2023 NFL Comeback Player of the Year Odds, Picks: Should You Bet Damar Hamlin?

2023 NFL Comeback Player of the Year Odds, Picks: Should You Bet Damar Hamlin? article feature image

Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images. Pictured: Damar Hamlin.

The NFL season is almost here, so it's time to start digging into those season-long awards.

I'm previewing each awards market over the next week, and you know we'll return to these all season. I'm starting with perhaps the most unique award, Comeback Player of the Year (CPOY).

Unlike other awards, Comeback Player of the Year is explicitly narrative driven, given to a player who shows perseverance in overcoming adversity. What type of adversity? That's up to the voters, but as you'll see, that usually ends up referring to some sort of major injury or health condition.

This year's CPOY race stands out because there's an overwhelming and obvious favorite: Bills safety Damar Hamlin, who's returning after suffering commotio cordis on Monday Night Football less than nine months ago.

Hamlin, who's already played in the preseason, is as short as -700 at some books. Should bettors invest in Hamlin CPOY futures, and if not, then who? Let's start with a historical profile of the award. 

Be sure to check out all the other awards previews and picks:

Who Wins Comeback Player of the Year?

Let's find some patterns from our last 15 CPOY winners:

  • 2022 QB Geno Smith, Seahawks
  • 2021 QB Joe Burrow, Bengals
  • 2020 QB Alex Smith, Washington
  • 2019 QB Ryan Tannehill, Titans
  • 2018 QB Andrew Luck, Colts
  • 2017 WR Keenan Allen, Chargers
  • 2016 WR Jordy Nelson, Packers
  • 2015 S Eric Berry, Chiefs
  • 2014 TE Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
  • 2013 QB Philip Rivers, Chargers
  • 2012 QB Peyton Manning, Broncos
  • 2011 QB Matthew Stafford, Lions
  • 2010 QB Michael Vick, Eagles
  • 2009 QB Tom Brady, Patriots
  • 2008 QB Chad Pennington, Dolphins

1. Quarterbacks win CPOY.

That's the first thing that jumps out. The last five CPOY winners were quarterbacks, along with 11 of the last 15 (73%).

We also have three pass catchers over the past decade. There's just one defender on the list, though three won it in the previous decade. No running back has won since Garrison Hearst in 2001. In fact, he's the only RB to win it in the modern era.

2. Most CPOY winners come back from an injury or health condition.

I'm classifying 10 of the 15 CPOYs above as returns from injury or health condition (67%).

Joe Burrow, Keenan Allen, Jordy Nelson, Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady all returned from torn ACLs. Alex Smith, Andrew Luck, Eric Berry, Peyton Manning and Matthew Stafford had other health issues.

The five CPOY winners who weren't returning from a major health concern were quarterbacks.

Alex Smith, Ryan Tannehill, Philip Rivers and Chad Pennington each had something of a renaissance after their careers had perhaps been given up for dead. Michael Vick's return was more complicated, a return from suspension and then prison following dog fighting charges.

For the most part, CPOY marks a return from a major health scare. If not, you better be a QB.

3. CPOY winners almost always win a bunch of games and make the playoffs.

This probably doesn't come as a huge surprise, but it's important to note nonetheless. These players win.

Fourteen of those 15 CPOY winners above made the playoffs, and 14 of the 15 were on teams that won at least nine games. That's a 93% hit rate — that says we need someone who at least goes 9-8 and makes the playoffs. Those players combined to win 65% of their games, an 11.1-win pace on a 17-game schedule.

It makes sense. It's a narrative award, and narrative rewards winners. Comebacks are cool, but come back on a team that makes the playoffs and you really have our attention.

So what are we looking for in a Comeback Player of the Year?

We need a winning playoff player with a great narrative, likely someone coming back from a major injury or health concern, and most likely a quarterback.

So does Damar Hamlin fit?

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Should You Bet Damar Hamlin to Win CPOY?

Damar Hamlin, Bills (-275; BetMGM)

Let's start with the obvious. The most important thing here, far more important than any betting or analysis, is that Damar Hamlin is alive and well, and miraculously back on a football field again.

We all watched that game in January.

That Hamlin is alive feels like a miracle all its own. That he'd ever play football again would have been unfathomable in the days following that game.

You understand that feeling I'm describing. Voters will, too. It's possible just that feeling will be enough. Perhaps just being on an NFL roster and playing a single snap of football is all it would take for Hamlin to win.

It's notable how much of an outlier Hamlin would be, though, compared to past CPOY winners.

