The NFL Comeback Player of the Year award is handed out annually to the player “who has shown perseverance in overcoming adversity, in the form of not being in the NFL the previous year, a severe injury, or simply poor performance.”
This year, the top three candidates are San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith, and New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley.
All three fit the parameters outlined by the league to qualify for the award. But there is one player who has overcome further odds than all three to make it back this season.
His name is Nick Gates, the Giants’ center/guard who has traveled perhaps the roughest road back of any player we’ve ever seen.
Right now, Gates is off the board for CPOY. In many people’s eyes, though, Gates’ ordeal and journey back is what this award is all about.
Gates suffered a compound fracture of his left tibia in Week 2 of the 2021 season down in Washington and the injury was so severe, many believed at the time that his young career might be over.
The former undrafted free agent out of Nebraska endured seven surgeries and a lot of pain to beat the odds and make his way back to the NFL.
“Everybody always counted me out from day one,” Gates said. “Everyone said, ‘I don’t know if he’s ever going to play again.’ First of all, I didn’t even know if I was going to keep my leg or not. So, just proving to everybody that I could do it again.”
Gates has done more than prove that he can do it again. When he returned to action in Week 8 against Seattle, his mission was complete.
“It was a special moment, definitely,” Gates said. “Just surreal for a little bit.”
Gates has started seven games since returning and played 100 percent of the snaps in there of them. The past three games he has platooned at guard with Ben Bredeson to keep the line fresh.
This year, Gates was the Giants’ recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award, which honors NFL players who “exemplify commitments to the principles of sportsmanship and courage.”
Gates is looking to move forward now that he’s made it back. He’ll always be reminded of the injury but he’s not about to let it hold him back.
“I think about it every once in a while,” Gates said. “The big game was Seattle, and I tried to be like, ‘Alright, that happened.’ And I tried to not put it behind me but move on. Now just play football. (I think) like, ‘You got back; you hit your goal. Now, get another.’ My leg hasn’t bothered me since. That’s been nice, too — not having to worry about that. I got reps on it, and I know it’s fine.
“There’s only been a couple of days (when I’ve thought about the leg). Like when it’s raining, I know it’s going to rain. Or it’s super cold, then it aches a little bit. But that’s normal. It’s from having the rod inside there.”