Despite the NFL's regular season coming to a close, jobs are never simply done. All fourteen of the league's playoff teams, Pittsburgh Steelers included, prepare to start the journey towards a Super Bowl appearance, while teams who missed the postseason now begin to assess where their seasons went wrong and move what chess pieces they deem necessary.
The same sentiment can be carried for the 50 sportswriters/broadcasters across the country responsible for voting on major NFL awards. After the conclusion of every regular season, the Associated Press counts 50 votes for each category, ranging from league MVP to Comeback Player of the Year, and later announces them the day prior to the Super Bowl.
Each award is annually up for debate, with respective fanbases and players staking their claim for their perspective winner. Last year's list went as followed:
Most Valuable Player- Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens
Offensive Player of the Year- Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints
Defensive Player of the Year- Stephon Gilmore, DB, New England Patriots
Offensive Rookie of the Year- Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals
Defensive Rookie of the Year- Nick Bosa, DE, San Francisco 49ers
Comeback Player of the Year- Ryan Tannehill, QB, Tennessee Titans
Coach of the Year- John Harbaugh
Although the 2020 NFL season was met with challenges related to COVID-19, the league was still able to pull off a full season's worth of play. Who will etch their name into history books following tremendous seasons? The staff of AllSteelers makes their picks for the annual awards given out:
Most Valuable Player
Donnie Druin - Aaron Rodgers. You'll hear arguments for just about anybody here, and truthfully, there are a handful of players who belong in the conversation. However, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has pieced together an incredible season that includes 48 touchdown passes and leading the league in nearly every major passing category. The MVP is undoubtedly a QB award, and while Mahomes/Allen have completed great seasons, I believe Rodgers is the clear front-runner for the reward.
Noah Strackbein - Aaron Rodgers. This one has one competitor and it's Josh Allen. And even if the young quarterback is giving this old gunslinger a run for his money, Rodgers continues to show he's the best QB in football.
Cody Flavell - Aaron Rodgers. There are arguments for three players: Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Rodgers. However, it’s hard to argue with Rodgers’ value to his team. Rodgers posted more touchdowns (48) this season than punts (46) by his team. When Rodgers is on, he’s quite possibly the most talented quarterback in the last 20 years. Mahomes led the Chiefs to a 14-2 record but has a ton of offensive weapons. He’ll win his fair share. Allen stepped up big time this season after lacking true accuracy last season. He’s become a very complete quarterback and made a huge difference for the Bills in 2020. While Mahomes and Allen certainly make a case, it’s hard to take the MVP away from Rodgers.
Connor Deitrich - Aaron Rodgers. This was a tossup for most of the year, but Aaron Rodgers ran away from Patrick Mahomes the last few weeks of the season. Rodgers really turned back the clock this year, with his best statistical season in a long time. The argument could be made that Green Bay has the best offense in the league, and that's thanks to the performance of Rodgers.
Jarrett Bailey - Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay seemed to have plans for the future, drafting QB Jordan Love in the first round. How did Aaron Rodgers respond? Only by throwing a career high in touchdowns (48) to just five(!) interceptions and leading the Packers to the No. 1 seed in the NFC. If you still aren’t convinced of how dominant he’s been, here’s a fun little stat; Rodgers had more touchdown passes on the year than the Packers had punts. Pure dominance.
Offensive Player of the Year
Donnie Druin - Derrick Henry. With only one player not playing at quarterback winning the MVP award since 2007, position players are relegated to their own award. Henry, who just became the eighth player in NFL history to rush for over 2,000 yards in a single season, is almost a lock for this award in my opinion. Although you could make a case his historic year belongs in MVP conversations, I believe he'll pick up the silver medal of awards here thanks to an incredible rushing performance in 2020.
Noah Strackbein - Derrick Henry. Does this need to be longer than "2,000-plus yards?" Derrick Henry is every NFL running back wrapped into one and thrown on a team whose somehow found the biggest, meanest players to play offense for them. What he's done this season is greatly underlooked because the Titans didn't win the AFC South, but he's the best offensive player in football.
Cody Flavell - Stefon Diggs. It’s very popular to give this award to quarterbacks because they drive the league now. What about their pass-catchers? Diggs got out from underneath Kirk Cousins’ grim shadow and posted huge numbers in his Bills debut season. With 127 receptions, 1,535 yards and eight touchdowns, Diggs was a monster and a catalyst for Allen becoming a true elite quarterback. Diggs can run any route and sees the lion share of Buffalo’s targets. Rodgers, Mahomes, and even Deshaun Watson could be considered for the win. Watson led the NFL in passing yards and put together a wonderful season for a four-win football team. But instead of just handing it to a quarterback, I went out on a bit of a limb.
Connor Deitrich - Derrick Henry. Any of the three quarterbacks (Rodgers, Mahomes, or Josh Allen) could win this award, but Henry deserves an accolade for his historic season. He's the eighth player in NFL history to eclipse the 2000 rushing yards mark in a season and added 17 touchdowns on the ground as well. He's the main reason for Tennessee having a top five offense in the league.