We've only seen one defender win in the last 15 years, for starters.

And since we mentioned starters, let's get to the elephant in the room — Hamlin isn't a projected starter. He played mostly special teams as a rookie, and then only 13 snaps the first two games last season until Micah Hyde got injured.

Buffalo's secondary was decimated by injuries, but now Hyde and fellow star safety Jordan Poyer are healthy and ready to go, and both had pretty clean injury history before 2022. The Bills also added PFF's No. 13 safety, Taylor Rapp, who presumably slots in higher than Hamlin on the depth chart.

If Buffalo's safeties stay healthy, Hamlin barely sees the field this season. He could finish the year with 10 or 20 tackles.

Still, maybe that's enough! Perhaps one tackle is enough. Maybe one big highlight play at any point in the season is all it would take.

Four CPOY winners this century fit the profile of Hamlin — no one expected these guys to play again:

  • Alex Smith (2020) — quarterbacked his team to a 5-1 record down the stretch and a playoff berth after a return from a horrific leg injury suffered on-field and subsequent necrotizing fascitiis.
  • Eric Berry (2015) — returned from Hodgkin's lymphoma to play all 16 games at safety for an 11-5 Chiefs team, making All-Pro along the way.
  • Tedy Bruschi (2005) — suffered a stroke in February, but returned to the field in October to start nine games at linebacker for the 10-6 Patriots, with the team going 7-2 after he returned.
  • Garrison Hearst (2001) — suffered a gruesome on-field ankle injury, later complicated by avascular necrosis, and missed two seasons before returning to rush for 1,206 yards and making the Pro Bowl for the 12-4 49ers.

You probably noticed all of those guys won a lot of games and made the playoffs. That shouldn't be a problem for Hamlin and the Bills.

But did you also notice how significant a role all four had in their return? These weren't guys who just miraculously stepped onto the field for a play or two. They were starters who played, and played well, in their returns. Hamlin has never played at that level.

It's difficult to recommend any future at -275, considering you're paying $275 to win $100 six months from now. Those odds imply a 73.3% chance of Hamlin winning CPOY. Odds at other books imply 80%, or even higher.

How certain are you that Hamlin will win? Are you 75% sure? 85%? 90? Do you even know how to discern the difference in those odds? Is that tiny margin enough edge to risk a lot to win a little?

I can't get there.

Damar Hamlin is the right CPOY favorite. He'll probably win it, but I can't in good conscience recommend betting this at -275, no matter how much of a lock it seems. And if Hamlin's number is too short, then that implies value at other numbers down the board.

So if we're not betting Hamlin, then who else is worth considering?

The Non-Quarterbacks

RB Breece Hall, Jets +2500 (DraftKings)
RB Jonathan Taylor, Colts (?) +5000 (FanDuel)
RB Javonte Williams, Broncos +7500 (DraftKings)

Remember, only one RB has won CPOY in the Super Bowl era, and that was Garrison Hearst in 2001. That may not be a referendum on running back as much as a reminder that it often takes some time for RBs to return to top value after a major injury, if they ever do.

Breece Hall is not fully healthy yet and likely won't be until next season. He's now sharing the backfield with Dalvin Cook — an indictment on New York's belief in Hall — and running behind a bad offensive line.

Jonathan Taylor returns from multiple ankle injuries, and perhaps he gets traded and has a huge season with a good Dolphins team (or another contender). That would fit the Christian McCaffrey formula from last fall … that left him runner-up anyway with a near perfect half-season with San Francisco.

Javonte Williams tore multiple knee ligaments less than a year ago. It's just too soon for these guys.

DE T.J. Watt, Steelers, +7500 (DraftKings)
DT Aaron Donald, Rams +8000 (DraftKings)

Remember, only one defender has won CPOY the last 15 years. Neither T.J. Watt nor Aaron Donald are returning from a major injury, and both are older and well past their primes.

Frankly, if either of them does play well enough in return to capture our attention, they might just win another Defensive Player of the Year instead.

If you insist on a defender bet, I'd be more intrigued by Chase Young at +10000 (FanDuel), who has only 1.5 sacks in 12 games over the past two seasons and fits the comeback narrative better after suffering an ACL tear.

WR John Metchie, Texans +2800 (DraftKings)
WR Cooper Kupp, Rams +3000 (FanDuel)
WR Calvin Ridley, Jaguars +5000 (FanDuel)
WR Odell Beckham Jr., Ravens +5000 (FanDuel)
WR Michael Thomas, Saints +7500 (FanDuel)

We have three wide receiver CPOY winners over the last nine years.

