NFL awards: Aaron Donald named top defender; Justin Herbert, Chase Young win top rookie honors

Frank Schwab
·5-min read

Years ago the NFL decided to go Hollywood when it came to handing out its annual awards, turning it into a night with a red carpet ceremony and Oscars-style show.

The 10th annual “NFL Honors” show was different.

Like everything else in this season that will be remembered for its COVID-19 challenges, the NFL still had a televised awards show but with a lot less fanfare than usual.

Here are the NFL’s major awards winners for the season:

Offensive rookie of the year: Los Angeles Chargers QB Justin Herbert

Justin Herbert went sixth overall, behind fellow quarterbacks Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa. He was not the Los Angeles Chargers’ starter to begin the season, sitting behind Tyrod Taylor.

Herbert ended the season as the best offensive rookie in the league, a player it appears the Chargers can build around.

Herbert won offensive rookie of the year after setting an NFL rookie record with 31 touchdowns. He had 4,336 yards and looked like a future star.

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) won NFL offensive rookie of the year. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)
Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) won NFL offensive rookie of the year. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)

Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson set a record for receiving yards by a rookie, but couldn’t overcome Herbert to win the award.

Defensive rookie of the year: Washington Football Team DE Chase Young

Washington passed on some talented quarterbacks to take Young with the second pick of the draft, and they didn’t regret it.

Young won defensive rookie of the year after having an immediate impact on a team that won the NFC East. He had 7.5 sacks and was a force off the edge for a talented Washington defensive line.

Defensive player of the year: Los Angeles Rams DT Aaron Donald

Donald battled some tough competition, most notably Pittsburgh Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt, but won defensive player of the year. Again.

Donald has three defensive player of the year awards, tying Lawrence Taylor and J.J. Watt for the record. Donald had 13.5 sacks, his fourth straight double-digit sack season, for a Rams team that made the playoffs. Donald, who has six All-Pro nods and seven Pro Bowls in seven seasons, also won defensive player of the year in 2017 and 2018.

While Donald was certainly deserving, Watt wasn’t pleased.

Offensive player of the year: Tennessee Titans RB Derrick Henry

Henry won his second straight rushing title, and did it in style. Henry rushed for 250 yards in the Titans finale, topping 2,000 rushing yards for the season. He had 2,027 yards, the fifth-most in a season in NFL history.

After the 2019 season Henry signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the Titans, and the first year of that deal was a great one for the Titans. Henry’s punishing rushing style is a throwback during a time in which the NFL is focusing more on the passing game.

Coach of the year: Cleveland Browns’ Kevin Stefanski

The Browns finally seem to have gotten it right.

The Browns fired Freddie Kitchens after a bad 2019 and hired Stefanski, who didn’t land the job when Kitchens got it. Stefanski, a first-time head coach, led the Browns to an 11-5 record, the second postseason berth for the Browns since they came back to the NFL in 1999 and the first playoff win since then.

Stefanski is the first coach of the year for the Browns since Forrest Gregg in 1976.

Comeback player of the year: Washington Football Team QB Alex Smith

Smith could have won comeback player of the year just by playing in one game. He did more than that.

Smith had one of the most remarkable comeback stories in NFL history, returning from a gruesome leg injury suffered in 2018 that needed 17 surgeries, and was the obvious choice for comeback player of the year. Smith started six games for Washington due to Dwayne Haskins Jr. being demoted and other injuries, and Washington won five of those starts on the way to an NFC East championship.

Smith got 49 of 50 votes, with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger getting the other vote.

MVP: Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers

Rodgers won his third MVP award. He did so after it appeared he was on a bit of a decline in his late 30s, and the Packers drafted his presumed successor in the first round.

Rodgers got 44 first-place votes, with Bills quarterback Josh Allen picking up four and Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes getting the other two.

Walter Payton Man of the Year: Seahawks QB Russell Wilson

Wilson, one of the NFL’s biggest stars, got the NFL’s award for off-field charity work.

"The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, to me, represents excellence, not just on the field, but more importantly off the field," Wilson told the Seahawks site. "In life, we're granted the opportunity to have an impact, no matter what sphere of influence we're around. Walter Payton was one of the greatest examples of what he was able to do not just on the field, but more important off the field to give back and to serve and to love and to care. For me, to be able to be even mentioned with a name like Walter Payton is one of the greatest blessings I could ever have and one of the greatest honors you could ever have."

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