Adrian Peterson ran away with the NFL MVP award last season, leaving no doubt about the winner by the time the lights finally went out in Week 17. Another 2,000-yard rusher is unlikely to find his way to the surface this season, but there are plenty of players primed to breakout, or just re-establish themselves, as the 2013 season prepares to get underway.
Last season’s core of rookie standouts Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III stole the headlines for the most part and could be in line for some MVP consideration in their second time around, along with all the usual suspects — Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning to name a few. Although, an entirely new crop of rookies are making their way to the stage in Week 1 with plenty of fanfare surrounding Rams’ receiver Tavon Austin and Bills’ quarterback EJ Manuel among others, who could be looking at Rookie of the Year honors.
It’s awfully early to start throwing out guarantees about NFL regular season award winners, but NESN.com NFL editors Luke Hughes and Doug Kyed were in the mood for some prognosticating and decided to take a preseason crack at their expected award winners.
So, take a gander below and see if you agree or maybe even hate their reasoning altogether — it’s totally cool if you do.
Kyed: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
I expect Brady to have one of his typical seasons, which will look even more impressive after losing Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd and Danny Woodhead. Brady looks the same and, for the most part, acts the same as New England readies itself for the 2013 season, but Brady has a new patience with his young targets. The signal-caller seems to be working just as hard, but not stressing and worrying so much about the little things. That new mentality should translate to success for Brady as the Patriots compete for another Super Bowl title. Expect another huge season out of No. 12.
Hughes: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
Brees has now put up two consecutive seasons of 5,000-plus yards through the air, and he could be verging on another in 2013. With Sean Payton‘s offensive genius back at the helm in New Orleans, Brees will be allowed to let it fly with freedom once again and he’ll likely be more careful with the ball (19 interceptions, five fumbles in ’12) too. The stats won’t matter much without wins, though, and I’d guess the Saints win 11 or 12 games, including a NFC South title, this season, which should put him over the top. Peterson, Rodgers and Brady will likely all be hanging around, too.
Kyed: Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions
Johnson already had video game stats last year for the Lions, but he may put up even better numbers this year. If he breaks the 2,000-yard mark and adds some more touchdowns, there may be no other choice in the matter than to give Megatron the OPOY award. The Lions may not be good this year, but Johnson will be.
Hughes: Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans
CJ may not get back to the 2K mark that earned him his nickname in 2009, but, still in the midst of his prime at 27, he should get back over the 1,500-yard hump in 2013. The Titans added some girth up front with Andy Levitre and Chance Warmack, which should open up some more running lanes for Johnson to show off his gamebreaking speed. Peterson will be lurking close by as well as Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller and New Orleans’ Drew Brees.
Kyed: J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
There is no other player in the league like Watt, who is on track to earn his second-straight DPOY award. Watt may not put up the insane stats he did last year, but even if he cut his sacks in half last year, he would have been in the running for the league’s best defensive player. No defender changes a team’s game plan like Watt. He’s the best pass-rushing five-technique defensive end the league has seen since Bruce Smith.
Hughes: Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina Panthers
Maybe I’m a bit biased, but I don’t think Kuechly got enough credit for the impact he had on the Panthers defense as a rookie. Sure, he won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, but he should have gotten some consideration for Defensive Player of the Year, too. He’s been a monster this preseason and should expect to continue his ascent to the top of the NFL’s defensive depth chart. I’d bet on another 160-plus tackles, three sacks and a few turnovers that should open up some eyes. As expected, Houston’s J.J. Watt, Green Bay’s Clay Matthews and Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins will also be in competition.
Kyed: Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
I expect the Chiefs to contend for the AFC West division, and if they can’t take it, they should still get one of the AFC wildcard spots. If that’s the case, Reid should absolutely get Coach of the Year honors for taking Kansas City from worst to playoffs. Reid will, of course, have some help with a talented roster and an upgrade at quarterback.
Hughes: Mike McCoy, San Diego Chargers
McCoy inherits a Chargers team that has seemingly accepted underachieving as commonplace. Norv Turner, for all of his offense ingenuity, actually caused Philip Rivers to regress over the past few seasons, but it’s nothing that McCoy’s up-tempo system can’t fix. Rivers will enjoy a long-overdue resurgence to the tune of around 4,000 yards and a 2:1 touchdown to interception ratio. The Chargers will sneak into the playoffs with 10 wins and the McCoy will be heralded with salvaging the talent that Turner had corroded.
Kyed: Kenbrell Thompkins, WR, New England Patriots
My expectations for Thompkins are sky high after seeing him throughout training camp and the preseason. The rookie wideout could easily grab 70 catches and 1,000 yards. Thompkins may have lucked out, coming into a class with just one first-round quarterback, two first-round wide receivers and no first-round running backs. Without much big-name competition, grabbing OROY honors could be easier for the Cincinnati product who, like his quarterback, doesn’t seem to be too bothered by anything.
Hughes: Kenbrell Thompkins, WR, New England Patriots
Three months ago, no one even knew much about this undrafted rookie. After an impressive training camp and a few quality preseason outings, Thompkins has earned a starting role at wide receiver and Tom Brady‘s trust on the outside. It would surprise me if Thompkins caught 60 passes for 800-plus yards and handful of touchdowns this season, and those numbers might just be good enough for ROY honors. St. Louis’ Tavon Austin and Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy will likely give him the best run for his money.
Kyed: Jarvis Jones, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers
I don’t think Jones is the most talented defender to come into the league this year, but he did find himself in the perfect place in Pittsburgh. I expect Jones to fill the James Harrison role perfectly, which should mean plenty of opportunities for sacks. Jones can cover a little bit, and set the edge against the run, but he’s best when he’s rounding the corner and getting after the passer. With double-digit sacks, Jones should take the DROY award.
Hughes: Tyrann Mathieu, S, Arizona Cardinals
Mathieu has walked a pretty tight line since draft day and he’s shown flashes of brilliance throughout the preseason. He likes to take risks in the secondary, which could be counted against him but will likely lead to a few memorable turnovers this season. His special teams impact also gives him an advantage over the likes of Detroit’s Ziggy Ansah, Miami’s Dion Jordan and St. Louis’ Alec Ogletree, although all three are also quality candidates for the award.
Kyed: Brian Orakpo, LB, Washington Redskins
Orakpo missed almost the entire 2012 season with a torn pectoral muscle. After sitting 14 games, Orakpo should be able to get back to his 2009 and 2010 form that got him named to two straight Pro Bowls. With double digit sacks on an improved Redskins team, Orakpo will get award voters’ attention.
Hughes: Darrelle Revis, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
He seems like the obvious choice, but Revis will prove that he’s still the best pure cover corner in football with a DPOY-worthy season. The Buccaneers’ defense will improve vastly under Revis’ leadership. Unfortunately, the offense will keep them from playoff contention. Houston’s Brian Cushing and Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew are two other injury returnees to keep an eye on.