Comeback Player: Rob Gronkowski, Rolando McClain top board

The night before Super Bowl XLIX, the NFL will salute its best players and plays from the 2014 season with "NFL Honors," a star-studded football and entertainment event hosted by Seth Meyers from Symphony Hall at the Phoenix Convention Center. Here's the broadcasting information for Saturday night's festivities:

» 8 p.m. ET on NFL Network: Red carpet coverage
» 9 p.m. ET on NBC: 4th Annual NFL Honors

One of the awards that will be presented on Saturday: Comeback Player of the Year. Who gets your vote?

  • Elliot Harrison @HarrisonNFL
  • Rolando McClain came back from early retirement to finally live up to his potential

Several candidates stand out in a tight award race. Justin Forsett deserves major props for racking up a career-high 1,266 rushing yards (fifth in the league). Rob Gronkowski clearly returned to form as an absolute force of nature. How about Mark Ingram, who certainly looked like a former first-round pick? And Jonathan Stewart was clutch down the back stretch after barely doing anything in the prior two seasons.

But Rolando McClain should be the winner. The guy didn't even play last year. He's retired multiple times. After Sean Lee went down and the Cowboys acquired McClain, there were plenty of snickers over the prospect of the former No. 8 overall pick stepping in and doing the job. Well, he made it happen. McClain was solid for the upstart Cowboys, and even clinched the huge midseason win at Seattle with a clutch interception over the middle.

  • Adam Schein @AdamSchein
  • Justin Forsett thought his career could be over ... then he enjoyed a career year

This was easy for me. Justin Forsett spent the offseason, after being jettisoned by the Jags, contemplating life after football. He thought about going back to Cal and taking management classes. On my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports," Forsett told me that he thought about being a coach or getting into the business of football. Then he signed with Baltimore as an afterthought. Ray Rice was suspended and cut. Bernard Pierce underachieved. Forsett was a perfect fit in Gary Kubiak's offense and was a top-four running back in 2014. What a story.

  • Judy Battista @JudyBattista
  • With a healthy Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots are truly a different team

This would seem to be a no-brainer. Rob Gronkowski's impact on the Patriots is easy to calculate. When he is healthy, they are title contenders. When he is not, their offense sputters and they fall short. Gronkowski is a matchup nightmare for nearly every opponent, is Tom Brady's security blanket and might simply be the most important non-quarterback in the NFL.

  • Charley Casserly @CharleyCasserly
  • Julio Jones recovered from a season-ending injury and terrorized opposing secondaries

Julio Jones started the 2013 campaign with a flurry ... but a foot injury in Week 5 abruptly ended his season. Amazingly, upon return in 2014, he picked up right where he left off, torching defensive backs to the tune of 104 catches and 1,593 yards. Jones almost single-handedly carried the Falcons' offense this year and, quite simply, proved he was one the premier receivers in the NFL.

  • Conor Orr @ConorTOrr
  • McClain's redemption is really something to behold

Rolando McClain, if only because the prelude to his comeback was so much more serious than an injury. Rob Gronkowski did not need to fundamentally change who he was to make this kind of comeback. McClain had to sidestep years of failed expectations.

  • Daniel Jeremiah @MoveTheSticks
  • Once again, Gronkowski is the NFL's unstoppable force

Rob Gronkowski re-established himself as the toughest matchup in the NFL. His presence takes the Patriots' offense to a different level.

  • Brian Billick @CoachBillick
  • McClain rejuvenated his career -- and the Cowboys' defense

There certainly were players with better statistics than Rolando McClain, but what he did to come back after being written off by two different franchises is significant. He resurrected a defense coming off a historically awful 2013 campaign, helping the Cowboys field a top-15 scoring defense and top-10 rushing D.

  • Kevin Patra @KPatra
  • Where would the AFC champs be without Gronk?

If we were to point out one player who helped turn around the Patriots' season, it's easily Rob Gronkowski. Once the tight end got back into form, New England's offense took off. Tom Brady's attack isn't the same without a fully-functional Gronk and it showed in 2014.

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