Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford
Dec 15, 2019; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) before the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

There are a bunch of NFL stars returning to action after missing time last season. It sets up quite a race for the Comeback Player of the Year award in 2020.

From a legendary tight end who is coming back from retirement to a future Hall of Fame quarterback coming off a season-ending injury, this year’s class is loaded.

This is how we see the top five NFL Comeback Player of the Year candidates, ranked from least to most likely to win the award.

5. A.J. Green, wide receiver, Cincinnati Bengals

It’s going to be fascinating to watch the Bengals play on offense this coming season. Obviously, the big reason is that they landed Joe Burrow out of LSU with the first overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft. He immediately interjects potency into that unit. Even better, Burrow has a trio of talented receivers to play with: Green is joined by Tyler Boyd and rookie Tee Higgins.

If Burrow isn’t overwhelmed by the speed of the NFL game, Cincinnati could be much better than anyone expects. Green is one of the NFL’s best all-around receivers when healthy. Remember, it wasn’t long ago that he caught three touchdowns in one half. With all that talent on offense, he should get open often. That lends itself to a huge comeback season for the former first-round pick.

4. J.J. Watt, defensive end, Houston Texans

There is no doubt that Watt is motivated for the coming season. He recently said he feels he has to prove himself to the Texans, which should scare the heck out of everyone he faces in 2020.

Watt is coming off a season-ending torn pectoral. It was a devastating injury because he had finally had a full, productive campaign in 2018 after missing significant time in his previous two seasons due to season-ending injuries. When healthy, there aren’t many defenders as dominant in the trenches or off the edge as this guy. Look for another big push from Watt in 2020.

3. Ben Roethlisberger, quarterback, Pittsburgh Steelers

Roethlisberger missed most of the 2019 season with an elbow injury that required surgery. He’s still working on his rehab. It’s worth noting that his receivers are extremely impressed with his velocity and that everything has been positive in his recovery.

However, nobody would be surprised if Big Ben ended up getting injured once again in 2020. He’s 38 years old and has been beat up over the course of his career. It’s also worth noting that Pittsburgh’s offense hasn’t been the same since Antonio Brown was jettisoned in a trade ahead of last season. If JuJu Smith-Schuster can’t take the mantle of No. 1 receiver, that may continue to be the case this season.

2. Matthew Stafford, quarterback, Detroit Lions

Criminally underrated throughout most of his career, Stafford has done nothing but rack up massive stats every season. Last year before suffering a season-ending back injury, the former first-overall pick was shredding defenses. He was on pace for 5,000 yards and 38 touchdowns passing.

It’s possible that Stafford will have even more success in 2020 than he did last year before his injury. Detroit landed dynamic running back D’Andre Swift in the second round. He and Kerryon Johnson are an outstanding 1-2 punch on the ground, and both players are a threat through the air. If T.J. Hockenson can make a second-year leap at tight end, Detroit’s offense may be lethal.

1. Rob Gronkowski, tight end, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Here’s the thing: If Gronk can stay healthy in 2020, not only could he have a monster season, but the Bucs are Super Bowl contenders.

Gronkowski, who retired after the 2018 campaign, is one of the best tight ends in history. He is almost unguardable running up the seam. Now, Gronk is joining an offense that is known for attacking the seams. Oh, and of course he’s re-joining Tom Brady. Gronk and Brady have the kind of chemistry that wins Oscars in Hollywood.

Couple these facts with the simple truth that Tampa Bay’s offense is absolutely stacked and it’s not hard to imagine Gronkowski having a 1,200-plus yard, 12-touchdown campaign in 2020.

Jesse Reed
Managing Editor at Sportsnaut. Featured on Yardbarker and MSN.com, and formerly was a breaking news writer/NFL analyst for Bleacher Report.