- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 6, 2022

As it became clear that running back Brian Robinson Jr. would be able to play football again this season — that he’d be able to return to the field after being shot twice in August — there was an intriguing question looming in the background: Could a rookie win Comeback Player of the Year without having played in the NFL before this year? 

After all, Robinson’s story had all the ingredients to make him the perfect candidate for the award. Sure, he would need the production to seal it, but the fact that the Commanders running back was on track to play at all this season after suffering gunshot wounds to the knee and glute was — and is — a remarkable achievement. 

Oddsmakers seemed to agree — listing Robinson as the second-likeliest candidate for the honor.

There was only one problem: Robinson technically isn’t eligible to win the award.

“Oh for real?!” wide receiver Terry McLaurin said. “That’s (messed) up. We’ve got to make a call or something. That’s crazy.” 

Much to McLaurin’s dismay, the Associated Press confirmed this week that Robinson — who has a legitimate chance to make his season debut Sunday against the Tennessee Titans — won’t be eligible for the Comeback Player of the Year, no matter how well the running back plays in 2022. 

The AP’s Rob Maaddi, who handles the outlet’s voting policies, said in an email that rookies aren’t candidates to win the award because the criteria are based on what “happened in (the) previous NFL season or seasons and then the current season.”

Yeah, those are the rules. But should they be? 

“I mean, he’s coming back,” Commanders running back Jonathan Williams said. “That would be a cool story (if he could win it.) That would definitely be a unique situation, something that I know he wasn’t eligible for.”

Robinson’s teammate brings up a solid point. The 23-year-old certainly wishes he was never put in this situation in the first place. Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Robinson, who was attacked in an armed robbery attempt, said he was just happy to be playing football again. Accolades were likely the last thing on Robinson’s mind as he worked to recover. 

And admittedly, this may be all too premature. New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley is the odds-on favorite to win Comeback Player of the Year at the moment as he leads the league in rushing two years removed from tearing his ACL. Robinson’s production would have to be significant enough to put him in the running.

Commanders coach Ron Rivera, too, said the team has to be careful with Robinson. The coach has said it looks “very promising” Robinson will play Sunday, but the team has to monitor how the third-rounder out of Alabama responds to an increased workload. 

“We have to be smart about how we’re gonna handle him,” Rivera said. “We gotta handle those expectations. We also gotta handle, what he’s gonna go through physically and mentally. It is a different set of circumstances. 

“I don’t know of any other player that I’ve coached that’s had to go through this.”

So, what happens to the bets that were placed on Robinson to win the award? 

Spokespeople for DraftKings, FanDuel and PointsBet all said in an email that the bets would be voided, meaning refunds issued. All three betting companies have since taken Robinson off the market.

But if it were up to McLaurin, those bets would still be valid and Robinson would be up for the award.

“If there was any time to make an exception to that rule, then I think this would be the time,” McLaurin said. “If he can get back on the field — which I know he will — and he can help in the way I think he can, then I’ll be the first one to try and call that front office, like, ‘Yo we’ve got to make an exception for that rule.’

“Because what he’s been able to come back from is truly sensational. It’s truly a blessing.” 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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