The 2022 NFL season gets underway Thursday night, as the Buffalo Bills take on the defending champion Los Angeles Rams. But before we think about Josh Allen (and how things might have ended differently last season had he gotten the ball in overtime), The Ringer’s NFL writers came together to predict which teams will make the playoffs, and who will come away with awards at the end of the season. Here’s what they came up with.
Playoff Predictions and Super Bowl Winner
Kevin Clark: This is one of the hardest seasons to predict in the past decade. Because of the depth at quarterback in the league, and because there are about 16 teams that could have a legitimate path toward the Super Bowl, it’s impossible to have all that much confidence in any pick. At some point, though, the Packers are going to break through, and I believe this is the year. Teams with this much talent, with a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers and a good coach in Matt LaFleur, cannot stall out this many years in a row.
Nora Princiotti: First of all, I’m sorry about the Bucs thing. I really am. I don’t want to watch them go 10-7 and then roll through the playoffs any more than you do. Nor do I want to see Tom Brady turn a few goofy tweets about his hairline and some healthy skepticism from reporters over his training camp absences into underdog-narrative fodder. But I do think Tampa Bay is loaded and will be there at the end of the season. If that makes you want to drink too much avocado tequila, though, I have good news: The only thing standing between the Bills and a Super Bowl run last season was the old overtime rules, and we’re all out of overtime rules. (Well, not technically, but you know what I mean.)
Steven Ruiz: Maybe I’m wrong, but doesn’t it feel like the Chiefs are being undervalued as we head into the season? For the first time in like three years, Kansas City isn’t the obvious Super Bowl pick—I’m not sure the six-time defending AFC West champs are even the trendy pick in their own division. To get back at all those strawmen I just created, I’m going against the grain and predicting the Chiefs to win it all. So bold of me.
Ben Solak: Picking the Bills is boring, but it’s tough to find another roster with as few holes as Buffalo’s in 2022. While the conference is tough, the division isn’t, which could give the Bills an easier road to the first-round bye and an extra boost of health through the playoffs—an important edge. We’ve seen incredible Josh Allen performances in the playoffs before, and I think we’ll see that win out this season.
Sheil Kapadia: If you played last season out a hundred times, the Bills would’ve won as many Super Bowls as any other team. I know that’s not how this works, but the point is Buffalo was great last year, and the pieces are in place for it to be great again this year. Allen should be at the peak of his powers, and I love the Bills’ pass-rush group. They finish the job this time around.
Lindsay Jones: I’ve tried really hard to find a reason to pick a team other than the betting favorite, but right now, picking anyone but the Bills feels foolish. Buffalo has the Super Bowl formula: an elite quarterback who plays his best in big games; a diverse group of skill-position players (I’m all in on the Gabriel Davis hype train); a talented defensive line group that, after adding Von Miller, is deep enough to send waves of rushers; and a weak division that should help in the quest to secure the no. 1 seed and a potential AFC championship game in Buffalo (instead of Kansas City).
Danny Kelly: Look, I get it, it’s the Chargers. As a franchise, they’re basically defined by their unique knack for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. But this isn’t the type of Chargers team we’re used to—this team is bristling with talented difference-makers, and it’s led by one of the best young quarterbacks in football in Justin Herbert. They’ll have to get through one hell of a gauntlet in the AFC West, but that should serve them well come playoff time.
Danny Heifetz: Call me a sap, but I believe in Allen delivering Buffalo a Super Bowl championship. Admittedly, the AFC is so strong that predicting its winner feels like a fool’s errand. But the NFC is so weak that picking its winner to end up on top is to ignore the fact that most teams in that conference got worse this offseason.
Rodger Sherman: The Bills had the best point differential in the NFL last season, finishing with the league’s best defense and third-best offense. But they lost some weird, fluky games—remember that hellish windstorm game against a Patriots team that was running an offense from the 1940s? Or when they lost 9-6 to Urban Meyer’s Jaguars? As a result, they had to play on the road in the postseason, and lost to the Chiefs in one of the best games in NFL history. This year, it’ll come together. Their record will match their quality; they’ll win the AFC; opposing teams will freeze their asses off trying to win playoff games in Buffalo in January; and the Bills will make—and win—their elusive Super Bowl.
