Top 5 Candidates for Comeback Player of the Year

Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow drops back to throw during the first day of workouts at Paul Brown Stadium on Tuesday. Cincinnati Bengals Ota

Injuries in football are inevitable. Each year countless players suffer serious injuries that end seasons, or worse, end careers. Yet every year countless players put in the work to return to the game that they love.

Last year, it was quarterback Alex Smith. And rightfully so. The now 37-year-old went through 17 surgeries, and nearly two years of rehab, all to return and compete in the NFL. What started with a question of life or death ended with his name being called the night before the Super Bowl as the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year.

So– with several star players set to return in 2021, here is a look at five of the top candidates to win the award come February. 

5) Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers 

It’s obvious as to how talented this former second overall pick is. During his rookie season, Bosa made 53 tackles, 9 sacks, a single forced fumble, and caught one interception. The then 22-year-old was selected to the Pro Bowl, and given the defensive rookie of the year award. Through his two games in 2020, Bosa had one quarterback hit and one forced fumble before suffering a torn ACL against the New York Jets in week 2. 

The truth is, Bosa should be ranked higher than this. But the fact that a defensive player has won the award only three times since the 2000 season, is what makes it an uphill battle. However, the case can be made for him to win. Returning to one of the league’s top 10 defenses, and his ability to consistently get to the quarterback make Bosa an intriguing candidate for the award in 2021.

4) Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers

McCaffrey played in only three games last season, due to ankle and shoulder injuries throughout the year. Before then, McCaffrey hadn’t missed a single game during his first three years in the NFL. In 2019, he finished third in the league with 1,387 total rushing yards, and 15 rushing touchdowns. Add 1,005 yards, and 4 touchdowns through the air, and McCaffrey was selected as an All-Pro and made the Pro Bowl.

There’s a real possibility for McCaffrey to win Comeback Player of the Year. His presence injects life into the offense of the Carolina Panthers. With a quarterback who has struggled in the past in Sam Darnold, the Panthers will turn to McCaffrey to be the centerpiece of the offense, and he’s more than capable of that. 

3) Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

After a devastating ACL injury in the team’s Week 2 loss to the Chicago Bears, Saquon Barkley appears to be ready for the beginning of the upcoming season. The Giants’ star rusher had over 2,300 rush yards during his first two seasons, and 1,159 receiving yards, combining for 23 touchdowns. His 1,307 rush yards in 2018 landed him in second for the league lead, a Pro Bowl appearance, and the Offensive Rookie of the Year honor.

Barkley is returning to an offense that lacked the ability to run the ball last season. With his ability to create plays both on the ground and through the air, it’s easy to imagine the former second overall selection as a potential Comeback Player of the Year.

2) Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals

After a promising start to the 2020 season, Burrow suffered a knee injury in Week 11, that included a torn ACL and MCL. Bringing an end to his rookie campaign in which he had 2,688 yards, 13 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions in 10 games. After going through rehab — which included surgery on the injured knee –, Burrow returned to the Bengals for the start of OTAs. A positive sign that he will be ready for the 2021 season.

With the addition of former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase, along with Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd, Burrow has options to throw to. No doubt, there are lots of concerns with the Bengals team as a whole. A shaky offensive line being at the top of the list. But the fact is a quarterback has won the award 9 times in the last 13 years, putting the 24-year-old in a prime position to win the honor come February. 

1) Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

Dak played only five games last season before an ankle injury ended his season. Prescott finished those games with 9 touchdowns and an incredible 371.2 passing yards per game. After two surgeries, Prescott returned to Cowboys’ OTAs earlier this week. Although taking things cautiously, for now, Dak is on track to make his return for his sixth season in the Cowboys uniform. 

There is no question that Dak is the favorite to win the Comeback Player of the Year Award. With the contract situation behind him, Prescott is ready to prove he’s worth every penny. The star quarterback will have no lack of weapons either. Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb make for a compelling group of pass-catchers. Keeping in mind Prescott’s ability to run the ball, particularly in the red zone, and the award is right there for Dak’s taking.