The most valuable player is not defined as the “best” player on a team. It’s not the guy who has the best stats, or the most touchdowns, or runs the fastest. The MVP is the player who is the heart and soul of the team; it’s the guy who is irreplaceable to the team’s success. No matter how bad a team is, there is at least one player who plays top-notch ball and elevates himself to the level of team MVP. Sometimes it’s a surprising player, but more often than not it’s the “star” of the team.
Now that we are right on the heels of the NFL season, most teams have set their rosters. The draft is done, the rosters are full, and practices have begun. Teams still have to make cuts and sign new players when injuries come, but the offseason is almost over, which means so are most major signings. This means that we can now guess who we believe will be the most productive player for each team. Barring any major trades or shocking salary cap cuts, we know who the best players are for each team. We decided to dive into the rosters and pick which player we believe will be the MVP for each franchise in 2016. Let’s get started.
68 Arizona Cardinals – CB Patrick Peterson
Last year Carson Palmer was easily the MVP for the Cardinals who were one win away from going to the Super Bowl. He had a great year throwing for a career high 4,671 yards and 35 touchdowns. It’s not often that a quarterback has his best season at 35 years old, and it’s even rarer that they top it when they’re 36. We expect 2015 to be Palmer’s best year and we also expect him to regress this upcoming season. He might have a good year, we don’t want to just write him off, but 3,500 yards and 25 touchdowns just isn’t MVP worthy, especially with a guy like Patrick Peterson taking charge of the team’s defense. Peterson has long been one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL even though guys like Richard Sherman and Darrell Revis always seem to overshadow him in the media. We expect this year to be the year of Patrick Peterson and he will be in the mix for Defensive Player of the Year.
66 Atlanta Falcons – WR Julio Jones
Because Calvin Johnson beat Jerry Rice’s single season receiving record in 2012, the fact that Julio Jones did last year went widely unnoticed. His 1,871 yards in 2015 is second all time behind Calvin Johnson’s 2012 season. Julio is only 27 years old and will look to surpass his yardage this upcoming year and will want more than 8 touchdowns; we expect him to do both. The Falcons bolstered their offensive line, which will give Matt Ryan more time to find Julio on deep routs and there will be less dumping the ball out on the flat. The Falcons also added a couple decent receivers in Mohamed Sanu and Eric Weems, but they should not take the attention away from Julio. The Falcons only play 2 teams with an elite cornerback so that will boost his numbers, but Jones plays very well against them anyway (see his numbers vs. Josh Norman). Julio will have a huge season and may just lead the Falcons to the playoffs.
64 Baltimore Ravens – ILB CJ Mosley
The Ravens were marred with injuries this past season. They had more than 20 players go on injured reserve, which was a franchise record. Though the season didn’t go the way they expected, there were some bright spots on the team. One of those bright spots was CJ Mosley who led the team in tackles and chipped into the pass rush with 4 sacks. The addition of Eric Weddle roaming the secondary, along with the return of Terrell Suggs, will elevate Mosley’s play because he won’t have to pick up the load left from injuries. Weddle can handle tight ends in coverage (something that Mosley had to do following Matt Elam’s injury), and Suggs will be able to dominate the pass rush again. Mosley was second in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting in 2014 and played very well in 2015 despite seeing a decline in stats. The stats will be back (we expect 100+ tackles) and CJ will start emulating Ray Lewis and be the centerpiece of an emerging Ravens’ defense that was quietly in the top 10 of total defense last year (despite losing so many players).
62 Buffalo Bills – QB Tyrod Taylor
The Bills are one giant question mark this season. After big promises from Rex Ryan, the team went 8-8 and didn’t really see any step forward from the previous 2 seasons. There is talk that if he doesn’t take the team to the playoffs, this will be Rex’s last season as the head coach, so the pressure is on. Tyrod Taylor put together a shockingly good season throwing for more than 3,000 yards and running for another 500. The season will be riding on Tyrod as his play will have the biggest impact on whether or not the Bills make it to the playoffs. We expect the defense to play well, Shaq Lawson and Reggie Ragland should be in the conversation for Defensive Rookie of the Year, LeSean McCoy will play well if he stays healthy, and if Sammy Watkins plays he’ll rebound and have a great season. It all comes back to questions about Tyrod. Will he stay healthy? Will he have a comparable season to last year? Will he regress and force the Bills to start EJ Manuel? We expect Tyrod to play well and be the Most Valuable member of the Bills this year.
