The NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award is given to the player who has shown “perseverance in overcoming adversity, in the form of not being in the NFL the previous year, a sever injury, or simply poor performance.”
With this definition in mind, we can look at the top contenders this year as well as their accompanying odds and analysis:
Top Contenders for 2020 Comeback Player of the Year
This year’s odds for comeback player of the year have been released by FanDuel Sportsbook. The players with the best odds of winning are:
- QB Ben Roethlisberger (+260 / 28% chance)
- QB Cam Newton (+340 / 23% chance)
- TE Rob Gronkowski (+420 / 19% chance)
- DL JJ Watt (+700 / 13% chance)
- QB Matthew Stafford (+700 / 13% chance)
Before we breakdown each player’s individual chances, we first need to look at history of winners to see if any patterns emerge.
Comeback Player of the Year History: Which Position is Most Common?
Going back to 1998, the AP Comeback Player of the Year Award has had two consistent themes:
Offense and Quarterbacks
Since 1998, an offensive player has won the award 78% of the time. Only five defensive players won the award in this time span:
- 2016 Eric Berry (Kansas City Chiefs S)
- 2008 Greg Ellis (Dallas Cowboys LB)
- 2005 (tie) Tedy Bruschi (New England Patriots LB)
- 1999 Bryant Young (San Francisco 49ers DT)
With this in mind, a defensive player would have to have a combination of an outstanding season as well as an interesting story to warrant winning the award.
Of the 23 winners since 1998 (there was a tie in 2005), 13 have been quarterbacks. That works out to 57%.
The NFL is a QB driven league, so it makes sense that this position gets the most attention. The previous two winners of the award were both Quarterbacks: Andrew Luck in 2018 and Ryan Tannehill in 2019.
Outside of quarterback and defense, the next most common position to win the award is WR. There have been three wide receivers to win the award since 1998, accounting for 13%.
Somewhat surprisingly, a running back has only won the award once (Garrison Hearst in 2001).
Analyzing the Top 2020 CPOY Candidates
QB Ben Roethlisberger | Pittsburgh Steelers
Implied probability: 28%
Why he wins: For Big Ben to win, the Steelers likely need to have an above average regular season and make the playoffs. Roethlisberger is projected to only be the 16th best QB according to Mike Clay of ESPN Fantasy Football, so his numbers are not expected to be great. He is coming off a season ending elbow injury and there were news reports this summer about his battles with addiction.
QB Cam Newton | New England Patriots
Implied probability: 23%
Why he wins: Cam Newton has a few things going for him with regards to this award. There is the story line that a former league MVP takes one of the most successful franchises ever back to glory which has some real appeal.
He will likely need to win the starting job, and at least get the Patriots back to the playoffs to have a shot. He is projected to be around a league average in terms of fantasy points, so team success would likely have to carry him to the award.
TE Rob Gronkowski | Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Implied probability: 19%
Why he wins: Given we know it is an uphill battle for TE’s to win the award, if there is anyone that can do it, it is Gronk. Mike Clay has him projected as only the 9th best TE this year in fantasy football, so he will need to out perform that projection and help Tom Brady take the Bucs to the playoffs. His stats will likely have to carry him as he doesn’t have the “story” of many of the other CPOY candidates.
DT JJ Watt | Houston Texans
Implied probability: 13%
Why he wins: JJ Watt has been decimated by injuries over the last few years. If he can have a return to form (which is a big if), he has a reasonable shot at the award. The “perseverance” story line will be what carries him. He has a higher national profile than your normal NFL DT with all of the community work he does, so his brand name should give him a little extra juice here.
QB Matthew Stafford | Detroit Lions
Implied probability: 13%
Why he wins: Long time Lions QB Matthew Stafford went out after 8 games last season with a back injury. He is known as a tough player who will fight through injuries, so he has the support of the Lions faithful. He has also had personal family trauma with his wife overcoming a brain tumor. Stafford would likely need to lead the Lions to an NFC North title, something they have NEVER done.