Quarterback Alex Smith, who rebounded from a severe leg injury suffered in 2018 that sidelined him until the 2020 season when he worked his way back into the Washington Football Team’s starting lineup, was selected as the 2020 NFL Comeback Player of the Year, chosen in voting conducted by the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA).
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who raised his completion percentage by over 10 points and threw for 1,455 yards and 17 touchdowns more than he did in 2019 to lead the club to the AFC’s No. 2 seed, was selected as the 2020 NFL Most Improved Player of the Year.
Smith started the first 10 games of the 2018 season and completed 205 of 338 passes for 2,180 yards with 10 touchdowns and only five interceptions. On November 18, 2018 in a game against Houston, Smith suffered a spiral fracture in his right leg when he was tackled. A severe infection took hold after he was taken to the hospital for surgery, which endangered his life. He went through 17 surgeries over a nine-month period to save, and later repair, his leg. He endured an arduous physical therapy regimen as he recovered and made a goal to return to the NFL. He returned to Washington’s roster for the club’s 2020 training camp and finally got back on the field vs. the Rams on October 11, completing 9 of 17 passes for 37 yards. He replaced an injured Kyle Allen in the November 8 game vs. the Giants and threw for 325 yards and a touchdown. The next week, he started his first game since 2018 on November 15 at Detroit. He completed 38 of 55 passes for 390 yards against the Lions – all career highs. He played eight games with six starts in 2020, and he completed 168 of 252 passes (66.7 completion percentage) for 1,582 yards and six touchdowns.
Smith is the first member of the Washington franchise to receive Comeback Player of the Year honors since the award was instituted in 1992.
Allen started all 16 games in 2019 for the Bills, and he improved on his 2018 numbers as he completed 271 of 461 passes (58.8 completion percentage) for 3,089 yards, 20 TDs and a 85.3 passer rating. Allen raised his numbers in 2020, as he started all 16 games and completed 396 of 572 passes (69.2 completion percentage) for 4,544 yards, 37 touchdowns and a 107.2 passer rating. He also rushed for eight TDs to become the first player in NFL history to throw for over 4,500 yards, 35 TD and rush for five or more touchdowns. He set club season records for passing yards and TDs, completions, completion percentage, passer rating and total touchdowns (46). Allen also set a Bills season record with eight 300-yard passing games. He was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Month in September and December, and he was a four-time AFC Offensive Player of the Week (Weeks 2, 9, 13 and 15) in 2020.
Allen is the first member of the Bills franchise to receive the Most Improved Player of the Year honor since it was first awarded by the PFWA in 2000.
2020 COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR: QB Alex Smith, Washington Football Team
2020 MOST IMPROVED PLAYER OF THE YEAR: QB Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
PFWA COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR: 1992 – QB Randall Cunningham, Philadelphia Eagles; 1993 – RB Marcus Allen, Kansas City Chiefs; 1994 – QB Dan Marino, Miami Dolphins; 1995 – QB Jim Harbaugh, Indianapolis Colts; 1996 – RB Jerome Bettis, Pittsburgh Steelers; 1997 – WR Robert Brooks, Green Bay Packers; 1998 – QB Doug Flutie, Buffalo Bills; 1999 – DT Bryant Young, San Francisco 49ers; 2000 – DE Joe Johnson, New Orleans Saints; 2001 – RB Garrison Hearst, San Francisco 49ers; 2002 – QB Tommy Maddox, Pittsburgh Steelers; 2003 – QB Jon Kitna, Cincinnati Bengals; 2004 – RB Willis McGahee, Buffalo Bills; 2005 – WR Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers; 2006 – QB Chad Pennington, New York Jets; 2007 – WR Randy Moss, New England Patriots; 2008 – QB Chad Pennington, Miami Dolphins; 2009 – QB Tom Brady, New England Patriots; 2010 – QB Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles; 2011 – QB Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions; 2012 – RB Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings; 2013 – QB Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers; 2014 – TE Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots; 2015 – S Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs; 2016 – WR Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers; 2017 – WR Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers; 2018 – QB Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts; 2019 – QB Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans; 2020 – QB Alex Smith, Washington Football Team.
PFWA MOST IMPROVED PLAYER OF THE YEAR: 2000 – QB Jeff Garcia, San Francisco 49ers; 2001 – QB Kordell Stewart, Pittsburgh Steelers; 2002 – QB Chad Pennington, New York Jets; 2003 – QB Jon Kitna, Cincinnati Bengals; 2004 – QB Drew Brees, San Diego Chargers; 2005 – DE Osi Umenyiora, New York Giants; 2006 – RB Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers; 2007 – QB Derek Anderson, Cleveland Browns; 2008 – RB DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers; 2009 – WR Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys; 2010 – RB Arian Foster, Houston Texans; 2011 – WR Victor Cruz, New York Giants; 2012 – WR Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys; 2013 – WR Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears; 2014 – RB Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers; 2015 – (tie) QB Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins and CB Josh Norman, Carolina Panthers; 2016 – LB Vic Beasley, Atlanta Falcons; 2017 – QB Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams; 2018 – TE George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers; 2019 – QB Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans; 2020 – QB Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills.