NFL: Preseason-New York Jets at New York Giants

For gamblers, fans, and especially voters alike, one of the more puzzling awards the NFL hands out every season is Comeback Player of the Year. Specifically, it's been unclear -- up until recently -- who exactly this award is supposed to be aimed at. Most would look at it as it's for a player who has worked his way back from injury like Joe Burrow did when he won in 2021 following his ACL tear. 

However, in recent years, the award has morphed into adding in players who have merely rallied back from down periods of poor play during their careers, like Geno Smith in 2022 and Joe Flacco last year. This has led the Associated Press, who hands out the award, to recently send out some clarification to voters. They say that the award "is to honor a player who has demonstrated resilience in the face of adversity by overcoming illness, physical injury, or other circumstances that led him to miss playing time the previous season."

Translation: They want voters to steer away from rewarding players who come back from simply stinking up the joint on the field and focus more on players who rallied back from injury (ex. Bills safety Damar Hamlin, who was among the favorites last year). 

With this clarification in mind, let's take a look at this year's odds for Comeback Player of the Year. First, we'll eliminate some players that fall under the previous interpretation. Then, we'll highlight some best bets. 

All NFL odds via DraftKings Sportsbook. 

Players who may no longer qualify

If we're now looking at this through the lens of this clarification from the AP, we can actually eliminate a handful of players who are merely looking to have a career resurgence but have no injury-related backstory. 

In particular, we can look at both quarterbacks for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Russell Wilson and Justin Fields. Wilson currently owns the fifth-best odds to win Comeback Player of the Year at +1200. But what is Wilson coming back from exactly? Sure, he missed the final two games of the year in 2023 as a member of the Denver Broncos, but that was for contractual reasons. Really, Wilson is merely looking to get his career back on track after a failed tenure in Denver.

Russell Wilson
PIT • QB • #3
View Profile

In a somewhat similar vein, Fields (+3500) was cast off by the Chicago Bears this offseason after they secured the No. 1 overall pick, which ended up being Caleb Williams. Fields did miss four games last year but played the final seven games of the regular season, so there is no true injury-related storyline for the former first round. Fields is merely trying to re-establish himself as a starter in the league, which doesn't feel like the qualifiers for CPOY under its new iteration. 

Sam Darnold -- who possesses the seventh best-odds to win CPOY at +2000 -- also now seems to fall out of this category. Before this change, he'd be a worthwhile bet as he could conceivably start the entire 2024 season in the middle of a loaded Minnesota Vikings offense as the franchise develops first-round pick J.J. McCarthy slowly. However, he has no injury or illness that he is coming back from. Darnold, who was the backup in San Francisco last year, has simply fallen out of favor in terms of finding a starting job in the league in recent seasons. 

Bryce Young
CAR • QB • #9
View Profile

Bryce Young is another who may no longer qualify. The former No. 1 overall pick is +4000 to win the award, but, again, what is he coming back from other than struggling during his rookie season? Young started all 16 of his games played and completed 59.8% of his passes with a 73.7 passer rating. If he were to turn things around in his sophomore campaign, that'd be a fantastic development for the Carolina Panthers, but not one that puts him on a trajectory to win this award. 

Under the previous permutations, Drew Lock would've been a sneaky long shot dark horse to wager on at +10000, but the New York Giants quarterback falls under a similar circumstance to Darnold even if he were to overtake Daniel Jones as the starter.

Best bets for CPOY

Aaron Rodgers
NYJ • QB • #8
View Profile

The favorite: New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the odds-on favorite at the moment at +130. The four-time NFL MVP logged just four snaps last season before suffering a torn Achilles, so he certainly qualifies as a contender under these clarified parameters. It's also worth noting that he has strong weapons around him like wideout Garrett Wilson and running back Breece Hall, while the Jets also spent the offseason addressing their top need along the offensive line by adding a trio of starting-caliber tackles. 

If Rodgers can even turn back into 80% of who he was prior to the injury, he should be able to put New York into a position to end its playoff drought and put himself in the running for CPOY, if not run away with the award.

Unlikely Burrow bid: On the surface, Burrow, who suffered a season-ending wrist injury in November, would be an ideal CPOY candidate and currently has the second-best odds to win the award at +240 behind only Rodgers. However, it is worth pointing out that Burrow has already won this award back in 2021. There is precedent for a player to win CPOY twice as quarterback Chad Pennington did in 2006 with the Jets and 2008 with the Dolphins, but that is the only instance where this has occurred. Again, it's not impossible, but I think the bar will be higher for Burrow to win this award twice, especially considering what is a rather stacked field around him. And if we need a next-level season for Burrow to win this award, I'd much rather simply bet him to win MVP at +900. 

Kirk Cousins
ATL • QB • #18
View Profile

Best bet: Kirk Cousins is in a similar situation to Rodgers as he's also aiming to come back from a torn Achilles. However, the former Vikings QB suffered his injury in late October, so he's behind Rodgers by roughly two months in terms of recovery time. That said, I love the situation he now finds himself in with the Atlanta Falcons, and is my best bet for this award as he sits with the third-highest odds at +500. 

Atlanta has plenty of weapons at Cousins' disposal, including wideouts Drake London and Darnell Mooney, along with tight end Kyle Pitts and running back Bijan Robinson. He also has a tremendous offensive line in front of him. Pair Cousins' talent and those weapons with new offensive coordinator Zac Robinson, who comes to Atlanta after five seasons coaching under Sean McVay in Los Angeles, and this offense could be high-flying. 

The Falcons also possess the easiest strength of schedule in the entire league, per Sharp Football Analysis, which should allow Cousins to pile up wins and possibly a division crown. 

Long shot: Don't sleep on Justin Herbert, who is +3000 to win CPOY. The Chargers quarterback missed the final month of the regular season after he was placed on injured reserve and underwent surgery on his index finger on his throwing hand. That injury now puts him under consideration for the award, and I'm expecting a hyper-efficient year from him under new coach Jim Harbaugh. We already have seen Herbert's talent on full display and if Harbaugh can channel it to produce wins in Los Angeles, he could find himself the 2024 Comeback Player of the Year.