ESPN’s Bill Barnwell released his NFL midseason awards this week, with updates from his post after Week 4, and free safety Earl Thomas has been his pick for “Comeback Player of the Year” both times.
Seattle's all-world safety continued to play at a high level before suffering a hamstring injury that kept him out of the Seahawks' upset loss at home to Washington on Sunday. Fellow future Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski has served as stiff competition; Gronk has stayed healthy and produced a line that would yield 1,018 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns over a full season. Those aren't otherworldly numbers from a player who averaged 1,252 yards and 14 touchdowns per 16 games between 2011 and 2015, but I suspect the Patriots are more interested in what Gronk could do in the postseason.
I suspect Justin Houston could figure into the running if his knee stays healthy, but given that young players such as Todd Gurley and DeAndre Hopkins were returning from contextually bad seasons and not injuries, the voters will look toward guys like Thomas and Gronkowski for this award. Unless Thomas fails to recover from his hamstring injury, his conspicuous presence in the Seattle defense should be enough to hold onto this award.
Of course, an interesting aspect to Gronkowski’s candidacy is that it was Thomas who ended his 2016 season with a brutal (legal) hit to the chest in the Seahawks 31-24 win over the Patriots last year. Gronk has 509 yards and five touchdowns, remaining a significant threat on any field, but you have to admit that he doesn’t seem quite as dynamic as some of his prime years in the past. This is to say nothing of his “Comeback Player of the Year” chances — an award that like most awards, means very little — just a note on my thoughts about Gronkowski.
There’s also a potential impending return of Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. His non-contact injury last summer was so scary that speculation about his ability to play, or even walk, again was everywhere. Bridgewater is expected to be activated this week and while Case Keenum remains the Vikings starter for the foreseeable future, even a month of games by Bridgewater could sway voters in his direction given how hopeless his future once looked.
Hopefully Thomas can return this week. Not to increase his chances of winning an award, but to help Seattle get back on track and win a game. He’s good.