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NFL Honors: Picks for top awards

The NFL Honors awards show takes place Feb. 1 at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami. The show will recognize the league’s best players and coaches from the 2019 regular season.

While it seems like a foregone conclusion Lamar Jackson seizes the MVP honors, there are plenty of other awards presented that could stir up some debate. Before the league announces its annual accolades, let’s predict the winner of each major award.

MVP: Lamar Jackson

Lamar Jackson broke Michael Vick’s single-season rushing record by a quarterback, gaining 1,206 yards on the ground. His capacity to run past defenders, though, was never doubted. It was his ability to pass in the NFL that was questioned, as some believed he’d rely too much on his legs. Jackson silenced those doubters in emphatic fashion in 2019, leading the NFL in passing touchdowns with 36.

The Baltimore Ravens won a franchise-best 14 games and wrapped up the AFC’s No. 1 seed before the season finale. This allowed Jackson and other starters to rest in Week 17. Despite sitting out the final contest, Jackson set a team record for passing TDs—surpassing the previous mark of 33 set by Vinny Testaverde in the franchise’s inaugural season in 1996.

Jackson registered three 5-TD passing games. He didn’t throw a pick in any of those contests and only tossed six interceptions all season.

Jackson has a great chance to become the second unanimous Most Valuable Player in NFL history. Tom Brady is the only player to be voted unanimously for MVP, which he accomplished in 2010.

The Ravens achieved unprecedented success on the ground. They set the NFL single-season record for rushing yards (3,296). The Ravens amassed 21 rushing TDs, seven coming from Jackson.

Offensive Player of the Year: Christian McCaffrey

Jackson could earn Offensive Player of the Year (OPOY) honors in addition to MVP. But there are two non-QBs who are worthy of the award: wide receiver Michael Thomas and running back Christian McCaffrey.

Thomas set the NFL single-season record for catches (149) with 1,725 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Thomas produced these totals for the 13-3 New Orleans Saints, despite starting QB Drew Brees missing five games due to a thumb injury.

As dominant as Thomas played all year, McCaffrey deserves the 2019 OPOY. McCaffrey became only the third player in NFL history with over 1,000 receiving yards and 1,000+ rushing yards in a season. He led the NFL with 2,392 yards from scrimmage. McCaffrey was so good he was named to the Associated Press NFL All-Pro Team at two positions: first-team running back and the top flex player.

McCaffrey accumulated 19 TDs, tying Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones for the league-lead.  McCaffrey ran for 15 TDs and had four receiving scores. Furthermore, he led all non-kickers in scoring with 116 points.

Defensive Player of the Year: Stephon Gilmore

Charles Woodson was the last cornerback to win Defensive Player of the Year, seizing the award in 2009 with the Packers. Stephon Gilmore, the backbone of the New England Patriots’ top-ranked defense (in both yardage and points allowed), should end that drought.

Gilmore had a career-high six interceptions—two of which he ran back for TDs—and recovered a fumble. The shadow corner led the NFL with 20 passes defensed.

According to Pro Football Focus, Gilmore surrendered the NFL’s sixth-lowest completion percentage (49.0%). Despite being targeted 96 times, he allowed just one touchdown. Gilmore forced 15 incompletions, the fourth-most among cornerbacks.

Other contenders for the award include Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt, Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones, Buccaneers outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett and Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Kyler Murray

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Kyler Murray started in all 16 games for the Arizona Cardinals. He threw 3,722 yards, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He completed 64.4 percent of his passes, the highest mark among rookie QBs.

Murray rushed for 544 yards and four TDs. He became the second rookie QB (Cam Newton, 2011) to throw for at least 3,500 yards and run for at least 500 yards.

Josh Jacobs and AJ Brown warrant consideration for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

Jacobs, the Oakland Raiders’ workhorse running back, darted for 1,150 yards and seven touchdowns. He compiled these rushing totals despite missing three of the final four contests with a shoulder injury.

AJ Brown was the biggest beneficiary of the Tennessee Titans’ decision to bench Marcus Mariota in favor of Ryan Tannehill. Six of Brown’s eight TDs came with Tannehill under center.

Brown registered four 100+ receiving yard games in the final six weeks of the season. The wideout had eight receptions of 40+ yards, double the amount of the next closest rookie. Brown was the only rookie to surpass the 1,000-yard receiving mark.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Nick Bosa

Nick Bosa, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2019 season, is the heavy favorite to capture Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. The San Francisco 49ers defensive end produced 47 tackles, 25 quarterback hits, 16 tackles for loss and nine sacks. Bosa forced a fumble, recovered two fumbles and collected an interception in his first pro season.

Playing a critical role for the NFC’s stingiest defense, Bosa helped the 49ers earn the No. 1 seed in the conference. He set the NFL record for the most QB pressures (80) by a rookie.

Bosa’s 80 pressures are 14 more than any rookie edge rusher has ever totaled, according to Pro Football Focus. He is an all-around talent, excelling in stopping the run and in pass coverage. Bosa even thrived when facing double teams.

Coach of the Year: Kyle Shanahan

There are four strong candidates—two from each conference—to snatch the Coach of the Year (COY) honors. Baltimore’s John Harbaugh and Buffalo’s Sean McDermott are the two coaches from the AFC who could snag COY, while the 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan and Packers rookie head coach Matt LaFleur have the best chance from the NFC. Shanahan stands above the others, however, to claim the 2019 COY.

Under Shanahan’s tutelage, the 49ers finished 13-3 despite playing in arguably the toughest division in football. The 49ers’ three losses were by a combined 13 points. Furthermore, they beat the two other 13-win clubs in the NFC (New Orleans and Green Bay) and went 7-1 on the road.

Shanahan designs the offensive schemes as the playcaller for the 49ers’ electric offense, which manufactured 29.9 points per game.

Shanahan’s touted zone-blocking system has garnered tremendous results across the board. The 49ers had three running backs—Raheem Mostert, Matt Breida and Tevin Coleman—rush for over 500 yards. The team’s fourth-string running back, Jeff Wilson, had four rushing TDs. Rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel ran for three scores of his own.

Jimmy Garoppolo was another beneficiary of Shanahan’s explosive offense. Garoppolo threw 27 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions this season, his first as a full-time starter. Since being traded to San Francisco in 2017, Garoppolo has posted a 19-5 record as the 49ers starting QB. Garoppolo missed 13 games last year after tearing his ACL, but returned to strong form in 2019.

The 49ers won the NFC West for the first time since 2012. Shanahan oversaw a 9-win improvement from last year’s injury-riddled squad.