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2022 Dark Horse Candidates for Every NFL Award

Russell Wilson Broncos

Although NFL Awards come under fire for their “subjectivity,” award winners seldom hoist the trophy without deserving it. Still, they are a good indicator of who sits atop the food chain each year. More often than not, the same few players will swirl around award discussions. Thus, projecting winners of the various NFL Awards is quotidian without a twist. As such, The 33rd Team is selecting “dark horse” candidates (a player outside of the top-five betting odds on Caesar’s Sportsbook) for this year’s crop of awards.

Most Valuable Player

Russell Wilson, Quarterback – Denver Broncos 

Odds: +1600 (7th)

Russell Wilson has yet to claim an NFL MVP Trophy in his 10-year career. Yet, Wilson has only missed the Pro Bowl once. No longer will the public beg Pete Carroll to #LetRussCook. Wilson should find himself in an offensive environment more conducive to his deep-throwing skill set with Nathaniel Hackett, Justin Outten, and Klint Kubiak at the helm(s). Under Nathaniel Hackett, the Green Bay Packers attempted 98 more passes than the Seahawks in 2021. Wilson posted the second-highest PFF season grade and completed 10.3% more passes on play-action passes in 2021, a strength that the Broncos’ coaching staff is likely to maximize.

Wilson completed the most big-time throws on drop backs with no play action in 2020. The Broncos have fine offensive weapons as well. The combination of Courtland Sutton (a contested-catch specialist) and Jerry Jeudy (a route-running savant) provides Wilson with a young, complementary receiving duo. On the ground, Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon will generate one of the league’s most relentless rushing attacks. Overall, Wilson is a quarterback who can deliver in many ways, and a change of scenery could be all that Wilson needed to see an outburst in his passing production.

Defensive Player of the Year

Chase Young, EDGE – Washington Commanders

Odds: +2000 (6th)

Chase Young, selected with the second-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, has enjoyed early success in his career. Young posted the seventh-highest PFF season grade among all defensive linemen in his rookie season, with at least 700 snaps. Young’s PFF tackle grade ranked second among all defensive linemen with at least 700 snaps behind only Myles Garrett.

At the end of the season, Young received Pro Bowl honors and the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. In 2021, Young missed the second half of the season. Before his exit, Young’s PFF run-defense grade ranked sixth among all defensive linemen. Young’s potential is undeniable, and he is due for a Maxx Crosby-esque surge in his third season, which could put his name squarely in the DPOY conversation.

Comeback Player of the Year

J.K. Dobbins, Running Back – Baltimore Ravens

Odds: +1600 (10th)

During training camp before the 2021 NFL Season, J.K. Dobbins tore his ACL. Many were excited to see what the then second-year back could do to improve upon an impressive rookie campaign. Dobbins, the single-season record-holder for most rushing yards in Ohio State history, posted the 11th-highest PFF rushing grade in his rookie season while averaging a league-high six yards per attempt. Dobbins also boasted the fifth-most runs of 15+ yards, second-highest breakaway %, and tied for the ninth-most rushing touchdowns. All the while, Dobbins ranked outside of the top 30 in rush attempts.

The Ravens ran the ball the third-most in the NFL last season despite losing their top two backs. Dobbins’s return will surely relieve pressure from Lamar Jackson, and with Marquise Brown’s departure, there is plenty of opportunities to go around in Maryland. Expect Dobbins to have the season many thought he would have had last season on his way to winning the Comeback Player of the Year Award.

Offensive Rookie of the Year Award

Kenneth Walker III, Running Back – Seattle Seahawks

Odds: +1000 (7th)

The Seattle Seahawks selected Kenneth Walker III with the 41st-overall pick in this year’s draft, making him the second running back selected after Iowa State’s Breece Hall went before him to the New York Jets. Walker won the Walter Camp Player of the Year, Big Ten Running Back of the Year, and the Doak Walker awards while also joining the AP All-American First Team. The Seahawks deploy a power-run-heavy scheme to wear down their opponents, which seems tailor-fit for a blazing fast, yet bruising back such as Walker.

Rashaad Penny and Chris Carson are the only two players preventing Walker from consuming the majority of rush attempts right away. The latter may never play football again due to a severe neck injury, and the former has only started six games in his four-year career. It is also likely that Walker executes Pete Carroll’s power-run impressively. Either way, the probability that Walker will see the field early and often is high.

Defensive Player of the Year Award

Kyle Hamilton, Safety – Baltimore Ravens

Odds: +1100 (9th)

Once a lock to be selected within the top five, and The 33rd Team’s second-ranked college prospect, Hamilton slipped to the 14th overall pick due to concerns about his pedestrian NFL Combine performance. Nevertheless, Hamilton fits the mold of a defensive chess piece. In 2021, Hamilton allowed only 176 yards in coverage on 28 targets. The receiver only caught half of the 28 targets sent his way (14)—the 50% reception rate tied for ninth-lowest among safeties with at least 25 targets.

Although Hamilton played only seven games in his last season with Notre Dame, he still snatched three interceptions and broke up three passes. If extrapolated to the whole season, Hamilton would have finished with five interceptions (which would have tied for first in the FBS among safeties) and five PBUs (which would have ranked in the top 20 in the FBS among safeties). Look for Hamilton’s rare combination of anticipation, size, length, and versatility to complement Marcus William’s back-end ranginess well.