We don’t have nearly the Comeback Player of the Year field that we had a year ago. If anyone this year did what Adrian Peterson, Peyton Manning, or Jamaal Charles did in 2012, they would have won this year’s award by runaway. Instead, we have only maximum three real candidates this year, depending on your particular definition of “comeback.”
Jason Peters fits every definition of comeback. He tore his Achilles in the off-season before the 2012 season and didn’t play a snap all season. Going into his age 31 season in 2013, there was reason to doubt he’d be the same player he was before the injury. He wasn’t quite the player he was in 2011, when he was the runaway top offensive tackle on Pro Football Focus, but he still had a fantastic year.
He was a deserving Pro-Bowler on one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked offensive tackle, surrendering 4 sacks, 3 quarterback hits, and committing 4 penalties, while excelling as a run blocker as well. He was a great fit in Chip Kelly’s offense, often lining up in weird formations and having to move around much more than the usual offensive tackle. Even at his age and off of a serious leg injury, Peters did not lack athleticism at all and was a big part of the Eagles’ success.
Terrell Suggs is another candidate whose comeback has a looser definition. Suggs also tore his Achilles right around the same time Jason Peters did, but he came back last year to play 8 games, 12 games if you include the Super Bowl run. He also suffered a serious biceps injury along the way and predictably was a shell of his normal self and even that’s being generous. Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked 4-3 defensive end in 2011 and the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year, Suggs graded out below average in 2012.
In 2013, there was some concern that, going his age 31 season, he had ruined his body playing through all of those injuries in 2012 and that he wouldn’t be the same player again. He wasn’t the same player in 2013, but he was still pretty damn good, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 9th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker. Baltimore didn’t even make the playoffs in 2013, the year after winning the Super Bowl, but you can’t blame the defense, as it was one of the best in the NFL. In fact, I’d say the 2013 defense, regular season at least, was better than the 2012 defense in the regular season. Suggs being fully healthy again was a big part of that.
Philip Rivers is the 3rd candidate and his candidacy requires the loosest definition of comeback, as he hasn’t missed a game in 9 years as a starter. Instead, his comeback was a comeback from poor coaching and a lack of talent around him. After posting QB ratings of 100+ for 3 straight seasons from 2008-2010, Rivers saw his QB rating drop into the 80s in both 2011 and 2012. There were rumors of injuries and age, going into his age 32 season, was also seen as a factor.
Instead, Rivers found the fountain of youth in 2013, with help from his new coaching staff and the front office. New head coach Mike McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt did a fantastic job fixing Rivers and building an offense better suited to his strengths. Also, after playing for 2 years with minimal offensive supporting cast, new GM Tom Telesco (who got some Executive of the Year consideration from me) did a great job fixing the situation, without big offensive signings and with just one off-season. Drafting DJ Fluker in the first round helped, but the real steals were getting Keenan Allen (an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate) in the 3rd round getting and King Dunlap and Danny Woodhead on cheap contracts in free agency.
The results were great. Rivers posted a 105.5 QB rating that tied for his career best. He completed 69.5% of his passes for an average of 8.23 YPA, 32 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions, while leading the Chargers to a 2nd place finish in rate of moving the chains and an AFC Wild Card berth, in spite of a terrible defense supporting him. Rivers still didn’t have a lot of offensive help around him, but he made the most of it and would get my 2nd place MVP vote behind Peyton Manning. At the end of the day, I’m taking Jason Peters here because he fits the truest definition of a comeback and because the way he dominated his position this season, after what happened last season and his age, is very impressive, but all 3 got consideration.