After last week’s Hall of Fame Game, between the Arizona Cardinals and the Dallas Cowboys, the NFL is officially back. Get hype!
What a time to be alive. This week, HBO’s Hard Knocks returns. Jay Cutler finessed his way out of the first two weeks of training camp, and agreed to a one-year deal with the Miami Dolphins. The New York Giants put out another electric dance video.
With all that said, it is time for my 2017-18 NFL awards predictions.
AP MOST VALUABLE PLAYER+ AP OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Derek Carr, qb (oakland raiders)
I absolutely love this kid. His 81 passing TD’s in his first three seasons are good for 4th most in NFL history. Last year, Carr led the Raiders to a 12-3 record before breaking his fibula in week 16. He threw for 3,937 yards with 28 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
The guy doesn’t even curse. He has a mamba mentality and is the hardest worker on the field. He ranked 7th in completion percentage for quarterbacks who threw at least 560 passes. That number will only go up, with the addition of Jared Cook and Cordarrelle Patterson. Adding Marshawn Lynch to the backfield will keep this offense clicking.
Oakland is also up against a plethora of teams who do not defend the pass well. Nine of their matchups will be against teams who, last year, ranked in the bottom half for passing defense. The NFL’s highest paid player is about to have a monster year.
AP COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR: ROB GRONKOWSKI, TE (NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS)
While only starting six games last year, Gronk still finished 4th in 20+ yard receptions among all TE’s. After getting his third surgery to repair a herniated disc, Gronkowski looks to be 100 percent, and quite possibly in the best shape of his life. He is now working with Alex Guerrero, the man in charge of Tom Brady’s TB12 Sports Therapy Center.
Just how dedicated is Gronk to staying healthy? For every alcoholic beverage he consumes, Gronk has to drink three glasses of water.
The addition of Brandin Cooks makes Gronkowski even harder to defend. Cooks’s speed makes him a legit threat over the top, which defenders will have to monitor. This will lead to less double teams for Gronk, which means even more Gronk spikes. The 4x Pro Bowl TE could possibly have his best year.
AP DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: JADEVEON CLOWNEY, DE (HOUSTON TEXANS)
Ever since that epic hit during the 2013 Outback Bowl, Clowney has been a force, when healthy. Coming off a breakout year in which he collected six sacks and 40 tackles, Clowney was selected to his first Pro Bowl. In just 14 games, Clowney earned 2nd team AP All Pro honors.
With JJ Watt healthy, the Texans defense will be up there with the best. Their early preseason depth chart has Clowney listed as an outside linebacker. A freak athlete who cannot be blocked, Clowney’s versatility will be key in order for Houston to make a deep run.
AP OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: LEONARD FOURNETTE, rb (jacksonville jaguars)
The Jaguars have been in need of a good running back since Maurice Jones-Drew. I know it sounds crazy to give an award to a Jaguars player. Not only a Jags player, but a running back who will have to go up against the Titans and Texans, both division rivals, who defend the run extremely well. But let’s be real, this kid is special.
To be honest, I’m usually not even a fan of LSU running backs in the NFL. They give us too many Joseph Addai’s and Jeremy Hill’s, but Fournette is a different breed. He is an absolute house, with great speed. Former Jaguar Fred Taylor called him, “an absolute beast” and “a man amongst boys.” Taylor knows a thing or two about running the ball so I’ll take his word for it.
Fournette will be the focal point of Jacksonville’s offense. Last year, the Jags ranked 24th in rushing attempts, 22nd in rushing yards, and 29th in rushing touchdowns. With Fournette, they will be able to rush the ball 30 times a game. More rushing attempts means less of a chance for a Bortles’ interception. Look for Fournette to be used like Ezekiel Elliot in Dallas.
AP DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: SOLOMON THOMAS, DE (SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS)
After recently signing a four-year deal worth up to $28 million, the defensive linemen from Stanford is already standing out at Niners camp, due to his size and speed. Elvis Dumervil told reporters that Thomas “will be a dominant player in this league.”
Thomas will be joining the worst defense in the NFL. Last year, the 49ers ranked dead last in rushing yards allowed, rushing touchdowns, and rushing attempts. Teams could run with ease all over them. Thomas will be an immediate factor, as someone who can attack the QB and get in the backfield. During his last year at Stanford, Thomas recorded 8.5 sacks. Over his last two years, he had 24.5 tackles for loss.
Because of Stanford’s spring schedule, Thomas was unable to participate in team activities, but this did not stop him from getting better. During this time, he worked out with Warren Sapp, Demarcus Ware and Von Miller.
Yes, the Niners suck, but that actually helps Thomas, who will for sure slide right in as a starter. He will have more chances than anyone to be successful, as teams will most likely continue to run heavily against San Francisco.
AP COACH OF THE YEAR: BILL BELICHICK, HC, (NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS)
The GOAT. Not much has to be said in this section. His team is favored in every game. Coming off last year’s Super Bowl, they only got better on offense with the additions of Dwayne Allen, Brandin Cooks and Mike Gillelsie. The number one defense last year, the Patriots also beefed up that side of the ball by adding Stephon Gilmore, Kony Ealy and David Harris.
With a healthy and not suspended Tom Brady, who went 11-1 during last year’s regular season, don’t sleep on 19-0.
Featured image by The Fresno Bee
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