News & Analysis

PFF's Comeback Player of the Year: Eric Berry

Kansas City Chiefs free safety Eric Berry (29) celebrates after an interception against the Houston Texans during the first half of an NFL wild-card football game Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The Comeback Player of the Year Award is generally given to players who missed the majority of the previous season through injury, only to perform impressively when they return. New England Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski was the most recent winner, breaking a six-year run of quarterbacks. Here's a look at who takes the crown this year:

Winner

Eric Berry, S, Kansas City Chiefs

Injury had already ensured that 2014 wasn't going to plan for Eric Berry, even before he heard that dreadful word that everyone fears to hear — cancer. Diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in November, Berry spent the next few months undergoing treatment, and was declared cancer-free and ready to resume his career seven months later. That story alone is award material, but Berry earns the award for the way he has performed on the field upon his return.

Having played 48 non-descript snaps in preseason, we weren't entirely sure what to expect from Berry. He didn't start the Chiefs opener against Houston, but did enough in 48 snaps to show that he was back, and he has started every game since. Nor was it just one good game — five weeks into the season Berry was had the second-best cumulative grade at the position, and had made 19 tackles without a miss.

Berry finished the year with an 87.7 overall rating, which ranked fifth among safeties. Berry's 85.2 coverage rating was fourth-best in the league. His performance was good enough to earn second team PFF All-Pro honors, and helped the Chiefs into the playoffs. Against the Texans in the Wildcard game, Berry had a pick and the best coverage grade on the Chiefs defense.

First runner-up

Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona Cardinals

When Carson Palmer tore his ACL, midway through the 2014 season, few could have foreseen how well he would come back. Palmer has been sensational in 2015, earning a league-leading 98.5 overall rating, and playing the best football of his career. Palmer wasn't the most mobile quarterback to start with, and playing on a twice repaired knee can't help, yet his performance when pressured has been exceptional. Despite being pressured on 42.1 percent of his dropbacks, the fourth-highest rate in the league, Palmer's 71.8 percent accuracy on pressured passes is the second-best rate in the league.

Second runner-up

Derrick Johnson, LB, Kansas City Chiefs

A Week 1 Achilles injury forced Derrick Johnson to miss the rest of the 2014 season, and left the Chiefs with a void in the middle of their defense. Johnson was back to his best in 2015, earning a 87.8 overall rating. He was notably effective in coverage with two picks, six further passes defensed and holding opponents to a 68.1 passer rating when targeting his coverage.

Third runner-up

Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati Bengals

In 2014, a dislocated elbow ended what many expected to be Eifert's breakout season, after just eight snaps. That injury merely delayed the breakout by 12 months, as his 52 catch, 615 yard and 13 touchdown season helped him to an 88.9 overall rating, and confirmed Eifert as one of the most dangerous receiving tight ends in the game.

Fourth runner-up

Sean Lee, LB, Dallas Cowboys

Prior to the 2015 season, Sean Lee had appeared in just one of the last 24 competitive matches for the Cowboys, including missing the entire of the 2014 season. He showed few signs of rust however, getting 2015 off to a bang with a nine defensive stop performance against the Eagles in Week 2. Lee's 92.3 overall rating ranks third among linebackers.

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