NFL awards 2021: MVP, rookies of the year, more

The playoffs are here, but before we move on to the games this weekend (and MMQB Super Bowl predictions are coming Friday), let’s take one last look back at the season to dish out our awards.

The MMQB's six-member panel has voted for our choices to win the NFL's major awards. Unlike the AP awards, we do a top-five ballot for every award, awarding five points for a first-place vote, four points for a second-place vote, etc.

Here are our voters:

Albert Breer, senior NFL reporter
Conor Orr, staff writer
Michael Rosenberg, senior writer
Andrew Brandt, business of football columnist
Gary Gramling, senior editor
Mitch Goldich, editor/writer

MVP

1. Aaron Rodgers: 29 points (5 firsts, 1 second)
2. Tom Brady: 22 points (1 first, 4 seconds, 1 fifth)
3. Joe Burrow: 15 points (4 thirds, 1 fourth, 1 fifth)
T-4. Cooper Kupp: 7 points (1 second, 1 third)
T-4. Dak Prescott: 7 points (1 third, 2 fourths)
6. Justin Herbert: 3 points (1 fourth, 1 fifth)
T-7. Josh Allen: 2 points (1 fourth)
T-7. Matthew Stafford: 2 points (1 fourth)
T-9. Jonathan Taylor: 1 point (1 fifth)
T-9. T.J. Watt: 1 point (1 fifth)
T-9. Patrick Mahomes: 1 point (1 fifth)

It was not unanimous, but our group did give Rodgers his fourth career MVP award and second in a row. After all the drama of his offseason and then the blowout loss in Week 1, he played at the level we’re accustomed to seeing from him and led the Packers to the NFC’s No. 1 seed. Tom Brady did enough Tom Brady things to earn a first-place vote, but he hasn’t won the award since 2017. What a slacker! The list is unsurprisingly led by quarterbacks, but players at other positions did get some down-ballot love.

Offensive Player of the Year

1. Cooper Kupp: 26 points (3 firsts, 2 seconds, 1 third)
2. Jonathan Taylor: 22 points (1 first, 3 seconds, 1 third, 1 fourth)
T-3. Mark Andrews: 9 points (1 third, 3 fourths)
T-3. Davante Adams: 9 points (2 thirds, 1 fourth, 1 fifth)
T-5. Trent Williams: 6 points (1 first, 1 fifth)
T-5. Deebo Samuel: 6 points (1 third, 1 fourth, 1 fifth)
7. Aaron Rodgers: 5 points (1 first)
8. George Kittle: 4 points (1 second)
T-9. Kyler Murray: 1 point (1 fifth)
T-9. Austin Ekeler: 1 point (1 fifth)
T-9. Jordan Mailata: 1 point (1 fifth)

The most confusing and difficult-to-parse award is going to be a tight race between Kupp and Taylor. Our panel gave it to the wide receiver, who didn’t quite set NFL single-season records for receptions and yards but came very close. Taylor finished more than 500 rushing yards ahead of anyone else, and he was seen as an MVP candidate (by some) when the Colts looked like a sure thing for the playoffs. Maybe Indianapolis’s choke in Weeks 17 and 18 hurt him here. (Should it have? What a strange award!) One voter did put Aaron Rodgers in first. He is the MVP, and an offensive player, after all. And shout out to offensive linemen.

Defensive Player of the Year

1. T.J. Watt: 29 points (5 firsts, 1 second)
2. Micah Parsons: 19 points (1 first, 2 seconds, 1 third, 1 fourth, 1 fifth)
3. Aaron Donald: 18 points (2 seconds, 3 thirds, 1 fifth)
4. Myles Garrett: 14 points (1 second, 1 third, 3 fourths)
5. Darius Leonard: 5 points (2 fourths, 1 fifth)
6. De’Vondre Campbell: 3 points (1 third)
7. Trevon Diggs: 2 points (2 fifths)

Defensive Player of the Year is another race that looked awfully close coming down the stretch of the season, but Watt probably wrapped it up by tying the single-season sack record in Week 18. Micah Parsons will win another award below (not exactly a spoiler), and Aaron Donald already has three of these trophies—the real ones, The MMQB doesn’t give out trophies. So perhaps being a new name, though clearly a recognizable one, helps here, too.

