The 2013 season was a rough one for Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
One of the most feared offensive players in the game, his combination of size and athleticism is all but indefensible in today's game. A lingering elbow injury cost him his 2013 training camp, as well as the first six games of the year. He would return, but only to tear an ACL in Week 15. A big year of his usual production may have been enough to propel the Patriots back to the Super Bowl.
That's what New England got from him in a fully healthy 2014 - 82 catches, 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns, and the Patriots are hosting the Colts in the AFC Championship game this weekend. And along with that, Gronkowski was named the 2014 Comeback Player of the Year, as voted on by the Professional Football Writers of America.
The same group named Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell the Most Improved Player in 2014.
We lobbied for Steelers linebacker Sean Spence as a candidate for the Comeback Player of the Year award, even if it's tough to argue against Gronkowski. Simply put, Gronkowsi is a phenomenal player, and any time he's going to come off two significant injuries to have the season he's had, he's going to get the benefit of the doubt. Spence played in what was essentially his rookie season, notching 53 tackles along with a sack and a fumble recovery in 510 snaps. He filled in for rookie Ryan Shazier, and wouldn't allow the team's top draft pick to overtake him in terms of playing time.
All of that is nice and worthy of a respectful nod from fans, but adding in the fact Spence suffered a career-threatening knee injury in 2012, and had to battle through that, just to practice in 2013, speaks volumes of his determination. On top of that, he broke his hand in practice before he was about to be activated to the regular season roster for the first time in his career. The Steelers shut down his 2013 season as well.
Spence would fight back again and become a player to watch among the Steelers defense moving forward.
Emerging victorious from such a battle is worthy of recognition, even if it wasn't enough to scale the accomplishments of Gronkowski.