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2021 NFL season: Early predictions for MVP, top rookies, and more

(AP Photo / Rick Scuteri)

The start of the 2021 NFL season is officially upon us, as the league’s 32 teams prepare for the first-ever 17-game regular-season schedule.

The added regular season game brings loads of new possibilities to the NFL’s calendar, and provides more opportunities for players to showcase their skills and make their case for some of the league’s top honors.

Which rookies will stand out as the best of the bunch in pursuit of Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year honors?

Whose return to the field will garner Comeback Player of the Year attention?

Most importantly, which coach and superstar will take top honors by winning Coach of the Year and Most Valuable Player?

Before the 2021 regular season gets underway, here are our official predictions for the league’s end-of-season awards.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Kyle Pitts

A tight end has never earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in the NFL, and it has been a running back-dominated award throughout its long history.

Since 1986, 21 running backs have won the award, compared to nine quarterbacks and five wide receivers. Quarterbacks have taken center stage in recent decades, with all nine of those Offensive Rookie of the Year-winning quarterbacks taking the trophy in the last 17 seasons.

Even with all of that said, it seems like a tight end has the best chance at adding “Offensive Rookie of the Year” to their resume in 2021.

Atlanta Falcons rookie tight end Kyle Pitts already made history in the 2021 NFL Draft, becoming the highest-drafted player at his position in the event’s illustrious history.

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He’s in an incredible situation in Atlanta, where he will get seemingly-endless reps in former Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones’ absence, all in a pass-heavy offense with Matt Ryan, a former MVP quarterback, under center.

The Falcons aren’t expected to set the world on fire in 2021, so Pitts should be able to operate without a lot of pressure on his shoulders. He’ll be on the field a ton, and could get loads of targets in the red zone when factoring in his 6-foot-6, 240-pound frame.

Fans will be quick to pick Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence, Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields, or San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance, but Pitts is probably the name to watch for this award.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Micah Parsons

This one’s a no-brainer if you watch “Hard Knocks” and follow the Dallas Cowboys.

“America’s Team” invested in the future of their defense when they selected Penn State alum Micah Parsons in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, and got arguably the steal of the draft in the process.

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Parsons flies around the field throughout all of his reps, whether it’s during training camp or the Cowboys’ preseason games. The energy is evident every time Parsons takes the field, and the year off in 2020 due to the pandemic clearly did not hinder his abilities, either.

As long as Parsons can stay consistent throughout his first year in the NFL, he’ll have a huge impact on the Cowboys’ defense. He should cruise to Defensive Rookie of the Year honors when awards are presented in early 2022.

Comeback Player of the Year: Dak Prescott

It’s always a good sign when a team has multiple players in the running for the NFL’s end-of-season awards, and it seems like they’ll have a few shoe-in’s, as well.

The Comeback Player of the Year Award is always bittersweet for a player, as it means you had a great season after being forced to miss some time for an unfortunate reason.

In this case, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott seems like the favorite to take home the award as he returns to the field in 2021.

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Less than a year removed from a devastating leg injury that ended his 2020 season after just five weeks, Prescott will return to the huddle as the Cowboys’ starting quarterback. His weapons on the field will be the same as when he left, but the spotlight will be shining bright as Prescott tries to return to his old self.

As long as Prescott has a decent 2021 season, the circumstances of his recovery should make this an easy pick for the league’s Comeback Player of the Year.

Offensive Player of the Year: Christian McCaffrey

There are almost too many talented running backs across the NFL heading into the 2021 regular season, which almost makes picking the Offensive Player of the Year an impossible task.

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry, the reigning Offensive Player of the Year, seems to be on pace to replicate his impressive 2020 campaign.

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley is returning to the field after a torn ACL in 2020, and his NFC East counterpart Ezekiel Elliott looks like he’ll be a big factor in the Cowboys offense, as well.

But, arguably the most talented player in the entire league, regardless of position, is Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey.

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McCaffrey put together a legitimate case for Most Valuable Player honors in 2019, becoming just the third player in NFL history to record 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season.

Injuries in 2020 stifled his attempts to replicate his historic efforts from the year prior, but it seems like the Stanford product is ready for a bounce-back season in 2021.

If Sam Darnold turns out to be the guy at quarterback for the Panthers, McCaffrey should be a major player in the league’s receiving statistics, even out of the backfield. If Darnold doesn’t pan out, McCaffrey will get a lot of action in the running game, which will pad his rushing numbers.

Either way, McCaffrey is set for a major season statistically, and could be a favorable pick in the Offensive Player of the Year race.

Defensive Player of the Year: Chandler Jones

Injuries are apparently a common thread in these POY award predictions, as well as players that got snubbed when it came to awards after monumental seasons in 2019.

Arizona Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones put up monster numbers in 2019, compiling a career-high 19 sacks and eight forced fumbles throughout 16 starts. A year later, he played just five games before a season-ending surgery on his right biceps.

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Some fans may think Jones’ production will falter in 2021 after such a major injury and following the Cardinals’ acquisition of defensive lineman J.J. Watt. But, the last year should really allow for a refreshed Jones with more space and opportunities to operate with defensively.

If Jones was putting up such big numbers in 2019 as the main threat, how are teams going to stop him when they have to divert their attention to players like Watt, Isaiah Simmons, and more?

Coach of the Year: Bruce Arians

It seems impossible to top a season where you led a 43-year-old quarterback to a Super Bowl victory, all in the midst of a global pandemic. But, it looks like Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians has all the tools needed to improve year-over-year in the franchise’s pursuit of a repeat.

Tampa Bay’s schedule isn’t too crazy in 2021, even when factoring in the added regular season game in the new 17-game slate.

Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady is a year older now, entering his 22nd NFL season shortly after turning 44 in August. But, his chemistry with receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin can only be better after a full year together.

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Add in the returns of wide receiver Antonio Brown and tight end Rob Gronkowski, and the Bucs are an offense to be reckoned with in 2021.

Combine all of that with the impressive defense that Arians and company put together in 2020, and a Super Bowl repeat doesn’t seem out of the question.

If Arians can lead Tampa Bay to the top of the NFC South in the league’s first 17-game regular season, then he’ll seem like an easy pick to win his third Coach of the Year Award.

Most Valuable Player: Kyler Murray

Here it is. The trophy we’ve all been waiting for.

The Most Valuable Player Award is always the honor that garners the most attention, and leads to the most debate the morning after. So, we’re sure that this prediction will be unanimously approved and lead to zero discussion whatsoever.

The pick for the 2021 season’s Most Valuable Player is Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray.

Murray has all of the tools to be great in the NFL, even in one of the league’s toughest divisions.

He has the speed to create plays in the backfield, and the ability to use his legs to make plays in open space.

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He has the arm to make the deep throws or the short passes, and the weapons in receivers like DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green to distribute the ball to.

If he can approve on the base he built in a much-improved 2020 season, Murray could be a superstar in 2021.

Many will pick familiar faces like Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, or even a young gun in Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert after an Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign.

But, when looking at the field ahead of the 2021 season, Murray is the preseason pick for Most Valuable Player honors.

Who are your picks for the 2021 NFL season? Let us know by following @SOTSports on Twitter or by liking our Facebook page!

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