- Damar Hamlin (-200) is the favorite to win 2023 NFL Comeback Player of the Year
- Tua Tagovailoa (+400) and Baker Mayfield (+1000) are in the mix after strong starts
- Breece Hall (+1800) is an intriguing longshot after running for 177 yards in week 5
The criteria for the NFL Comeback Player of the Year is by far the most nebulous of all the major sports awards. While it made sense to honor Joe Burrow in 2021 following his return from a catastrophic knee injury, Philip Rivers simply rebounded from a mediocre season before his 2013 win. And last year, journeyman Geno Smith claimed the award after taking his level of play to new heights.
2023 Comeback Player of the Year
Is Hamlin guaranteed to win?
Damar Hamlin (-200) has been a heavy favorite to win Comeback Player of the Year since odds were released on the award. The case in favor of the Bills safety is that, well, he almost died on the field after sustaining a cardiac arrest last January against the Bengals. However, the 25-year-old has only been active for one of five games so far, playing sparingly on special teams.
So, the question is, will Associated Press sportswriters opt for a heartfelt story in Hamlin or vote strictly on performance?
“Think about where we was at.”
Damar Hamlin’s first game back on the field was an emotional one ❤️💙pic.twitter.com/WEQLjmQU7k
— NFL Films (@NFLFilms) October 3, 2023
One recent test case
Alex Smith captured the 2020 NFL Comeback Player of the Year despite mediocre on-field play. In eight games, the journeyman QB passed for 1,582 yards, six touchdowns and eight interceptions. Like Hamlin, Smith’s comeback story made him a shoo-in for the award.
After suffering a gruesome leg injury in 2018, he underwent 17 surgeries and an infection nearly caused doctors to amputate the limb. However, unlike Hamlin, Smith played a meaningful role in the NFL season. He went 5-1 as the starter to lead Washington to a NFC East division title with a 7-9 record.
Tua Tagovailoa’s return from concussions
Tua Tagovailoa (+400) leads the league with 1,614 passing yards and through five games his Dolphins set a new NFL record for offensive yards (2,568). The 25-year-old suffered three high-profile concussions in 2022 before missing the final three games of the season and a playoff matchup with Buffalo.
Tagovailoa’s MVP odds (+500) sit only behind those of Brock Purdy and Patrick Mahomes. But, his CPOY candidacy is murky because he threw 25 TDs in 13 games last year. Is he really a comeback player?
Baker the touchdown maker
Baker Mayfield (+1000) is running on the same platform that Geno Smith did last year. Written off by the football public at large, the veteran QB has the Buccaneers off to a 3-1 start after tossing seven TDs in his first four games. Central to his candidacy is winning the NFC South, or at the very least, leading Tampa Bay to a surprising playoff berth.
While Mayfield is in the most-winnable division in all of football, the Saints and Falcons have much easier schedules the rest of the way.
Baker Mayfield under pressure this season:
🏴☠️ 334 passing yards
🏴☠️ 3 TDs ┃ 0 INTs
🏴☠️ 125.2 passer rating (1st) pic.twitter.com/wtVByOAogr
— PFF (@PFF) October 7, 2023
What about TJ Watt?
T.J. Watt (+2000) has eight sacks through five contests and the Steelers defense is solely responsible for at least two of Pittsburgh’s three wins. The dynamic edge rusher missed seven games last year after winning the 2021 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award with 22.5 sacks.
Watt is currently the +225 favorite to take home another DPOY. And only one defensive player has claimed the CPOY in the 15 years – Eric Berry, who returned from cancer in 2015.
Like defensive players, running backs have been largely ignored for this award. Garrison Heart was the last back to win, way back in 2003. Breece Hall (+1800) showed he has the talent to win the honor last Sunday, rushing for 177 yards against Denver. But he’s unlikely to produce the gaudy statistics he needs to claim the CPOY while in the Jets’ ugly offense.
Don’t forget about Matthew Stafford (+1400). If the 35-year-old leads the Rams into the playoffs while putting up big numbers with Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua, voters may reward the Super Bowl champion with the second Comeback Player of the Year award of his career.
See below the top sportsbooks where you can wager online and choose the best one for you: