What does it even mean to be the NFL’s greatest “comeback” story? That decision rests solely in the eye of the voters, and each of them is relying mostly on one factor above all others: The best story that has been leading that season’s headlines with regards to the most surprisingly good player.
Under those conditions then there is only one choice for the 2022 NFL Comeback Player of the Year. Truly and irrefutably only one name.
Geno Smith is not ready for this season to end pic.twitter.com/1P1K7rdgnZ— Playoff Vound (9-8) (@vountee) January 9, 2023
History of Comeback Player of the Year Award
The very first winner of the AP’s Comeback Player of the Year award was kicker Jim Martin, a do-everything offensive, defensive, and special teams player for the Detroit Lions from 1951-1961. Martin retired and joined the Denver Broncos coaching staff in 1962, only to return as a kicker on the Baltimore Colts in 1963 and winning Comeback Player of the Year after leading the league in made field goals at age 39.
The AP handed out the award in each of the next three seasons, then retired Comeback Player of the Year until 1998, at which point a story similar to Geno’s dominated all other challengers for being the NFL’s biggest surprise en route to a playoff appearance as unlikely as the one in Seattle right now.
Doug Flutie became an unlikely starter on the New England Patriots in 1988, going 6-3 four years after he was an 11th round pick, but he would soon be out of the NFL and spent eight seasons as a superstar in the Canadian Football League. Finally in 1998, Bills exec A.J. Smith convinced the organization to take a chance on Flutie and that season he helped Buffalo rebound from an 0-3 start to make the playoffs.
Geno Smith’s unexpected comeback
Now almost 25 years after Flutie, Geno Smith is far and away the best of all the “most surprising” stories in the NFL and his success this season, as well as the Seahawks’ unexpected run into the NFC playoffs, makes him the only choice for Comeback Player of the Year.
From telling the media in Week 1 that he “didn’t write back” to being written off, to beating the team that drafted him (New York Jets) in Week 17 to end their playoff hopes and keep Seattle’s alive —Geno has been the singular name above all others when it comes to being the 2022 season’s best story.
A reminder: Geno Smith didn’t write back! pic.twitter.com/0SIvQq6ZeO— Justin Walters (@JustinWaltersTV) January 9, 2023
Not only did Geno beat the Jets to end their playoff hopes, then the Los Angeles Rams to give the Seahawks a light at the end of their postseason tunnel so long as the Lions beat the Packers, he went 3-0 against teams that only thought of him as a backup. The Seahawks also beat the L.A. Chargers 37-23 (Geno’s team in 2018), and the New York Giants 27-13, the team that fired head coach Ben McAdoo not long after he was ridiculed for saying that Geno could be the Giants quarterback of the future.
He also got the better of former Seahawks starter Russell Wilson in Week 1, defeating the Denver Broncos and paving the way for his “didn’t write back” motto that fueled the rest of the season.
Geno was also one of the top stories of the previous offseason, but not for flattering reasons.
Low expectations for 2022 season
Name any talking head or football publication and find their predictions for the Seattle Seahawks or Geno Smith leading into the season, you’re sure to find someone who expressed skepticism that the Seahawks could finish outside of the NFC West basement or that Pete Carroll wouldn’t make a change at quarterback eventually. After finally signing Geno to a one-year contract in April, following a month on the free agent market with no interest, on a deal that places him outside of the top 35 quarterbacks salaries in 2022, most expected Carroll to either make a trade for Baker Mayfield or to give into Drew Lock as the team’s starter by Week 1 because of “more upside.”
And many others felt that because the Seahawks were likely to finish 5-12 or worse, what would be the point of starting a journeyman backup who hadn’t been a starter since 2014 when they could at least find out if the 25-year-old “throw in” to the Wilson trade was merely mismanaged in Denver and capable of having a future in the NFL?
Drew Lock failing to beat out Geno Smith further emphasizes that the Seahawks’ return in the trade of Russell Wilson is amongst the worst in league history.— Johnny Venerable (@JohnnyVenerable) August 27, 2022
The 49ers did the Seahawks such a solid.— Michelle Magdziuk (@BallBlastEm) August 30, 2022
With Jimmy Garoppolo, the Seahawks could have won just enough games to miss out on a top QB in the 2023 draft class.
With Geno Smith & Drew Lock, the Seahawks could end up landing their next franchise QB after just 1 down year.
It turns out that it’s Geno Smith who had the upside. Geno who has guaranteed himself a future in the NFL.
After being named the starter following the conclusion of Seattle’s preseason, the bar for Geno was so low that most considered it a success if he could make it to December without being benched. Now after 18 weeks, Geno Smith is the only quarterback in the entire league who took every snap for his team. Lock didn’t get one play, let alone one game.
Geno is tied with Saquon Barkley for the best odds to win the award. Barkley got hurt a lot. But nobody is surprised that he’s good.
ProFootballTalk is voting for Christian McCaffrey to win. McCaffrey got hurt a lot, then he got traded to the NFL’s best situation for a running back like McCaffrey. Nobody is surprised that he’s good, either.
As a quarterback who was written off in 2015 when he lost a competition to Ryan Fitzpatrick due to a “sucker punch” rather than getting every opportunity in the preseason and training camp, to tearing his ACL in 2016 during the first start of his second chance, to winning a job on the Giants and then immediately being pulled after only one start, to getting bypassed by every team in free agency last year for players who are now doing far worse for more money, to typically being ranked outside of the top-32 quarterbacks in the league entering 2022, to now being a Pro Bowl playoff starter there is no competition for Comeback Player of the Year.
Geno Smith has by far the greatest story. Not only of 2022, but of most years before it.
He’s your Comeback Player of the Year.