Austin Gayle: The Bills are rightfully the league’s favorite to win the Super Bowl (+600) entering Week 1. Allen will endure his first career offensive coordinator change going from Brian Daboll to Ken Dorsey, but expectations for the offense remain sky-high. Plus, the NFL’s top-ranked defense in 2021, led by head coach Sean McDermott, is in line to repeat its efforts this season, especially after adding future Hall of Famer Von Miller.
Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Princiotti: Remember that guy—big, fast, exciting—who went toe-to-toe with Patrick Mahomes last year in one of the most exciting games ever, then went down without ever getting that final possession? You know that guy. You love that guy. You want to see him complete his journey to the top, and I’m betting MVP voters do too.
Jones: With such a strong crop of quarterbacks this year, it feels like the MVP will be the quarterback of the best team in the AFC. That player will be Allen, who is more than ready to make the leap from dark-horse candidate to front-runner. He and the Bills will have plenty of chances for him to prove his case, with head-to-head matchups against Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Lamar Jackson. If he plays even close to the ridiculous level he reached in last season’s playoffs, he’ll have the stats to rival any other passer in the league.
Sherman: Once upon a time, I thought Josh Allen was not good enough to play quarterback in the NFL. Now, I think he’s the most talented player in the league. Hopefully I’m right this time.
Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
Kelly: With Tyreek Hill gone, Mahomes will have to prove he can put the Chiefs on his back and carry them in the toughest division in football. And he’s going to do just that.
Heifetz: Thirteen of the past 15 MVPs have been quarterbacks whose team earned a first-round bye. Just bet on the QB of the team you think will win home-field advantage this year. For me, that’s Mahomes and the Chiefs.
Justin Herbert, Chargers
Clark: All the pieces are there. He throws perfect passes on a regular basis, his team improved enough to win the AFC, and he’s in Year 3. He has everything that goes into winning this award: the narrative, the supporting cast, and the fact that he will be playing in huge games.
Ruiz: If you think I’m passing up this opportunity to plug my Herbert piece—he’s more than just a big arm, y’all—you’re mistaken. But seriously, Herbert played well enough to win the award last year, and now he’s got a defense that should offer enough support to help him make the playoffs for the first time. Voters love to back the shiny, new thing.
Kapadia: The Chargers missed the playoffs last year because of bad defense and special teams. It had nothing to do with Herbert, who threw for 5,014 yards and 38 touchdowns. Herbert is in the beginning stages of a Hall of Fame career (assuming good health). I’m expecting monster numbers and more team success that will lead to an MVP season.
Solak: MVP is a narrative award. It doesn’t so much go to the most valuable player as it does to quarterbacks who throw the ball a lot, score a lot of touchdowns, win double-digit games, and finish with a high playoff seed. I think Herbert will be that guy this year. If the Chargers win the division, the narrative juice for Herbert’s supplanting of Mahomes and breaking of the Chargers’ playoff curse will flow.
Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
Gayle: In just his second NFL season and coming off a major knee injury, Burrow made a sensational Super Bowl run behind one of the league’s worst offensive lines. He now enters 2022 with three new starters up front, arguably the NFL’s top receiving corps, and every reason to run up the score on every defense on his schedule.
Offensive Player of the Year
Princiotti: Herbert has a good chance to be the best quarterback on film this season; he just might not have the team success to match it given that the Chargers play in the AFC West. There’s an award for the best quarterback who doesn’t win his division, and it’s called Offensive Player of the Year.
Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
Ruiz: I’m trying to manifest here. The NFL is a hundred times more entertaining when Lamar is doing cool shit on the field, so let’s hope the Ravens have surrounded him with enough talent to help him do that. There isn’t a better creative force in the league than Jackson, and he improves from the pocket every season. This will be the best version of Lamar we’ve ever seen.
Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings
Kapadia: I continue to have no clue what this award is supposed to be, but I’ll give it to the best non-quarterback on offense. Jefferson finished second behind Cooper Kupp with 1,616 receiving yards last year. Now he has an offensive-minded head coach and could be even more productive. Jefferson is versatile; he can take over games; and he is just 23 years old.
