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The NFL is in the midst of an electric era of offensive football with an incredible number of game-changing offensive players all around the league. The Offensive Player of the Year award is one of the most crowded award races in the NFL, but that also means there can be some serious value if you pick the right player to win. With several exciting players in the running for the Offensive Player of the Year, I’m going to break down a few of my favorite picks for the award.
2020 OPOY Recap
In 2020, Derrick Henry won the Offensive Player of the Year award by a sizable margin. He earned 64% of the votes while the next-best players, Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers, tied for 10%. Henry was the runaway favorite for the award as he became the eighth player in NFL history to run for over 2,000 yards. He took 378 carries for 2,027 yards and 17 touchdowns as he dominated opposing defenses and led the Titans to the 4th-highest-scoring offense in the NFL. Henry compiled career-best rushing numbers last season as he led the NFL in rushing yards and touchdowns for the second-straight year. Could Henry go back-to-back as Offensive Player of the Year?
OPOY Historical Analysis
Last season, Derrick Henry became the 26th running back to win the Offensive Player of the Year award out of 48 winners all-time (54.1%). Quarterback is the second-most common position to win the award, with 20 of 48 winners (41.6%). Only two wide receivers have won the award in Michael Thoams and Jerry Rice (twice). Tight ends and offensive linemen have never won the award. Despite the NFL trending towards more of a pass-heavy league vs. its historical dependence on the running game, a running back has won the OPOY award in four of the last ten seasons. A quarterback has won the award in five of the last ten seasons. Of the 48 winners all-time, 28 were also named the AP NFL Most Valuable Player in the same season (58.3%). However, a running back has won MVP only four times since the turn of the century (Adrian Peterson in 2012, LaDanian Tomlinson in 2006, Shaun Alexander in 2005, and Marshall Faulk in 2000), with the rest of the MVP awards being won by quarterbacks.
How to Approach 2021 OPOY Betting
Betting on the Offensive Player of the Year award can be tricky, with so many great candidates to choose from, but there are some important things to keep in mind. The best quarterbacks in the sport tend to dominate the voting for the award, with Peyton Manning (2) and Tom Brady (2) winning multiple Offensive Player of the Year awards. That bodes well for the odds-on favorite this year, Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, both of whom are recent winners.
In addition, historical play is almost always rewarded with the OPOY. O.J. Simpson won the award in 1973 after becoming the first NFL player to run for 2,000 yards in a season. Dan Marino won in 1984 as the first quarterback to pass for 5,000 yards in a season. Drew Brees in 2011 and Peyton Manning in 2013 won the award as they broke the record for passing yards in a season. So, which player will produce historically great play this season? That’s a good place to start when you’re considering the candidates for this award.
Patrick Mahomes ()
The Chiefs‘ star quarterback previously won the Offensive Player of the Year award and the league MVP in 2018, and he’s the favorite to win OPOY again this season. As arguably the best quarterback in the NFL, it’s easy to see why he’s the favorite. Mahomes threw for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns to 12 interceptions the last time he won the OPOY award in his debut season in 2018, and his production hasn’t quite lived up to those elite marks ever since. Mahomes benefits greatly from arguably the best receiving tandem in the NFL in Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, as well as an offensive mastermind in Andy Reid, and he’s also the favorite to win MVP at around +600. It’s easy to envision an MVP-OPOY season for Mahomes this year, and if you want to put some money on it, I can’t blame you. My one piece of advice will be to get action on both awards if you think Mahomes has another historically elite season in him.
Lamar Jackson ()
Jackson checks off one key box as a former MVP and Offensive Player of the Year winner, so we know he’s capable of winning the most prestigious awards. Jackson has also put together some historically great numbers as he’s the first player in NFL history to throw for 5,000+ yards and run for 2,500+ yards in his first three seasons. Mind you, that’s only with starting seven games in his rookie year. The Ravens made a concerted effort to add to the team’s pass-catching corps as rookie Rashod Bateman, and veteran Sammy Watkins join Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews. Jackson is the best running quarterback in the NFL, and with the added pass-catching, he could get back to his previously elite 9.0% TD rate in 2019 when he was the First-Team All-Pro quarterback.
