And so, the 2020 season is behind us and it's never too early to start looking ahead to the 2021 season. With a highly anticipated offseason approaching that will feature blockbuster trades, big time free agency signings, and players recovering from gruesome injuries, all while being mostly virtual, next season will look much different from this previous one. Without further ado, here are my way-too-early predictions for the 2021 NFL season.
Let's start with the end of season awards, as these often have the most dramatic change and aren't nearly as predictable as possible Super Bowl contenders:
Comeback Player of the Year: Saquon Barkley
After battling injuries the past two seasons, Saquon wants to comeback with a purpose. In his fourth season, Barkley will aim to put his name back into the top five running back conversation, and will look to beat up some lackluster run defenses. I predict that Saquon will rush for 1,217 yards and 15 TDs, while bringing in 31 receptions for 425 yards and 4 TDs, locking in the CPOY award.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Kyle Pitts
Yes, I have a tight end winning OROY over Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Devonta Smith, and other potential playmakers. He has the skills and speed of a wide receiver, while sizing up at 6'6 and 240 pounds. Coming out of Florida, I have him going to the Patriots, but his pure athleticism could result in him getting drafted higher. I predict he will post 63 catches for 1,057 yards and 14 TDs.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Azeez Ojulari
In my opinion, Azeez is a top five player in the draft. In the second half of the season, the Georgia edge rusher was able to show his quick get-off speed (how fast a player reacts to the snap) and the finesse of his hands to beat pass blockers. In the second half of the Peach Bowl, he generated 3 sacks and made game changing plays. Granted, he was going against a backup, but that is still an impressive sack number. I have him going to the Raiders, posting 42 tackles, 13 TFLs, 9.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 INT, 2 pass deflections, and 1 TD.
Most Improved Player of the Year: Tua Tagovailoa
After a subpar rookie season, Tua looks to bounce back and show why he was the second QB taken off the board in 2020. If he stays with Miami, he will have the luxury of having the 3rd overall pick as his favorite target (I have Devonta Smith going 3rd overall). Tua will finish the 2021 season with 3,394 yards, 26 TDs, while throwing only 4 INTs. He will also rush for 267 yards and 5 TDs, confirming his bid for the most improved player in 2021.
Photo: The Phinsider
Defensive Player of the Year: Devin White
After showing major improvements from his rookie season, Devin White will look to put on a show in his third year. White will most likely take on the number 1 linebacker role with Lavonte David getting up there in age, which will set him up to show his true capabilities. White will post 167 total tackles, 23 TFLs, 7 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries, 5 INTs, 6 pass deflections, and 2 TDs.
Offensive Player of the Year: Johnathan Taylor
Following a great rookie season, where Taylor's production increased faster than his touches per game, he will lighten the load for whatever QB takes the reins from Philip Rivers. Running behind one of the best offensive lines in the league, Taylor will carry the rock for 1,521 yards and 13 TDs, while making 42 receptions for 633 yards and 6 TDs.
Coach of the Year: Frank Reich
The Colts are in the best position to have a big year in 2021. They currently have the second most cap space at just about $78.5 million, and the 21st overall pick in a loaded draft for QBs. They can either chase a QB in free agency, the draft, or make a trade (Carson Wentz and Reich reunite in Indy?) They will also be playing in one of the easier divisions in the NFL, especially with Jags, Titans, and Texans finishing all in the bottom five for defense. I predict the Colts with finish 13-3, locking in the first seed for playoffs and the COY for Frank Reich.
Photo: USA Today
Most Valuable Player: Justin Herbert
After an impressive rookie campaign, and a new offensive scheme coming into play, Herbert will look to quiet doubters and post a historic NFL season. Pairing up with Joe Lombardi, the grandson of legendary coach Vince Lombardi, Herbert will have all the tools needed in order to succeed in 2021. With Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Hunter Henry, Austin Ekeler, and maybe some new free agent acquisitions and draftees, Herbert will have a wide variety of options to choose from when attacking opposing defenses. Herbert will throw for 5,272 yards and 49 TDs, while rushing for 348 yards and 7 TDs. His production will also allow the Chargers to beat the Chiefs not once, but twice this upcoming season.
Photo: The Ringer
Given these player performances, standings for the 2021 season are going to look different from 2020. One of the main reasons for that is the possible addition of a 17th game. According to CBS Sports, this 17th game would be an "inter-conference matchup based on divisional standings" from the previous campaign, and "on a rotating divisional basis." An example would be the first-place team from the NFC East playing the first-place team from the AFC East in 2021. The second-place, third-place, and fourth-place teams in each division are matched in the same way. In this case, the Washington Football Team would play the Buffalo Bills, the Miami Dolphins would play the New York Giants, and so on. There is also conversation that the Super Bowl outcome may determine who plays at home during these games. For example, since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Kansas City Chiefs, the NFC teams would play that 17th game at home for the season. Another possibility is that the home games will switch from one conference to the other each year.
With that being said, the Super Bowl will also look much different next year. I have the Baltimore Ravens playing against the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LVI, with the Ravens coming out on top, 24-20.
Lots of teams are going to look very different next season. For those wondering where my offseason predictions and mock drafts are, those will be coming in time. Most of the predictions above are based on moves that are most likely to happen (Watson and Wentz get traded, Jags draft Trevor #1, Brees retiring, etc.) My predictions will most likely be dead wrong, but hey, we're here to have fun.