Gayle: New Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell, who served as the Rams’ offensive coordinator in the team’s Super Bowl run, will feature Jefferson in the same power slot role that Kupp turned into a triple crown a year ago. The O’Connell-Jefferson pairing might just break the NFL.
Kelly: Jefferson brings triple-crown potential in Minnesota’s new-look offense. Getting him more looks in the slot should only boost his already incredible numbers.
Sherman: Jefferson has already had the most productive first two seasons of any receiver in league history, with 3,016 yards—261 more than Odell Beckham Jr. in second place and 290 more than Randy Moss. And that happened with Mike Zimmer as Vikings head coach, complaining to the very end that his team wasn’t running the ball enough. Jefferson has the talent to be top-tier, and he should put up even more ridiculous numbers than the ones he already has.
Heifetz: Jefferson has broken the record for receiving yards in a player’s first two seasons. Now he’s in a pass-first offense. Look out.
Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
Solak: It’s tough to win Offensive Player of the Year when the guy you’re up against earned the triple crown of NFL receiving. Taylor was a fine candidate for the award last year, and so long as nobody does a Cooper Kupp redux, this could be the year he wins it. I don’t even think the projected improvement of the Colts’ passing game with Matt Ryan under center hurts Taylor—I think it helps him. The Colts should win more games early, creating garbage-time stat-padding for Taylor. And as the entire offense becomes more efficient, added red zone drives and goal-line opportunities will boost Taylor’s scoring.
Davante Adams, Las Vegas Raiders
Jones: Barring a bonkers season from Taylor, this award will almost certainly go to a wide receiver, and I like Adams to best a field that will have plenty of worthy candidates—like Kupp, Jefferson, and Ja’Marr Chase. Adams has a chance to put up wild numbers with Derek Carr in Las Vegas, and if he has a massive season in his first year away from Aaron Rodgers and leads the league in multiple receiving categories, he’ll have a very strong case.
Clark: While reporting my story on Matt LaFleur this summer, I was struck by something Aaron Rodgers said: that previous iterations of the Packers’ offense flowed through Adams 80 percent of the time simply because he was always open. It’s hard to imagine another player like that, who can win a route whenever he needs to. In Las Vegas, with his best friend at quarterback and a smart coaching staff, we could see Adams reach new heights of usage.
Defensive Player of the Year
Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams
Clark: Donald should probably win this award every year. He has three, but last year’s Super Bowl put him in the upper echelon of the best players who’ve ever played this game. So long as he continues dominating on every play—as he has for most of his career—voters will feel comfortable giving this to him as many times as necessary.
Ruiz: Did you know that Donald finished THIRD in voting for this award last season? I’m sorry, but that’s dumb. They should rename the award after him and just hand it to him in Week 1. He’s the best defensive player in the league right now—and every year it gets harder to make the case against him being the greatest of all time.
Kelly: I have decided I will just default to Donald here every year until he retires. He’s easily the most dominant defensive player in the NFL.
Sherman: Look, dudes: It’s Aaron Donald.
Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers
Princiotti: Last season, the 49ers had one of the best defenses in the NFL and Bosa collected 15.5 sacks while compensating for a replacement-level secondary. In 2022, San Francisco believes the addition of cornerback Charvarius Ward will make things easier on the defensive front and allow them to keep racking up sacks. The loss of Arden Key in free agency could make Bosa even more of a focal point, and everyone I spoke with in San Francisco during training camp seems to think he’s primed for a huge season.
Heifetz: A Watt brother won DPOY last year, but this season I keep staring at the younger Bosa. He’s talented and on the verge of signing a massive extension in San Francisco. Sacks are almost everything in the DPOY race. They also help edge rushers get paid. Give me the Bosa brother most likely to be stat-chasing.
Jones: There were plenty of people in the Bay Area who were miffed that Bosa didn’t get more award hype in 2021, when he had 15.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, and a league-best 21 tackles for loss after missing nearly all of 2020 with a torn ACL. I think he’s now ready to blow past last year’s already impressive stats and become the best player on a 49ers defense that might wind up being one of the top three units in the league.