Kyler Murray ()
Last season, we saw Josh Allen breakthrough with a massively improved season in his third year in the NFL. Now, the Cardinals‘ Kyler Murray enters his third professional season and is on the precipice of greatness. Murray improved his numbers across the board last season as he threw for about 200 more yards and 6 more touchdowns while improving his completion percentage. He also ran for 11 touchdowns through 16 games as he dominated on the ground and through the air. Murray has some elite pass-catchers at his disposal, most notably former All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins. The Cardinals added rookie Rondale Moore and veteran A.J. Green to the group. Murray is an electric playmaker with his legs with the velocity and touch in his throws to complete passes deep downfield. He’s ready to make another leap, and that could include winning the OPOY award.
Tom Brady ()
Tom Brady has won the Offensive Player of the Year award. twice in his career and could be headed for another win this season. The Buccaneers have provided him with an absurd amount of offensive talent at his disposal with wide receivers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown, running backs Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette, and tight end Rob Gronkowski. Despite getting used to a new team for the first time in his career with minimal offseason/preseason time to prepare given the COVID-19 pandemic, Brady completed 65.7% of his passes for 4,633 yards and 40 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. He was especially impressive in the playoffs throwing for 1,061 yards and 10 touchdowns to 3 interceptions through four games en route to winning the Super Bowl. I have Brady down for well over 5,000 passing yards this season and he could put together a vintage MVP/OPOY season. If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s never to bet against Brady.
Derrick Henry ()
The Offensive Player of the Year winner last season, Tennessee’s Derrick Henry is the rare exception to the concept of individual running backs not being integral to NFL teams. Henry has run for 3,567 yards over the past two seasons which is the most in the NFL by an absurd margin; the next-closest player, Dalvin Cook, has 2,692 yards on the ground. Henry won’t be this good forever, as the running back position is very susceptible to a precipitous decline in talent as players get older. However, Henry has only seen a monstrous workload in two seasons and at 27 years old, I’m willing to bet that he has another strong year of production in him. The biggest knock on Henry to repeat is there have only been two players in NFL history to win back-to-back OPOYs – Marshall Faulk and Earl Campbell.
Christian McCaffrey ()
In 2019, CMC made his first Pro Bowl and his first All-Pro team as he had over 1,000 yards on the ground and through the air (just under 2,400 total) and scored 19 total touchdowns. He missed all but three games last season, but has been fully healthy and raring to go for this season for some time now as he’s well on schedule to be ready for Week 1 for the Panthers. Through the first three years of his career, McCaffrey was the first player in NFL history to have over 2,500 rushing yards and over 2,500 receiving yards. He’s a historically great player and it’s hard to argue there are any running backs in the NFL more talented than him.
Dalvin Cook ()
I have some interest in Dalvin Cook as a dark-horse for this award as he compiled over 1,900 yards from scrimmage and 17 total touchdowns last year in 14 games. He played behind a Vikings‘ offensive line that PFF ranked as the sixth-worst unit in the NFL. Minnesota added Christian Darrisaw in the first round and the offensive line should be a bit better this season. In addition, the Vikings get several key players back from injury on defense and added a couple of veterans in Dalvin Tomlinson, Patrick Peterson, and Bashaud Breeland. With an improved offensive line and defense, Cook will be even more involved this season and could push for well over 2,000 yards from scrimmage over a 17-game slate.
Alvin Kamara ()
The Saints lost Drew Brees to retirement this offseason and Michael Thomas’s leg injury could keep him out until October or November. The New Orleans offense is going to completely revolve around Alvin Kamara this year and one year after scoring 21 total touchdowns from scrimmage, Kamara could be in for a career year in all facets of the game. The Saints’ offensive line was ranked as the eighth-best unit in the NFL last season, and regardless of whether it’s Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill at quarterback, Kamara should have plenty of opportunities to work in space on the ground and through the air. If New Orleans maintains a high-level offense without Brees and with a hampered Michael Thomas, it will be thanks to Kamara and he could see recognition for his efforts with the OPOY award.