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Zwiller: NFL 2021 Regular Season Awards

| Thursday, January 13, 2022

With the 2021 NFL regular season coming to a close, I thought it would be an excellent time to hand out awards with the regular season still fresh in our minds. 

Most Valuable Player

A few weeks back, I wrote that Jonathon Taylor should be the MVP, and I stand by that from a value perspective. A second-year running back at that production level is just incredibly valuable and hard to beat.

However, with the Colts missing the playoffs and Taylor’s production falling off in the last few weeks, the award will go to Aaron Rodgers, the defending MVP.

According to Ben Baldwin of the Athletic, Aaron Rodgers leads the NFL in Predictive EPA (Extra Points Added) plus CPOE (Completion Probability over Expectation) index. Rodgers also leads the NFL in both total quarterback rating (QBR) and Passer Rating.

Not to mention that he led the Green Bay Packers to the #1 Seed in the NFC, after an offseason where ESPN personalities debated if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could go 17-0.

Offensive Player of the Year

I honestly want to make a case for Deebo Samuel of the 49ers. His usage in the 49ers run game is a lot of fun to watch as a football fan, and I honestly think we will see more receivers used like him (Curtis Samuel of the WFT comes to mind).

However, because Cooper Kupp leads the NFL in receptions, yards, and receiving touchdowns, OPOY has to go to him. 

The last person to earn the “Receiving Triple Crown” was Steve Smith Sr. back in 2005. He had 103 receptions, 1,563 reception yards and 12 touchdowns. 

Kupp has improved upon that with 145 receptions, 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns. And in 16 games, not 17, making an impressive campaign that much more so. 

Defensive Player of the Year

I know what the Cowboys fans among you are thinking: “how can it not be Micah Parsons?”

Parsons is incredibly deserving of the award and joining Lawerence Taylor as the only rookie to win DPOY. 

However, T.J. Watt tying the single-season sack record with 22.5 sacks HAS to be rewarded. 

What I find particularly impressive about Watt tying the record is that he did it not in 17 games, nor 16, but 14 (he missed three games to injury). The previous sole record holder, Michael Strahan, set the record while playing 16 games. I guarantee if Watt had been able to remain healthy for the whole season (or at least 16 games), he would have broken the record.

Rookie of the Year

Rookie of the Year has felt like it was a lock to go to Ja’Marr Chase since about Week Four of the season, and he has continued to improve since then.

NFL Research reported “with two receiving touchdowns (in week three), Chase became the youngest player in NFL history to have 4+ receiving TD in his team’s first three games of a season. The previous record-holder? Randy Moss.

Chase also set the single-game receiving yards record for a rookie against the Chiefs with 266 yards. And those 266 yards added to a season total of 1,429 yards, which set the rookie record.

By ZLO, Chase is the fourth-best receiver in the NFL and by far the best rookie.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

Way back before the NFL Draft, I said that Mac Jones would not perform well with teams other than the 49ers and the Patriots. Their systems would lend themselves to Mac’s football IQ and skill set.

So, when Mac was available for the Patriots to draft, I knew it was already a done deal. The pick seems to have worked out well enough for the Patriots. 

During the Patriots’ 2-4 start, Mac dropped back 211 times, completing 71% of his passes for seven touchdowns and six interceptions. Add on 1,472 yards, and you get a Qb Rating of 90.

After the Patriots went 2-4, they went on a seven-game win streak. Mac played pretty well during that streak, seeing his accuracy fall to 69%, but only throwing two interceptions and nine touchdowns. In addition, Mac only put up 1397 yards but posted an RTG of 106.

I honestly think Mac was easily the best rookie QB of the draft. I do think there is something to be said about Davis Mills given his draft position, but Mac had the better overall season. 

Defensive Rookie of the Year

Since Micah Parsons can’t win DPOY, he is a slam dunk for DROY.

As a rookie, he played 84% of his snaps, had 47 pressures, 13 sacks, and 17 Qb knockdowns (PFR). On top of that, on 36 targets in coverage, Parsons has only allowed a QB RTG of 71.5

Comeback Player of the Year

I thought that Dak Prescott would win this award, and it would be a slam dunk. However, I did not account for Joe Burrow having just as impressive a campaign.

I decided on Burrow as opposed to Dak because of their respective adjusted passing numbers, which you can find on Pro Football Reference. The stats I looked at were Yards per Attempt, Net Yards per Attempt, Adjusted Yards per Attempt, Completion%, TD%, Sack%, and Rate+. With all of those stats accounted for, Burrow has an average of 114.67, while Dak sits at 112.67 (100 is average, the higher, the better). 

Burrow leads the league in Y/A+, AY/A+, and Completion%+ but is well below average on Sack%+ (I do not blame that offensive line). 

Dak is above average on everything but does not particularly stand out.

Coach of the Year

The current betting favorite to win COTY (+175) is Packers head, Coach Matt LaFleur. His 39-10 record in his first three years is incredible and a historical first.

However, as I am quick to remind Packers fans, Coach of the Year goes to the best coach this year. 

Part of what makes Lafleur’s case so compelling is that he went 39-10 in his first three years. I only care about his 13-4 record this season. 

How I tend to measure COTY is actual results vs. expectations. 538 projected that the Packers would go 11-6. They also gave them a 57% chance of winning the NFC North and a 14% chance of winning the NFC. So yes, the Packers record (slightly) exceeded expectations.

However, Zac Taylor, the Cincinnati Bengals head coach, had a much more impressive season regarding exceeding expectations. 

The Bengals were projected by 538 to finish the season 7-10 with a -60 point differential. In addition, the Bengals were given a mere 20% chance of making the playoffs (compared to the Packers’ 73%). And not only did the Bengals make the playoffs, but they also won the AFC North. They were the only division winner given less than a 10% chance of winning their division. The next lowest division winner was the Rams at 31%. 

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About Thomas Zwiller

Thomas is a sophomore currently in attendance at Holy Cross College, and is a Business major and Computer Science minor. He is from Saint Joseph MI, and went to high school at Saint Joseph High School SB, playing both varsity football and hockey. Feel free to contact him about all things NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB, particularly if you're a stathead.

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