After a season that seemed improbable to take place at times last year, we got through it. Ahead of the 2021 season, we are back to some normalcy in sports. We saw some breakout players last year that could surprise us in the new campaign. Here, we discuss dark horse candidates for each NFL award:
Last year we saw Josh Allen, who was a dark horse to take home the MVP award last season, come close to taking it home. One dark horse name that we should consider this season is Los Angeles Chargers’ Justin Herbert, who secured Offensive Rookie of the Year honors last season. Another pick would be Arizona Cardinals’ Kyler Murray, who comes into the new season with a revamped offense. Murray has shown flashes of promise in his game and could take the next step towards stardom.
Offense Player of the Year
Last year, Tennessee Titans’ Derrick Henry won the Offensive Player of the Year award, rushing for over 2,000 yards. He is again favored, alongside Minnesota Vikings’ Dalvin Cook, ahead of the 2021 season. A dark horse candidate for the award would be Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown, who has struggled to stay healthy across his first two NFL season. If he can stay on the field, he could display a special season. Another choice is Minnesota Vikings’ Justin Jefferson, who finished as the runner-up for Offensive Rookie of the Year last season. The final selection for this award is somewhat practical, but New York Giants’ Saquon Barkley has the ability to compete for the Offensive Player of the Year award after missing most of the 2020 season with a torn ACL. The Giants offense has an array of targets on the outside, leaving Barkley with more free space to run.
Defensive Player of the Year
It is seeming more unlikely that Aaron Donald, TJ Watt, or Myles Garrett wouldn’t be the front-runners for Defensive Player of the Year for the next at least the next five years. Other names to consider include Indianapolis Colts’ Darius Leonard. The former Defensive Rookie of the Year kicked off his career with 163 tackles, seven sacks, and two interceptions. He followed up his rookie campaign with 121 tackles, five sacks, and five interceptions. Last season, Leonard posted 132 tackles and three sacks. Leonard is on his contract year and is poised to be a top linebacker in the league. In addition, we can’t disregard San Francisco 49ers’ Nick Bosa, who could have a major impact after coming off a torn ACL last season.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Clear favorites for Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2021 include Jacksonville Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence, Cincinnati Bengals’ Ja’Marr Chase, and Pittsburgh Steelers’ Najee Harris. However, we shouldn’t sleep on New York Jets’ Elijah Moore. He has the potential to become a star receiver with the Jets, as their offense is slowly coming together. Moore could be the volume target for Zach Wilson in New York. Denver Broncos’ Javonte Williams landed in an interesting spot, and could have an Alvin Kamara/Mark Ingram type of impact with Melvin Gordon. Having a strong running game could also help Drew Lock develop as a more comfortable passer.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
There aren’t many heavy favorites for this award, but Tennessee Titans’ Caleb Farley is a dark horse candidate, considering his previous injury history. If he can stay healthy, Farley could emerge as a CB1 for the Titans for years to come. New York Giants’ Azeez Ojulari and Cleveland Browns’ Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah are among other outside names that fell to the later stages of the second round that could make immediate impacts and compete for the award.
Coach of the Year
With names such as Brian Flores, Sean McVay, and Kevin Stefanski among the favorites for Coach of the Year, most forget about some familiar faces. New England Patriots’ Bill Belichick could have a bounce-back year this season after a busy free agency period. In the 2021 Draft, the team grabbed Mac Jones as their potential quarterback of the future. Another candidate would be former Bill Belichick employee Joe Judge. He is controlling a New York Giants team that maintains what could be one of the top 10 secondaries in the new season. With a returning Saquon Barkley and newcomer wide receiver in Kenny Golladay, New York could surprise skeptics this year. Another NFC East contender for the award is Washington’s Ron Rivera. Washington seems to have a top defensive unit in the NFL, and if Ryan Fitzpatrick can lead the offense to a division title, it may be enough to secure the award. j