60 Carolina Panthers – QB Cam Newton
He won MVP of the league last year, and there is very small chance that he will regress that much. He won’t put together the same season he had last year where 7% of his passes were for touchdowns, and he ran for 10 more, but 5,000 total yards gained is not out of the question for Cam. Getting his top receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, back from injury is probably the best thing for Cam Newton as he could not rely on any of his pass catchers, except for Greg Olsen, to do anything in 2015. Now he has a 6 foot 5 inch target to toss the ball to when the offensive line inevitably breaks down. The Panthers had a miracle season last year, so we won’t predict a repeat Super Bowl appearance, but as long as the Panthers have Cam you can bet on them showing up in the playoffs.
58 Chicago Bears – WR Alshon Jeffery
This was probably the hardest MVP to choose because the Bears might be the worst team in the NFL. Pernell McPhee played very well last year, but doesn’t make a big enough impact to be considered the most valuable player. Lamarr Houston had a good year by racking up 8 sacks, but it isn’t enough to be the pick. We don’t see Jeremy Langford rushing for more than 900 yards, and Kevin White is totally unproven. That leaves 3 players to choose from; Jay Cutler, Danny Trevathan, and Alshon Jeffery. Cutler is a decent quarterback, but is too beat up to be as effective as he once was. Trevathan got a huge contract after preforming well on a Super Bowl winning team that was led by the defense, but the last time we saw a team like that was the 2012 Ravens and look what happened to the players who cashed in right after the win (Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, and Cary Williams). As of the writing of this article, Alshon Jeffery will be playing for a new contract and may see this season as an audition for the NFL. We expect him to have a career year gaining over 1,000 yard and 6 touchdowns.
56 Cincinnati Bengals – TE Tyler Eifert
If Tyler Eifert can somehow stay healthy for an entire season he will be lauded as one of the best offensive threats in the NFL. While only playing in 13 games, Eifert gained over 600 yards and caught 13 touchdowns. He would have caught more if not for missing a significant amount of games and leaving a number of other games early. With the departure of Mohammed Sanu and Marvin Jones, Andy Dalton will be relying on Eifert even more this year than he did in 2015. If Eifert plays in 16 games, we are going to expect 17 touchdowns and 1000 yards. Tyler Boyd will be a good third target for Dalton, but Brandon LaFell and Brandon Tate probably will not play consistently, leaving only AJ Green and Eifert for Dalton to throw to. Eifert needs to make a jump to the next level and put up the same numbers that Gronkowski does, or the Bengals will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
54 Cleveland Browns – CB Joe Haden
The Browns have been a running joke in the NFL forever. They have a few very good players on the team, including a future Hall-of-Famer in Joe Thomas, but for the most part the roster is full of lackluster and lazy players. Picking an MVP is rough when we believe that 8 wins would be a shockingly good season for Cleveland, but we had to chose someone. Robert Griffin is the key to the Browns surpassing expectations, but we aren’t convinced that he will make that much of an impact or even play this season. The Browns’ best player is corner back Joe Haden, so we chose him for the award. Haden made Pro-Bowls in 2013 and 2014 while playing across guys like Justin Gilbert and Buster Skrine. For the first time in his career Haden will not be starting across from a terrible coverage corner as Tramon Williams was picked up during the 2015 off-season. Haden was set up to shine last year, then it all crumbled as injuries limited him to play in just five games. If he could play a full season with Williams, it would force quarterbacks to actually throw towards Haden instead of picking on his much inferior teammates. We believe that Haden could break the single season interception record and pick off 15 passes in 2016.
52 Dallas Cowboys – RB Ezekiel Elliott
Look at what DeMarco Murray did behind the Cowboy's line. Yes we understand that Elliott is a rookie, but following the Darren McFadden injury the competition for featured back just got that much easier. Alfred Morris is going to compliment the Ohio State product well, but it will be Elliott holding down the position. He has the potential to run for 1300 yards and we just don’t see anyone else putting up the same consistency. Romo is 36 years old and coming off a season where injuries limited him to 4 games. If Romo goes down again this year, Dez Bryant isn’t going to shine much with either Kellen Moore or Dak Prescott throwing the ball. We want to see great things from Elliott and expect to see him compete for (if not win) Offensive Rookie of the Year this season. With no game-changing players on the defensive side of the ball for the Cowboys, Elliott just has to put together a good season and he may be the team’s MVP. Unfortunately we can’t give the award to one single lineman.
