Although the defensive-led Denver Broncos may have muddled the picture a bit by winning the Super Bowl with elite defense, the NFL is still a quarterback-driven league. Last year a number of teams were also reminded of the importance of a good backup QB after top-tier signal callers went down with injuries. With NFL training camps set to get underway, let's look at the best quarterbacks returning from injury in 2016 with some to prove.
Getty ImagesTom Pennington
Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
When we last saw him: Looking for a way out of San Francisco and getting nudged under the bus. But we last saw him on the field (briefly) for a couple plays on Nov. 8 after he had been demoted in favor of Blaine Gabbert. Later it was revealed that Kaepernick had suffered an extensive tear in his non-throwing shoulder earlier in the season. The QB underwent successful operation for that and also had surgery to repair a torn ligament on his throwing hand's thumb, as well as an arthroscopic procedure to clean up his knee. What to expect: He was not cleared to run or throw at the Niners' late-April minicamp, but has resumed throwing and weight training since. He should be fully recovered and cleared in time for training camp, however his whereabouts on Chip Kelly's depth chart is a mystery for now.
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Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
When we last saw him: Dalton fractured the right thumb on his throwing hand during the Bengals' Week 14 loss against the Steelers. It didn't require surgery and the hope was that after four weeks of rest he could return in time for the playoffs, but that's a tough squeeze for a quarterback. He wasn't healed in time for the Bengals-Steelers Wild Card game. What to expect: Backup AJ McCarron performed better than many thought he would, but fans should be happy to see the return of Dalton, who had a 106.3 passer rating when he went down, second-best in the league. Dalton has been throwing since March and has deemed the thumb a non-issue now. Former QBs coach Ken Zampese takes over as Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, who left for the Browns' head coaching position.
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Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
When we last saw him: In Week 11 against the Rams, the 6-foot-6 passer suffered a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee in the final minutes of a 16-13 win, shelving him for the remainder of the season. Previously Flacco hadn't missed a single game in his eight-year career. What to expect: He resumed running in April and is expected to participate in training camp when the Ravens begin on July 30, but the team will not rush him. For reference, Carson Palmer suffered a torn ACL in November 2014 and made it back to start the Cardinals opener in 2015.
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Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
When we last saw him: In Week 9 when the Colts handed the 8-0 Broncos their first loss of the year. While scrambling, Luck took a shot that lacerated his kidney and sidelined him for the rest of the season. The 26-year-old battled through rib, shoulder and other injuries earlier in the year but that laceration, from which he has recovered, proved the dagger. What to expect: Owner Jim Irsay and head coach Chuck Pagano stated the obvious -- the organization needs Luck to avoid taking so many hits. But the Colts also needed to commit resources to helping to better protect Luck, who has had to make the best of some mediocre offensive line play. So Indy spent four of its eight draft picks on offensive linemen, including Alabama center Ryan Kelly at 18th overall. Then last month, the Colts gave Luck a $140-million contract extension.
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Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
When we last saw him: On Thanksgiving Day, getting run over by the then-undefeated Carolina Panthers. He had to be relieved by backup QB Matt Cassel after suffering an injury to the same collarbone that kept him in a sling for seven weeks earlier in the season. What to expect: Romo underwent surgery (a "Mumford" procedure) in March to repair the troublesome collarbone. He's ready for training camp, but of course the 36-year-old also has a surgically repaired back, so Cowboys fans still have to hold their breath when he gets sacked during game action. Dallas spent a fourth-round draft pick on Mississippi State's Dak Prescott as a possible eventual successor to Romo.