The 2017 NFL season is still months away from kicking off, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look ahead at possible candidates for Comeback Player of the Year.
There’s multiple ways a player can win NFL Comeback Player of the Year. Personally, I like to look at players that suffered season-ending injuries and the severity of the injury. One of the most common injuries in the NFL are torn ACL’s. They’re painful and the road to recovery is typically seven or more months. How a player comes back from it is always the biggest question.
The winner of the 2016 NFL Comeback Player of the Year award, Jordy Nelson, is just one example. Nelson tore his knee in a preseason game in 2015 then came back in 2016 and caught 97 balls for 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns. On the other end, some players such as Daunte Culpepper never seem to fully come back 100 percent.
Four of the past five winners of the award all came back from different circumstances which include a torn ACL, poor play, cancer and a nerve injury in the neck. Here are five early favorite to receive the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award for the 2017 season.
Oct 30, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; The Buffalo Bills defense tries to tackle New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) during the second half at New Era Field. The Patriots beat the Bills 41-25. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
5. Rob Gronkowski, TE – New England Patriots
You can’t mention players on the verge of making a comeback from a down season without mentioning Rob Gronkowski. One of the top tight ends in the league, Gronk had his worst statistical career as a professional. Through eight games played he managed just 25 catches and three touchdowns. The kicker? He had 540 yards, averaging 21.6 yards a catch prior to going on the injured reserve list in December.
What put Gronk out was his third back surgery relating to a herniated disk. For specifics, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport explained his separate injuries as well as the ramifications regarding to his playing status.
Back injuries aren’t something you want to take lightly when it comes to the game of football. Our No. 1 on this list can attest. The road for Gronk isn’t easy although by the looks of it through the ridiculous amount of media coverage he receives he’s healthy and ready to go.
Gronk is just one touchdown away from 69. You know he’s itching to get back on the football field to hit that mark. As long as Tom Brady is throwing him the football and he’s healthy he’ll be a problem for opposing defenses.
Nov 3, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Atlanta Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant (21) works out prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
4. Desmond Trufant, CB – Atlanta Falcons
What could’ve been, Atlanta Falcons fans. A Super Bowl all-but wrapped up with a 28-3 lead only to have it ripped away at the hands of the great Tom Brady. Still hurts, I’m sure.. The unexpected could’ve been prevented, though, had Desmond Trufant not went down with a season ending pectoral injury all the way back in Week 9.
It’s honestly a huge shock that the Falcons made it as far as they did. The offense is obviously loaded with talent, but without their star cornerback in Trufant for the second half of the season it’s still hard fathom the run they went on. What’s more, it’s impossible to ignore the impact he could’ve potentially had in the Super Bowl loss.
If you’re just looking at stats, it doesn’t look like Trufant is as dominant of a corner as people say. Through his first four seasons in the league, he has just seven interceptions, three of which came in 2014. Regardless, he received a lucrative contract extension just a week ago worth $69 million over the course of the next five seasons. What’s more, his impact goes far beyond interception totals.
Trufant will be a key piece as the Falcons fight to return to the Super Bowl next February.
Sep 11, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; San Diego Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen (13) is carted off of the field after an injury during the first half against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
3. Keenan Allen, WR – Los Angeles Chargers
Few people were more upset about Keenan Allen‘s injury in Week 1 than fantasy owners. One of those people was Allen’s quarterback, Philip Rivers.
Allen came out hot to start the first game of the season in 2016, catching six passes for 63 yards in the first half against the Kansas City Chiefs. San Diego was up 21-3 when Allen tore his ACL breaking out of one of his cuts. He went to the injured reserve list immediately, ending his fourth season in the league as soon as it started.
Unfortunately for allen he hasn’t played much in the last two seasons. In 2015 he played just eight games before a lacerated kidney put him on the IR. Expectations were through the roof coming into 2016 because he’d caught 67 passes for 725 yards and four touchdowns in just eight games prior to going down with the kidney injury.
Rivers will certainly be welcoming Allen back with open arms this season. Last season the leading receivers for the Chargers were Tyrell Williams and Dontrelle Inman. While they weren’t horrible, they also weren’t good enough as the now Los Angeles Chargers finished last in the AFC West.
October 2, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman (53) sacks Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) during the first quarter at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
2. Navorro Bowman, LB – San Francisco 49ers
Navorro Bowman is and has been a big piece to the San Francisco 49ers organization since the 2011 season. The former Penn State Nittany Lion has been named to the Associated Press All-Pro First-Team every year as a full-time starter.
In 2016, he suffered his second big injury of his career. Against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 4, he tore his Achilles leaving the 49ers with a big task of replacing him. San Francisco clearly struggled on defense this year trying to replace him finishing last in both yardage and scoring.
There were more problems than just the Bowman injury, though. The entire 49ers organization was in shambles which ultimately led to the firing of both general manager Trent Baalke and head coach Chip Kelly.
Cameron Wake suffered the same injury in 2015 and came back this past season, leading the Dolphins defense with 11.5 sacks en route to being a top nominee for Comeback Player of the Year. Bowman will be a frontrunner again this season.
Dec 18, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) cheers while the Texans defense plays during the third quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
1. J.J. Watt, DE – Houston Texans
What’s going to stop JJ Watt from being a top candidate for Comeback Player of the Year in 2017? Nothing.
Well, that’s a lie. Watt went down after just three weeks in 2016 with a herniated disk in his back, an injury he suffered from during the offseason. He underwent surgery to repair the disk last July and missed all of training camp as a result.
Watt is a warrior. One of the NFL’s most disruptive player’s since coming onto the scene in 2011 he’s won the Defensive Player of the Year award on three separate occasions. After being put on season ending inured reserve, he sent out this tweet.
He’ll be back and hopefully for the sake of the NFL as strong as he was before. Watt had played through multiple injuries throughout his career and had not missed a single game until 2016. Barring no setbacks, he’s the early favorite for NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2017.