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Offensive Rookie of the Year

1. Ja’Marr Chase: 30 points (6 firsts)
2. Mac Jones: 23 points (5 seconds, 1 third)
3. Rashawn Slater: 11 points (2 thirds, 2 fourths, 1 fifth)
4. Jaylen Waddle: 10 points (1 second, 2 thirds)
5. Creed Humphrey: 6 points (1 third, 1 fourth, 1 third)
6. Kyle Pitts: 4 points (2 fourths)
7. Amon-Ra St. Brown: 3 points (3 fifths)
8. DeVonta Smith: 2 points (1 fourth)
9. Penei Sewell: 1 point (1 fifth)

Jones probably led this race for most of the season, when his Patriots were in first place, but Chase pulled away and claimed this one unanimously. The outstanding rookie receiver had a mix of terrific production (81 catches, 1,455 yards), eye-popping highlights and big moments. There were other very good rookies this year—including several offensive linemen in our list—but Chase was a no-brainer. Three other receivers earned votes, while Jones was the only member of the highly anticipated quarterback class to land on anyone’s ballot.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

1. Micah Parsons: 30 points (6 firsts)
2. Patrick Surtain II: 24 points (6 seconds)
3. Odafe Oweh: 13 points (4 thirds, 1 fifth)
T-4. Christian Barmore: 9 points (1 third, 2 fourths, 2 fifths)
T-4. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah: 9 points (3 fourths, 3 fifths)
6. Jevon Holland: 3 points (1 third)
7. Gregory Rousseau: 2 points (1 fourth)

Speaking of unanimous awards, Parsons finished second in our Defensive Player of the Year, so he was a no-brainer for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Not sure what more needs to be said about him at this point, as people have already basically ticketed him for Canton. Patrick Surtain II delivered as a top-10 pick, and all six of our voters listed him second.

Comeback Player of the Year

1. Joe Burrow: 28 points (4 firsts, 2 seconds)
2. Dak Prescott: 24 points (2 firsts, 2 seconds, 2 thirds)
3. Nick Bosa: 18 points (2 seconds, 3 thirds, 1 fifth)
4. Jimmy Garoppolo: 7 points (3 fourths, 1 fifth)
T-5. Tyron Smith: 3 points (1 third)
T-5. Courtland Sutton: 3 points (1 fourth, 1 fifth)
T-7. CJ Mosley: 2 points (1 fourth)
T-7. Joe Mixon: 2 points (1 fourth)
T-7. Carson Wentz: 2 points (2 fifths)
10. Rasul Douglas: 1 point (1 fifth)

Burrow was snubbed from the Pro Bowl (partly because they vote too early) and was a late entry into the MVP conversation after it was pretty well decided, but he was a winner here. He tore his ACL and MCL in Week 11 last season and then spoke openly about how difficult it was to come back and face live action this training camp. He picked up right where he left off and had a great season for the Bengals. Prescott was the preseason favorite here and also did a great job coming back from a horrific injury, picking up two first-place votes. This is always one of the stranger awards, as you see guys and wonder what exactly they came back from (Wentz came back from … being benched for Jalen Hurts?). Douglas was cut by the Raiders and Texans, and signed to the Cardinals’ practice squad before making some of the biggest plays of the Packers’ season.

Coach of the Year

1. Mike Vrabel: 21 points (2 firsts, 2 seconds, 1 third)
2. Matt LaFleur: 19 points (2 firsts, 2 seconds, 1 fifth)
3. Zac Taylor: 12 points (1 second, 2 thirds, 1 fourth)
4. Bill Belichick: 11 points (1 first, 2 fourths, 2 fifths)
5. John Harbaugh: 9 points (1 first, 1 second)
6. Nick Sirianni: 6 points (1 third, 1 fourth, 1 fifth)
T-7. Mike Tomlin: 3 points (1 third)
T-7. Frank Reich: 3 points (1 third)
T-7. Rich Bisaccia: 3 points (1 fourth, 1 fifth)
10. David Culley: 2 points (1 fourth)
11. Brian Flores: 1 point (1 fifth)

LaFleur has gotten a lot of love for his record across three years coaching the Packers, but this is a one-year award, and our panel just barely gave it to Vrabel. The Titans’ coach led an injury-ravaged squad to the No. 1 seed in the AFC, though he was left off one ballot. This was a wide-open vote, though, with love for four coaches who missed the playoffs, an interim coach in Las Vegas, and coaches who were soon-to-be fired or widely expected to be fired at the time of our voting.

(Update: Bill Belichick and his votes were accidentally omitted from the list when this story was first published.)

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