Every year during the Annual NFL Honors awards ceremony, one player is presented the AP Comeback Player of the Year. Usually, the award is handed out to a player who overcame adversity or an injury from the prior season. In the last three years, this award has been presented to a Quarterback, but it is available to any other position as well. Last year, Quarterback Alex Smith was the winner of the award in a season where he took the Washington Football Team to the playoffs after almost losing his leg to an injury in 2018 and sitting all of 2019. He was able to overcome all of this, and even managed to beat the previously undefeated Steelers in Week 13, sweeping the votes to win the award.
Here are some of my early nominees for the 2021/22 Comeback Player of the Year.
The front-runner for this award this season is Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott. The Mississippi State product has been a solid option for Dallas in his first four seasons, averaging about 3,945 yards per season during that stretch. Before his catastrophic leg injury in Week 4 of last season, Prescott hadn’t missed a single game in his career. He’s expected to make his return in Week 1, alongside his elite Wide Receiver core and much improved defense. Dallas has high hopes this season and, with him touching the ball every offensive snap, he is heavily favored to have the greatest comeback this season and acquire the honors.
Maybe the biggest sleeper on this list, Derwin James Jr. was a First-Round pick out of Florida State in 2017 by the Chargers. In his rookie season, he was voted to the Pro Bowl and also awarded with All-Pro honors for a 12-4 Chargers team. With high expectations going into the 2020 season, James was injured during training camp. This injury kept him out the entire season as the Chargers missed the playoffs. This season, James will have a chance to prove he isn’t a one-hit wonder and is still one of the best Safeties in the league as the Chargers look to take the next step in becoming a top contender.
It is well known that, in 2019, McCaffrey had one of the best seasons in history at the Running Back position, leading the league in most statistical categories as well as creating some very memorable highlights. The talent he possesses is game-changing, bringing a new definition to a “pass-catching back”. However, McCaffrey was injured and missed 12 games last season. Without their star player, the Panthers missed the playoffs, and have since traded their starting Quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater) while subsequently adding a new one (Sam Darnold). McCaffrey will come back to a new-look team as he begins to become Carolina’s workhorse tailback once again.
Bosa was one of the top ranked Defensive Ends to ever come out of college, and he was drafted second overall by the San Francisco 49ers. He was voted to go to the Pro Bowl during his rookie season in 2019, after posting an impressive stat line with nine sacks, 16 tackles for loss, and one interception. However, his sophomore season did not turn out the same way, as his season was cut short due to a torn ACL, which usually keeps a player out for about a year. With the revolutionary sports rehab and training in this day and age, he should be ready to go for Week 1.
Barkley is another Running Back nominee for the award. He appeared to be a rising star in the NFL early on. During his first two seasons combined in New York, Barkley produced a stat line of 2,310 rushing yards, 1,159 receiving yards, and 23 total touchdowns. However, after two games and one touchdown into his third year, Barkley went down with an ACL tear, keeping him out for the rest of the season. With Daniel Jones not yet a superstar at QB, the Giants won’t go very far unless Barkley can continue to be the weapon he was during his first two seasons. He is also getting to the end of his rookie contract and, as we all know, a second contract is very important for Running Backs. On average, it is usually the last contract they sign if their numbers aren’t above average, which is why Barkley needs to be on top of his game from the get go this season.
Honorable Mentions: Joe Burrow, Carson Wentz, Odell Beckham Jr., Tim Tebow.
It is worth noting that an unwritten rule, or qualification, for the Comeback Player of the Year is being above average before injury/adversity. This means that a player who has a breakout season doesn’t necessarily qualify for this award. Instead, they would qualify for Most Improved Player, which was awarded to Josh Allen in 2020.