NFL

AS picks for NFL Honors: Rodgers MVP; Parsons and Chase Rookies of Year

AS selects its winners in next month's 2021 NFL Honors. MVP, Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year, Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, Executive of the Year...

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AS picks for NFL Honors: Rodgers MVP, Parsons & Chase Rookies of Year
Mike Mulholland AFP

With the regular season over, the time has come for our annual look at who we think should pick up the NFL’s end-of-campaign gongs.

As you know, the league is to present its official awards at the NFL Honors gala, held on the night before February's Super Bowl LVI, in Los Angeles.

However, we like to get in there a month early with our choices, which tend to coincide with about 80% of the picks made by the voting journalists.

Spoiler alert: Tom Brady comes away empty-handed.

Spoiler alert 2: So too does Jonathan Taylor.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

Ja'Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals

Chase was the league’s fourth-best wide receiver in terms of yards, with 1,455, while his 13 touchdowns and 17.96 yards per reception put him third and second, respectively.

He set a franchise record for yards by a wide receiver, surpassing Chad Johnson’s 2007 tally of 1,440. His 128 catches were also a Bengals record, beating T.J. Houshmandzadeh’s 112, also in 2007.

Chase’s best performance of the regular season came in Week 17, against the Kansas City Chiefs, with 11 receptions, 266 yards and three touchdowns.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys

Parsons enjoyed a spectacular regular season. The outside linebacker was joint-fourth in the league’s rankings with 30 quarterback hits and was sixth with 13 sacks.

He finished his debut season with 20 tackles for loss, a tally surpassed only by T.J. Watt and Nick Bosa (both 21).

Parsons played in practically all of the Cowboys’ front seven positions and was a nightmare for the tackles when used as an edge rusher by defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.

The Arizona Cardinals' Chase Edmonds (left) is tackled by the Dallas Cowboys' Micah Parsons.

Offensive Player of the Year

Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams

Wide receiver Kupp was the regular season’s dominant offensive player, leading the league in targets (191), receptions (145), yards (1,947) and touchdowns (16).

He came within 17 yards of equalling Calvin Johnson’s all-time record for yards by a wide receiver (set with the Detroit Lions in 2012) and within four receptions of the New Orleans Saints’ Michael Thomas’ unparalleled tally from 2019.

Kupp was simply unstoppable in his first year playing with Matthew Stafford as Rams quarterback. Will he be able to maintain his impressive form in the playoffs?

History, however, isn’t on Kupp’s side. Neither ‘Megatron’ Johnson, nor Julio Jones (1,871 yards, Atlanta Falcons, 2015), nor Jerry Rice (1,848 yards, San Francisco 49ers, 1995) made it to the Super Bowl despite their spectacular seasons.

Defensive Player of the Year

T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers

Watt not only led the league in sacks, but equalled Michael Strahan’s all-time single-season record of 22.5. And he did so despite missing two games through injury.

What’s more, Watt also led the league with 21 tackles for loss and 39 quarterback hits.

His impressive season also yielded seven passes defended, five forced fumbles and three recoveries.

Aaron Donald? Ten sacks fewer than Watt. No, this year there’s no way the Steelers star will be deprived of what he should also have won last season.

Coach of the Year

Zac Taylor, Cincinnati Bengals

In his first two seasons with the Bengals, Taylor registered a 6-25-1 record.

In 2020, the Bengals finished last in the AFC North division with a 4-11-1 record and in 2021, with Joe Burrow fully fit for the whole of the regular season, Cincinnati rose up from the foot of the table to finish 10-7 and win the division title for the first time since 2015.

The Bengals finished with the best aerial defence in the league (259 yards per game) and were also seventh in terms of points given up per game (27.1).

If Cincinnati don’t become a new version of the Cleveland Browns, they’ll be AFC North’s team to beat.

An honourable mention should go to Rich Bisaccia, the special teams coordinator who took over as interim coach of the Las Vegas Raiders when the Jon Gruden emails scandal blew up.

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor looks on from the sidelines during his team's game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Bisaccia took the helm of a team that had to deal with a number of off-field issues (wide receiver Henry Ruggs III was involved in a car crash that saw a woman lose her life) and kept the Raiders focused as they won their last four games of the campaign to qualify for the playoffs, after a thrilling Week 18 matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers.

Executive of the Year

Jerry Jones, Dallas Cowboys

Jones has been a regular recipient of criticism, but this year he deserves credit. Firstly for persuading Dak Prescott to sign a contract extension that both sides were happy with, and then for pulling off one of the draft’s major masterstrokes by signing Micah Parsons.

Parsons and Diggs (who led the league with 11 interceptions and was second with 21 passes defended), who was Jones’ second-round pick in the 2020 draft, are the new leaders of a defence that promises big things in the immediate future.

It’ll be difficult this year - though far from impossible - but Jones is closer than ever to guiding his Cowboys back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995.

MVP

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

Bruce Arians won’t like it, but Tom Brady isn’t our choice for MVP. No, we think the prize should go, for the second straight year, to Rodgers, who so far has written the perfect script to his own ‘Last Dance’.

He still has to win three more games to close out his time in Green Bay in style.

Rodgers guided the Packers to the best record in the league (13-4) and finished up with the best passer rating (111.9), having thrown for 4,115 yards, 37 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

In the only game he missed through injury, Green Bay scored just seven points in a Week 9 defeat to the Kansas City Chiefs.

This would be Rodgers’ fourth career MVP award, together with those won in 2011, 2014 and 2020.