Jarrett Bailey - Derrick Henry. Henry followed up his monster 2019 season with an even better 2020. The newest member of the 2,000 yard club was the driving force of the Titans winning their first AFC South division title since 2008. His 2,027 yards led the NFL, as did his 17 rushing touchdowns.
Defensive Player of the Year
Donnie Druin - T.J. Watt. Dear award voters: Let's not do this again. Don't pass up T.J. Watt's incredible sack/turnover production in favor for whatever corner has the most amount of interceptions. Miami's Xavien Howard's ten interceptions are incredible, no doubting. But Watt's ability to stuff the stat sheet (led the league in sack and didn't play in week 17) in multiple phases was already overlooked last year. The numbers matched last year. They match again this year. Hand the man what he deserves.
Noah Strackbein - T.J. Watt. Mike Tomlin said Watt is "visiting from another planet," and everyone started to believe that if there's really aliens, T.J. might be one of them. Crazy thought? Not as crazy as him getting snubbed two years in a row.
Cody Flavell - T.J. Watt. Watt was robbed of the Defensive Player of the Year in 2019. Stephon Gilmore was the beneficiary. Watt came back in 2020 proving that he was robbed last year and deserves the win this season. Aaron Donald is a perpetual contender for the award. He’s been the best defensive player for years. This season, Watt led the league in sacks, tackles for loss, and quarterback hits. He’s as disruptive a pass rusher as there is in the league and he also forces fumbles routinely. Watt should win but the former Pitt Panther Donald has a legitimate chance as well. Either way, Pittsburgh fans should be satisfied.
Connor Deitrich - T.J. Watt. This one really is a two horse race. Aaron Donald will get some love, but Watt should take this award. He led the league in sacks, tackles for loss, and QB hits. It's easier for an EDGE to rack up stats than a defensive tackle, but Watt lapped the competition this year and should win his first of potentially more DPOY awards.
Jarrett Bailey - T.J. Watt. The Steelers pass rush is the best in the league thanks in no small part to the fourth year man out of Wisconsin. Watt led the NFL with 15 sacks and his 26 tackles for loss were also the most in the league. Even with the Steelers losing key defensive stars such as Devin Bush and Bud Dupree, no one could slow down Watt.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Donnie Druin - Justin Herbert. For me, this award may also go to Justin Jefferson, and it's a close race. Yet for a rookie quarterback to be thrown into the fire and respond like Herbert did, that spoke volumes to somebody who doubted him heavily during the draft process. Herbert looks every bit of a franchise quarterback for years to come despite some expected rookie hiccups despite his strong rookie campaign not translating to wins for the Chargers.
Noah Strackbein - Justin Jefferson. Breaking Randy Moss' receiving record isn't a feat that should go unnoticed. What Justin Jefferson has done in Minnesota is only the beginning, and even if Justin Herbert played like a Rookie of the Year, Jefferson won games for the Vikings. That's the difference.
Cody Flavell - Justin Herbert. This was a two man race but Herbert takes the cake here. Between he and Justin Jefferson, Herbert posted eye-popping numbers and really wasn’t expected to. Tyrod Taylor won the job out of camp and then had his ribs broken by the Chargers training staff. Herbert took the reins from there and never looked back. He was one of the more unpolished prospects coming out of school and seemed to be more project than immediate sensation. Despite playing only 15 games, Herbert posted the all-time rookie passing touchdown record with 31 touchdown passes. He limited his interceptions to 10 giving him a 3:1 TD-to-interception ratio. That’s impressive for a young kid. Jefferson set his own rookie record by posting 1,400 yards to eclipse the former NFL mark. He exceeded expectations replacing Diggs but Herbert’s season was just that much more impressive.
Connor Deitrich - Justin Herbert. Someone named Justin will win this award, either Herbert or Justin Jefferson of the Vikings. Both guys had historic seasons for rookies at their respective positions. Herbert gets the edge for me, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the two players announced as co-winners. The Chargers have a bright future ahead with Herbert at the helm.
Jarrett Bailey - Justin Jefferson. A lot of fans were skeptical about how successful the Vikings offense would be without Stefon Diggs; all of those doubts were pushed aside after the season Jefferson had. He broke Randy Moss’ single-season receiving yards record for rookies and finished fourth in the NFL in receiving yards with 1400 while racking up 88 receptions.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Donnie Druin - Chase Young. Chase Young looks everything he was advertised to be and more, and although his numbers don't accurately reflect his presence on the field, there's little doubting Young's impact for Washington as a rookie. While other defensive rookies saw some great debut campaigns, nobody can match what Young was able to do in under a full season of play.
Noah Strackbein - Chase Young. This is a no brainer. Chase Young is a man amongst boys as a rookie, proving quick that he was the clear best choice for any football team. Even if his stat line isn't anything to blush over, he's making an impact more than any first-year player.
