Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, who bounced back from a left knee injury suffered in 2020 to throw for a franchise-record 34 TDs and lead the Bengals to the playoffs for the first time since 2015, is the 2021 NFL Comeback Player of the Year, chosen in voting conducted by the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA).
Dallas Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs, who led the NFL in interceptions, and Atlanta Falcons running back Cordarrelle Patterson, who combined for 11 rushing and receiving touchdowns, are the 2021 NFL Co-Most Improved Players of the Year.
Burrow was on pace to break several Bengals single-season and NFL rookie passing records, along with NFL rookie passing marks before he suffered a knee injury against Washington on November 22, 2020 in his 10th game of his rookie season. He had surgery on December 2, 2020, and he embarked on a long rehab process that culminated in him taking the first snaps of Cincinnati’s 2021 training camp. He returned to the starting lineup and led the NFL in completion percentage (70.4 percent) and yards per attempt (8.87) and was second in passer rating (108.3) in his 16 games (all starts). He completed 366 of 520 passes for 4,611 yards (sixth in the NFL) and 34 touchdowns. On December 26, Burrow set a franchise record with 525 passing yards – the fourth-highest total in NFL history – on 37 of 46 passing and four touchdowns in a 41-21 home victory over the Baltimore Ravens. He was a 2021 PFWA All-AFC selection.
Burrow is the second member of the Cincinnati franchise to receive Comeback Player of the Year honors (QB Jon Kitna in 2003) since the award was instituted in 1992.
Diggs started 11 of the 12 games he played in 2020 during his rookie season for the Cowboys as he missed four games with a broken foot. He led the Cowboys with three interceptions and 14 pass breakups during the season. In 2021, He started 16 games and had an outstanding season that culminated in PFWA All-NFL and All-NFC honors. He led the NFL with 11 interceptions, which tied for the most in franchise history and tied for fourth most in a single season during the Super Bowl era. Diggs had an interception in six consecutive games to start 2021, and his 21 pass breakups were second in the NFL.
Diggs is the third member of the Cowboys franchise to receive the Most Improved Player of the Year honor (WR Miles Austin in 2009 and WR Dez Bryant in 2012) since it was first awarded by the PFWA in 2000.
Patterson rushed 64 times for 232 yards and one touchdown along with 21 receptions for 132 yards with the Chicago Bears in 2020. He was signed by Atlanta as an unrestricted free agent and had a career resurgence with the Falcons in 2021. In 16 games (13 starts), he rushed 153 times for 618 yards and six touchdowns, and he caught 52 passes for 548 yards and five TDs. Patterson compiled 1,166 scrimmage yards – the first time he went over the 1,000-yard mark in his career – and added 18 kickoff returns for 434 yards (24.1 yards per return). He also became the first player in Falcons history with at least five rushing and five receiving touchdowns in a single season.
Patterson is the second member of the Falcons franchise to receive the Most Improved Player of the Year honor (LB Vic Beasley in 2016).
2021 COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR: QB Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
2021 CO-MOST IMPROVED PLAYERS OF THE YEAR: CB Trevon Diggs, Dallas Cowboys and RB Cordarrelle Patterson, Atlanta Falcons
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; 2021 – QB Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals.
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; 2021 – (tie) CB Trevon Diggs, Dallas Cowboys and RB Cordarrelle Patterson, Atlanta Falcons.