Joey Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers
Gayle: Before you scream “Bosa can’t stay healthy,” just calm down for a second. The 27-year-old defensive end has played in at least 12 games in five of his six NFL seasons, and he may need only that many to put up DPOY numbers playing opposite newly added star Khalil Mack. Mack and upgrades on the interior (Austin Johnson, Sebastian Joseph-Day) will have a direct and positive effect on Bosa’s production across the board.
Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns
Solak: Garrett has yet to win a Defensive Player of the Year award, but it seems inevitable that he will. He played a full season last year for the first time since 2018 and totaled 16 sacks, which was third behind DPOY T.J. Watt and ex-DPOY Robert Quinn. He’s qualified as a first-team All-Pro defensive end in each of the past two seasons. Defensive Player of the Year shouldn’t be a lifetime achievement award, but if Garrett plays a full season again, all it takes is a few lucky breaks for that 16 to become an 18 or a 19 and push Garrett to the top of the conversation.
Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys
Kapadia: Parsons had 13 sacks in limited opportunities as a rookie last season, and the Cowboys seem likely to unleash him more as a pass rusher in 2022. More pass-rushing chances will lead to bigger numbers. A season in which Parsons leads the NFL in sacks, tackles for loss, and forced fumbles is in play.
Coach of the Year
Matt LaFleur, Green Bay Packers
Princiotti: A Week 1 win would make Matt LaFleur the winningest coach in NFL history. He has won 13 games three seasons in a row. But he’s never won Coach of the Year, presumably in large part because his quarterback is Aaron Rodgers. Fine, fair, Rodgers is a great player, though Mike McCarthy never did that much with him. But while Rodgers’s talents undeniably help win games, what exactly about the past 12-plus months tells you that this man is easy to coach? Coach of the Year often goes to a coach whose team improves the most upon itself, so the Packers and LaFleur’s consistency could penalize him here (see: Tomlin, Mike). But it shouldn’t take an ayahuasca retreat to see that there’s a good coaching job going on here.
Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks
Ruiz: The Seahawks will be better than people think—better than Vegas thinks, at least. If you look back at the history of this award, it’s basically a “which team won the most games over its preseason win total” competition. If Seattle wins nine games in its first year without Russell Wilson, Carroll will get plenty of narrative votes.
Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers
Kapadia: Wait. He’s never won the award? How is that possible? I have the Steelers as a frisky, competitive eight-win team. But I’m not arrogant enough to think I have them pegged. Would it really surprise anyone if the Steelers win nine or 10 games and sneak into the playoffs? Of course not. If that happens, with this roster and the QB situation, Tomlin would be deserving.
Jones: We award voters don’t appreciate sustained greatness, but this will be the year that Tomlin finally gets recognized as the best coach in the NFL. And he’ll win it not because the Steelers win the division or are capable of a deep playoff run. He’ll win it because he’ll get a decent season out of Mitchell Trubisky (see below), coach a top-five defense, and keep Pittsburgh relevant in a year when there would be plenty of valid excuses if it took a step back.
Brandon Staley, Los Angeles Chargers
Kelly: Staley should get some help in the form of newly healthy Derwin James and newly acquired Khalil Mack, but if the second-year head coach can lead the transformation of his team’s defense from a subpar group to an elite unit, it’ll be tough for anyone to beat the Chargers. Eliminating some special teams flubs would go a long way, too.
Doug Pederson, Jacksonville Jaguars
Heifetz: The real Coach of the Year award is called the Lombardi Trophy. But the regular-season Coach of the Year award usually goes to the coach whose team wins more games than we expected. If Pederson gets Jacksonville into the playoff race, this award is his.
Clark: After the Urban Meyer debacle, it is only going to take an average season for Pederson to be viewed as a miracle worker. With a better roster, the lack of Meyer in the building, and improvement from Trevor Lawrence, this one might be a rout for Pederson.
