Heading into NFL Honors, a two-hour primetime awards special airing nationally on Feb. 4, from 9-11 p.m. ET on NBC, we've asked our analysts to chime in with their own selections for the league's most prestigious individual accolades.
Today's debate is Comeback Player of the Year. Everybody loves a comeback story, and the NFL had plenty to choose from this season.
Alex Smith had long been considered one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history, but the former No. 1 overall pick instantly clicked with Jim Harbaugh and enjoyed the finest season of his career, helping the 49ers reach the NFC Championship Game. The arrival of Cam Newton in Carolina seemed to instantly rejuvenate franchise face Steve Smith, who ranked fifth in the NFL with 1,394 receiving yards. Meanwhile, D'Qwell Jackson returned from a couple injury-riddled seasons to lead the AFC in tackles, while Plaxico Burress returned form a stint in prison to record eight touchdown catches.
What do our analysts think? Well, a couple of them favor somebody who may not immediately come to mind for this award ...
Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford gets this. Doesn't it seem odd that we forget he played just 13 games in his first two seasons because of injuries? We always wondered how good the Lions could be if he was healthy. Well, we found out. Detroit made it to the postseason for the first time since 1999 with Stafford starting all 16 games and throwing for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns to 16 interceptions.
I also have to show mad love for Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, who went undrafted in 2010 and was placed on IR with a hamstring injury as a rookie. He stepped in for Steve Smith and became one of the best wide receivers in the NFL -- and he did it with some nice salsa flavor.
I like Carolina's Steve Smith. There were rumors he would be dealt to the Patriots before the season, and many felt he was on the downside of his career. After all, he only caught 46 passes for 554 yards and two touchdowns in 2010. But this year, teaming with rookie QB Cam Newton, Smith snagged 79 balls for 1,394 yards and seven scores -- a huge jump in productivity. That yardage total was fifth in the NFL. You can make a good case for Alex Smith, as well as Cleveland's D'Qwell Jackson, but for Smith to have had this kind of season in his 11th year in the league is pretty special.
- Jason Smith NFL.com
Niners' Smith is a slam-dunk pick for this award
The Comeback Player of the Year is a slam dunk -- it's Alex Smith. Seven offensive coordinators in seven seasons. He was on the scrap heap. Then all he did was put up career-highs in touchdowns, yards, completions, completion percentage, yards per pass and overall quarterback rating. Not to mention the number of analysts who had to backtrack after saying for years he was done. He'll never be the mad fantasy stat freak, but has he turned into a quarterback good enough to possibly win the Super Bowl? You bet. He'll get better next season when San Francisco realizes it needs to add a couple receivers to give Smith an even better chance throwing the ball.
I view Comeback Player of the Year as a guy coming off injury more than a player who had a significant increase in production. With that being said, I like Detroit QB Matthew Stafford for this award. Stafford finally completed his first full season after two years of injuries, and he immediately led his team to the playoffs.