miller
Vic Fangio is now at ease with what he has and a little more at ease with being a head coach. Not that there aren't some rough edges and issues here, but he has a lot of toys to play with at this point. After a lost season, and now in the final year of his deal, it's time for Miller to regain his position as one of the dominant pass rushers in the game. Love the scheme and the array of talent around him.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Kyle Pitts
This guy is a machine. Impervious to defenders and scheme and pain and anything else. Matt Ryan lives to throw to his tight ends and they will be trailing in a ton of games because they are always trailing in a ton of their games. They have no defense, which will allow this amazing young talent to rack up yards and scores against soft defenses playing with a lead. And he doesn't need that, because he is going to be an unstoppable force no matter what. But having those advantages baked into the cake as a rookie can't possibly hurt.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Jamin Davis
The WFT defense is a thing, man. A real thing. That front seven might be the nastiest in the NFL. They have edge rushers and speed guys and space eaters and they are all young and cheap and hungry. And they have the kind of coach who can keep them focused and headed in the same direction. And then they add this linebacker who has unique attributes and speed and acceleration. I'm buying all of this, especially considering how weak this draft was in terms of surefire impact pass rushers and defensive tackles.
Coach of the Year: Sean McVay
For the first time in his head coaching career, this kingmaker has a truly elite NFL quarterback. He created Jared Goff and got more out of Goff than almost anyone else would have (perhaps we don't need the "almost" on that last sentence). Only, now he has the real deal in Matthew Stafford and he has legit weapons around him. And if this offensive line can just hold up a little bit we are going to see a ridiculous marriage between play-caller and schemer and passer. Brace yourself.
Offensive Player of the Year, Part 2: Justin Herbert
I didn't see this coming. The Chargers didn't see this coming. No one at Oregon saw this coming. It just happened. But man, it was no fluke. You watch the way this kid adapted to having to play far sooner than expected, under averse circumstances, and the way he flourished. And now he has a full offseason as a starter after a full season as a starter, a far better offensive line and a coaching staff far more likely to put him in the best chances to succeed. I find myself falling for the Chargers, again. Only this time I don't think they will make me look like a fool. If Russ isn't the Offensive Player of the Year, it'll be this kid.
AFC Rushing Leader: J.K. Dobbins
Check out any of his peripherals from his rookie year. A rookie year in which Mark Ingram was still supposed to be the man. Dobbins has explosion and is in a perfect scheme in the pistol. His elusiveness and ability to adapt to a moving and shifting meshpoint makes him a true game-changer in an offense that is zigging when everyone else zags. Baltimore added some new coaches and wrinkles but will still run more than any team in the NFL – by quite a margin – and they won't want Lamar Jackson running 16-20 times a game once he is making $40M a year.
NFC Rushing Leader: Christian McCaffrey
He is a dominant force and will be as motivated as ever coming off a lost 2020. Injury alone will not slow him down. He is focused to a fault. He will lead the NFL in yards from scrimmage and combined yardage by a wide margin and pick up right where he left off in 2019. Aaron Jones will see an entirely different side of life if/when Aaron Rodgers is traded and I love the Eagles rushing attack, but McCaffrey is special by any standard.
Sack Leader: Bradley Chubb
I already chronicled the kind of year I believe Von Miller will have. But he is not as young and twitchy and in-his-prime as Chubb. Chubb has gone through two trying seasons in which things have not gone his way and he has not had around him what was expected. That will change in 2021. He will grasp, fully, what Fangio has created for him and edge out Chase Young for the sack lead. And then he will get a massive payday. This Broncos defense has the makings of a truly elite unit if the top individuals take a step forward, and I anticipate they do just that.
Interception Leader: Minkah Fitzpatrick
The Steelers pass rush may slip some. They may just allow the premier defensive backs to take a few more chances and follow their instincts and try to capitalize. And none will do so more than Fitzpatrick. The Steelers made a rare trade to land him, and he will continue to pay dividends.
First QB Benched (non-injury): Andy Dalton
The Bears will go with the veteran at first, because dudes are trying to save their jobs there and play the game to their advantage (at least in their perception). And going to Justin Fields too soon could undermine the entire undertaking of moving up to draft him in the first place … and well, maybe, just maybe, they have learned something about that in Chicago after the Mitch Trubisky Experience. In the end it won't matter, and heads will roll, but I believe In Fields.
First QB Botched: Tua Tagovailoa
There are plenty of smart and clued in people who work in high-ranking spots with NFL teams who believe that Dolphins coach Brian Flores is not really all-in on Tua. Who think he was really a pro-Herbert guy who will never really let that go and it will eventually drag this franchise down and play out quite awkwardly on Sundays. And, well, the thing with Tua was far too unnecessarily weird last year. So, yeah, watch this space.
Biggest Trade Around Deadline: Marshon Lattimore
The Saints have extended a slew of players and spent cash over cap for years and done a bunch of contracts that some thought could not be done. But this is one player who has yet to earn the mega-deal from them and I am not sure that is in the cards in the Big Easy now. I suspect this team takes a few steps back in 2021 – which would only be natural, and maybe they flip this contract for future assets.
Best Free-Agent Signing: Joe Thuney
The Chiefs had one massive area to address, and they addressed it over and over and over again. And none better than with Thuney, adding arguably the best guard in football and giving up nothing but money in return. No other assets. And with Mahomes taking a paltry $62M in new money in the first three years of his team-friendly deal, well, Clark Hunt could afford it. Especially just a few years removed from his first Super Bowl. Spend on the guys to protect the QB.
Worst Free-Agent Signing: Yannick Ngakoue
He has some numbers than might make you think he is a difference-maker, but a deeper dive reveals suspect results. And now the team with maybe the worst pass rush in football that has repeatedly missed on draft prospects and free agents on that side of the ball has nabbed this guy as the answer to their most obvious deficiency. Good luck with that. Provides nothing against the run, and needs a lot of help to deliver the goods in the pocket.
Coach Killer: Daniel Jones
Oh, my, does he tend to turn the ball over. Oh, my, do the Giants require massive gains from him. Oh, geez, how they spend on new parts for him on offense. Oh, no, I don't think it will change much at all. And if this goes as poorly as expected, then heads will roll because of it, especially as other NFL teams continue to add young cheap quarterbacks in the interim who far out-produce this one.
Josh Rosen Award: Sam Darnold
My, these two might always be linked together in one way, shape or form. Rosen's star has greatly faded, with the returns on the trades for him dropping significantly by the year. And, gulp, when David Tepper decides by 2022 (or, gulp, by November) that Darnold ain't close to the answer for all that ails them at the QB spot, well, good luck getting more than a mid-round pick in return. That is where I think this is heading, and this very well could be a declining asset.