Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Award Predictions: Offensive Player of the Year

Having already predicted Comeback Player and Rookie of the Year, our three-man roundtable turns its attention to the top offensive performer of 2016, both across the league and in Tampa.

The Buccaneers' 53-Man roster.

The Associated Press and the NFL began handing out a Defensive Player of the Year award in 1971, and none too soon. The league MVP award had been introduced in 1957 (known for the first four years as the "Most Outstanding Player"), and in each of its first 14 years it went to a quarterback or a running back. Essentially, the new award in 1971 was a much-needed acknowledgement that there are MVP-level performances on the defensive side of the ball, too.

(Ironically, the first Defensive Player of the Year, Minnesota DT Alan Page in '71, was also the first defender to win overall MVP.)

The Offensive Player of the Year, which debuted two years later in 1973, doesn't have quite as obvious of a reason for existence. Perhaps after Page's MVP selection, there was the notion that other defensive MVPs would follow and there would be a crying need for an offensive award. It hasn't really worked out that way.

Take a look at the best photos from the Buccaneers' 2016 offseason.

Page is still one of just three non-offensive players (including one kicker) to take MVP honors, which increasingly just goes to the best quarterback of the season. A passer has won the MVP award in 13 of the last 16 years. These days, the Offensive POTY award almost seems like the voters' chance to honor another player besides the top QB, often a running back. That was the case in 2014, when Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers was named MVP but the Offensive Player of the Year trophy went to Dallas running back DeMarco Murray. A more unusual combination occurred in 2011, when Rodgers won his first MVP but another quarterback, the Saints' Drew Brees, took home Offensive POTY.

Of course, sometimes the top quarterback is so dominant that no other case can be made for the Offensive POTY award and that passer takes home both honors. Carolina QB Cam Newton and his 45 combined passing and rushing touchdowns last year was just such a player. It's redundant, but that's the system.

Joe Kania, Andrew Norton and I are spending this Fourth of July week making our predictions about which players will win this year's major NFL awards, and also tabbing a local choice for only Buccaneer players. Here's our schedule for the week:

So what's it going to be guys? One dominant performer taking home both awards again this year, or will you use this one as a consolation prize for the best running back or receiver? Andrew, you get to go first this time.

Andrew Norton's NFL Prediction: Atlanta WR Julio Jones
Andrew Norton's Buccaneers Prediction: WR Mike Evans

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I don't think this needs much explaining. Julio Jones went off last year. He and Antonio Brown tied with 136 receptions, the second-most single-season catches ever. Jones had the edge in yards, putting up 1,871, the second-most receiving yards in a season ever. I don't see him slowing down.

The Falcons added WR Mohamed Sanu to replace Roddy White, and they will again roll out Jacob Tamme at tight end, so it is not out of the question for Atlanta to go to Jones as often as they did a season ago (203 times, for the record). With those huge numbers, Jones' eight touchdowns might not jump off the page, but if he can reach double-digit scores this year, the award should be his to lose.

I'll stick at receiver for the Buccaneers award and give it to Mike Evans. He jumped from 122 targets, 68 receptions and 1,051 yards in his rookie season to 148 targets, 74 receptions and 1,206 yards last year. The most recognizable difference between the two seasons though was the drop from 12 TDs to just three.

The Bucs enter their second season in the same offense, Evans has a year under his belt with QB Jameis Winston and an entire offseason of building rapport. It would be no surprise to anyone to see Evans' targets, receptions and yardage continue to rise while we see the touchdown number regular to eight or more. After finishing fifth in yards last year, the Buccaneers know that they can move the ball; now Evans just has to punch it in.

Scott Smith's NFL Prediction: Carolina QB Cam Newton
Scott Smith's Buccaneers Prediction: QB Jameis Winston

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How do you reward Newton for another season of 40 or so combined touchdowns when you want to give the MVP to somebody else, say another great quarterback on a more successful team? Name him the Offensive Player of the Year. That's what I see happening in 2016.

(By the way, we're two picks into naming the game's best offensive player and they're both from the NFC South. Either we're suffering from some kind of familiarity bias, or the Bucs' defense is going to have its hands full in 2016.)

I'm thinking (okay, hoping) that Carolina comes down four or five wins from its amazing 15-1 season of a year ago. Perhaps the Buccaneers themselves will play a part in that. Meanwhile, Green Bay or New England or Indianapolis has a huge season and the voters flock back to favorites like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck, even though Newton – with WR Kelvin Benjamin back in the mix – has another outrageously good offensive year.

Remember that 2011 season I mentioned up top? Rodgers won the MVP award as his team went 15-1 and he recorded 4,643 yards and 45 touchdown passes. He was, to put it mildly, well-deserving of the award. Meanwhile, Drew Brees actually topped both those numbers, with an amazing 5,476 yards and 46 touchdowns. The yardage total was actually an NFL record at the time, later topped by one yard by Peyton Manning in 2013. Voters figured out a way to reward Brees, as well, giving him the Offensive POTY trophy. That's what happens in 2016, with Newton getting the OPOTY consolation prize.

As for the Buccaneers, let's be real. I agree that Mike Evans is poised for his best season yet, and that his touchdown total will rebound back in the direction of his great rookie year. I think Doug Martin is going to be just as good after signing his new deal as he was last year. And I'm bullish on the team's young offensive line. But this offense is going only as far as Winston takes it. Assuming he takes a step forward from his outstanding, 4,000-yard rookie season, he'll be inching up on the game's elite at the most important position. He will without question be the Bucs' offensive player of the year if it's a good year, and that's what I'm banking on.

Joe Kania's NFL Prediction: Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger
Joe Kania's Buccaneers Prediction: RB Doug Martin

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I went into this knowing that I wanted to pick a quarterback for my league-wide selection, but it took a minute for me to come up with which one. My first though was Tom Brady – he would surely come out guns blazing after his suspension and the Patriots always seem to find a way to be competitive as a team. I also thought of Newton, who Scott mentioned above. But can a player win twice in a row? It's difficult.

I decided to go with Roethlisberger based on the simple fact that he has potentially the best wide receiver and running back in the league lining up in the same huddle as him. Plus, Pittsburgh's expected to make another playoff run this year. It could be a perfect storm for Roethlisberger this season.

I would have thought to list Winston as my pick for the Buccaneers, but Scott already selected him so I'm going to change it up. While Winston enjoyed a fantastic rookie season by any measure, a large part of his success, to his own admission, was having Martin in the backfield. Martin finished No. 2 in the league in rushing and with that, the Buccaneers finished fifth in the league in total offense, which was their highest finish in team history. If Martin is on, Winston is on. And if both are on, the Buccaneers offense is tough to stop.

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