John Metchie has more of a Damar Hamlin profile. He was a second-round pick a year ago, but sat out the season with leukemia and has yet to play a professional game.

Can the Texans win enough to make the playoffs, and will Metchie play enough of a role? That's a tough sell for one of the non-Hamlin favorites.

When we last saw Cooper Kupp healthy for a season, he finished with 145 catches, 1,947 yards and 16 TDs. He missed eight games last season with a high ankle sprain that led to the Rams shutting him down for precautionary (and tanking) reasons.

It's tough to see him reaching enough of a bounce back to merit major attention when those numbers were so gaudy. His injury was also relatively minor injury.

The last healthy Michael Thomas season saw an NFL-record 149 catches for 1,725 yards and nine scores. He's played only 10 games in three seasons since, battling repeated foot and ankle injuries.

Thomas is an intriguing CPOY pick in theory since it's easy to imagine a healthy Thomas putting up a huge season with Derek Carr. Can he stay healthy enough? That part is hard to believe.

Calvin Ridley is "coming back" from suspension after betting on his own team. Hard to believe the NFL and voters would want to celebrate that, even if he has a big year in Jacksonville.

The one bet I'll sprinkle is Odell Beckham Jr. He's returning from multiple ACL tears and last played in the Rams' Super Bowl victory, which is when he suffered his injury.

OBJ has played in only 20 games in three seasons, but he has a chance to be the lead receiver in a pass-heavy spread attack under OC Todd Monken in Baltimore. If he stays healthy and plays, we know Beckham can hit 1,000 yards and find the end zone.

At +5000, Odell Beckham Jr. is the one non-QB bet I'll sprinkle.

Shall we get to the quarterbacks?

Potential QB Winners in 2023

Russell Wilson, Broncos +2500 (FanDuel)
Lamar Jackson, Ravens +2500 (FanDuel)
Sam Darnold, 49ers +6000 (FanDuel)
Derek Carr, Saints +7500 (FanDuel)
Baker Mayfield, Buccaneers +8500 (FanDuel)
Mac Jones, Patriots +1000 (FanDuel)
Kyler Murray, Cardinals +10000 (FanDuel)

We already know quarterbacks are most likely to win, so it's worth considering our options deep down the list.

Russell Wilson has only missed a few games in each of the past couple years, but he's a candidate to win this award, like Geno Smith last year with a career resurgence. Maybe Sean Payton will get the best out of Wilson behind a revamped offensive line.

Remember, we probably need double-digit wins and a playoff berth. Are you sure you want to bet on a Broncos playoff berth in the loaded AFC?

Wilson went 4-11 last year and 6-8 before that, and he's running out of receivers quickly with Denver injuries already cropping up. Too big an ask for me.

Lamar Jackson played only 12 games each of the past two seasons with ankle and knee injuries. If he stays healthy and Monken's new pass-heavy spread offense is a hit, Jackson could put up huge numbers.

Too huge, maybe? If Jackson is healthy enough and good enough to win CPOY, I suspect he would end up in the OPOY and/or MVP conversation instead.

If he ends up playing and is good for a contending 49ers squad, Sam Darnold is a pretty easy Geno Smith case. Darnold would need an opportunity at some point, but we've seen Kyle Shanahan do miracles with quarterbacks.

Darnold is a no bet right now since the number should lengthen while he sits, but keep an eye out and be ready to fire if Darnold gets a chance.

Baker Mayfield is another such candidate to save his career, but you're probably betting on 10 wins and a division title in the weak NFC South. Not a bad way to bet the Bucs if you believe, but I don't.

What's Derek Carr really coming back from? Josh McDaniels? I don't see that one unless the Saints go like 13-4, and even that might just make Carr an MVP candidate.

Not sure what Mac Jones is returning from either, other than an ankle sprain and playing poorly enough to get benched for Bailey Zappe. Tough to see him catching any attention in a blah offense.

Kyler Murray feels like a great CPOY candidate — for next season. We have no idea when he'll play this season, or if he plays at all, and the Cardinals have the worst roster in football so maybe that's for the best.

From that list above, I don't mind sprinkling Mayfield if you like the Bucs or waiting to play Darnold.

I spot five quarterbacks that look most interesting.

Deshaun Watson, Browns +6600 (BetMGM)

On paper, Deshaun Watson is a perfect CPOY candidate. He's barely played the last two seasons and was a top-five QB when we last saw him at his best. He joined one of the best rosters in football and he has a very solid chance of winning double-digit games and making the playoffs.