Solak: Historically, to win Coach of the Year, you have to win double-digit games. I do think that’s within range for the Jaguars, who have more talent on defense than people realize, and a wonderful young quarterback in Lawrence who will emerge as one of the league’s best by the end of the season. But I also think Pederson gets a boost in this award given just how ridiculously detrimental the Jaguars’ coaching was last year. If the Jags do win nine games, heaps of credit will be dropped on Pederson’s shoulders for being anything other than Urban Meyer.
Mike McDaniel, Miami Dolphins
Sherman: The Dolphins are trying to pair downfield speedster Tyreek Hill with the questionable arm of Tua Tagovailoa. If it works, it will likely be due to the schematic choices of McDaniel, who figured out a unique plan for Deebo Samuel and Jimmy Garoppolo last year. I think the Dolphins will make the playoffs, and when they do, I think McDaniel will be named Coach of the Year.
Nick Sirianni, Philadelphia Eagles
Gayle: The Eagles have quickly become the sexy pick to exceed expectations this season. The Sunday after general manager Howie Roseman traded a first-round pick for AJ Brown and added Georgia star defensive tackle Jordan Davis in the draft, FanDuel listed the Eagles at +275 to win the NFC East. Today, Jalen Hurts and Co. are at equal odds with the Cowboys to take home the division crown at +145, and for very good reason. Roseman has put on a master class in building a roster that supports Hurts and Sirianni.
Comeback Player of the Year
Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
Clark: When healthy, McCaffrey is still a dangerous back. His numbers in seven games last year were down from his last fully healthy season in 2019, but he was still good enough to get almost 800 all-purpose yards in less than half a season. If he can stay on the field, he’ll rack up yards and save fantasy leagues across America.
Kelly: McCaffrey’s played in just 10 games over the past two seasons but there’s little reason to believe his play will drop off from previous highs. If he can stay on the field in 2022, I expect to see him post super-prolific numbers in both the ground game and air attack for Carolina.
Heifetz: McCaffrey staying healthy and posting anywhere close to his previous numbers would make him the no-brainer here.
Pick a Raven
Princiotti: I want to pick Lamar Jackson for this award and, if he qualifies, he should win it. I’m expecting the type of season from Jackson that would make him an MVP candidate. The counterargument is that his season-ending injury came after he’d already played 12 games, which isn’t exactly notable in a sport as violent as football. But if we can consider Allen Robinson a candidate to “come back” from playing with Blake Bortles and Mitch Trubisky, I think we can consider Jackson a candidate based on his injury and the total decimation of the Ravens’ team health that occurred around him last year. If I can’t take Jackson, I’m taking someone else from Baltimore’s offense, like running back J.K. Dobbins, especially as Greg Roman’s post–Hollywood Brown scheme commits even more fully to the running game. If I can’t take Dobbins either, I’ll go with Poe, the mascot who was run over by a youth football team during a preseason event. No, seriously.
Allen Robinson, Los Angeles Rams
Kapadia: I’m going with Robinson only because he’s the funniest pick. What exactly is he coming back from? Playing in a horrendous offense? Overcoming significant adversity after having spent last season with Matt Nagy and Andy Dalton? Most of these awards are so dumb. I love it.
Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
Solak: Henry, who in 2020 became the eighth player in league history to have over 2,000 rushing yards in a season, was on pace for 1,990 yards in 2021 before his foot injury. After averaging 20.2 carries a game in 2019 and 23.6 carries a game in 2020, he was clocking 27.4 carries a game in 2021! There isn’t another back in Henry’s stratosphere in terms of rushing volume over the past few years. He has historically been an ironman, and if he can shoulder the entire Titans offense once again, he’ll deserve this award for the sheer unlikelihood of his longevity.
Sherman: The Titans still don’t have much of an offensive game plan besides giving the ball to King Henry—and to be fair, that works most of the time, as Henry was leading the league in carries, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns when he got hurt last year. And his injury should be fully behind him. After all, he was able to recover in time to play in the Titans’ postseason game last year. Henry should win this award, and he might just be the RB1 in fantasy, too.
