No one really knows what it means to be the comeback player of the year. Come back from what? A torn ACL, like Tom Brady in 2009? An unfortunate incarceration, like Mike Vick in 2010? Failure to meet the expectations of being the first overall pick in 2009, like Matthew Stafford in 2011? Four neck procedures, like Peyton Manning in 2012? Or simply coming back from being overlooked and taken for granted, like Philip Rivers in 2013?
This year, several players merit consideration. Broncos linebacker Von Miller returned from an early season suspension in 2013 and a late-season torn ACL to get 14 sacks. Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain returned from a two-time retirement to become the man in the middle Dallas so desperately needed after Sean Lee was lost for the year in offseason workouts. Broncos cornerback Chris Harris returned from a torn ACL suffered in the middle of January to become one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.
Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin returned from a training-camp torn ACL to have career highs in catches (85) and yardage (1,318). Falcons receiver Julio Jones rebounded from a season shortened by a foot injury to have career highs in catches (104) and yards (1,593). Ravens receiver Steve Smith came back from a subpar 2013, which resulted in the Panthers cutting him, to generate more than 1,000 yards at age 35. Ravens running back Justin Forsett doubled his prior career highs in attempts, yards, and touchdowns, with 235, 1,266, and eight, respectively.
Then there’s Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. Used less extensively in the first four games of the season (during which the Patriots limped to a 2-2 start), Gronk found his groove in Week Five and didn’t look back, playing with the same oversized abandon that made him the best tight end in the NFL in 2011. A unanimous All-Pro at his position, Gronkowski has gotten some mentions for MVP based on the literal definition of value to his team.
With Gronk, the Pats are a powerhouse. Without him, they’re competitive but not dominant.
So the award goes to Gronkowski. But strong cases could be made for everyone else on the list. All eight of them are in the poll; vote for the guy who think best deserves it. And if you think someone was snubbed from the final eight, say so in the comments.
As if you needed to be told that.