Offensive Player of the Year predictions and pros and cons for 10 favorites

NFL

Some might argue the NFL Offensive Player of the Year award should exclude quarterbacks since the top QB almost always is named MVP.

The last quarterback to win NFL Offensive Player of the Year was the Kansas City ChiefsPatrick Mahomes in 2018. He also won MVP that season. And the three QBs who won OPOY previous to Mahomes — Matt Ryan in 2016, Cam Newton in 2015 and Peyton Manning in 2013 — also doubled up with MVP honors.

Could that happen again this year? According to Draft Kings, Mahomes is the favorite to win MVP, and he’s also the No. 4 betting favorite to win OPOY.

But the race is tight for Offensive Player of the Year. The current favorite is Miami Dolphins receiver Tyreek Hill, who is on pace to challenge Calvin Johnson’s NFL record of 1,964 receiving yards, set in 2012, although Hill benefits from having one extra regular-season game.

Minnesota Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson and Philadelphia Eagles QB Jalen Hurts are the next betting favorites, followed by Mahomes and Tennessee Titans RB Derrick Henry rounding out the top five.

Will this be the fourth year in a row a non-QB wins OPOY, following Los Angeles Rams receiver Cooper Kupp last year, Henry in 2020 and New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas in 2019?

The AP tweaked the voting this year for MVP, OPOY and other awards, as voters will rank their top-five picks, although it’s not clear how that will affect the outcome.

NFL Nation reporters covering the top 10 betting favorites, as posted by DraftKings Sportsbook on Friday evening, break down each player’s chances, and a panel of ESPN analysts — Matt Bowen, Seth Walder and Field Yates — predicts the winners.

Tyreek Hill, Miami Dolphins

Current odds: +250

Why he’s a strong candidate: Through nine games, Hill was on pace to become the first player to top 2,000 receiving yards. He’s fallen short of that pace after a quiet Week 10, but he’s still in the running to break Calvin Johnson’s record of 1,964 receiving yards set in 2012. Hill has been the centerpiece of the NFL’s top passing offense.

Why he might fall short: The Dolphins play several stout defenses during their final stretch, including the San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots and New York Jets. Hill has been essentially matchup-proof, recording at least 70 receiving yards or a touchdown in all but two games — against the Bills and Jets. Falling short is not completely implausible considering Miami’s opponents and the quality of Hill’s competition for the award. — Marcel Louis-Jacques


Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings

Current odds: +275

Why he’s a strong candidate: New coach Kevin O’Connell runs his offense through Jefferson, and as a result Jefferson has elevated his performance even beyond the record-setting pace he set during his first two seasons. He’s spent this season ranking among the most productive offensive players in the league. Through Week 10, he ranked second in receiving yards and fourth in receptions. After nine catches for 139 yards and a touchdown in Thursday night’s win over the Patriots, Jefferson has 1,232 yards and five TDs on 81 receptions. He has also been exceptionally durable, and through Week 11 he ranked second in the NFL in routes run, behind the Indianapolis ColtsMichael Pittman Jr. Jefferson’s number now stands at 437 after Thursday night.

Why he might fall short: For all of his targets, routes run and receptions, Jefferson hasn’t been as big of a threat in the end zone as you would hope for an OPOY. After Week 11, 18 NFL players had caught more touchdowns than him. Following Thursday night’s game, his total for the season is six touchdowns — five by pass and one as a runner. That’s not an insult of Jefferson’s performance, and his scoring has been roughly equal with that of the Dolphins’ Hill, among others, but it makes his résumé for the award less complete. — Kevin Seifert


Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles

Current odds: +550

Why he’s a strong candidate: Hurts is the centerpiece of an offense that ranks fourth in points per game (25.6) and fifth in total yards (370.6). His team is 9-1. He continues to get it done on the ground — he is fourth in the NFL in rushing touchdowns with eight — and has taken major strides forward in the passing game. Hurts is sixth in completion rate (68.3%), second in yards per attempt (8.3) and fifth in QBR (65.0). In other words, he is doing it all.

