By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.
With the 2021 NFL season soon drawing to a close, it’s time we celebrate the league’s top performing players and teams. I also give recognition to the team that, sadly, was the biggest disappointment of the season. A special shout out to the entire league for perhaps its greatest accomplishment of 2021: not losing a single game on the schedule despite the ongoing COVID pandemic.
Offensive Rookie of the Year – JA’MARR CHASE, WR, Cincinnati Bengals: After dropping some passes during training camp, there were rumblings that Chase might not live up to the enormous hype given to him during the NFL Draft. But he wound up actually exceeding expectations, with 81 receptions for 1,455 yards and 13 TDs. With Chase as Joe Burrow’s primary weapon, the Bengals could be Super Bowl contenders for years to come.
Defensive Rookie of the Year – MICAH PARSONS, LB, Dallas Cowboys: His numbers speak for themselves: 84 tackles, 13 sacks and 20 TFLs. Parsons was instrumental in helping the Cowboys’ defense improve by leaps and bounds from the prior season. It’s no wonder he’s been tabbed as the 2021 “Rookie of the Year” by the Pro Football Writers Association (PFWA).
Head Coach of the Year – RICH BISACCIA, Las Vegas Raiders: The Raiders’ season seemed lost after Jon Gruden was let go as the team’s head coach five weeks into the season. Then, a few weeks later, the team released its top receiver, Henry Ruggs, after his involvement in a car crash that took the life of a 23-year-old woman. Yet Bisaccia somehow managed to keep the team together enough to,lead the Raiders to the playoffs. Many players want the “interim” tag removed from Bisaccia’s title.
Offensive Player of the Year – COOPER KUPP, WR, Los Angeles Rams: A lot of people have anointed Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers for this spot, but how can anyone ignore what Kupp has done this season? He only led the league in receptions (145), receiving yardage (1,947) and receiving TDs (16). Largely thanks to him, the Rams are now one game from Super Bowl LVI.
Defensive Player of the Year – TJ WATT, DE, Pittsburgh Steelers: Easy choice here. Watt had an amazing season in 2021, compiling a record-tying 22.5 sacks despite missing two games and parts of three other contests. He also logged 21 TFLs and a whopping 39 QB hits.
Surprise Team of the Year: CINCINNATI BENGALS: The Bengals went from 4-11-1 in 2020 to 10-7 and the AFC North Division title this season. More importantly, the team notched their first playoff victory in 31 years and are now one away from reaching the Super Bowl. Not shabby at all.
Most Disappointing Team of the Year: CLEVELAND BROWNS: What a difference a year makes. Last season, Cleveland went 11-5 and had their first postseason win since 1994. With a young and talented nucleus that includes Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb and Myles Garrett, the Browns seemed destined for greatness for the next decade. Instead, the team sunk to 8-9 this season, and now we’re wondering (again) if Mayfield really is the answer at the QB position.