50 Denver Broncos – DE Shane Ray
Every player we thought to put here had some major red flags creep up during the offseason. The best player on the Broncos, and obvious favorite to be MVP, is Von Miller. However, if John Elway refuses to give the Super Bowl MVP Fletcher Cox-like money there is a chance that he plays at half-effort or refuses put his health at risk by not playing at all. Aqib Talib’s potential legal problem could lead to him having to sit out a few games, which puts a huge strain on Bradley Roby and Chris Harris Jr. who would have to pick up the slack. DeMarcus Ware is old, Demaryius Thomas has Mark Sanchez trying to deliver the ball, and CJ Anderson is only good for 100 yards every fourth game. Shane Ray will be taken off the leash this year, especially if Elway doesn’t give Miller a bank-breaking contract. Ray is expected to take over for DeMarcus Ware after he retires, but the first round pick will be called upon this year to show fans why they shouldn’t have to pay so much for Von Miller. If Miller doesn’t get the contract he deserves, we expect Ray to lead the team with 15 sacks and be a force when getting to the QB. However, if this happens, the Broncos will not win their division and miss the playoffs.
48 Detroit Lions – DE Ziggy Ansah
We wanted to put Matthew Stafford as the MVP. The Lions have finally given him enough blocking to keep him upright, but it’s too late. Much of Stafford’s skill was enhanced because he was throwing to Calvin Johnson, and now he won’t be. Golden Tate and Marvin Jones cannot make up for this loss and Ameer Abdullah is far from being a dynamic running back. The MVP for the team will have to come off the defensive side of the ball as the offense has a lot to figure out because they did nothing to replace their best player during the off season. Ziggy Ansah really came into his own last year leading the team with 14.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles, both career highs. It will be tough to top his sack total in 2016, but we aren’t putting it past him to do so as he will be free to run wild against his opponents.
46 Green Bay Packers – QB Aaron Rodgers
Last year the Packers had a ridiculous amount of injuries on offense. Jordy Nelson wasn’t able to play a single down, Ty Montgomery missed 10 games, and Davante Adams missed 3 games. Randall Cobb wasn’t really able to step up and take the number 1 receiver role, but he still had a good season. The reason for that was because Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL right now. How else do you explain James Jones getting cut from the Raiders and the Giants, then going to Green Bay and putting up some of the best numbers in his career? Look no further than the overtime loss to the Cardinals when Rodgers somehow had a nearly heroic game throwing to Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis for 90% of the match. Having his full receiving corp. back and adding some young defensive linemen to bolster the team's shaky defense, Aaron will probably be able to compete for the NFL MVP.
44 Houston Texans – DE JJ Watt
This may be the best season in Houston’s franchise history. For the first time since 2010 the Texans have a competent quarterback, multiple wide receivers that can actually catch the ball, a running back that can handle more than 15 carries a game, and a truly punishing defense. Well… a punishing defensive player. The Texans did little to bolster their defense that has some questions in the secondary, at linebacker, and on the defensive line, but for some reason it totally makes sense. That’s because the team has JJ Watt who can demolish any team’s offensive game plan, even if he’s the only guy on the field. Last year Watt racked 76 tackles and led the league in sacks. Numbers just don’t do justice for Watt who has won Defensive Player of the Year 3 out of his 5 seasons in the NFL and there is no reason to believe he won’t win it again this year. We assume that he will get 20 sacks this season and catch at least 1 touchdown pass. The Texans are expected to win a division that looks tougher than it ever has before, and that's because of JJ.