Why he might fall short: Passing stats seem to carry the most weight in these types of evaluations. If that proves true, Mahomes (28 touchdowns passes, 327 passing yards per game) will hold a distinct edge over Hurts (15 touchdown passes, 241 passing yards per game). And players like Jefferson, Hill and Mahomes are more established in the league, which could be another advantage in garnering votes. But when it comes to overall production, workload and the benefits of said work — the Eagles have the best record in football — it’s hard to argue against Hurts. — Tim McManus


Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

Current odds: +800

Why he’s a strong candidate: The stats are eye-popping — Mahomes is on pace for 5,550 yards and 48 touchdowns — but they don’t tell the whole story. Mahomes has found ways to lift the Chiefs even in games when his stats aren’t to OPOY levels. For instance, Mahomes may have been at his best in a Week 9 win over the Titans. He had just one TD and also threw an interception. But with the running game floundering, he was asked to not only throw 68 passes but scramble out of potentially negative situations several times to make big plays by running the ball. He wound up leading the Chiefs to an overtime win.

Why he might fall short: The Chiefs had a chance to salvage each of their two losses this season with a late-game score. Each final drive ended on a Mahomes interception. The Chiefs were in desperation mode in each of these situations, so Mahomes needed to force some throws, but the plays still go on his record. — Adam Teicher


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Field Yates says Derrick Henry has reasserted himself as one of the best players in all of fantasy football.

Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

Current odds: +1500

Why he’s a strong candidate: Henry is back at the top of the NFL’s rushing list with 1,010 yards and is currently the only running back who has gained 1,000 yards on the ground. Opposing defenses focus on trying to stop Henry with loaded boxes, yet he still manages to put up impressive numbers, including 10 TDs. The stacked boxes create one-on-one matchups on the outside and open things up for the play-action passing game. As Titans coach Mike Vrabel said, “The difference between us and the rest of the league is we have Derrick Henry.”

Why he might fall short: NFL awards are sometimes slanted toward quarterbacks and wide receivers. Henry’s excellence is something that can be undervalued because of how the running back position is viewed. Mix in the fact that the Titans don’t earn many style points with their wins and you have the formula for Henry being overlooked. — Turron Davenport


Current odds: +1500

Why he’s a strong candidate: Diggs has set a variety of Bills and league records already this year. The wide receiver became one of the first three in the league to top 1,000 receiving yards this season. He’s the only player in the league with 1,000-plus receiving yards and more than five receiving touchdowns. Quarterback Josh Allen has targeted him 117 times, while the next closest Bills receiver (Gabe Davis) has been targeted about half as much (60). There are stats that can’t reflect just how good Diggs has been on the field — from an amazing one-handed catch vs. the Vikings to his route-running abilities — but his role in this offense and helping Allen out of tough situations are crucial.

Why he might fall short: The Bills’ offense hasn’t been perfect, in part due to a midseason struggle to keep the unit balanced and some miscues during a three-game stretch coming off the bye. In part, Diggs’ own consistency could hurt him here. Yes, he is on pace for a career-best season, but big seasons aren’t new for him. He has five consecutive seasons with 1,000-plus receiving yards, currently the longest active streak in the NFL. Diggs also has a pretty good quarterback in Allen and is on a team that came into the year with high expectations, which could hurt his chances even in a career year. — Alaina Getzenberg


Current odds: +1600

Why he’s a strong candidate: Kelce is going places that neither he nor any tight end have gone before. He is on pace for 117 catches, 1,450 yards and 19 touchdowns, which would all be records for players at his position. Kelce delivered when the Chiefs needed him the most. He caught four touchdown passes in a one-point victory over the Raiders in Week 5, and three, including the game-winner in the final minute, in Week 11 against the Chargers.

