Early Look at NFL Comeback Player of the Year Odds: Tua Closing in on Hamlin

By Akiva Wienerkur   September 29, 2023 

Early Look at NFL Comeback Player of the Year Odds: Tua Closing in on Hamlin

With week 3 of the NFL season in the rearview mirror, the 2023-24 season is starting to take shape. Now that each team has played a few games, we can start making predictions for awards season. One of the most compelling each year is the “Comeback Player of the Year award.

Let’s look at the odds for NFL Comeback Player of the Year (through three games) at DraftKings.

Damar Hamlin, BUF-275
Tua Tagovailoa, MIA+300
T.J. Watt, PIT+2000
Baker Mayfield, TB+2000
Matthew Stafford, LAR+2000
Calvin Ridley, JAC+2200
Lamar Jackson, BAL+2500
Breece Hall, NYJ+2500

There are a couple of players who have completed dramatic journeys to get back to the top, I will break down which ones I believe are “pretenders” and which are legit contestants. 

NFL Comeback Player of the Year Pretender: Damar Hamlin

Yes, that’s right–the current favorite is a pretender for this award. Taken literally, Hamlin should win every comeback award. He literally died on the field and was brought back to life.

Hamlin, however, yet to participate in the current season. After the Jan. 2 incident in Cincinnati, the entire NFL world’s support towards the Bills’ safety was unmatched; watching Hamlin fight and battle through it all to return to playing form was incredible. But as much as I wish that Hamlin could win Comeback Player of the Year, to do so he has to make an impact on the field, and through the first three games, it is yet to happen.

Not only has Hamlin not made an impact, he hasn’t even gotten on the field. This past offseason, the Bills signed former Rams’ safety Taylor Rapp, putting Hamlin fourth on the depth chart and simply a poor fit for the Bills’ defense. While Hamlin may suit up in Week 4, I would love to see Hamlin have success with a different team next season. 

Pretender: Baker Mayfield

Back in 2018, the Cleveland Browns selected Baker Mayfield with the first overall pick, hoping he would be the savior of their franchise. In Week 3 of Mayfield’s rookie season, the kid stepped into a matchup against the Jets due to an injury to Tyrod Taylor. The Oklahoma product was electric in his debut and led Cleveland to their first win in over a year and a half. For a moment there, it seemed as if Mayfield would be the savior of the franchise–in 2019 he led the Browns to a playoff appearance and win over the Steelers in the wild card round. 

However, injuries ruined Mayfield as he slowly deteriorated and was eventually replaced by Deshaun Watson. Mayfield bounced around a couple of organizations before finding his way to Tampa Bay to be the successor of Tom Brady. Since no other quarterback is TB12, the Bucs were expected to take a major step back this year. But Baker didn’t care. Mayfield used his aggressive style of play to shock the world and lead the Buccaneers to a 2-0 start before regressing a bit in a loss to Philadelphia on Monday night. 

Don’t get too excited about the resurgence of Baker Mayfield–this is what he does. Mayfield tends to occasionally play two or three great games and then returns to his old mediocre form. The latest occurrence was last year when he lit up SoFi stadium with an electric late-game comeback in his Rams debut. Mayfield led the Rams on an incredible 98-yard drive to steal a one-point win over the Las Vegas Raiders. However, in Mayfield’s next three starts for the Rams, he failed to pick up even a single win and after all the hype went back to being a simply “not special” quarterback. I believe that this will be the case in Tampa Bay as well.

Mayfield’s poor showing on Monday night football in the team’s 25-11 loss to the Eagles was already a sign of the success being short-term. Mayfield might be fun for a bit, but he’s too inconsistent to be a real franchise quarterback. 

NFL Comeback Player of the Year Contender: Matthew Stafford

In his first season with the Los Angeles Rams, Matthew Stafford solidified himself as a future hall of famer by leading LA to a Super Bowl championship. Stafford put the finishing touches on the title-winning season with an incredible no-look pass to Cooper Kupp and later on that possession, he found Kupp again in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.  

However, the following season did not go as well. The Rams started cold with a tough 31-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills. Things only got worse as both Kupp and Stafford suffered major injuries and the team’s season got completely derailed. The Rams finished the 2022-2023 season with a 5-12 record. Los Angeles hoped to get a fresh start this season with a healthy Stafford-Kupp duo but the bubble was quick to burst as Kupp went down with a hamstring injury in the preseason. 

Despite losing Kupp, Matthew Stafford and the Rams’ offense have looked very impressive early on. Stafford threw for 334 yards in the opener as he led Los Angeles to a statement 30-13 win over the very talented Seattle Seahawks. Stafford eclipsed the 300-yard mark again in week 2 as the Rams narrowly lost to the NFC favorite 49ers. Stafford had a bit of a down night in the Rams’ week 3 matchup against the Bengals but I believe that it is part of the process and he’ll be back next week against the Colts. It is important to note that Stafford’s Week 3 performance is the reason that he is not my pick to win Comeback Player of the Year.

Stafford and the Rams’ offense have been very decent even without Cooper Kupp. I’m very excited to see what they can do once they get their number 1 weapon back. I don’t see a reason to not say that Matthew Stafford and the Rams we got to know in 2021 are back.

Our NFL Comeback Player of the Year Favorite: Tua Tagovailoa

Despite being ultra-talented and extremely intelligent, Tua has been counted out since day one. Tagovailoa was originally a super prospect coming out of Alabama to the extreme that teams were competing to lose the most games to draft him. The “Tank for Tua” crusade came to an end when his final season of college football was cut short due to a brutal season-ending injury. Tua was eventually drafted fifth-overall by the Miami Dolphins, one pick ahead of Justin Herbert. While Herbert’s career got off to an amazing start with the Los Angeles Chargers, Tua couldn’t get going under head coach Brian Flores. After a couple of not-great seasons from Tua, the Dolphins switched over to a head coach who worked much better with the young quarterback in Mike McDaniel. 

Tua started off the 2022-23 NFL season hot, including a wild comeback win over the Baltimore Ravens, in which the “Samoan Slinger” threw for 469 yards and six touchdowns. Throughout his first few games with McDaniel, we finally saw the Tua that teams were tanking to try and get. However that did not last, Tua suffered a brutal concussion early in the season and was seen unable to stand in a Week 4 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals. Tagovailoa’s season was riddled and ruined by several concussions as he finished the year with 3,548 yards, 25 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, and a passer rating of 105.5. During the offseason, there was speculation that Tua would retire due to medical experts advising him to do so. 

Tua ended up coming back for the 2023-24 season and faced adversity right away. Over the past few years, there has been a constant comparison between Tagovailoa and Herbert, due to them being back-to-back picks. Tagovailoa answered the bell in week one as he outdueled Herbert and the Chargers by throwing for 466 yards and 3 touchdowns on his way to leading the Dolphins to a 36-34 victory. Two weeks later, Tua exploded again. Against the Denver Broncos Tua had more touchdown passes than incompletions. Tagovailoa threw for 309 yards and 4 touchdowns, including an impressive no-look touchdown pass to Devon Achane as he led Miami’s offense to an absurd 70-point performance over Denver. Three weeks in, Tua already has 1,024 yards and 8 touchdowns as the Dolphins are 3-0. Accordingly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tua and the offense keep it up and go on to win it all.

This week’s matchup against Buffalo will be a big test, but regardless, it is safe to say that Tua Tagovailoa is my pick for Comeback Player of the Year.

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