42 Indianapolis Colts – QB Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck didn’t play well last season, but that’s probably because he was trying to play with a bad shoulder, a lacerated kidney, and a torn abdominal muscle. The question isn’t why he played poorly, but why the Colts let the future of their franchise play at all. This offseason the team finally drafted some offensive linemen who are expected to compete for a position. The revamped line plus using the offseason to heal should mean that Luck will be back to form and ready to play at the MVP level that Colts fans have become accustomed to. Luck should be able to throw for 30+ touchdowns and 4000+ yards. There are a lot of holes on the Colts’ defense, and the receiving corp. isn’t topping the league, but sometimes all you need to make the playoffs is a player like Andrew Luck. We expect them to compete for a playoff spot. We also expect Luck to win his first NFL MVP after the players insulted him by naming him at number 92 on the top 100 player list, below quarterbacks like Kirk Cousins, Andy Dalton, and Blake Bortles.
40 Jacksonville Jaguars – QB Blake Bortles
Blake Bortles’ sophomore season was one of the best the NFL has ever seen. Using the dynamic duo of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, he was able to rack up over 4000 yards and 35 touchdowns. It was a great season, and it’s just going to be better next year. The addition of Chris Ivory is a huge upgrade over Toby Gerhart and Denard Robinson, plus both Julius Thomas and Marqise Lee will be playing for a full season. With so many offensive weapons, Blake Bortles will be gunning for 5000 yards, and may be able to get there. The Jaguars defense is made up of first round draft picks and will be able to play well enough to make sure Bortles doesn’t have to win so many games in the last minute like last year. In 2015 the Jags had 10 games decided by a touchdown or less, which cannot happen if they want to make the playoffs this season. The NFL will have to pay attention the Jacksonville this year for the first time since 2007.
38 Kansas City Chiefs – QB Alex Smith
That’s right, Mr. Average will be the MVP for the Chief’s this year. With the Broncos lack of a quarterback, and the Raiders being such a young team, 2016 is the best window for the Chiefs to win the AFC West and get to the Super Bowl. The Chiefs have some very good players on their roster including a healthy Jamaal Charles and Justin Houston. Their defense is stacked with talent like Eric Berry, Derrick Johnson, and Tamba Hali, however their offense is… good enough. Yes they’re getting Charles back, but he’s in his 9th season and is coming off an ACL tear. Jeremy Maclin is a serviceable wide-out, but he’s better utilized as a number 2 guy. Then there is Travis Kelce who is as hot-and-cold as a player can be. Alex Smith brings all those guys together and somehow wins at least 9 games every year. Alex doesn’t turn the ball over, he is a master at running the clock, and he can win in the playoffs. Alex Smith will take the Chiefs to playoffs and will be praised as the most efficient quarterback of the year, and still might be cut next offseason.
36 Miami Dolphins – LB Kiko Alonso
We really want to name Ryan Tannehill as the MVP for the next year. He’s a good quarterback and gets almost no love from the media or fans. The AFC East is one of the strongest divisions in the NFL even though one man, Tom Brady, has dominated it. Tannehill is signed with the Dolphins until the 2020 season so we have a long time to see if he’ll ever be able to get his team to the playoffs, however it won’t be 2016. Tannehill can play at his top level but the team has put no one around him to help so we can’t imagine him putting up an MVP season. Kiko Alonso was limited to 11 games in Philadelphia last year after missing the entire 2014 season. Playing for Chip Kelly in the NFL hasn’t helped anyone (unless they're named Nick Foles), so we are willing to excuse the fact that when he was healthy Kiko didn’t play well in 2015. Kiko will have a bounce back year and play the entire season with a chip on his shoulder, which normally leads to big numbers. The Dolphins needed a guy who can tackle and they got one in Kiko Alonso.
34 Minnesota Vikings – RB Adrian Peterson
Peterson isn’t as good as he was in 2012 when he won MVP and ran for 2000 yards, but he’s still one of the top 15 players in the NFL. Last year he ran for 1,485 yards and dragged his Vikings team to the playoffs. Peterson was responsible for only 6 less touchdowns than Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings’ QB. The Vikings keep trying to get players to compliment Adrian Peterson, and it fails over and over again. Cordarrelle Patterson will probably be playing his last season in a Vikings’ uniform, and Stefon Diggs stopped producing about half way through last year. Laquon Treadwell might work out, but he might not. We expect Peterson to run for over 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns, and those numbers would be a “bad” season compared to the rest of his career. The Vikings have built a strong defense, but no one on the team is even close to the level of talent that Peterson brings to his team.