Why he might fall short: Kelce may not attract many votes simply because he plays on the same team as another strong candidate for OPOY in Mahomes. While Kelce does lead the league in receiving TDs (11), he’s tied for fifth in catches (69) and is seventh in yards (855). — Teicher


Current odds: +2000

Why he’s a strong candidate: Jackson remains one of the most dangerous dual threats in the game. He is one of two players to rank in the top 15 in both touchdown passes (16) and rushing yards (666) this season (Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields is the other). The best case for Jackson: He has kept Baltimore among the highest-scoring teams in the league despite all of the injuries to his supporting cast. The Ravens rank ninth in the NFL in scoring despite not having one game this season when their Pro Bowl left tackle (Ronnie Stanley), No. 1 running back (J.K. Dobbins) and No. 1 wide receiver (Rashod Bateman) all started together.

Why he might fall short: Lack of consistent playmaking wide receivers in the passing game. With Bateman out for the year with a foot injury, Jackson is left with one of the most unproven group of wideouts in Demarcus Robinson, Devin Duvernay and James Proche II. This is a big reason why Jackson has been held to 210 or fewer yards passing in six of his past seven games. It’s a challenge for Jackson to stretch the field. He has totaled 1,977 yards passing, which is fewer than Houston’s Davis Mills (2,144). His production as a passer is trending downward. — Jamison Hensley


Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills

Current odds: +2500

Why he’s a strong candidate: At times this year, Allen has been the Bills’ entire offense, a unit second in the NFL in points scored per game (28.1). Allen is the team’s leading rusher with 561 yards and has the most rushing touchdowns on the team with five. When Allen is on point, it’s hard for the Bills to lose, and his ridiculous plays, both on the ground and through the air, have defined the Bills’ season.

Why he might fall short: After the Bills’ bye in Week 7, Allen went through a down stretch, throwing six interceptions in three games, including two picks (and a fumble) in the fourth quarter and overtime of the loss to the Vikings. His accuracy has been a problem at times as the offense continues to work to take some of the pressure off Allen and find balance with the rushing attack. He completed just 60.5% of his passes from Weeks 8 through 11 and had the first three-game streak of his career with two or more interceptions in each game. His slump in the middle of the season could hurt him. — Getzenberg


Current odds: +2500

Why he’s a strong candidate: New York wouldn’t be in the playoff race without him. It’s that simple. As offensive lineman Nick Gates explained about their philosophy, “Feed the man the rock!” Barkley is second in the NFL in rushing yards with 992. And it’s not like he has much help. Barkley is facing a stacked box (8+ defenders) on 22% of his carries. He’s still averaging +0.7 rushing yards over expectation per carry in those situations. Without Barkley, the Giants would be a losing team.

Why he might fall short: He’s a running back in a quarterback league. We know when it comes to these kind of awards if there’s a choice between the quarterback and running back, it usually goes to the guy who touches the ball on every play. In order for Barkley to win the award, he would need to do something special like rush for 2,000 yards or at least get close. That seems unlikely. His only chance seems to be if his production spikes while the Giants pull a bunch of upsets late in the season. — Jordan Raanan


Predictions

Bowen: Justin Jefferson — A true difference-maker at the position, Jefferson has shown the ability to take over games this season. He’s a savvy route runner, with vertical juice, who can win at all three levels of the field. Already over the 1,000-yard receiving mark on the year, Jefferson has logged 72 receptions in a system under Kevin O’Connell that highlights his traits.

Walder: Patrick Mahomes — I think of this award as essentially the best offensive player, independent of position. So I’m open to the idea that Hill, Justin Jefferson or even Creed Humphrey could be that guy. But in the end, I still think it’s Mahomes. In a year when good quarterback play has been so hard to come by, the distance between Mahomes and the average QB is massive.

Yates: Tyreek Hill — Even if it requires one extra game to reach the mark, Hill has a real chance to bypass Calvin Johnson for the most receiving yards in a single season in NFL history. He’s completely changed the complexion of the Dolphins’ offense — and maybe even the AFC East.

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