NFL Comeback Player of the Year is a difficult award to define.
Officially, it goes to the player who "shows perseverance in overcoming adversity, in the form of not being in the NFL the previous year, a severe injury, or simply poor performance."
Does that mean the player who overcomes the biggest obstacle? Or the one that comes back from a major injury to perform the best among the candidates?
This season will help better define that award. Because the two favorites are diametrically opposed. One is coming back from perhaps the scariest injury we've seen in the NFL in decades, but he has barely played. The other contemplated retirement due to injuries, but is playing at an MVP level.
Who would you choose?
Damar Hamlin leads Comeback Player of the Year odds
The odds at BetMGM have two players far ahead of the others in the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award race. Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin is the significant favorite at -150. Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is behind him at +200.
Whoever wins, the other side will wonder how the award should be perceived.
If we're talking about merely coming back from the most severe adversity, Hamlin is the vote. Hamlin became a story much bigger than football when he had a cardiac emergency on the field during a game last year. Medical personnel worked to revive him on the field before he was taken off in an ambulance. A game between the Bills and Cincinnati Bengals was canceled. Hamlin survived, and that alone made him an uplifting story. Hamlin returning to play again this season was inspiring. Hamlin returns to Cincinnati this week for a Bills-Bengals game, and his story will be told many times again. But he probably won't play.
On a very good Bills team, Hamlin has been inactive most weeks. He has played in just one game and has no defensive or special teams stats. All 18 snaps he played against the Dolphins on Oct. 1 came on special teams.
The argument for Hamlin being the Comeback Player of the Year after playing in one game, without a snap on offense or defense and not recording a single stat, is that him being back at all is the best comeback story in sports. And that's obviously compelling.
Tua Tagovailoa has a case too
On the other hand, should the adversity be the biggest part of the award, or should it be how a player performs after nearly having his career end?
Tagovailoa admitted he considered retirement at age 25 due to a series of concussions. One in particular, on a Thursday night in Cincinnati, he was carted off after he hit his head and went into the fencing response. It was a terrifying moment, and when Tagovailoa suffered another concussion later in the season, many wondered if he should step away from the game.
And from that, Tagovailoa has been arguably the most valuable player in the NFL this season. His 108.8 passer rating leads the NFL. He's leading an offense that is by far the best in the NFL this season. He's among the favorites for NFL MVP at this point of the season. It's not like you can even argue the on-field impact between Hamlin and Tagovailoa.
There's no great comparison for Hamlin if he wins Comeback Player of the Year and doesn't play much in the second half of the season. Tedy Bruschi in 2005 might be the closest. He suffered a stroke and came back to play nine games for the New England Patriots. However, he did have 63 tackles in those nine games.
There's plenty of time left for all of the awards to sort themselves out. But if nothing changes in Hamlin's playing time and Tagovailoa continues to play at an MVP level, voters will have a difficult choice for Comeback Player of the Year. It will depend on how they define the award.