For all the awards and wins, Peyton Manning has never been named Comeback Player of the Year. This year, though, has been a season of firsts for Manning: first snaps in a Broncos uniform, first time coming off a major injury and first time winning Comeback Player of the Year.
Yes, Manning is an absolute lock for the award.
His only competition is Adrian Peterson, who is having a dynamite season in his own right. Yet, Peterson is coming off a season in which he rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns. Calling Peterson a comeback player is difficult when most running backs would love to have Peterson's 2011 production, despite his brutal ACL injury.
Manning, on the other hand, had zero passing yards last year. As late as this January, pundits such as the LA Times' Chuck Schilken were convinced Manning would never play again in the NFL. Even when Manning was cleared to play, he needed to find a new team, and the history of quarterbacks switching teams late in their careers is mixed at best.
Denver eventually inked the risky quarterback, and the rest is history. Manning has been so brilliant that many have forgotten how risky the signing seemed at the time. The Comeback Player of the Year Award is an afterthought at this point. Manning and the Broncos are thinking MVP.
Manning is on pace for a career high in passing yards, all while being on pace for 37 touchdowns and the second-highest passer rating of his career. Manning didn't just come back strong; he came back better than ever.
Most impressively, he did all this despite a change in scenery that surrounded Manning with his least polished group of receivers ever. Kyle Orton and Jay Cutler couldn't win enough games with this offense, and Tim Tebow couldn't complete 50 percent of his passes in this offense.
Yet Manning has thrived in Denver, turning Demaryius Thomas into a star in the process. Thomas might not be as refined a player as Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison were, but 1,015 yards in 11 games speaks for itself. Meanwhile, Eric Decker is on pace for a career year and Brandon Stokley is having a minor revival of his own in the slot.
Elite quarterbacks elevate the play of their teammates. Manning has done that in ways thought impossible in Denver, and he's done all this despite a year of rust and a life-changing move. Manning doesn't just deserve Comeback Player of the Year; he deserves to be named the most impressive comeback player in NFL history.