The NFL Should Add a Most Improved Player Award

Buccaneers QB Baker Mayfield wins NFL Pro Bowl award

To commend on-field growth and recovery in its players, the National Basketball Association names a Most Improved Player as part of its end-of-season award slate.

However, the National Football League continues to take a different approach, instead issuing a Comeback Player of the Year award. While the prestige of CPOY is unquestioned, this season, it felt like an award with flawed criteria due to its vagueness.

The 2023 Award Race

The top three finishers for CPOY were: 

  1. A quarterback who came out of retirement to lead the injury-riddled Browns to an 11-win season and a playoff spot (Joe Flacco).
  2. A defensive player who made a miraculous comeback after a near-death incident last season (Damar Hamlin).
  3. A quarterback who was counted out last season and took a one-year, “prove-it” deal with a team dealing with the loss of Tom Brady, still leading them to a division title and playoff win (Baker Mayfield).  

All three players had legitimate cases, and a close vote reflected that. Flacco won by having more total points despite Hamlin earning the most first-place votes.

Making the Case for a New NFL Award

In my opinion, adding a Most Improved Player award alongside CPOY would be beneficial for the NFL, as it would allow them to reward a player who specifically bounced back from injury or time away from the NFL and another player who saw a surprising, positive change to his on-field performance in comparison to previous underwhelming seasons.


If that was the case this year, Flacco and Mayfield both would have won awards this season that they undoubtedly deserved. Last season, wouldn’t Geno Smith have been better fitted to win Most Improved Player rather than CPOY? The seasons he was “coming back” from were those he started in 2013 and 2014; Smith served as a backup between then and 2022, starting only five total games in that span.

While the definition of CPOY states that it acknowledges a player “who overcomes adversity to return to remarkable performance, in the form of not being in the NFL the previous year, a severe injury, or simply poor performance,” the award is often given to the player who overcame the “worst” adversity despite how little or much he played. Hamlin’s second-place finish combats this, but that is not a discredit to the bravery and effort on Hamlin’s side and rather just an indication of how impressive Flacco’s comeback was this season.

With injuries always a factor in the NFL, removing the poor-to-remarkable performance part of CPOY and moving it to Most Improved Player would not make the CPOY irrelevant. Instead, it would let the league shine a light on two players who excelled or exceeded expectations, not just one.

The addition of Most Improved Player to the list of awards is unlikely but necessary. The NFL has a chance to alter its awards ceremony for the better.


Main Image Credit: 

Embed from Getty Images


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