32 New England Patriots – QB Tom Brady
Umm… who else? Rob Gronkowski is the best tight end in football, if Tom Brady is throwing to him. Martellus Bennett is a great pickup, as long as Tom Brady is his quarterback. Julian Edelman is great in open space, as long as Tom Brady gets the ball in his hands. Are you seeing a trend here? Tom Brady makes players great. If the “deflate-gate” suspension really goes into effect and he’s out 4 games, we expect the “great” receivers in New England to play below average football and the team goes (at best) 2-2. Outside of Gronk, we don’t buy that the guys like Edelman or Danny Amendola will be productive without the greatest QB in NFL history delivering the ball to them. Jimmy Garoppolo is a good backup and Belichik has shown he can make a D+ quarterback win a game or two (see Matt Cassel 2008), so even if Brady does miss 4 games it won’t hurt the Pat’s playoff hopes too much. Then Brady will be back and will be hungry for another Super Bowl.
30 New Orleans Saints – QB Drew Brees
Drew Brees hasn’t thrown for less than 4,300 yards since he first went to New Orleans. He has thrown for 5,000 yards 4 times, and was 130 yards away from doing it again last year, and that was with Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, and Benjamin Watson as his best targets. Having a healthy Mark Ingram back, along with the additions of Coby Fleener and Michael Thomas, will greatly help Brees “return to form” as we expect him to cross the 5,000 yard mark again this season. Brees is chasing Peyton Manning’s career passing yard record, and despite being 37, can beat it with 2 great years. He has a Super Bowl ring, so for the twilight of his career he will be focused on getting 11,100 more yards to put his name in the record book and cement his place in the Hall of Fame. We think he deserves a spot in Canton already, but 72,000 career yards will sway any nay-sayer.
28 New York Giants – WR Odell Beckham Jr.
How can you think of anyone else for the Giants. After putting up 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns his rookie year, Odell only got better gaining 1,400 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. He may be on pace for a season where he goes for at least 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns, but we know he can do better. Why do we know this? Last year Beckham had 96 receptions; the only two other guys with more than 50 were Shane Vareen and Rueben Randle. Vareen will probably put up similar numbers if he stays healthy (which is a big if), and Randle is now on the Eagles, so who else is Eli Manning going to give the ball to? Victor Cruz can’t find the field, neither can Rashad Jennings, and the next man up would be Sterling Shepard who is was a second round pick in this past draft. Beckham will dominate the ball and as long as he (and his QB) stay healthy we expect a Calvin Johnson-like season this year.
25 New York Jets – RB Matt Forte
In his 8 seasons with the Bears, Matt Forte has 900 rushing yard all but one year, last year. He only played in 13 games and the Bears knew they were going to move on from him at the position, so they allowed guys like Ka’Deem Carey and Jeremy Langford to play a lot of downs. In Chicago, Forte ran behind some of the worst offensive lines in the NFL, so coming to the Jets will be a huge upgrade. We expect him to have one of his career best seasons running for 1,200 yards and catching at least 50 passes. The reason we are so confident is because whoever ends up as quarterback will use him as a safety net to hide their lack of talent. Ryan Fitzpatrick used Brandon Marshall that way last year, but he’s another year older and last season may have been his last great one. As of now Geno Smith will be the one taking snaps at the quarterback position and he has never shown that he has the talent to throw into tight coverage or down field which is where Marshall plays. Forte will have a big season and may even lead his team into the playoffs.
23 Oakland Raiders – WR Amari Cooper
We know that Derek Carr had a very good sophomore season and is expected to surpass it this year, but the drafting of Connor Cook proves that the Raiders aren’t so confident that he will stay healthy. Taking a look at the team it’s not shocking why, their offensive line is questionable at best. Yes they went out and signed Kelechi Osemele, but he had some issues pass blocking and some of his flaws were hidden as he played on Baltimore’s very talented line throughout his career, then there's Donald Penn who is 33 and has taken a lot of punishment over the years. The rest of the offseason was focused on bolstering the defense in Oakland with the signings of Bruce Irvin and Sean Smith. Amari Cooper had a terrific rookie campaign catching 72 passes and averaged nearly 15 yards per catch. We expect him to build on those numbers as Carr (or Cook) will use him as a safety net because he is so dynamic once the ball is in his hands. Cooper could put up over 1,300 yards and should be good for at least 8 touchdowns. Coming out of the draft Cooper was widely compared to guys like Jordy Neslon, and this year we will see why.