Mitchell Trubisky, Pittsburgh Steelers
Jones: OK, I already regret this decision. But look at the betting odds for this award. It is grim, folks. I don’t trust McCaffrey to stay healthy. It’s hard to get excited about Jameis Winston, even if he does put up decent passing numbers. So why not Trubisky? (I mean, other than the fact that Kenny Pickett could take his job by Week 3.) Trubisky has a chance to come back from being terrible! He can shake the “bust” label and stop being known as the guy the Bears shouldn’t have drafted. Let’s say Trubisky holds off Pickett and finishes the year as a top-12 quarterback. Let’s say he uses his legs to give the Steelers offense an element it hasn’t had since Kordell Stewart, and he keeps Pittsburgh in playoff contention into December. Yes, it’s an absurd pick—but it wouldn’t be the most ridiculous award he’s won.
Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
Gayle: Henry is FanDuel’s favorite to win the award at +500 entering the season, but I just can’t see voters backing a player that still cleared 1,000 scrimmage yards and 10 touchdowns in 2021. McCaffrey, who hasn’t eclipsed 800 scrimmage yards in two seasons, is a better bet at +700 if you’re backing a running back. I still lean Thomas over both as the Saints’ top wideout returns to the field following 26 missed games over the past two years. People forget the 6-foot-3, 210-pound phenom eclipsed 1,100 yards receiving every year of his career before getting hurt in 2020.
Ruiz: While I should be imploring you to ignore training camp videos, I have to say: Michael Thomas looks really freaking good in the camp videos I’ve seen. That’s enough for me. He’s going to catch 100 passes (on 95 slant routes) after missing the better part of two seasons, and that will be that.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Chris Olave, New Orleans Saints
Ruiz: That’s right. I’m doubling down on Saints receivers. If Thomas doesn’t win Comeback Player of the Year, it will probably be because Olave cut into his production and had a fantastic rookie year. With all of the rookie quarterbacks starting the season on the bench, this seems like a receiver award this year.
Sherman: It’s a strange class here—the top five picks in this year’s draft were all defensive players, and no rookie QBs are starting. Olave steps into a fascinating situation with deep-ball enthusiast Jameis Winston under center and the other primary targets in the offense being Michael Thomas, who is a slant stan, and Jarvis Landry, one of the slowest wide receivers in league history. Olave is the only guy who really seems like a fit with Winston, and I think he quickly becomes WR1 on a fun offense.
Gayle: Olave is my pick here if and only if Kenny Pickett doesn’t start eight or more games in Pittsburgh. Olave will be featured in a pass-heavy New Orleans offense and is one of few first-round skill players even in line to start Week 1. He was one of the most polished draft prospects in the entire 2022 class and should hit the ground running en route to an extremely productive rookie campaign.
Clark: There are a handful of elite receivers who enter the NFL now and shine as rookies. But in order to win this award, you have to be elite and have a quarterback who can push the ball down field to give you big numbers. Olave has that in Jameis Winston. His competition—Drake London in Atlanta or George Pickens in Pittsburgh, to name two with good odds—doesn’t have the same quarterback play. Skyy Moore might have too much competition for targets in the Chiefs offense. Treylon Burks has a good case, but I think Olave will have instant success that lasts all year.
George Pickens, Pittsburgh Steelers
Princiotti: [Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada voice.] A receiver drafted outside the first round by the Steelers hitting the ground running and excelling beyond expectations? Groundbreaking.
Solak: This award usually goes to “rookie quarterback who started a lot of games”—at least, in those seasons in which Ja’Marr Chase doesn’t set, like, 19 rookie records. That makes it a fun award for 2022, a season in which we expect no rookie quarterbacks to start a ton of games. Accordingly, I’ll take the rookie wideout who has made the most early waves: Pickens, a first-round talent who landed on the best team in the league for young receiver development. The room is a little crowded with Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool, but I think Pickens has carved out enough of a role to get the volume for this award.
Heifetz: Sometimes when you know, you know. We’ve seen enough of Pickens to already know.
Drake London, Atlanta Falcons
Kelly: London could face competition in this category from Steelers rookies Pickens and Kenny Pickett (should Pickett eventually get the starting gig from Trubisky), but the USC Trojan standout lands in a Falcons receiver corps that’s bereft of playmaking talent. He’s almost guaranteed a massive target load in the Atlanta passing game, giving him a great shot at leading all rookie pass catchers in yards and touchdowns.