Cody Flavell - Chase Young. This is probably the second easiest award to hand out. Young was an absolute force at Ohio State. I could’ve predicted this back on draft night when he was selected second overall. He was head and shoulders above any other option with 8.5 sacks as a rookie and will only get better as he gets more experience. He’ll wreak havoc in the playoffs and has his first chance at Tom Brady this coming weekend.
Connor Deitrich - Chase Young. This award was a tossup for awhile, but down the stretch, Chase Young really came alive. He finished the season with 7.5 sacks, 12 QB hits, three recovered fumbles, and a defensive touchdown. Young stood out among a loaded Washington defensive front, and fans of the Football Team has reasons for excitement with regards to their defense.
Jarrett Bailey - Chase Young. Well, he has lived up to the hype thus far. The former Buckeye has been one of the catalysts of the Washington Football Team defense that has become one of the best in the league. He had 7.5 sacks and forced four fumbles, which was the third most in the league while helping Washington win their first division title since 2015.
Comeback Player of the Year
Donnie Druin - Alex Smith. Had Ben Roethlisberger continued his blistering pace throwing the ball (successfully), I might have Big Ben as the winner here. Yet Pittsburgh's offense slammed the brakes to end the season, and while Alex Smith's season wasn't anything to statistically blush about, the fact that he was able to lead a team to a divisional title after having 17 surgeries on his leg and nearly dying is more than enough to earn the award.
Noah Strackbein - Alex Smith. Re-name the award after Alex Smith. This isn't even a question. 11 games into the season, it's probably Ben Roethlisberger's honor, but after the downfall of Pittsburgh, Smith claimed his rightful place and will finish the greatest comeback in NFL history with an award.
Cody Flavell - Alex Smith. For a seven win football team, they had the two most obvious winners of awards. Smith’s return from 17 surgeries and eventual success once he gained the starting job is impressive. Not only did Smith deal with that trauma, he came in and won a lot down the stretch to help win the division and get a playoff spot that no one would have foreseen coming. It’s hard not to root for Smith. At his age, coming back from all that does not sound fun. But he did and he’s playing at a fairly solid level and deserves all the praise and respect in the world. 49ers left tackle Trent Williams also deserves some recognition. He continued to be one of the top left tackles in the league after having a cancerous tumor removed from his head. Kudos to both of these guys but Smith should win this far and away. Heck, rename the award after him.
Connor Deitrich - Alex Smith. The only no doubter on this list. Alex Smith will win this award and he deserves it. Many though he would win the award as soon as he stepped on the field this year. But he did more than that. He played well and did enough to get the Washington Football Team to the playoffs. This award is usually based on a compelling story and quality play, and Smith had both this year.
Jarrett Bailey - Alex Smith. I mean, can it really be anybody else? Two years and 17 surgeries later, Alex Smith did what many thought was impossible and, was not only cleared to play, but became the Washington starter midway through the year while steadying the ship and helping the offense improve as they clinched the NFC East crown.
Coach of the Year
Donnie Druin - Kevin Stefanski. This was a tough one to predict, as many coaches throughout the NFL are deserving of this. However, Stefanski did the impossible: Coach a Cleveland Browns team to the playoffs. Many have tried, and Stefanski proved too tough for the coaching cycle that would spit other coaches out in two years or less. His ability to finally get the most out of a talented Browns team and into the postseason shoulders my vote, although I'll hear arguments for almost any other candidate.
Noah Strackbein - Kevin Stefanski. Every Steelers fan is having a tough time with this one, but for the first time in a lot of people's lifetime, the Cleveland Browns didn't screw up a coaching hire.
Cody Flavell - Kevin Stefanski. Stefanski got Baker Mayfield to play like an elite quarterback this season. While Mayfield posted a career low in passing yards, he was more effective than he’s been at any point and the Browns are in the playoffs. They have a lethal run game and the defense is playing fairly well. If Miami would’ve made the playoffs, it would’ve been hard not to give Brian Flores this award but since they missed out, Stefanski deserves it. After a carousel of coaches getting fired after losses to the Steelers, Stefanski was able to coax enough out of Cleveland to send them to the postseason for the first time since 2002.
Connor Deitrich - Sean McDermott. This could go either way between Kevin Stefanski and McDermott in my opinion. Stefanski might get the nod because it's his first year as a head coach and the Browns broke an 18 year playoff drought. But McDermott has the Buffalo Bills playing the best football of anyone down the stretch. They are legitimate threats to Kansas City in the AFC. McDermott and the rest of the Buffalo staff have done a phenomenal job this year.
Jarrett Bailey - Kevin Stefanski. Finally. After 18 years, the Cleveland Browns are back in the playoffs. And ever since their return to the NFL in 1999, they seem to have both their quarterback and head coach of the future. Stefanski did what everyone in Cleveland has been clamoring for; running the ball. The Browns ground attack was one of the best in the league, which took a lot of the load off Baker Mayfield en route to a 10-6 season and a Wildcard spot.