Once awards season comes around in the NFL, the winners are rather obvious. Last years MVP, Patrick Mahomes, was the clear cut winner. His 5000+ yards and 50 touchdowns left little argument to be made for anyone else. However, at the start of the season no one could’ve possibly predicted those numbers for the first year starter. So this begs the question, who could have an unexpected season this year that puts them right into a favorite for this year’s awards? Who are the dark horses that will shock us this season?
MVP: RB Christian McCaffery
Dark horses don’t get much darker than this. CMC is poised for a huge year as he has become the number one weapon on the Panthers offense. A lack of good receivers will make sure that McCaffery continues to get lots of receptions, which he excels at. With all of Cam Newton’s injuries, McCaffery will see a lot more touches as a rusher and a catcher. In 2018, McCaffery proved doubters that he is more than a catcher. He showed off the ability to run between the tackles, producing a near 1100 yard season along with 800+ receiving yards and over 100 receptions.
CMC is going to show off this year, I can absolutely see him going 1000/1000 for rushing and receiving yards. While he hasn’t scored much in his first two seasons, I can see him getting 13+ rushing TD’s and 7+ receiving which will be the reason Carolina has any shot at making a deep playoff run. McCaffery will surely put up MVP numbers and be the first running back since Adrian Peterson in 2012 to capture the trophy.
OPOY: QB Derek Carr
So many people have lost faith in Derek Carr. Why? Because he can’t beat top defenses despite getting sacked 51 times? Because he can’t complete passes despite losing his only reliable receiver halfway through last season? Carr was put on an island by the great Jon Gruden and left to survive on his own. However, a support ship arrived to assist Carr in proving every doubter wrong this season. Trent Brown, Antonio Brown, Josh Jacobs and Tyrell Williams all provide Carr with the support every QB desperately needs.
Now that Carr has some legit weapons, he can be a little looser with deep passes, especially to AB. Carr still managed 4000+ passing yards last season so 5000 yards is a realistic goal for Carr. With ground support from Jacobs and the other running backs, Carr can relax more which means he can come up clutch late in games. Carr needs to get his touchdowns up, 19 is terribly low for any QB. I believe with his outstanding cast, Carr can rack up 45+ touchdowns this year, which combined with 5000+ yards will easily make Carr Offensive Player of the Year.
DPOY: EDGE Olivier Vernon
The Browns swapped OL Kevin Zeitler for Vernon at the beginning of March earlier this year. This is an absolute steal for Cleveland. They give former 2nd round pick Austin Corbett a chance to start at guard and also get an elite edge threat to pair with All-Pro Myles Garrett. The Browns also added DT Sheldon Richardson to beef up their front seven. (For more on Cleveland’s D-Line, make sure to read my fellow writers article for more breakdown on each player.) Cleveland’s defense is really primed for an insane year. So, why Vernon?
When you’re lining up next to some of the most feared pass rushers and run stuffers in the league, the attention is drawn away from you. Teams will be looking to game-plan for Garrett, or even a way to get past that secondary with Denzel Ward and Damarious Randall. Vernon was a beast in New York and Miami so he’s in a really good position to breakout this year. Consistently finishing with 6-8 sacks on bad defenses is pretty good, this year I believe Vernon can have a career high 15 sacks, 65 tackles, 4 FF’s and 25 TFL’s. Vernon is a true dark horse with elite level moves. He’s one of the best dark horses on this list.
OROY: WR A.J. Brown
Brown, much like his former teammate D.K Metcalf, had an unexpected slide at the 2019 Draft. With concerns that he couldn’t put up number against the best college teams, Brown fell to the Titans at pick number 51. Paired with former first-rounder Corey Davis, Brown is poised to make his name in Tennessee. He was one of the best wideouts in this class despite his draft position, which means no one is batting an eye at him as of right now. Brown will have to make an identity on a team that lacks a true #1 wide receiver and he could truly be the threat Mariota has been desperately lacking.
A.J.’s inability to show up in big games isn’t too much of a concern. He wasn’t the number one option on Ole Miss which already was a lackluster team. Brown is poised to have a great season, playing along Corey Davis on a team that could use his electricity. As long as Mariota can remain upright, Brown will prove he should have been a first round pick. Brown will put the league on notice with 900+ receiving yards, 10 TDs on 79 receptions. Brown will only be among the dark horses for so long once he shows he can be the Titans number one playmaker.
DROY: S Darnell Savage Jr.
The Packers seemingly are always replacing players in the secondary. They have spent many picks on safeties and corners but this time, they got their guy. The Pack traded HaHa Clinton-Dix prior to the trade deadline last year who has been a consistently amazing safety for them. So they’re not looking to develop at this position, they want to reload. Savage is the best choice of ammo for this team. He’s “their guy.” They traded up for him in the 2019 NFL Draft which means that he definitely has some “NFL ready” value. Savage can be an immediate force in a secondary that needs playmakers.
Think about Clinton-Dix. He came in and was tackling left and right and began to make a name for himself before his rookie season even concluded. He’s recorded no less than 80 tackles a season aside from 2017 where he came one shy with 79. Him and Savage were even taken with the same pick, 21st overall. If Green Bay develops Savage similar to the way they did with Clinton-Dix, they will have a permanent security blanket in their secondary. Expect Savage to finish with 80+ tackles, 4 INT’s and 1 or 2 sacks/FF’s. He’s going to have a Darius Leonard type year for Green Bay and show us all he was worth the extra picks.
CPOY: S Keanu Neal
A Falcon is more than likely going to win this trophy. Atlanta lost several key superstars last year which lead to a very poor year for them. Now that Devonta Freeman, Ricardo Allen and Deion Jones are back for full season, any of those three could come away with this trophy. My pick however, is Keanu Neal. Neal is one of the hardest hitting tacklers we’ve seen since Sean Taylor. His presence alone stops big plays and scares runners from coming near him. Atlanta is getting back a player that can record 90+ tackles and cause fumbles on every hit.
Keanu is a true force to be reckoned with. I believe Neal will record 95 tackles, 6 forced fumbled and 2 interceptions. He will show that an ACL tear will only make him stronger. With hard hits and secure tackles, he can help lead the Falcons back to the playoffs. As well as strengthen a secondary that was consistently scorched back in 2018. He is by far the most underrated of the dark horses on this list.
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