PFT’s NFL 2022 comeback player of the year: Christian McCaffrey

Washington Commanders v San Francisco 49ers
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After he signed a contract before the 2020 season that made him the league’s highest-paid running back, Christian McCaffrey missed 23 of 33 games over the next two seasons.

He had hamstring and ankle injuries in 2021 that twice landed him on injured reserve.

The 49ers saw enough the first six games of this season from McCaffrey with Carolina to make a season-saving trade on Oct. 20. San Francisco gave up second-, third- and fourth-round selections in 2023 and a fifth-round selection in 2024 to Carolina for McCaffrey.

The trade signaled “that we weren’t playing around,” 49ers Brandon Aiyuk said this week.

McCaffrey arguably saved the 49ers’ season with starting quarterback Trey Lance missing 15 games, backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo going out in Week 13 and wide back Deebo Samuel sidelined four games. Rookie quarterback Brock Purdy, who earned PFT’s offensive rookie of the year award, went 5-0 as a starter with a lot of help from his friends, including McCaffrey.

McCaffrey played all 17 games, the first full season he has had since 2019, and has earned PFT’s comeback player of the year award.

He rushed for 1,139 yards and eight touchdowns on 244 carries and caught 85 passes for 741 yards and five touchdowns this season, with most of that coming with the 49ers.

Several other players also had impressive comebacks this season.

Titans running back Derrick Henry returned from a foot injury that kept him out nine games in 2021 to rush for 1,538 yards and 13 touchdowns; Giants running back Saquon Barkley missed 21 games the past three seasons, including four with an ankle injury in 2021, but rebounded with 1,312 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns this season; Commanders running back Brian Robinson underwent surgery for non-life-threatening injuries after being shot by attempted robbers on Aug. 28 in Washington, D.C., but the rookie played 12 games and gained 857 yards from scrimmage and scored three touchdowns; and Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith became a full-time starter for the first time since 2014 and earned Pro Bowl honors for the first time while leading Seattle to the postseason.

39 responses to “PFT’s NFL 2022 comeback player of the year: Christian McCaffrey

  1. McCaffrey reminds me of Barry Sanders who was always a professional on and off the field. No showboating, no attitude, just plays his heart out then sits on the bench waiting to head back out to do his job.

  2. Its Geno…hands down.
    With CMC it was not a comeback as much as finally living up to potential. Geno was left for dead and written off years ago as a failure. CMC did what we all knew he can do when he is healthy.

  3. I’m not sure it can even be called a comeback for someone who was never something, but what Geno Smith did went far far beyond what McCaffrey did this season. One player finally stayed healthy for a full year and another after being largely forgotten on several benches for almost a decade is now a Pro Bowler with a surprising playoff appearance, on a franchise that was expected to be one of the league’s worst teams this year.
    Congrats to McCaffrey for not getting hurt, but c’mon man…

  4. Daniel Jones, who has been maligned since being in the league and has no helping weapons but Barkley this year.

  5. I love Geno’s late flourish but he’s not a “comeback” player. He never was before this season. He should be in the late bloomer category

  6. What did Geno comeback from? Sucking? Being benched? Geno could be most improved but I don’t think coming back from riding the pine should qualify?

  7. For all those saying Geno, what do you think he is coming back from? He was never good nor relevant before this season so what is the comeback? If there’s a Rich Gannon late developing QB award then he absolutely deserves to win it.

  8. “Geno Smith? What’s he coming back from exactly?” From being a starting QB with the Jets to years of riding the bench with multiple teams because no one thought he was starting material. Going to the playoffs, going to the Pro Bowl, leading the league in completion percentage, and setting franchise records.

  9. Geno is the true winner, CMC should get a ribbon though for managing to not get hurt walking to the mailbox.


  10. Geno’s season is probably more impressive overall, but that would fit more under “Most Improved” rather than comeback player.

  11. Brandon Graham has out all last year , came back this season and had 11 sacks , a total he never reached before , give it up for the ‘D’ also.

  12. McCaffrey’s a great story all around, but it’s harder to be a successful QB than RB. McCaffrey was a missing piece on a loaded team that didn’t need him to carry the weight, whereas Geno Smith had to carry the weight of being a starting QB after being away from it for years, following in the shadow of Wilson, and overcoming the widespread belief that he would fail and simply be a placeholder. For him to have gotten to where he is now from where he fell off his previous starter position is an incredible comeback from a place where almost no one ever comes back.

    It’s been *eight* years since he was a team’s full-time starter. They just traded their SB-winning franchise QB. And he *improved* on their record from last season, earning a winning season and playoff berth.

    Kudos to McCaffrey for an awesome comeback, but my vote would be for Smith.

  13. “If Geno doesn’t win it then I don’t understand the point of the award”

    The point is comeback player, not most improved or best bench dweller that became a good starter.

  14. First it’s disregarding Tariq Woolen and now it’s Geno Smith. PFT obviously has some sort of negative bias towards the Seahawks. Both were locks on most everyone else’s eyes. (And I am a Steeler fan.)

  15. You lost credibility with your picks. McCaffrey wasn’t a comeback player. Geno was by far the best comeback story of this season. When was the last story of McCaffrey ever written? Even if he was eligible, Geno still wins!

  16. “Comeback” can be defined multiple ways. In my mind the big 3 mentioned above (Geno, Saquon, McCaffrey, etc) are all deserving.

  17. Geno Smith is a great story about a player left for dead…highly regarded rookie who had no chance in a badly run organization at the time (jets) finally relegated to backup for the remainder of his career…wilson traded and found hisself the starter for a team projected to be at the very bottom of nfl standings….pro bowler, completion percent leader , and now in the playoffs…he is the quintessential comeback player of the year and any other conclusion is wrong.

  18. But what did Geno Smith comeback from? Taking 10 years to finally stop being over-looked isn’t really a “comeback”.

  19. What about Nick Gates from the Giants coming back early from a compound fracture to his leg? How is he not even being considered? Just the fact he got back on the field deserves more accolades than these other guys.

  20. Geno Smith 100% deserves this because everyone though his career was over. This is his 10th season. He had 30td/11int. His previous 9 seasons COMBINED he had 34td/39int. People thought Seattle was going with Geno to tank the season. Most had them as the #1 pick in this years draft and Geno helped carry them to the playoffs and a winning season. He was better than Wilson was his last year in Seattle and of course this year.

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