The NFL held its annual awards show, hosted by Keegan-Michael Key, on Thursday at the YouTube Theater at the SoFi Entertainment District in Inglewood, California, right by the site of Super Bowl LVI. The Los Angeles Rams (12-5) will play the Cincinnati Bengals (10-7) at SoFi Stadium on Sunday (6:30 p.m. ET, NBC).
To the surprise of no one, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers won his fourth MVP award, his second in a row. Rodgers led the Packers to a 13-4 record and the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs before being upset by the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round of the playoffs. He edged out the recently retired Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and several others for that honor.
Rodgers wasn’t the only player to be honored on Thursday, as the NFL’s Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year, the Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year, the Coach of the Year and the Comeback Player of the Year were also named on Thursday night.
Here’s a look at who took home the awards and why:
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers: No one took care of the ball better than Rodgers — again. Rodgers didn’t match his career-best 48 touchdown passes from the year before, but he actually bettered his interception numbers. He threw just four picks in 2021, one fewer than in 2020. With his 37 touchdown passes, Rodgers had the best TD-to-INT ratio (9.3) in the league. There have been only four times in NFL history when a quarterback has thrown 35-plus touchdowns with five or fewer interceptions, and in each of the previous three that quarterback won the MVP (including Rodgers twice). And remember, this is a regular-season award, so Rodgers’ dud in the playoff loss to the 49ers can’t factor into the voting, which was done before the postseason began. Rodgers went three years between his first MVP (2011) and his second (2014) and six years before the third (2020). He is now the fifth player to win in consecutive seasons. — Rob Demovsky
Offensive Player of the Year
Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams: Kupp put together one of the most productive seasons by a pass-catcher in NFL history, becoming only the fourth player in the Super Bowl era to win the NFL’s receiving Triple Crown. That feat put him in the company of a pair of Hall of Famers in Jerry Rice (1990) and Sterling Sharpe (1992) as well as Steve Smith (2005). And Kupp accomplished it comfortably. His 145 catches led the league by 22 receptions, his 1,947 receiving yards were tops by 331 yards and his 16 touchdown catches were two more than anyone else. With teammate Robert Woods suffering a season-ending knee injury in November, Kupp led the league in targets (192) by a wide margin and ranked fifth among wide receivers in catch rate (75.5%). The fifth-year receiver has kept up his production in the playoffs. He hauled in the 44-yard reception that set up their game-winning field goal in the divisional round and caught two more touchdown passes in the NFC Championship Game, giving him four scores in three games. “We have no chance of being here without Cooper Kupp,” coach Sean McVay said afterwards. — Brady Henderson
Defensive Player of the Year
T.J. Watt, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers: Despite missing two full games and parts of several others due to injury, Watt finally captured his first DPOY award after capping off an historic season with 22.5 sacks, tying Michael Strahan’s 2002 single-season sack record in the final regular-season game. It was a record-setting year from the beginning, when Watt became the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player mere days before the season opener. He earned every penny as a game-wrecking pass rusher, including a big performance in the Steelers’ first meeting with the Baltimore Ravens, in which he sacked quarterback Lamar Jackson 3.5 times and affected Jackson’s throw on the would-be, game-winning 2-point conversion. “He is a game changer and a game wrecker,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said during the season. “To be a literal game changer on defense is something completely special, and he should be recognized. I don’t know who else is the Defensive Player of the Year other than that guy. I’m sure there are other candidates, I just don’t know. But he should absolutely get MVP votes as well because that’s what kind of a player he is.” — Brooke Pryor
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Cincinnati Bengals: This shouldn’t be much of a surprise. When the Bengals drafted Chase with the fifth overall pick, he said he wanted to break all of Cincinnati’s team records. Sure enough, he turned in arguably one of the best season by a wide receiver in franchise history. He set Cincinnati’s team record for most receiving yards in a single game (266) and a single season (1,455), hauling in 81 receptions for an 18.0 yards per reception average. He became the first Bengals player to have multiple 200-yard games in the same season and blasted through Justin Jefferson’s record for most receiving yards by a rookie in the Super Bowl era. The former LSU standout is also the first rookie to have multiple 100-yard games in a single postseason. Cincinnati wanted an explosive playmaker when the front office drafted him over some of the other options, including former Oregon tackle Penei Sewell. Instead, the Bengals got someone who transformed their offense and lifted them to their first Super Bowl in 33 years. — Ben Baby
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Micah Parsons, LB, Dallas Cowboys: Parsons is the first Cowboy to win defensive rookie of the year after a season that saw him set the team’s rookie record with 13 sacks, which was third most by a rookie since sacks became an official stat in 1982. Parsons, the Cowboys’ first-round pick, was credited with 84 tackles (64 solo), three forced fumbles and three pass deflections. The team credited Parsons with 12 tackles for loss and 42 quarterback pressures, as well. He was a nightmare wherever he lined up. Of his 901 snaps credited to him by the team, he lined up as a linebacker 498 times and a defensive lineman 374 times. Because of his versatility, coordinator Dan Quinn was able to create mismatches that helped the Cowboys go from allowing the most points in franchise history (473) in 2020 to leading the league in takeaways (34). Parsons was named to the Pro Bowl and became the first rookie defender in team history to be named a first-team All-Pro. In 2016, Dak Prescott was named the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year. — Todd Archer
Comeback Player of the Year
Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals: Burrow earned the Comeback Player of the Year after a strong second season. He bounced back from a knee injury that ended his rookie season to lead the Bengals to their first playoff berth since 2015. What’s more remarkable is that Burrow did not miss any time after tearing his left ACL and MCL on Nov. 22, 2020, against Washington. He was there for the beginning of offseason OTAs and was fully cleared for the start of training camp. He completed 70.4% of his passes for 4,611 yards, 34 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions. — Ben Baby
Coach of the Year
Mike Vrabel, Tennessee Titans: The Titans managed to finish as the top seed in the AFC despite having to suit up an NFL record 91 different players on game day this season. The list of players that missed time included premier players such as Derrick Henry, Julio Jones, A.J. Brown and Bud Dupree. Losing Henry in Week 8 could have sent the Titans in a downward spiral, but Tennessee didn’t waver from its run-first identity and found ways to score points without key offensive players such as Henry, Brown and Jones. Vrabel challenged the rest of the roster to step up down the stretch. They responded with a 6-3 record without Henry, their most valuable player on offense. Under Vrabel, the Titans only suffered back-to-back defeats once and Vrabel led Tennessee to wins over the Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs and the Super Bowl-bound Los Angeles Rams en route to the No. 1 seed. — Turron Davenport