Bills’ Hamlin 2023 PFWA Comeback Player of the Year; Buccaneers’ Mayfield Most Improved Player of the Year

Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin, who returned to the field this season after making a full recovery from a cardiac arrest suffered on the field late in the 2022 season, is the 2023 NFL Comeback Player of the Year chosen in voting by the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA).

Tampa Bay quarterback Baker Mayfield, who posted career highs in several passing categories in leading the Buccaneers to a division title, is the 2023 NFL Most Improved Player of the Year.

After being inactive for the first three games of the 2023 season, Hamlin took the field for the first time at home against Miami on October 1, playing on special teams – the first of five games he played in. Hamlin’s return to play capped a comeback story that seemed improbable on Jan. 2, 2023, after he made a tackle of a Bengals receiver in the first quarter of a Monday Night Football game at Cincinnati. Hamlin got up, and then collapsed. Medical personnel began CPR and other procedures for nearly 20 minutes. Hamlin’s heartbeat was restored, and he was transported to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center in critical condition. He spent a week in the hospital before he was flown to Buffalo for further treatment and was released on January 11. Medical professionals concluded that Hamlin had an episode of “commotio cordis”, an extremely rare consequence of blunt force trauma to the heart that happens at exactly the wrong time in the heart rhythm, causing the heart to stop beating effectively. On April 18, he was cleared to resume football activity, and he announced a plan to make a comeback to the NFL. Hamlin was the PFWA’s 2023 George Halas Award winner, given to an NFL player, coach or staff member who overcomes the most adversity to succeed.

Hamlin is the third member of the Buffalo franchise to receive Comeback Player of the Year honors, joining QB Doug Flutie (1998) and RB Willis McGahee (2004) since the award was instituted in 1992.

After playing with both Carolina and the Los Angeles Rams in 2022, and posting career lows in yards and touchdown passes, Mayfield joined the Buccaneers as an unrestricted free agent in March 2023. He started all 17 games and posted career highs in completions (364), passing yards (4,044), passing TDs (28) and completion percentage (64.3) as Tampa Bay went 9-8 overall and captured the NFC South title. Mayfield completed 364 of 586 passes and had a passer rating of 94.6. With Mayfield leading the offense, the Bucs won five of their final six regular-season games to win the division. He was selected as the NFC Offensive Player of the Week for Week 15 after he posted the first “perfect” passer rating (158.3) by a visiting QB at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field as he completed 22 of 38 passes for 381 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in a 34-20 victory on December 17.

Mayfield is the first member of the Tampa Bay franchise to receive the Most Improved Player of the Year honor since it was first awarded by the PFWA in 2000.

2023 COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR: S Damar Hamlin, Buffalo Bills
2023 MOST IMPROVED PLAYER OF THE YEAR: QB Baker Mayfield, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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; 2022 – QB Geno Smith, Seattle Seahawks; 2023 – S Damar Hamlin, Buffalo Bills.

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; 2022 – QB Geno Smith, Seattle Seahawks; 2023 – QB Baker Mayfield, Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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