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Do the Patriots have any realistic NFL award candidates this year?

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Related: Trying to set realistic expectations for new Patriots starting QB Jarrett Stidham

NFL: Super Bowl LIV-NFL Honors Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots’ 2019 season ended in collective disappointment when the defending world champions were ousted from the playoff race in the wild card round. However, one of theirs was still recognized for his tremendous play throughout the year at the NFL Honors award show ahead of Super Bowl 54: cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who had already been named to the Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro for a second season in a row, also took home the trophy as the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Gilmore winning the award was well-deserved given his role as a true shutdown cornerback on the league’s number one scoring defense. Heading into the 2020 season, the veteran is again a candidate to take home the trophy even though just three defenders — Lawrence Taylor, J.J. Watt, Aaron Donald — have successfully defended it after being named DPoY the previous year. If Gilmore can keep up his standout play, though, he should be in as good a position as any player in the league to take home the coveted award and thus join them.

With that said, do the Patriots have any other candidates this year to take home a trophy at the Honors ceremony? Let’s take a look at the most important awards (sorry, Celebration of the Year trophy) to find out how the team’s chances look.

Most Valuable Player

If the past has taught us one thing, it is that this trophy will go to a quarterback unless another offensive player essentially obliterates the record book. Just look at it this way: since the start of the NFL’s salary cap era in 1994, the trophy was taken home by 22 quarterbacks — including ex-Patriot Tom Brady on three separate occasions — and six running backs. No other position was awarded, with the last defender, Lawrence Taylor, earning it in 1986. With that said, does New England’s projected starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham have a chance? Based on his position, yes. Based on the realistic expectations that should be set for him this year, however, the answer will likely be no.

Coach of the Year

If the Coach of the Year trophy actually went to the best coach in football rather than the one that helps his team to the biggest turnaround, Bill Belichick would have around 20 of the awards so far. In reality, however, he only owns three of them and has inexplicably not won since 2010. Entering the new season, however, he appears to be in a good position to earn it: with Tom Brady having left in free agency, Belichick could show that his success over the last two decades did not depend on New England’s legendary starting quarterback. If Belichick’s Patriots win the AFC East again, he will likely be considered for the award — unlike the last few years.

Assistant Coach of the Year

The expectation is that the Patriots will have to win on the back of their defense and special teams units this year. That said, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels still appears to be the best candidate to win the Assistant Coach of the Year award in 2020. Just look at it this way: New England’s defense — one that has not yet named a coordinator — is again expected to be among the league’s best, with Cam Achord’s kicking game crew entering the season with similar expectations. Nobody knows what to expect of the team’s offense, on the other hand, which could bode well for McDaniels’ chances to win the trophy if it performs well even with Brady gone.

Offensive Player of the Year

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas won the Offensive Player of the Year trophy in February after setting a new single-season receptions record with 149 catches — that is what it takes for a non-quarterback or running back to win the award. Jarrett Stidham, as noted above, is likely not in the race for either MVP or OPoY, and the same has to be said for the rest of the Patriots’ offense — because it simply does not operate by focusing as much on one skill option. Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Sony Michel and James White could play big roles this season and play themselves into the Pro Bowl conversation, but one of them being named the NFL’s best offensive player in 2020 seems unrealistic.

Defensive Player of the Year

The Patriots field the NFL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and Stephon Gilmore is a realistic candidate to win the trophy again in 2020 based on his last two years in New England. But are there any other candidates on the team’s roster who could be worthy of recognition? If so, they will likely play in the Patriots’ secondary. Devin McCourty, for example, is one of the best safeties in the game and a key piece of the unit despite being perpetually under-appreciated by the league’s Pro Bowl/All-Pro/award voters. J.C. Jackson might be a dark-horse candidate as well after he has proven himself an outstanding ball-hawk in the defensive backfield. If he leads the league in interceptions, he might have a shot over higher-profile competition.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

As opposed to the MVP and Offensive Player of the Year categories, the one honoring rookies on this side of the ball is not as drastically biased towards quarterbacks. That being said, the Patriots’ two most realistic candidates — third-round tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene — would have to have historic seasons to win the award: never before has a player at their position taken home the award. While this could theoretically change in 2020, it seems more likely that a player like Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow or Miami Dolphins passer Tua Tagovailoa becomes this year’s ORoY.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

New England invested heavily in the defensive side of the ball in this year’s draft: the team’s top three picks all addressed the defense. Considering the talent and big names taken ahead of safety Kyle Dugger and linebackers Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings, however, it would be a surprise if one of them actually took home the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Uche, who is projected to see prominent snaps as a member of the Patriots’ pass rushing teams, seems like the best candidate — but even he has only an outside chance.

Comeback Player of the Year

The Patriots have a long list of players returning from an injury-related reserve list this year, but none is expected to play as big a role as center David Andrews. The team captain missed all of 2019 after being hospitalized last August and later diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs, but has been cleared to return to the field earlier this offseason. Andrews is New England’s top candidate to take home the trophy, but he should still not be considered among the favorites given the under-the-radar position that he is playing.

All in all, the Patriots have two realistic shots at earning individual awards this year: Bill Belichick as Coach of the Year and Stephon Gilmore defending his Defensive Player of the Year trophy. Of course, individual honors are not what either of the two men are striving for.