By Geoff Schwartz
FOX Sports NFL Analyst
The Comeback Player of the Year is the only NFL award that includes sentiment in the decision-making process. If two players have equally remarkable improvements in their performance from last season, the one with the best narrative has a higher chance of winning.
Simply put, voters love a good story.
Should Baker Mayfield or Sam Darnold be QB1 for Panthers? | UNDISPUTED
According to Carolina Panthers Head Coach Matt Rhule, Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold were quote: ‘both in command’ during their preseason win against the Washington Commanders. Baker got the start and led Carolina to a field goal while Darnold threw a touchdown. Rhule did not say which quarterback will start in their next game against the New England Patriots. Skip Bayless makes his case for why Panthers should start Baker in Week 1.
There’s a misconception that the Comeback Player of the Year award is given to a player who missed significant time the previous year. Ryan Tannehill won this award in 2019 after playing 11 games for the Dolphins in 2018, then starting only 10 games in 2019 for the Titans.
Joe Burrow was the winner last season after playing 10 games his rookie season and returning for a fantastic 2021 campaign. Tannehill and Burrow both had the stats worthy for this award, but they had the redemption story as well. Tannehill found success in Tennessee after being stuck in Miami with Adam Gase, while Burrow overcame his poor offensive line to bring the Bengals to Super Bowl LVI.
BAKER MAYFIELD 2022 ODDS AT FOX BET *
Wins Comeback Player of Year: +1000 (bet $10 to win $110 total)
Wins NFL MVP: +10000 (bet $10 to win $1,010 total)
Wins Offensive Player of Year: +25000 (bet $10 to win $2,510 total)
Throws most interceptions: +1100 (bet $10 to win $120 total)
* odds as of 8/17/2022
Similarly, Mayfield’s underdog story is rife with adversity. Rather than extended Baker this offseason, Cleveland traded for Deshaun Watson — who is facing a full-year suspension, including postseason, for sexual misconduct.
Then to add insult to Mayfield, the Browns leaked information to hurt Baker’s reputation before eventually trading him to the Panthers for almost nothing (conditional 2024 fifth-round pick).
So to sum it up, after leading the downtrodden Browns to the playoffs in 2020 — breaking an 18-year drought — he was unceremoniously discarded for a player who may not even play until 2023.
Make no mistake about it, people will be rooting for Mayfield to play well for his new team.
And I, for one, know Mayfield is going to play well if he’s healthy. “Well” does not mean he’s winning the Super Bowl or getting a Pro Bowl bid. Mayfield’s career has been up and down, and if we are following the pattern, this season will be up.
He played with a partially torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder last season and clearly the coaching staff lost confidence in him. With Mayfield healthy again, I expect to see similar numbers to 2020 when he led the Browns to the playoffs completing 62.8% of passes for 3,563 yards with 26 touchdowns and only eight interceptions.
His line in Cleveland was better than the young offensive line for the Panthers, but Mayfield will have Christian McCaffrey, DJ Moore and Robbie Anderson to help him out on offense. While at times I think the Heisman winner plays with too much of a chip on his shoulder, that bravado is excellent motivation heading into this season.
He’s counted out, and he needs to have an above-average season to revive his career. I believe him getting back his mojo, combined with a Panthers playoff run and people rooting for Mayfield to succeed, will win him the 2022 NFL Comeback Player of the Year award.
Geoff Schwartz played eight seasons in the NFL for five different teams. He started at right tackle for the University of Oregon for three seasons and was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection his senior year. He is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffSchwartz.
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