NFL Comeback Player Of The Year: Is Damar Hamlin A Lock?

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Written By Mo Nuwwarah | Last Updated
Comeback Player of the Year odds

When Damar Hamlin received clearance in April to return to football, awards bettors could connect the dots on an easy narrative path. All Hamlin had to do was suit up for the coming season and he’d be almost unbeatable for Comeback Player of the Year. Indeed, odds markets at the best betting sites for Comeback Player of the Year responded by favoring him to a laughable degree. After sporting a number around -650 in some early markets, the Bills safety remains, by far, the top candidate with consensus odds around -300.

So, is Hamlin a lock emerge victorious from Comeback Player of the Year odds? And if not, does that create value on some longshots throughout the rest of the board?

Damar Hamlin Vs. The FIeld In Comeback Player Of the Year Odds

This is the essential question surrounding this market for 2023. If one believes Hamlin is a lock, then -300 (75% implied probability) represents significant value. “Lock” should probably mean a greater than 90% true probability at least, so that would mean -300 offers a large edge.

In that case, the bettor would simply need to weigh the benefits of that edge against the downsides of tying up money until Super Bowl week to win a relatively low return. Not much handicapping is required for bettors subscribing to that school of thought.

No doubt, Hamlin’s story is a compelling one. The man nearly died on the football field and now may play in NFL games this year. Regardless of how he performs, that’s incredibly noteworthy.

Furthermore, the league was not shy about trumpeting Hamlin as a success story, and it featured him prominently in broadcasts leading up to subsequent Bills games. Anything Hamlin does this season will receive heavy media attention. That, in turn, will fuel his candidacy.

The Case For The Field

On the other hand, a distinct possibility exists that Hamlin will not contribute in any meaningful way to the Bills on-field product this season.

Keep in mind that Hamlin was a little-known backup heading into 2022. A former sixth-round pick, he had no pedigree and no realistic path to playing time barring injury, as Bills starters Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer rank among the best safety pairings in the league. However, both players wound up missing time.

Both have recovered and are presumably ready for the season heading into 2023. Not only that, but both had sterling health records prior to last season. Each had missed exactly three starts the prior five seasons.

Furthermore, Hamlin does not even appear to be the top backup at safety. Taylor Rapp is listed as the top backup at strong safety. He earned a positive grade from PFF last season and has high-level experience, starting for a Super Bowl winner in 2021. He’s also squarely in his prime at 26. Dean Marlowe is currently projected behind Hamlin at free safety, but has more experience than Hamlin with 59 appearances and 18 starts. At 31, he’s also likely not washed.

Either player represents a threat to Hamlin’s position just among the second unit.

If Hamlin does not see meaningful time for the Bills, can he still win this award?

Possible Comeback Player of the Year Longshot Bets

Note before continuing on that in most cases this is a high-vig market. That is, if one adds up the implied probabilities, they will add up to 120% of more. Thus, bettors should not be making wagers unless they feel very confident there are some very mispriced options here.

Luckily, the unique nature of this market for 2023 with Hamlin as a clear-cut favorite offers such a situation, one way or the other.

If you believe that Hamlin has far too short of odds, here are some potential dark horse candidates who seem likely to build cases in 2023 Comeback Player of the Year odds.

Tua Tagovailoa

A clear preference and precedent exists for quarterbacks winning this award. Of the past 15 winners, 11 played QB. Each of the past five years, a QB has won. Most often, these players return from injury (seven out of 11).

Tua Tagovailoa fits the bill on both counts. The Miami Dolphins’ season derailed when Tagovailoa’s concussion issues kept him from the field. If he returns and the Dolphins make another playoff run behind another high-volume year of passing offense, Tagovailoa will stand as a prime candidate.

Obviously, it helps his cause that he has two ultra-premium weapons in Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. However, note that the Miami offensive line still remains weak on paper. Thus, Tagovailoa does remain at a high risk for re-injury.

Cooper Kupp And Matthew Stafford

Probably no team had a more disappointing 2022 than the Rams. With little expected of the former champs — Rams odds have them as a bottom-five team — a potential rebound here would resonate with voters.

Both Kupp and Stafford played in nine games last season. Each would have similar levels of candidacy in the event the Rams can return to playoff contention. Particularly given the likely weakness of the team’s defense, Stafford and Kupp figure to power any positive developments.

The voting bloc’s preference for quarterbacks and a longer price plays in Stafford’s favor.

On the other hand, Kupp is the more likely of the two to post standout numbers compared to his peers. Just two years ago, recall that Kupp led the NFL across the board in receptions, yards and touchdowns hauled in.

Sam Darnold And Brock Purdy

Like Tagovailoa, Purdy fits the bills as a QB returning from a major injury. In Purdy’s case, the elbow injury he sustained kept him from a meaningful role in most of the team’s playoff loss. Everyone remembers that situation all too well, and Purdy’s unlikely success already resonated with NFL media and fans before that.

Darnold has a different situation, but QBs switching teams and finding success have taken the award before. Most notably, Geno Smith and Ryan Tannehill have each won in similar circumstance in the past four years.

Obviously, Darnold would likely need either injury or ineffectiveness to sideline Purdy.

With a more clear path to playing time and longer odds, Purdy looks like the better play. However, the odds are long enough here that a bettor looking to get exposure to “49ers QB” can split their bet.

Calvin Ridley

An odd choice, perhaps, as Ridley is “coming back” from an absence of his own doing. However, such a winner isn’t totally without precedent. Michael Vick won in 2010; albeit, he won after already having returned to the NFL the prior season.

Ridley finds himself in a good situation. Jaguars odds have them as clear playoff and division favorites, meaning Ridley should be playing in high-stakes games with a good offense that will offer opportunities. A perceived harsh treatment from the NFL may also work in his favor in the eyes of sympathetic voters.

On the other hand, Ridley has not played an NFL snap since the middle of the 2021 season. Examples in recent years show that such lengthy layoffs make it quite difficult to return at anything close to prior form (Deshaun Watson, Josh Gordon). It’s probably a stretch to expect him to excel immediately.

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