The NFL every year gives out an award that either goes to someone returning from an injury or a player who performed poorly and has elevated their game into top form. When looking at the latest NFL Comeback Player of the Year betting odds, there are several players who fit both descriptions in line to win it for the 2023 season.
Typically, this award is hard to predict because performance doesn’t always matter, and neither does pedigree. We can use those things to predict winners for MVP or even Offensive Player of the Year. Yet, they hold little correlative value for this particular award, making an NFL Comeback Player of the Year prediction difficult.
NFL Comeback Player of the Year Odds and Predictions
Below we take a look at several players who have the best chances, according to the NFL Comeback Player of the Year odds, provided by DraftKings, to win the award. Some of these players fit the injury return model, some fit the pedigree model, and some fit both.
This year’s list is very QB heavy. That is at least one piece of data, as the last five winners were all quarterbacks.
Damar Hamlin (+150)
Damar Hamlin is an interesting case. Hamlin falls into the injury return portion of the award but in a different subset of the category.
As many will remember, the football world stopped on the night of Jan. 2, 2023. Monday Night Football between the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills was brought to a halt suddenly when Hamlin collapsed to the ground following a tackle.
Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest while making a tackle, and his life literally hung in the balance while rescue workers revived him on the field. It was a scary situation and one of the rarest accidents to occur during a sporting event.
Why Hamlin winning the award would fall into a niche category of the injury return model is that typically the return from injury would be accompanied by a substantial performance. The former sixth-round pick in 2021 was only forced into the starting lineup due to injury, and it’s no sure thing he assumes that role when he’s healthy enough to return.
That said, here is where it gets interesting. Alex Smith won the award in 2020 for returning from what was a gruesome leg injury that required 17 surgeries and almost saw him lose his leg.
Smith didn’t perform well in his return, but the fact that he returned at all was enough to give him the award. What Hamlin is returning from, assuming he does, in fact, return, is substantial enough to warrant similar consideration. It’s no surprise that according to the NFL Comeback Player of the Year odds, he’s currently the heavy favorite.
Trey Lance (+650)
This is also an injury return focus, but in my opinion, a surprising inclusion atop the NFL Comeback Player of the Year odds board. Trey Lance suffered an ankle injury in Week 2 of the 2022 NFL season, and unfortunately, the third overall pick from 2021 has never established himself as the main starter for the San Francisco 49ers.
In each of his first two seasons, Lance was given the reins. Yet, for one reason or another, Jimmy Garoppolo kept ending up as the quarterback helping the 49ers reach the Conference Championship.
Lance doesn’t have the pedigree of performance to come back to, and his injury wasn’t significant enough to overtake the emotion surrounding the Hamlin injury. It’s also not even a guarantee that Lance is the 49ers’ starter next season, pending the health of Brock Purdy.
It seems like a really tall mountain for Lance to climb to win the award. I don’t like these odds at all.
Tua Tagovailoa (+700)
Unlike Lance, If you’re looking for a signal-caller to make the most of their NFL Comeback Player of the Year odds, Tua Tagovailoa has to be the choice. Prior to his concussions ending his season, Tua was in the running for MVP in his first year with new head coach Mike McDaniel.
Tua was getting the ball to both Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle so frequently, they rivaled the Marks Brothers and Dan Marino. If Tagovailoa is healthy enough to come back and pursue his career, it’s reasonable to expect he is putting up those numbers again.
For this award, if you combine a return from injury with MVP-like numbers, you have a heck of a shot to win the award. Of all the players on this list, Tua has the best chance of combining those two things together.
The question, though, is health. Tagovailoa has never played a full season and has been injury-riddled dating back to his time in college. Concussions have been the constant for him during his football career. Betting on him to last a full season in order to put up the numbers necessary is a major risk.
Russell Wilson (+850)
Russell Wilson, who had perhaps the worst season ever for an incoming player to a new team, relative to expectations, finds himself in the performance category. Wilson’s time in Denver, short as it is, has been rampant with performance woes and off-field distractions regarding him as a leader. It was so bad, the Broncos fired their first-year head coach before he could even complete his first season.
The Broncos have now hired Sean Payton to be their new head coach. Payton took a similar-sized Drew Brees from being a good quarterback in San Diego to being a first-ballot Hall of Famer with the Saints. The hope and expectation is that he can do the same with Wilson. From a schematic standpoint, Payton seems poised to run a system that favors Wilson’s skill set.
There are two major questions, though, that prevent this from being a slam-dunk pick. Can Denver fix the offensive line? Can Wilson fix his image in the locker room?
If those two things remain status quo, it remains difficult to see a pathway to success for Wilson in Denver. Wilson has the pedigree of being a top NFL QB and a Super Bowl champion. Payton brings the same résumé from a coaching perspective. On the field, this should work in everyone’s favor. Yet, nothing kills a team’s chances like a toxic locker room.
Who Will Win NFL Comeback Player of the Year?
My NFL Comeback Player of the Year award prediction is two-fold. I believe that if Hamlin even takes one step onto an NFL field again, he’ll win this award, likely unanimously. As mentioned above, his is a special case where the overcoming of something that could have been tragic is powerful enough to outshine any type of box-score requirement.
That said, in the event Hamlin doesn’t win the award and bettors don’t want to take a favorite, I like Tua’s chances to win it, provided he’s healthy.
None of these players are without risk, so when making an NFL Comeback Player of the Year prediction, environment will play a large role. Tua is in the best environment to win this. He has the pedigree, has already produced in this system, and is coming back from injury, which derailed an MVP-caliber campaign.
All of those things combine to give Tagovailoa the best chance to win, paired with great value in the NFL Comeback Player of the Year odds.
Past NFL Comeback Player of the Year Winners
The last five winners of the award have all been quarterbacks, touching on all of the different nuances that go into selecting the award. In 2022, Geno Smith won the award for going from journeyman to leading the Seahawks to the playoffs while putting up impressive numbers.
In 2021, Joe Burrow won it for returning from the injury he suffered in 2020 and leading Cincinnati to the Super Bowl. 2020 saw the aforementioned Smith win it for returning from an injury that almost saw his leg amputated.
In 2019, Ryan Tannehill won CPOY for being traded from the team he was supposed to become the face of to be the backup in Tennessee. He assumed the starter’s role that same year and took the team to the AFC Championship Game.
Andrew Luck won the award in 2018 after playing in all 16 games after missing the entire 2017 campaign. He would retire due to additional injuries just one year later, however.