Top 10 NFL Comeback Player of the Year candidates
The 2017 season saw an unusual amount of injuries to big names across the NFL, highlighted by several superstars who could each be considered among the faces of the league.
Now going into the 2018 season, most of those players are well on the road to recovery, setting up an interesting race for the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Here are 10 potential candidates ahead of the 2018 season.
10. Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina Panthers
Entering 2017, Greg Olsen had strung together three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and had established himself as one of the best tight ends in the game. However, a fractured foot early in the season caused him to miss substantial time and even upon his return, Olsen couldn’t seem to get it going. He finished the year with just 17 receptions for 191 yards and one touchdown in seven games, all of which represented career-low marks. Despite auditioning for a job as an ESPN analysis this offseason, Olsen has said he’s “committed” to playing football in 2018 and has since signed a two-year contract extension with the Panthers. Now completely healed from his foot injury, Olsen should return to form this coming season.
9. Allen Robinson, WR, Chicago Bears
Allen Robinson appeared in just one game for the Jaguars last season before suffering a torn ACL, ultimately ending his year with one reception for 17 yards. Then, during free agency, the team opted not to franchise or transition tag him, leading him to sign with the Chicago Bears, where he becomes arguably their best wide receiver. If nothing else, it provides Robinson, who doesn’t believe his repaired ACL will be a problem in 2018, an opportunity to see significant time on the field and an increased number of targets. It’s quite possible he returns to his 2015 form, when he hauled in 80 reception for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns.
8. Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Early on last season, Dalvin Cook looked like one of the more dynamic running backs in the game. He appeared poised to reward the Vikings for their faith in him after they drafted him with a plethora of lingering character concerns. Through four games, Cook had gained 354 yards and scored two touchdowns, averaging nearly 5.0 yards per carry. Unfortunately, the early candidate for Rookie of the Year suffered a torn ACL and missed the remainder of the season. Now approaching 100 percent health, Cook will return in 2018 and take over the No. 1 role in Minnesota. So long as he can remain healthy, he could show the NFL world what he brings to the table as a featured back.
7. Eric Berry, S, Kansas City Chiefs
In 2014, Berry was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and limited to six games as a result. He showed remarkable perseverance, continuing NFL-level workouts through his chemotherapy treatment and ultimately being cleared of cancer nine months later. In 2015, he returned to elite form and won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award. In 2018, Berry will have the opportunity to repeat history after appearing in just one game last season before suffering a ruptured Achilles’ tendon. Given what Berry has already overcome, returning from an Achilles injury should be something he can handle.
6. Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck might be the most obvious addition to this list after missing the 2017 season following shoulder surgery. Regardless of how strange his journey back to the field may have been, the Colts do finally expect him to return at the start of training camp even if his rehab is going slowly. If he can remain healthy, Luck immediately thrusts himself into Comeback Player of the Year conversation as one of the most prolific passers in the NFL. Luck has eclipsed 4,000 yards passing three separate times and even connected on 40 touchdown passes in 2014. If Luck can even come close to those numbers in 2018, it will be hard to argue against him for the award.
5. Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans
After taking over the starting quarterback job early last season, DeShaun Watson was well on his way to Rookie of the Year consideration before suffering a torn ACL and being lost for the season. It was a horrible break for a talented up-and-comer, but it now sets Watson up for a remarkable return. In seven games last season, the rookie completed 126 of his 204 passes (61.8%) for 1,699 yards, 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Watson also added 269 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. In 2018, he should return healthy and more comfortable in the team’s offense, potentially setting him up for some awards he missed out on a year ago.
4. David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals
In 2016, David Johnson matched his hype with production, gaining over 2,100 yards from scrimmage. Entering 2017, many expected him to piece together a potentially legendary season, but that did not come to fruition. Instead, Johnson suffered a dislocated wrist in Week 1 against the Detroit Lions and was ultimately lost for the season following surgery. Now completely healed, Johnson has had a year off to keep his legs fresh and should return to the field as the same sort of dynamic and game-changing running back he’s already proven to be.
3. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
One of the most successful and decorated quarterbacks in the NFL, Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone in Week 6 against the Minnesota Vikings last year. He was placed on injured reserve (IR) and underwent surgery where 13 screws were inserted to stabilize the bone. And while Rodgers did return late in the season, he appeared in just one game before landing back on IR. In 2018, the two-time NFL MVP will return healthy and look to get back to his MVP form. Needless to say, he’s is among the favorites to win the league’s Comeback Player of the Year Award.
2. J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
It has been a rough couple years for J.J. Watt. He was limited to just three games in 2016 due to a lingering back issue that required multiple surgeries. He played just five games in 2017 due to a tibial plateau fracture in his left leg. Prior to his back injury in 2016, Watt had never missed a start in his NFL career and had established himself as the most dangerous defender in the league. Should he find health in 2018, Watt will likely play with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, looking to regain his crown as the most disruptive edge rusher in the league.
1. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants
Entering 2017, Odell Beckham Jr. had three consecutive years of 90-plus receptions, 1,300-plus yards and 10-plus touchdowns. He had won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2014, had been named to three straight Pro Bowls and seemed to be setting records left and right. That all changed in Week 5 however, when Beckham went down with a fractured ankle and was lost for the season. Now in the final year of his rookie contract and looking for a massive pay day, Beckham will return to the field completely healthy and having spent the entire offseason working to not only regain his form, but to come back even more explosive. With a retooled offensive line and the addition of Saquon Barkley, Beckham finds himself in an ideal spot.