For the better part of the past two decades, the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award (CPOY) has largely been dominated by quarterbacks and wide receivers.
This is especially true since 2016, where two wide receivers won the award back-to-back (Jordy Nelson, Keenan Allen) and four quarterbacks have won consecutively since; Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill, Alex Smith and most recently, Joe Burrow.
In 2014, Rob Gronkowski became the first tight end ever to win CPOY. In 2015, Eric Berry followed him in becoming the first ever safety to take home CPOY honors. Before that, however, saw seven quarterbacks and two wide receivers win the award over a nine-year period.
A glaring blemish from this history is the running back position. Since the CPOY award was created in 1972, seven running backs in total have won the honors. However, no running back has won since 2004. It was Willis McGahee, then a member of the Buffalo Bills, who did so, rushing for 1,000+ yards and scored 13 touchdowns after missing the 2003 season.
Could 2022 be the year that this 17-season drought is snapped and a running back wins CPOY? The heavy early favorite, according to Fox Bet, is Tennessee Titans’ running back Derrick Henry. Christian McCaffery is also in the early mix with the fifth-best odds. Right behind McCaffery on the list? J.K. Dobbins.
Dobbins missed the entirety of his sophomore season in 2021 after suffering a torn ACL in a preseason exhibition against Washington. So, given he’s coming back from an injury and was absent for an extended period of time, he naturally meets the criteria for CPOY. But, how strong could his actual case be?
Some seem to think there’s a chance, including NFL.com’s Adam Scheln. As part of his bold predictions for the 2022 season, Scheln has Dobbins earning himself CPOY honors.
“I thought Baltimore stole him late in Round 2 of the 2020 NFL Draft, and spent much of that offseason gassing him up. Then he went out and averaged a robust 6.0 yards per carry as a rookie, only furthering my infatuation,” Scheln wrote.
“I think he bounces back with a monster season in 2022. As I’ve said time and again, the 5-foot-10, 212-pounder was put on Earth to run the rock for the Ravens. Dobbins was a part of Baltimore’s hellacious injury toll in 2021. In 2022, he and the rest of the team get back to playing Ravens football.”
The last point is key, as the Ravens actually have a number of players who technically could, on paper at least, qualify to be in the CPOY mix. Other key players returning from extended injury absences include Marcus Peters, Ronnie Stanley, and Gus Edwards.
Dobbins, though, likely has the best chance. The former Ohio State Buckeye had an extremely impressive rookie season, which made his injury in 2021 all the more unfortunate. As Scheln notes, Dobbins averaged six yards-per-carry in 2020, which ranked No. 3 in the NFL behind only Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray. It was the best mark of any running back.
He also scored nine rushing touchdowns and rushed for 805 yards despite being used scarcely during latter part of the season. Dobbins did not receive double-digit rushing attempts in a game until November 1. He didn’t look back from there, scoring touchdowns in six consecutive games to end the year.
Comeback Player of the Year usually comes down to about two or three candidates with one clear favorite emerging down the stretch. In order to prove Scheln correct, Dobbins would need a big statistical season in which he’s a driving force behind a successful Ravens’ rushing attack and offense.
Based on what we saw from him in 2020, this seems like a very plausible scenario. Of course, this all hinges on how quickly Dobbins can get back into action as he continues his offseason rehab and recovery. However, talent wise, Dobbins could absolutely build upon his rookie year success and increase his statistical output.
It will ultimately be interesting to see how quickly him and Edwards are back at full throttle, and how slowly the Ravens bring them along. The team did draft a running back, Tyler Badie, and recently signed veteran Mike Davis.