20 Philadelphia Eagles – DL Fletcher Cox
Let’s just say that the MVP better be Fletcher Cox after the Eagles gave him a $103 million contract with $63 million guaranteed. We like Fletcher, he’s been a great player, but why is he getting the most guaranteed money for a non-QB? Looking at the roster, Cox is the best player on the team; Connor Barwin and Mychal Kendricks are good linebackers, Jordan Matthews looks like he has a lot of potential at wide receiver, and the Defensive Line is littered with other above average guys. However, Cox is one of the most versatile and effective defensive linemen in the entire NFL. It’s tough to say that a D-lineman should get the award with the fact that they are rotated out so often, but we can’t see any other player taking the award from him. Sam Bradford already quit on the team once, and #2 overall pick Carson Wentz probably will be redshirting this year. It might be a long year for Eagles fans, but Fletcher Cox should be the silver lining.
16 Pittsburgh Steelers – QB Ben Roethlisberger
Even in a year where injuries limited him to 12 games, Big Ben almost threw for 4000 yards and he dragged his team into the playoffs. It was one of the worst years of his career, and he still easily made the Pro-Bowl. Roethlisberger is primed for a big year in 2016 as he’s gone 6 years without playing in a Super Bowl and will be working hard to get back. He doesn’t openly talk about it often, but Ben is hungry for an MVP award to cement his legacy as one of the top 5 quarterbacks of this era. The offense is built to help Ben on his quest; Antonio Brown is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, LeVeon Bell and DeAngelo Williams make a very effective running back corp. if they stay healthy, Ladarius Green was a perfect addition at the tight end position, and the offensive line is stronger than it has ever been. Ben is looking to throw for 5000 yards this season, and will probably be able to get there as he was knocking on the door for it in 2014 and was on pace to do it if he played all 16 games last year. The NFL better watch out.
14 San Diego Chargers – QB Philip Rivers
Philip Rivers has thrown for over 4,000 yards for three straight years including last year when he had a career high 4,792. It’s hard to imagine that he throws for more yards next year considering that he’s 34 years old, but for most of last year Rivers was without his best receiver, Keenan Allen. The Chargers also signed Travis Benjamin to give Rivers a new deep threat, which is something he’s been missing since Vincent Jackson left. The additions of Benjamin and Hunter Henry mixed with Allen returning gives Rivers possibly the best receiving corp. he has had in his career. However, even if Rivers throws for 5,000 yards, we don’t expect great things out of San Diego this year. The defense is a mess and the offensive line can’t open any holes for Melvin Gordon (even if he learns to run through them). Rivers will be the team’s MVP, but the team may not get more than 5 wins.
12 San Francisco 49ers – DE DeForest Buckner
Well who else do you give this to? Blaine Gabbert is afraid of all NFL pass rushers, Carlos Hyde is more likely to play in only 1 game than run for more than 1000 yards, Torrey Smith is arguably the worst free agent signing in the team’s history, and NaVorro Bowman has a knee made out of glass and scotch tape. Giving this award to DeForest does not mean that we think he will be the best defensive rookie in the NFL, but it does mean we think he’s more likely to stay healthy than anyone else in San Francisco. Last year the 49ers were 31st in the league in total yards on offense. What did they do to fix that? They got a coach who thinks Ryan Matthews is better than LeSean McCoy. One thing we can say about Chip Kelly is that he loves players from Oregon, and will do anything to get them (see Kiko Alonso and Darron Thomas). Buckner will be free to destroy the opposing quarterback in Chip’s system and we expect him to get 10 sacks, but it won’t make much different as we also expect the 49ers to have a top 4 pick in the next draft.
10 Seattle Seahawks – QB Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson had the highest QB rating in the NFL last year. He did that while throwing for a career high 4,024 yards and 34 touchdowns, even though he was missing his starting running back and only 2 of his receivers caught more than 50 passes. Next year Russell will have an even better year as his receivers will have had another full season to bond with their QB and Thomas Rawls will be prepared to hold down the starting running back role. The Seahawks will win the division again on the shoulders of their young superstar and he will finally outshine the Legion of Boom that has been so synonymous with Seattle's playoff success. The defense will take a slight step back this year with Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas regressing like most other secondary players do after their 6th season. We feel that Russell Wilson is the future of the Seahawks franchise and we expect him to solidify that theory in 2016.
