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NFL Awards: 6 candidates for 2023 NFL Comeback Player of the Year

Whether previously injured whereas others just will have a better year 

The NFL every season has various awards. Some are based on performance such as league MVP, whereas others are given to those athletes who have a more charitable side with the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year which is presented annually to one player voted on as the most philanthropic and community-oriented.

Then there is the Associated Press (AP) Comeback Player of the Year award. Oftentimes, an athlete will have success and then experience something tragic such as an injury, poor performance, or maybe circumstances that eliminate one season of play. And when he returned to the playing field, he was once again outstanding.

Last season, Seattle Seahawks QB Geno Smith won the award. Smith had bounced around the league as what appeared to be a career backup player with just five starts in six years before finally finding success with the Seahawks as their QB1. He earned a Pro Bowl nod and was the NFL completion percentage leader (69.8%).

Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Tedy Bruschi all captured the award after being injured and then producing exceptional seasons on the rebound. Michael Vick won the distinction after numerous Pro Bowl seasons and then a prison stay followed by success on the field with another club.

Who will win this award this year? Here are six to consider.


NFL: Buffalo Bills at Cincinnati Bengals Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

S Damar Hamlin – Buffalo Bills

Last season in Week 17 in a crucial matchup between the Bills against the Cincinnati Bengals, Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest on the Bengals playing field and subsequently perished. EMS workers rushed to his side and resuscitated him right then and there. Instantly and for an entire month, the whole league was in shock. The game was subsequently suspended and was never re-started or replayed.

If you weren’t a Bills fan, you probably knew nothing about this young man. Then suddenly, the universe was clued into his life on and off the field. Before the incident, the former sixth-round draft pick was having a fine season with 91 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, six tackles for loss, and three QB hits with 15 games played and 13 starts.

It was later revealed that Hamlin had an episode of commotio cordis which is an extremely rare condition in which cardiac rhythm is disrupted by a blow to the chest during a specific 40-millisecond span in the heart’s electrical cycle. If medical attention is not administered within 3-4 minutes, it is pretty much a fatal situation.

Hamlin’s off-season was a complete struggle as he had to breathe through a tube and by January 6, that was removed. A litany of tests was performed and Hamlin had to go through extensive rehab just to remember how to perform simple daily tasks again. He made his first appearance in February 2023 at Super Bowl LVII.

By April, Hamlin was fully cleared to return to Buffalo. He announced his intention to resume his football career. He was a full participant in training camp and played his first game back on August 12 in a preseason game against the Las Vegas Raiders but was a healthy scratch for the first three regular season games. This season he has played in five games with zero starts and has minimal stats. He made his first tackle in Week 10 versus the Denver Broncos.

Understand this: Hamlin has minimal stats this year. He isn’t even the starter as he is listed on the depth chart as the backup free safety to Micah Hyde. All of the other candidates have tangible production numbers that can be viewed as evidence of their ability to win this award. But Hamlin died on the football field. He was brought back and then fought daily to regain his own life. This year, he suits up every Sunday in the NFL and gets defensive snaps.

Can he win the Comeback Player of the Year Award? He has already won the game of life.


NFL: Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

QB Joe Flacco – Cleveland Browns

After not playing for almost the entire 2023 schedule, Flacco was signed after the team lost starter Deshaun Watson to a shoulder injury, journeyman P.J. Walker failed to impress, and Dorian Thompson-Robinson looked like a fifth-round rookie.

Flacco was inserted as the starter in Week 13 after working out on his own at his home in Tavernier, Florida, and tossing passes to his father, brother, and the UPS man if he had some available time.

He played last season and was the starter for the New York Jets in the final game. He was called to help out a quarterback-needy team like the Browns and asked to perform and will be the starter going into a full playoff schedule. Cleveland was 7-4-0 when Flacco took control and then lost his maiden game 36-19 to the Los Angeles Rams. Since then, the Browns have reeled off four wins and clinched the #5 seed in the playoffs.

Flacco surpassed tossing 300 yards in his last four games which is the first time in his career that has happened. Flacco’s last great season was in 2014 and arguably his last good year was 2017. With the Jets the past three seasons, he was irrelevant and at times dreadful. Now, there is new life with Cleveland on a team that really needs his experience and leadership.

He has done amazing things considering the Browns went into this year with one of the elite offensive lines in the league which is an obvious asset to any quarterback. But injuries have decimated not only the roster, but the offensive line took hit after hit. Three starting offensive tackles now call the IR list home: Jack Conklin, Jedrick Wills, and Dawand Jones. Others from this group who were lost for the year include OG Drew Forbes and C Dawson Deaton.

But Flacco has utilized the tight end group like no other quarterback this year and has rejuvenated Cooper’s Pro Bowl abilities.

