The NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award is not an accolade that athletes dream of winning. It means you’ve had a devastating injury, or your previous season’s play was more than lackluster. However, it’s a distinction that can add a lot of faith to a player’s resurgence
A quarterback has won the award each of the last five years. One of the more memorable winners was Alex Smith, who won in 2020. The Washington QB fought back from a broken fibula and tibia which later became infected. Smith had to learn to walk again but returned to start six games in 2020.
Last season’s winner was Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith. After losing his starting job in New York, he spent six years earning another QB1 opportunity. His consistent play led Seattle to the seventh seed in the NFC and a playoff berth.
This year’s NFL season has its fair share of players worthy of winning the award. From veteran quarterbacks to star wide receivers, let’s look at five contenders for the 2023 Comeback Player of the Year.
A Former Super Bowl MVP
There’s no doubt that Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp can have a bounce-back season.
Coming off a historic season in 2021 where he led the NFL in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns, Kupp was poised to have another stellar campaign the year after. Although, in Week nine, he suffered a season-ending ankle injury that required surgery. The 29-year-old finished with 75 catches, 812 receiving yards and six touchdowns.
Kupp will likely return at the beginning of the upcoming season. If he can play a full 17-game schedule, expect him to be one of the game’s top performers.
Broncos Country, Lets Ride
The first quarterback on our list is Russell Wilson. Wilson is a nine-time Pro Bowler, but is he past his prime? The upcoming season will tell.
After ten seasons in Seattle, the former Wisconsin Badger had a disappointing start to his Broncos career. His completion percentage of 60.5% and 16 passing touchdowns were both career lows.
With Sean Payton taking over as head coach, some familiarity with his surrounding cast and a cap hit of $107 million, Wilson has no choice but to improve in 2023.
Former League MVP
Few NFL players have been discussed more this offseason than Lamar Jackson. The contract dispute with Baltimore has led to trade rumours and even speculation of Jackson possibly sitting out the season.
Lamar has played only 12 games in each of the last two seasons. He finished last season with 2,242 passing yards, 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The 2019 league MVP had to sit out the final five weeks of the regular season and the team’s wild-card game with a knee injury.
When the Ravens signed Odell Beckham Jr. earlier this month, it seemed the team expects Jackson to be their starter in 2023. If he can remain healthy, Lamar has a shot at being the league’s Comeback Player of the Year.
Third Year Quarterback
49ers quarterback Trey Lance is in a difficult situation. After an ankle injury spoiled his first season as San Francisco’s starter, the fan base turned their attention to rising star Brock Purdy. Purdy led the 49ers to the NFC Championship game and will likely get to compete for the starting job once he returns.
Meanwhile, Lance has only attempted 102 passes for 797 yards in his four NFL starts. The Minnesota native has yet to get a real shot as a full-time NFL starter. However, his $9.3 million cap hit this season makes him a candidate for trade talks heading into training camp.
Whether Lance plays in San Francisco or elsewhere, his potential to be the league’s next superstar will need to be proven.
An All-Time Comeback
Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin was involved in one of the scariest injuries in NFL history.
The 25-year-old went into cardiac arrest during Buffalo’s Week 17 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. After emergency crews administered CPR on the field, Hamlin was rushed to the hospital in critical condition. Fast forward to April 18th, Hamlin was cleared to play again and expects to return this upcoming season.
Damar Hamlin is working out with the team today in Buffalo. Glad to have you back, 3. pic.twitter.com/n80HheSIaG — Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) April 18, 2023
“This event was life-changing, but it’s not the end of my story,” Hamlin said in a press conference last week. “I’m here to announce that I plan on making a comeback to the NFL.”
If Hamlin does return to the field in 2023, it’ll be one of the most emotional football moments in recent memory. He’ll almost certainly be named the Comeback Player of the Year, and rightly so. The amount of effort and heart required to return from such a terrifying injury is what the award is all about.
As mentioned above, winning Comeback Player of the Year isn’t on anyone’s career checklist. Playing in the NFL is difficult not only physically but also mentally. The hard work and perseverance shown by these players is unmatched. Hearing their name called on awards night is a small victory. Returning to the game they love and entertaining the fans is even greater.