Roethlisberger favored to win NFL Comeback Player of the Year
One season after Ben Roethlisberger led the league in passing yards (5,129), the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback found himself sidelined with an elbow injury for almost all of 2019. Heading into the 2020 regular season, 38-year-old Big Ben is expected to rebound in a huge way and is the frontrunner (+300) to win NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
Last year, Roethlisberger only played one full game — a 33-3 defeat at New England, in which he tossed one interception, completed 57.4% of his passes, and failed to score. In Week 2 against Seattle, he attempted 15 passes, then exited the game with elbow pain.
Roethlisberger underwent surgery the following week and missed the next 14 games, as the Steelers cycled through Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges at quarterback.
Big Ben didn’t throw a football again until February 2020, after he got the clear from his medical team. In a recent interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the two-time Super Bowl champ said he’s been throwing 40 passes a day from a flat-footed stance. He’ll increase the distance, velocity, and number of passes per day during the offseason. He has also been working out with a trainer five times a week.
Roethlisberger’s return should be seamless, as the offense he played with in 2018 is mostly intact. Antonio Brown is gone and left guard Ramon Foster retired in 2019, but two-time Super Bowl champion Stefen Wisniewski joined the team in free agency as Foster's replacement. The Steelers also gained Pro Bowl tight end Eric Ebron.
Roethlisberger wasn’t the only player to struggle through injury. Running back James Conner and star receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster also missed significant playing time. If the key pieces of the offense can stay healthy in 2020, Big Ben should bounce back with a fury.
Other QBs attempting a comeback
Free agent Cam Newton is a +500 choice to win Comeback Player of the Year, but he’ll need to convince a team to sign him first. Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles is another contender (+600) and may find success in his first season in Chicago. There he’ll be reunited with Matt Nagy, who Foles briefly worked with in Kansas City, as well as Bill Lazor and John DeFilippo, both former Eagles coaches.
The Comeback Player of the Year of 2011, Matt Stafford, is listed at +750 to claim the honor a second time. He missed eight games in 2019 with non-displaced fractures in his spine.
Including Stafford’s win in 2011, a quarterback has earned Comeback Player of the Year in eight of the last 12 seasons. From 2014-2017, the committee disrupted the trend by honoring tight end Rob Gronkowski, safety Eric Berry, and receivers Jordy Nelson and Keenan Allen.
On the defensive side, J.J. Watt is an early favorite (+500) to win Comeback Player of the Year in his 10th season in Houston. In Week 8 last season, Watt suffered a pectoral tear. He returned in the Divisional Round against Buffalo, sacked Josh Allen once, and recorded a pair of tackles.
From 2016-2017, Watt played eight games total because of back and leg injuries. In 2018, he completed a full season and racked up 16 sacks, 61 tackles, and seven forced fumbles. The 31-year-old has already shown he is capable of a huge performance coming off injuries, but it is important to note he has played a full season of football only twice since 2015.
Myles Garrett is a longshot contender at +1200. On pace for a career year, the defensive end’s season came to an end, after he got into an altercation with Rudolph, with just eight seconds left in a Week 11 matchup with the Steelers. Garrett was suspended indefinitely and was reinstated Feb. 12.
The fourth-year player has the talent to shine on defense for the Cleveland Browns, under first-year defensive coordinator Joe Woods (formerly of the San Francisco 49ers).
Garrett is worth backing at +1200 odds and could steal Big Ben's glory in the AFC North. Still, it's far more likely Roethlisberger takes the crown with his long-awaited return to the Steelers.