- ESPN staff writer
- Previously a college football reporter for CBSSports.com
- University of Florida graduate
Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season is here, and Sundays will be flooded with first downs from now until mid-February. Rosters are built and trades are submitted, so now the real work begins. No more vanilla preseason games. It’s all about matchups.
The players who win those matchups most often will have the inside track at individual awards, postseason recognition and, of course, fantasy heroism. We know the basics when it comes to award season: A quarterback will probably win Most Valuable Player, Aaron Donald will be in the mix for Defensive Player of the Year and a few rookies outside of the first round will emerge as stars.
But there is plenty more still to be determined. Matthew Stafford has generated more buzz in his first offseason with the Rams than, perhaps, his combined 12 campaigns with the Lions. The Chargers’ Justin Herbert looks ready to explode. Patrick Mahomes might be even better behind an improved offensive line. Lamar Jackson’s ceiling remains a hot debate. Tom Brady plays for the most talented team in football right now. And reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers embarks on a last dance of sorts — and another spite season, which means big numbers.
Beyond the QBs, at least seven running backs are threats to post 2,000 total yards. Last season, nine different receivers posted 1,200-plus yards, a number that might grow this year due to the influx of talent at the position.
We talked to a handful of executives, scouts and coaches around the league to take predictions on players and coaches who will dominate this year, and we were able to come up with a consensus pick for each category. As usual, there are plenty of surprises, as league favorites often vary from media favorites — starting with a pick that western New York will love.
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