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Shopping at the hardware store: Cardinals chances of winning major awards in 2020

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Several Arizona Cardinals have decent odds at winning some major awards in 2020. What would it take to bring some hardware to the Valley this season?

NFL: Super Bowl LIV-NFL Honors
Kyler Murray won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award last season. Can he bring home even shinier hardware in 2020?
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

With little else to bet on in this increasingly strange sports year, people have been paying more attention than usual to the preseason odds for the major NFL awards. From a local perspective, several Cardinals figure into those awards races. Today, let’s take a look at each of the major awards and see what it would take to bring some hardware to the Valley next season.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

Top Candidate: Eno Benjamin, RB. We’ll start with the award least likely to go to a Cardinal in 2020. I would say Josh Jones has a chance here—what if he wins the RT job and, I dunno, makes the Pro Bowl?—but an offensive lineman has never won this award. So that leaves 7th-round pick Benjamin, currently third on the RB depth chart.

What would it take?: First, he’d have to somehow rise to the top of the RB depth chart. That would likely mean an early-season injury to Kenyan Drake and then outperforming Chase Edmonds. Then, he’d have to rush for about 1,100 yards and 10 TDs—that’s what the last four RBs to win this award produced on average (Eddie Lacy, Todd Gurley, Alvin Kamara, Saquon Barkley). Oh, and Joe Burrows would have to struggle mightily while the other rookie QBs don’t play much and none of the WRs puts up big numbers. So, yeah, this isn’t happening.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

Top Candidate: Isaiah Simmons, LB/S. Now this is much more realistic. Per the article linked above, Simmons has the second-best odds of wining this award, behind only Washington’s Chase Young. The #8 pick should be starting in Week 1 (although where is still a question mark) and should be a top contender for this award.

What would it take?: Playing time is going to be key here. Simmons projects to play predominantly at safety and ILB (especially in sub packages), so he’ll have to displace some combination of the Thompson Twins and De’Vondre Campbell (and maybe spelling Devon Kennard at OLB from time to time). He should be able to do so, but will DC Vance Joseph want to ease him into the lineup after a likely abbreviated offseason? Provided the playing time is there, if he can put up numbers like the similar Derwin James did in his rookie season (105 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 INTs), he’ll finish on the podium. (James lost this award narrowly to Darius Leonard in 2018.) It would just depend on what Young did at that point.

Comeback Player of the Year

Top Candidate: Marcus Gilbert, OT. There are a couple other potential candidates (Christian Kirk and Robert Alford), but the former Steeler’s path to the award is clearest. Kirk would have to have a Pro Bowl–type season in a crowded offense, and Alford would have to play better than he ever did in Atlanta coming off a major injury.

What would it take?: Obviously, Gilbert would have to win the starting RT job. Justin Murray isn’t going to just give it up, and rookie Jones is going to be in the competition. But I think most observers expect Gilbert to win the job. Assuming he does so, he’d have to stay healthy for 16 games—something he’s only done twice in his career, and not since 2015. If he can do so, and if the Redbirds’ success running the ball carries over into the 2020 season, he’d be a good candidate for this award.

Offensive Player of the Year

Top Candidate: Kyler Murray, QB. I’m sure many of you were expecting to see prize offseason acquisition DeAndre Hopkins here, but only two wide receivers have ever won this award—Jerry Rice (twice) and Michael Thomas. One is arguably the greatest player ever to play the game, and the other just set the record for most receptions in a single season. Hopkins will put up good numbers in this offense, but not the historically absurd numbers it would take to win this award.

What would it take?: Kyler has a couple things in his favor here. One is the expected statistical jump in Year 2. The recent Bleacher Report projections are nice (4,276 yards/26 TDs passing, 461 yards/3 TDs rushing), but they won’t get it done. How about we bump those up slightly to 4,500 yards/30 TDs passing, 600 yards/6 TDs rushing? Now we’re potentially talking. The other thing in his favor is that this award isn’t necessarily as tied to team success as MVP. So the Redbirds won’t have to make the playoffs for Kyler to be a contender here. I have a feeling those (likely) best-case scenario numbers above wouldn’t be enough to win it—there are just too many good offensive players in this league—but they would at least put him in the conversation.

Defensive Player of the Year

Top Candidate: Chandler Jones, OLB. Patrick Peterson’s best days are likely behind him, and while Budda Baker’s best days are hopefully ahead of him, I don’t think he possesses a DOPY ceiling. So last year’s 2nd-place finisher for this award represents the Cardinals’ best chance again in 2020.

What would it take?: Jones wasn’t able to win this award last season despite 19 sacks and an insane 8(!) forced fumbles—so would he have to top those numbers in 2020 to win this thing? Not necessarily. Voters likely held the Cardinals horrific defensive rankings against Jones, so if the defense improves to at least around the middle of the pack, he’d have to merely have another excellent season to be a contender here instead of eclipsing 20 sacks. (And the team theoretically has more pass rush help this year, so 20 sacks probably isn’t feasible anyway.) If Jones can put up, say, 16+ sacks and 5+ FF again—and no other defensive player has a clear standout season—he’s got a shot here.

Coach of the Year

Top Candidate: Kliff Kingsbury. Duh.

What would it take?: As mentioned in the article linked in the intro, Kingsbury is tied for the sixth-best chance to win this award. But the competition will be steep, especially as the award seems almost predestined to go to whoever has the best record between Bruce Arians and Bill Belichick. For Kliff to leapfrog them and a number of other strong candidates, he’d likely have to win the NFC West, as the only coach in the last 10 years to win this award without winning their division is… Bruce Arians (and he did it twice!). I’m not sure I see the Cardinals getting the 11+ wins it would take to win the division, but if it happens, Kingsbury would have an excellent shot at following in BA’s footsteps and winning this award in his second season.

MVP

Top Candidate: Kyler Murray, QB. Quarterbacks have won this award every year but one since 2007, so we can probably safely count out anyone but Kyler as even an outside candidate for this award. Adrian Peterson was a glaring exception to this in 2012, but he nearly broke the single-season rushing record and none of the QBs on the top teams had an MVP-type season. And Kenyan Drake isn’t doing that.

What would it take?: Unlike OPOY above, this award is almost entirely tied to team success—the best player on the best team in the league generally wins this award. So what does this mean for Kyler? The Cardinals would have to win 12 games—the average victory total for the last 10 players to win this award. (And that includes Peterson’s 10-6 Vikings in 2012.) If that were to happen, it almost wouldn’t matter what Kyler’s numbers were—he’d be a contender. And remember that the last two MVP winners were second-year QBs. But only the most optimistic of Cardinals fans think we’re going to win 12 games, so Kyler will probably have to wait until 2021 to make his MVP push.

Lombardi Trophy

Wait… let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Final Thoughts

It looks like the Cardinals only have a realistic shot at a couple of awards in 2020. If I had to rank their chances, here’s the order I’d give:

  1. Defensive Rookie of the Year
  2. Defensive Player of the Year
  3. Comeback Player of the Year
  4. Offensive Player of the Year
  5. Coach of the Year
  6. MVP
  7. Offensive Rookie of the Year

Strange that the top two candidates are defensive awards, given how bad our defense was last year. But the other awards figure to be too competitive for the Cardinals to have a chance in Year 2 of the Kliff and Kyler regime. Next season figures to be a better chance for the Cardinals to bring home some serious hardware.