Of course, you remember why Watson barely played the last two seasons.

Will the voters or the NFL want to reward Watson for coming back for that time away? It wouldn't be completely unprecedented — Michael Vick won the award after leaving prison — but it's a pretty tough sell to give a gross vote to Watson when you can vote for a heroic story like Hamlin instead.

This number is too long, in theory. But do you really want to root for that ticket?

Matthew Stafford, Rams +5000 (FanDuel)

If the Rams can stay healthy and bounce back this season, Matthew Stafford would likely have a very strong CPOY case.

When we last saw Stafford healthy, he led the Rams to the Super Bowl. Then he played hurt through nine games last season with an elbow injury so debilitating he reportedly considered retirement.

The Rams have lost a ton of pieces since that Super Bowl and have a pretty barren roster, but if Stafford and Kupp are healthy under Sean McVay, would anyone be shocked to see the Rams win 10 games in a bad NFC? Stafford is a guaranteed top-three CPOY candidate in that scenario and a winner in most seasons.

This number is too long. I'll sprinkle part of my bet on Stafford at +5000.

Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins +2000 (FanDuel)

If Hamlin doesn't win the award, Tua Tagovailoa is a clear favorite for me.

Tagovailoa missed five full games, including the playoffs and portions of other games in an otherwise breakout season for an elite Dolphins offense, due to at least two concussions. When healthy, Tagovailoa was in the MVP conversation with corresponding numbers.

Tagovailoa reportedly spent his offseason practicing jiu-jitsu to learn how to fall properly. The narrative is already building.

Miami is loaded on both sides after adding to its defense. The Dolphins also won their first eight games last season with a healthy Tagovailoa. If he plays most of the season, Miami should easily make the playoffs and leave Tagovailoa a very strong CPOY candidate, while also conveniently leaving him a bit short on MVP love as voters give partial credit to Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle and even McDaniel.

I'm skeptical of Tagovailoa's health, but +2000 implies 4.8% chance of a win. At that number, for such a high-profile player in an elite offense, I have to play it.

There are two other names I'd love to add to our CPOY portfolio, but can't yet because I can't even find them listed yet.

Dak Prescott, Cowboys
Brock Purdy, 49ers

I can't believe Dak Prescott isn't bettable anywhere. He missed five games with a thumb injury last year, and he hasn't been quite the same since that nasty compound ankle fracture in 2020.

The Cowboys are among the best teams in the NFC and should have a big season and win plenty of games as America's Team. They may also skew pass-heavy in Mike McCarthy's new offense, so that and the addition of WR Brandin Cooks could help Prescott put up big numbers. He's a CPOY candidate.

And then there's Brock Purdy, who's still undefeated lifetime at 8-0 in games in which he's played at least half of the snaps. When we last saw Purdy, he injured his throwing elbow in the NFC Championship, exited, then returned and even threw a couple more passes when the 49ers were out of QB options.

It turns out Purdy completely tore the UCL in his right elbow. He did not undergo Tommy John surgery and instead looks ready to go for Week 1 after already playing this preseason. Now, he'll lead one of the Super Bowl favorites.

The narrative is already there for Purdy as the shocking starting QB after being taken with the last pick of the NFL Draft just one year ago. If he comes back and plays through this injury and leads the 49ers to another big winning season, he will be a very strong candidate. Even better, he's probably not an MVP or OPOY candidate with so much talent around him.

I don't think we can bet them yet, but I'll be looking to add Prescott and Purdy if they start the year healthy, look good and have odds posted.

You'll need to act fast. I watched and waited for Geno Smith odds midseason last fall and snagged an early +4000 ticket once he was posted, but that quickly dropped to half that price and further. Be ready.

The Verdict

Damar Hamlin is probably the most likely candidate to win Comeback Player of the Year, but his odds are far too short. I can't get there in recommending a bet at 73-to-88% implied probability. That means there's potential value elsewhere.

If Hamlin doesn't win, Tua Tagovailoa (+2000) is a clear favorite for me. I'll play a half-unit on him, then sprinkle a quarter-unit each on Matthew Stafford and Odell Beckham Jr. (+5000 each). I'll also watch for an opportunity to add Dak Prescott and Brock Purdy to my portfolio.

CPOY is an odd award, fully narrative driven, in a strange year given Hamlin's presence. Don't go too crazy, but sometimes odd years and heavy favorites mean opportunity for bettors.

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