And more importantly, he has taken a playoff-maybe roster and drove them into the post-season by winning 11 games.

Although Hamlin is the favorite, Flacco is making a serious run at this award.


NFL: New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

WR Cooper Kupp – Los Angeles Rams

After playing in the Senior Bowl, Kupp was only a third-round pick of the Rams in 2017. By his third season, he had eclipsed the 1,000-yard threshold with 1,161 yards. In 2021, he broke out from the herd of NFL receivers with a stellar 1,947 yards that came with a Pro Bowl, named First Team All-Pro, and was named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year. Plus, he won the receiving triple crown: NFL receptions leader, NFL receiving yards leader, and NFL receiving touchdowns leader.

That same season the Rams would win the Super Bowl to which Kupp was named the game’s MVP. He was ranked fourth on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2022 voted on by the league’s players.

Last year, while on another Pro Bowl pace, he suffered a high ankle sprain in the Week 10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. For the remainder of the season, his home was on the IR list.

After the rehab from the ankle issue and a shortened 2022 season, he was set to be ready for the Week 1 contest against the Seattle Seahawks but had a lingering hamstring injury he suffered during this year’s training camp. He eventually went to see a specialist as the Rams placed him on IR to begin the season to help him completely heal.

It wasn’t until the Week 5 game against the Philadelphia Eagles that he returned off IR. Since then, he has had a decent campaign although not near what he did in 2022. Kupp currently has 737 yards with five touchdowns and 33 first down receptions. He has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in three games with a high of 148 in his second game back against the Arizona Cardinals.


NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at New York Jets Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

RB Breece Hall – New York Jets

Last year’s rookie was on pace to become the league’s Rookie of the Year when he tore his ACL and meniscus in the second quarter of the win over the Broncos in Week 7. For that game, he had already accumulated 72 yards and a touchdown in less than the first half.

Hall had 463 yards in six-and-one-half games with four scores. He added an additional 218 yards and one touchdown as a pass catcher and finally became the starting running back in his final two games.

In Jets training camp this year, Hall returned to practice recently and had nothing but high praise from the coaching staff as well as his teammates. While the franchise signed free agent RB Dalvin Cook, the signing at first meant fewer carries for Hall but would keep him fresh. But Cook’s contribution has only been 214 yards on 67 carries and he was eventually waived.

Hall has 186 carries for 816 yards with four touchdowns and 74 receptions for 579 yards and an additional four scores.

When Hall had the football last year, nobody ever really caught him. And mostly it didn’t look like he was going that fast but he has the wheels. He has caught fire this year for a very bad offensive unit.


NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports

QB Baker Mayfield – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The veteran has bounced from team to team and finally found a home. He was once viewed as a candidate to become one of the league’s best.

He signed with Tampa Bay this past off-season when Tom Brady finally retired for a one-year deal for $4 million with incentives that drive it to $8.5 million. And he has played very well and has the Bucs in a position to capture the NFC South Division which means a playoff berth with a home game in the post-season.

Is Mayfield the future of this franchise? It depends on what you mean by the future. If that means the next two or three years, then yes.

Mayfield this season has started all 16 games with 3,907 yards on 344 completions with 534 attempts. He has tossed 28 TDs with just 10 interceptions, a 64.4% completion ratio, and a QB rating of 95.9. His rushing stats are 57 attempts for 156 yards and a single touchdown.

He recently took a late hit to the ribs after yet another scramble that meant X-rays. The results did not reveal any fractures.

For the past three seasons before signing with Tampa Bay, he has seen minimal production. But that changed this year and should see his talents in the upcoming playoffs.


NFL: Baltimore Ravens at San Francisco 49ers Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

QB Lamar Jackson – Baltimore Ravens

If you reside in the AFC North, you know that the Ravens’ success depends upon their defense and their quarterback.

2022 began another productive season for Baltimore as they came out of the gate 8-4-0. Jackson had a 62.3% completion ratio with 17 touchdowns against seven picks.

In Week 13 against the Denver Broncos, Jackson was sacked and suffered a sprained PCL. The initial time thought for return was announced at three weeks. However, he missed the final five games as the Ravens went 2-3-0 during his downtime but garnered the sixth seed in the postseason. Jackson was expected to return but was ruled out as they lost their first playoff game to Cincinnati.

Jackson’s presence on the field is measured more than his annual 3,000-yard+- passing yards. In his five NFL seasons, he has 4,437 rushing yards and is a threat to take it downfield on every play and gain valuable yardage with his legs.

The thought process was if he could regain his former superstar self, he would be just as dangerous as ever.

His stats this season include 16 starts, zero injuries, 307 completions on 457 attempts for 3,678 yards, 24 touchdown passes, seven picks, a 67.2% completion ratio, and a 65.3 QB rating. His rushing stats are 148 attempts for 821 yards and an additional five