Dameon Pierce, Houston Texans
Kapadia: There’s a lot to like about Pierce. He’s going to have opportunities. He has a fun, physical running style. And the Texans’ offensive line isn’t bad. Pierce is in a situation where he could put up big numbers right away. I plan on reaching for him in pretty much all of my fantasy drafts.
Skyy Moore, Kansas City Chiefs
Jones: This award seems like it will almost certainly go to a rookie receiver. Pickens is the hot pick here, I’m sure. But I’m betting on Moore being a slow burn, and I’m more excited about what Moore will be doing by November and December in Andy Reid’s offense than I am concerned about a lack of training camp highlights. Reid loves versatile receiving options, and eventually Moore will be a player who can line up in the slot and outside. As his connection with Mahomes grows, so will his award buzz.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Quay Walker, Green Bay Packers
Clark: I could take any of the Georgia guys here, I love almost all of them equally. But I’m taking Walker because he has a defined role in a really talented team in Green Bay and he’s talented enough to take advantage.
Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, New York Jets
Princiotti: Long, sticky, and a menace in press coverage, Gardner didn’t allow a single touchdown in his entire college career and has gone his first NFL preseason without even being targeted. If opponents have that much respect for him, so shall I. Expect AFC East receivers to be like a highway in California or Tennessee this season: Sauce covering everything.
Kapadia: Let’s be honest. Jets fans have had pretty much nothing to cheer for over the past decade. If Gardner’s even slightly above average, the hype will be out of control, and he’ll win this award.
Travon Walker, Jacksonville Jaguars
Ruiz: This award typically goes to an edge rusher, and Walker is the most physically gifted of the ones drafted at the top of the first round. I don’t know how confident I am that the Jags coaching staff will get the most out of him, but if they do, Walker will make at least two jaw-dropping plays a week. That should garner him enough buzz to take the award.
Aidan Hutchinson, Detroit Lions
Kelly: This is a chalky pick, sure, but Hutchinson will get every opportunity to rack up stats as an anchor on Detroit’s defensive line. He’s a balls-to-the-wall player who gives maximum effort on every snap. I expect him to collect more sacks and tackles for a loss than his main rookie competition, Walker and Kayvon Thibodeaux.
Gayle: Hutchinson is FanDuel’s favorite to win the award (+450) because he is expected to play a very high percentage of the Lions’ defensive snaps and rack up a ton of sacks, tackles, and tackles for loss. DROY is an award driven by high-level box-score production, and Hutch can do just that.
Heifetz: Pass rushers and linebackers almost always win this award, and usually the winner also comes from the first round. Hutchinson may just need to lead the Lions in sacks to win this award.
Jones: I’m not overthinking this. Hutchinson will have plenty of pass-rushing opportunities, and if sacks and TFLs matter to voters, Hutchinson will be in good shape. He has a chance to be part of a defensive resurgence in Detroit, and even if the Lions aren’t in playoff contention, if he proves himself to be a building block worthy of that no. 2 pick in the draft (and if he statistically outperforms Walker), he’ll be an easy selection.
Jordan Davis, Philadelphia Eagles
Sherman: Davis is not considered one of the favorites to win this award, since there hasn’t been a defensive tackle winner since Aaron Donald. But I think people will notice when the Eagles’ opponents have a giant, Jordan Davis–sized hole in their offensive line. He’s a force of nature who won’t need any time to adjust to the NFL.
Solak: It’s not unheard of for a defensive tackle to win this award. Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald both won it as sack artists, but Sheldon Richardson also grabbed it in a quiet year because of his run-stuffing ability and production behind the line of scrimmage. Accordingly, there’s a world in which Davis—who will play more snaps than most expect, even on a depth chart with Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave—has such a dominant season that he wins the award without elite stats. I’m not convinced any of the early-drafted pass rushers will produce enough to grab the award, and cornerbacks rarely win it, which leaves Davis as an elite talent on an improving defense. Let an Eagles fan dream, will ya?