The NFL season will be here before you know it. In fact, the action from training camp is about to spread throughout the league as we are here today. While we’re still a few weeks away from watching the regular season unfold, now is a better time than ever to start considering some of the future bets you’ll be placing. Naturally, season rewards are a popular angle to take when looking at futures contracts, including the Comeback Player of the Year. Yours truly was able to take advantage of this award last year by picking out former Washington quarterback Alex Smith ahead of the start of the 2020 season, so we hope we get lucky again in 2021. That said, that may be a little more difficult this time around.
The pool for this award is stacked for 2021 with a ton of viable applicants spread from top to bottom of the table. Today, we’re going to jump into that group and highlight those who are at the top of the list with a sleeper candidate to watch.
All odds via William Hill Sportsbook.
Dak Prescott is the overwhelming favorite to take the prize sitting at +180. The odds then drop to +600 for the next two candidates, creating a sizable margin in favor of the Cowboys quarterback. Of course, we all remember the horrific season-ending ankle injury Prescott suffered in mid-2020 and his recovery has been at the forefront in Dallas throughout the offseason. At this point, Prescott seems to be doing wonderfully and even noted earlier this offseason that he could dress up and play right now. It’s certainly encouraging for chalk punters taking Prescott in this race and admittedly wise to expose yourself to it to some extent while he’s always on more money.
Not only does Prescott appear to be nearly complete, but he also plays a position that collects seasonal rewards like Thanos makes Infinity Stones (the last three Comeback Player of the Year winners have been quarterbacks). It also doesn’t hurt that he plays for the NFL‘s most recognizable brand. If Prescott plays near the absurd level we saw of him before last year’s injury and the Cowboys make it to the playoffs, he’ll likely be ready to take home that award.
Just to recall what we saw from Prescott last year, the future 28-year-old was set to throw for 6,760 yards in the first four weeks of the season. Of course, it’s ridiculous to expect him to come close to those numbers, but that’s just one example of how prolific this offense is with a healthy Prescott.
After Prescott, we have five players who are a bit clustered. While tied with Saquon Barkley for second best odds, Joe Burrow has what I consider to be the best odds in the table from a value standpoint at +600. The Bengals quarterback was impressive in the first 10 games of his career before suffering an ACL tear. He was set to throw for 4,301 yards, which would have been tied with his 2020 draft classmate and Rookie of the Year winner Justin Herbert. With NFL experience under his belt, Burrow could have an even better season in the second year as long as Cincinnati’s offensive line can keep him on his feet.
Meanwhile, the two running backs of Barkley and Christian McCaffrey would really need to make some noise to win this award. The last running back to win the returning player of the year award was Garrison Hearst of San Francisco in 2001. Barkley and McCaffrey certainly have a knack for putting together seasons that might warrant consideration, but he does. Seems like they would really need to have slam dunk campaigns and display numbers that would make them the best fantasy football player in the league for them to win it.
As for Bosa, it’s not entirely uncommon for a defensive player to win this award, but it doesn’t happen too often either. The last defensive player to win the CPOY was former Chiefs safety Eric Berry in 2015. Prior to that, it was Dallas defensive end Greg Ellis in 2007. Bosa entered the league as a missile in 2019, totaling nine sacks and 45 presses to help San Francisco reach Super Bowl LIV. He would need a similar production to get into this conversation. However, if the 49ers find themselves in contention in 2021, our sleeper contender might be the best game for that price.
Finally, Carson Wentz is a polarizing guy to try to figure out. He was horrible for the Eagles last season, but he has a chance to redeem himself now that he’s with the Colts. At Indy, Wentz will have a better offensive line ahead of him and will reunite with coach Frank Reich, who was his OC at Philly when he was considered an MVP contender in 2017. While Wentz may have an improved season, I wonder on the fact that he won this award because voters can look more at players who have been successful through injury rather than just having a bad season.
While it might be silly to factor in a team’s success for an award like this, the point is, it does get taken into consideration on some level. That’s why I might go for Jimmy Garoppolo (+3000) over Nick Bosa (+800) if I’m looking for a 49ers player to take home this award. If San Francisco is in the running, the two could very well be in the conversation here.
Of course, the elephant in the room about this sleeper pick is the fact that the 49ers selected Trey Lance with the No.3 pick to supplant Garoppolo – who was limited to just six games last year due to a ankle injury – like the team’s franchise quarterback. While this change will happen at some point, it doesn’t necessarily have to happen in 2021. There is certainly a scenario in which Lance – who played at North Dakota State – needs a red shirt season to learn the game. NFL game behind the scenes, opening the door for Garoppolo to start the wire-to-wire.
As long as the veteran stays healthy – and that’s a big if – he has shown his ability to rack up wins and put together impressive numbers. Garoppolo’s last healthy season returned in 2019 where he played all 16 regular season games and led the Niners to a 13-3 record while completing nearly 70% of his throws for 3,978 yards, 27 touchdowns and 13 choices. If he can replicate that, he’s definitely a finalist for this award and people should be pretty excited if they hold this ticket.
Again, at +3000, it’s a long shot. That said, there is definitely a route to cashing out, which makes it an attractive option to be your Hail Mary bet of the summer.