7 St. Louis Rams – DT Aaron Donald
Last year the Defensive Player of the Year award was won by JJ Watt, obviously. However, Aaron Donald got 7 votes for the award despite playing on a defensive line that included first round picks Robert Quinn, Nick Fairley, Chris Long, and Michael Brockers. Donald has been a star since he came to the league being a premier run stopper and racked up 11 sacks. The Rams lost a few key members of their defense (Janoris Jenkins, Chis Long, Rodney McLeod) and the team will have to look towards Donald to take another step up and lead the team, especially with a rookie quarterback who will be throwing to a group of below average receivers. We can’t imagine Jared Goff really becoming a top tier quarterback this season, and following the trade to get him The Rams really need to show themselves as a playoff worthy team ASAP. It will all start with the Defense and Aaron Donald needs to be the leader on that side of the ball so that Todd Gurley can hold it down for the offense.
4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers – WR Mike Evans
Mike Evans has turned himself into one of the elite wide receivers in the NFL. In his rookie year Evans crossed 1000 yards and hauled in 12 touchdowns, and in 2015 he racked up 1,200 yards though he only caught 3 touchdowns. We aren’t faulting Evans too hard on his lack of touchdowns as no one on the team had more than 4 receiving touchdowns. Tampa will be a smash-mouth football team in 2016, using Doug Martin as the centerpiece of their offense and relying on their strong defense to win games, but we don’t see that working as well as fans may expect. Doug Martin is injury prone and there is no good complementary back to shoulder some of the load. The defense is good, but Vernon Hargreaves and Noah Spence will have to immediately produce at high levels to make it dominate. Mike Evans is the only “sure-thing” on the team. In 2015 he was targeted 147 times, in comparison Vincent Jackson was only targeted 64 times, meaning Evans saw more than twice the targets. Jackson is just another year older, and there isn’t a new receiver coming in to help. We expect to see 1,500 yards from Mike and an increase in touchdowns, probably between 8 and 10. Evans will get the same number of targets, but catch a higher percentage, as both he and his quarterback will be in better sync.
3 Tennessee Titans – RB DeMarco Murray
Hear us out on this one. The Titans are not a playoff team this year; their QB is young and injury prone, their receivers are all unproven, their offensive line is a project, the defensive line is full of holes, and their secondary is a mess. Tennessee has decent linebackers and decent running backs. DeMarco Murray was not good for the Eagles last year, but he was very good for the Cowboys the years before. The Titans O-line (as rough as it is) is better than the one that was blocking for Murray in Philly, and we expect that Murray will get a huge amount of carries while Marcus Mariota and his young receivers get on the same page. Murray will get 200+ carries and rush for more than 1000 yards, while the Titans “choose” to lose 10 games and secure a high draft pick. The 2017 draft will rebuild the Titans squad, and the 2016 season will be one long tryout for the players currently on the roster. Murray will be used as a workhorse so they can experiment with the rest of their team.
1 Washington Redskins – CB Josh Norman
Picking an MVP for the Redskins is no easy task. The obvious choice would be quarterback Kirk Cousins after the season he put together in 2015. If he throws for 4,000 yards and 25+ touchdowns again in 2016, he will be the hands-down MVP of the team, but we just aren’t buying him as more than a fluke yet. Alfred Morris is not as easy to replace as his stats indicate because there aren’t as many running backs who can block as well as he can. The 'Skins three top receiving threats (DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, and Jordan Reed) are all injury prone and are likely to miss some time. When looking at Cousins great games from last year, many came against the terrible secondary play in the NFC East (we all saw what Nick Foles was able to do to them only a couple years ago). We expect to see a similar regression in Cousins that was seen in Foles. Josh Norman, Washington’s key free agent pickup, is the better choice as the expected MVP. The Redskins haven’t had a true shutdown corner for years, and lining him up across from Bashaud Breeland, and first round pick Kendall Fuller makes up the franchise’s best cornerback tandem since Carlos Rogers and DeAngelo Hall both started in 2010.