There are lots of big-name players looking to enjoy a return to centre stage when the 2020 season kicks off. And my Comeback Player of the Year candidates are not just returning from injuries, they are also coming out of retirement or moving on from a fall-out with a previous team.
Here are my top 10 candidates to lift the Comeback Player of the Year prize in 2020.
1. Ben Roethlisberger - QB - Pittsburgh Steelers
Big Ben played in just two games in 2019 and was forced to undergo major elbow surgery. He has not played a full 16-game season in five years but if he can recapture his 2018 form, Roethlisberger can take this prize. In his last full season as a starter, Big Ben led the NFL with 5,129 passing yards and threw 34 touchdowns. Pittsburgh need him to bounce back in a big way.
2. J.J. Watt - DE - Houston Texans
Watt actually made a miracle comeback by suiting up for the Texans in the playoffs and sacking Josh Allen to spark a rally to victory against Buffalo. That came just over two months after tearing a pectoral muscle to seemingly end his season. Newer kids on the block are getting more attention, but Watt remains a force in Houston and will show he is still one of the best pass-rushers in the game.
3. Matthew Stafford - QB - Detroit Lions
When Stafford was healthy last season, the Lions were fun to watch. His bombs-away style is easy on the eye and he is good for 5,000 yards and 30 touchdowns per year when in such form. Detroit lost their final eight games with Stafford sidelined with a back injury so his value to the team is clear. With good targets around him, Stafford can bounce back in 2020.
4. Rob Gronkowski - TE - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The media will just be itching to hand the Comeback Player of the Year target to the receiving giant tempted out of retirement by Tom Brady. If the year off has helped Gronk's battered body, he will be a fascinating and productive addition to the Buccaneers. While he is a Hall of Fame talent, Gronk does bring injury concerns though – his last full 16-game season was in 2011.
5. Cam Newton - QB - New England Patriots
I wanted to slip Derwin James into my top five here because he is a special defender, but quarterbacks always stand a better chance of securing these awards. And I have a genuine belief that the Patriots are going to dial up some exciting and unique plays with Cam at the helm. Of course, with shoulder and foot injuries in his recent past, Cam's durability is a concern.
6. Derwin James - S - Los Angeles Chargers
In a fabulous rookie year in 2018, James played as a box safety, a free safety, a slot corner and an edge rusher as he recorded 105 tackles, three and a half sacks and three interceptions. His 2019 campaign was limited to five games due to a broken foot but James should return to serve as one of the Chargers' best defenders and one of the most versatile young players in the league.
7. A.J. Green - WR - Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati's Pro Bowl receiver turned his ankle over early in training camp and what started out as a slightly concerning injury became a season-ender. Green never saw the field in 2019 and has now missed 23 of his last 32 games. But he is primed for a big comeback in a promising Cincinnati attack featuring Joe Burrow at quarterback, Joe Mixon in the backfield and Tyler Boyd at receiver.
8. Trent Williams - T - San Francisco 49ers
Unhappy at how Washington's medical team handled treatment of a cancerous growth, Williams sat out the entire 2019 season. Now that he has been traded to the 49ers, look for this giant left tackle to return to elite status. Williams has long been one of the best in the game and San Francisco will put him in a position to become an All-Pro again and to contend for this award.
9. Nick Foles - QB - Chicago Bears
Foles needs to win a starting job in Chicago before he can even begin to think about winning the Comeback Player of the Year award. But he has a good shot at unseating Mitchell Trubisky at the Bears and showing what he can do as an every-week starter. That opportunity never presented itself in Jacksonville due to a Week 1 injury but we have all seen how high Foles can soar.
10. Akiem Hicks - DT - Chicago Bears
This one will fly under the radar but Hicks is just as valuable to his team as the others ranked above him on this list. One of the premier defensive tackles in the league was reduced to just five games in 2019 due to a dislocated elbow. But in the previous two campaigns, Hicks tallied 16 sacks and was a force against the run. His return to the Bears will be a major boost.