The Pittsburgh Steelers have not had a Comeback Player of the Year winner in over a decade, when former quarterback Tommy Maddox earned the honor in 2002 after he made a semi-triumphant return to the NFL following a stint in the short-lived XFL.
They had a strong candidate to win the award in 2014 with center Maurkice Pouncey earning first-team All-Pro accolades after he missed all but eight snaps of the 2013 season, cut down from behind in a friendly fire accident and suffering a torn ACL.
They have a very strong candidate this year in the form of running back Le’Veon Bell, who missed all but six games last season, two due to suspension to start the year and then all of the second half of the regular season and into the playoffs. He suffered a torn MCL as he continues to rehab from the mid-year injury.
A former second-round pick, Bell exploded into the national spotlight in his second year in 2014 when he earned first-team All-Pro honors in the midst of setting a new franchise record for yards from scrimmage in a single season. He has grown a reputation as being arguably the most complete running back in the NFL, and is still just 24.
Among those who consider him a favorite to earn the Comeback Player of the Year honor is Pro Football Focus, who list him as their most likely candidate in a list of five players, including wide receiver Jordy Nelson, quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Tony Romo, and safety Tyrann Mathieu.
“Although the NFL has morphed into more of a running back-by-committee league in recent years”, Ryan Smith writes, “there are still a few backs that can rightfully earn the ‘bell cow’ label, most notably Le’Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers”.
He writes that Bell has spent 80.8 percent of the time on the field for all possible snaps over the course of his three-year career, which almost sounds low. He compares that number to Adrian Peterson, who is on the field for just under two-thirds of the Vikings’ snaps over the life of his career when eligible.
“He is truly a three-down workhorse”, he writes, “and one that is a rare breed in today’s game”. That was evidence by his 83 receptions for 854 yards and three touchdowns during the 2014 season. Many project him to be the next player to rush for and catch 1000 yards each in a single season, a rare feat indeed.
The site gave Bell the highest grade of all running backs last year in spite of the fact that he was limited to only six games, but he did quite a bit in those six games, after all. He rushed for 556 yards on 113 carries with three touchdowns, and also caught 24 passes for 136 yards, the effectiveness of his receiving game being badly hindered by the quarterback play.
“Now healthy and part of one of the most explosive offenses in the league”, Smith writes, “there is little reason to doubt that Bell will be a favorite to win Comeback Player of the Year this season”. I certainly can’t argue against that.