Top 10 Comeback Player of the Year candidates

Print

Every week in this space, Chris Wesseling will roll out the power rankings for one specific NFL position, attribute or award.

As we turn our attention to the stretch run, it's time to start thinking about NFL Honors. So far, we have covered the top candidates for MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and Coach of the Year. Now it's time to examine the top candidates for Comeback Player of the Year.

On to the list:

1. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals quarterback: Thirteen months after tearing his ACL for the second time, Palmer is giving Cam Newton and Tom Brady a serious run for the MVP award. Against all odds, a 35-year-old quarterback written off as a washed-up journeyman just two seasons ago has exhibited more arm talent, better footwork and a higher understanding of the game than his previous career year of 2005. Palmer ranks first in Total QBR, Football Outsiders' metrics, Gregg Rosenthal's QB Index, touchdown percentage, yards per attempt (8.8) and passes over 20 yards (59). With 24 wins in his last 28 starts, Palmer has been a "godsend" to the Cardinals organization.

2. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings running back: Peterson has bounced back in resounding fashion after missing the final 15 games last year, flashing 2012 MVP form in recent games versus the Raiders and Falcons. Peterson is currently leading the league in rushing attempts (268), rushing yards (1251), rushing yards per game (96.2), rushing touchdowns (9) and yards from scrimmage (1,457). If he maintains those leads, it will be his first time sweeping those five categories in a stellar career that will someday lead to a bust in Canton.

3. Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs safety: There isn't a better story than Berry's successful return from Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Still just 26 years old, Berry has regained Pro Bowl form for a team that has a chance to close out the season riding a 10-game winning streak. If Berry wins the award, he will join Lyle Alzado (1982), Bryant Young (1999) and Joe Johnson (2000) as the only defensive players to do so.

4. Brandon Marshall, New York Jets wide receiver: Battling a high-ankle sprain and fomenting dissent in the Bears locker room, Marshall managed just 721 yards in a disappointing 2014 campaign. Marshall's value was so low in March that the Bears were willing to give him away for the bargain-basement price of a fifth-round draft pick. Now he's generating All-Pro numbers, becoming the first player in NFL history to amass 1,000 yards receiving in a season for four different teams.

5. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver: Admit it, you thought Fitzgerald was finished as a difference-making wide receiver. Due to a confluence of injuries, poor quarterback play and an adjustment to the slot in Bruce Arians' offense, Fitzgerald hadn't turned in a 1,000-yard season since 2011. A selfless team leader and willing run blocker, Fitzgerald is now on pace to finish with a career-high 118 receptions to go with 1,339 yards and nine touchdowns on. He's one of the best stories on a team chock-full of them.

6. Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals tight end: The red-zone monster was prepped for a breakout year in 2014, only to go down with a season-ending dislocated elbow in the first quarter of the season opener. He has emerged as Andy Dalton's security blanket this year, tying for the NFL lead with 12 receiving touchdowns.

7. Sean Lee, Dallas Cowboys linebacker: Entering this season, Lee had appeared in just 11 of 32 games since signing a seven-year, $42 million contract in August of 2013. After missing the entire 2014 campaign with a torn ACL, the Cowboys decided to shift him from the middle to the weakside, hoping to decrease the risk of further injuries. The transition has been an unqualified success; Lee has been Dallas' best defensive player, regaining his closing speed and excelling in coverage.

8. NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco 49ers linebacker: Bowman has a chance to finish as the NFL's leading tackler with a strong final three weeks. Even if he's been a liability in coverage for an inconsistent defense, the three-time All-Pro has exceeded expectations in his return from a torn ACL and MCL that forced him to miss the entire 2014 season.

9. Richie Incognito, Buffalo Bills guard: The face of the Dolphins' embarrassing bullying scandal of 2012, Incognito was out of football for 18 months when the Bills called last offseason. Although he's not exactly a sympathetic figure, Bills GM Doug Whaley was right to point out that Incognito had been among the NFL's best guards this season -- until Eagles defensive end Fletcher Cox "ate his lunch" last week.

10. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back: Martin's story isn't all that riveting. He's coming back from a pair of disappointing seasons in which he displayed a startling lack of vision and patience while failing to make defenders miss in the open field. He's experienced a revival in Dirk Koetter's offense, though, challenging Peterson for the NFL rushing title. One could make a strong argument that Martin's 2015 game film is stronger than any other running back's.

Honorable mention: Tyrann Mathieu, Patrick Peterson, Geno Atkins, Derrick Johnson, Brian Orakpo, Michael Crabtree, DeAngelo Williams, Chris Johnson

Print