injuries happen in the NFL – more frequently than they do in other sports. It’s just the nature of the violent game that these players play, as unfortunate as that is. A number of key players suffered significant injuries last season that essentially caused their seasons to be lost, but they’ll be looking to bounce back with a solid 2017 campaign.
We’ve compiled a list of 15 stars who missed a large number of games last year but will rebound to once again play at a high level.
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Jason Verrett, CB, Chargers
Verrett was on his way to becoming a top-tier cornerback last season before a torn ACL landed him on the shelf four games in. The Chargers have built a formidable secondary with Verrett and Casey Hayward, as long as both can stay healthy.
Verrett is a sticky defender in coverage and can hang with No. 1 receivers when asked to, but that’ll likely be left up to Hayward, as it was last season. Verrett should be able to cover No. 2 receivers, which is a far easier task.
Justin Houston, OLB, Chiefs
It was just three years ago that Houston led the NFL in sacks (22) and was a first-team All-Pro. Since then, though, he’s spent most of his time on the sideline due to injury. He missed 11 games in 2016 but was highly effective in the five that he did play. He recorded four sacks and a forced fumble in limited action last season, which should give the Chiefs high hopes going forward. He’s an impactful player who can change the way Kansas City’s defense plays.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Saints
Never doubt Adrian Peterson. Ever. He may be 32 years old and coming off of a significant knee injury, but Peterson works harder than just about everyone else, and it’ll show this season. He’ll push Mark Ingram for playing time, and although he may not be the starter in Week 1, he’ll get his share of carries.
If the Saints move Ingram, which is also a possibility, it’ll be because Peterson has proved he can still handle a heavy workload and have success.
Desmond Trufant, CB, Falcons
Trufant signed a huge $69 million extension this offseason. Now, he has to live up to it. Fortunately for the Falcons, he will, considering he’s a top-10 cornerback. Trufant will assume his role as the team’s No. 1 corner, supplanting Robert Alford in that regard.
It was surprising to see the Falcons make it as far as they did and to have as much success defensively as they did without him, but that shouldn’t take away from how he’s viewed. The Falcons need him to stay on the field if the defense wants to take the next step in 2017.
Tyler Eifert, TE, Bengals
Eifert was a Pro Bowler in 2015 with 13 touchdowns in just 13 games, but he was limited to just eight games in 2016 due to injury – an injury suffered in the Pro Bowl. He has Gronk-like potential when healthy, but his last three seasons have been plagued by injuries. If the Bengals are to make a jump on offense the way they did two years ago, Eifert will need to be on the field.
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C.J. Anderson, RB, Broncos
Anderson was expected to have a big season in 2016 with Ronnie Hillman out of the picture. Unfortunately, Anderson missed nine games and struggled in the seven starts that he did make.
Anderson will once again be the starter in Denver, albeit with competition from Jamaal Charles and Devontae Booker, and he should rebound with a season similar to the one he had in 2014 when he was a Pro Bowler.
Ameer Abdullah, RB, Lions
The Lions passed on drafting and signing a starting running back this offseason, clearing the path for Abdullah to hold that title. He suffered a Lisfranc injury to his foot last season that forced him to miss 14 games.
Abdullah is a versatile back who’s great in space and as a receiver, which is something the Lions could use next to Zach Zenner. Look for Abdullah to rebound in a big way and approach 1,000 yards rushing in 2017.
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Sammy Watkins, WR, Bills
Watkins has battled through injuries for much of his three-year career. He missed eight games in 2016 due to a foot injury, which lingered even when he was healthy. He posted just 28 catches for 430 yards, but those numbers will rise this season – the final year of his contract.
The fourth-year receiver will be out to show he’s worth a long-term extension by proving he can stay healthy. Watkins has reached the 1,000-yard mark only once in his career, but he’ll surpass that total this season. If not, the bust label will continue to be attached to his name until he can prove otherwise.
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NaVorro Bowman, LB, 49ers
Bowman has had a brutal stretch of injuries in recent years. He missed all of 2014 due to a knee injury, and was limited to just four games in 2016 after being named a first-team All-Pro one year prior. When healthy, Bowman is one of the best inside linebackers in the game, and the 49ers need him to stay on the field as much as possible.
He and Reuben Foster will give San Francisco two great linebackers in the middle of the defense who can play the run and the pass. Their versatility will be a key asset this season after the 49ers ranked among the worst defensive teams in the league last year.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots
Gronk’s injury was somewhat overlooked because of the fact the Patriots won the Super Bowl without him, but it was still a huge loss for New England. The Patriots need him to stay healthy and play well in order for the offense to realize its full potential, which could be all-time great.
Gronk is the best tight end in the league when he’s not injured, which unfortunately, has been way too often. The Patriots are far better with him in the lineup than without, and pairing him with Dwayne Allen could be a dangerous. Gronk will be back in his All-Pro form this season.
Luke Kuechly, MLB, Panthers
Concussions have become a trouble spot for Kuechly, who’s the top middle linebacker in the game when healthy. He appears to be past the issue after missing six games last season and won’t change his playing style as a result of past concussions, which is a good sign for the Panthers. He’s the leader of that defense, not only calling plays but lining teammates up in the right spots.
He should be a Pro Bowler in 2017 if he’s able to stay healthy and out of harm’s way.
Reshad Jones, SS, Dolphins
Jones is one of the NFL's best safeties when healthy, but his 2016 season was lost to a shoulder injury. He went down in October with a torn rotator cuff, causing him to miss the remainder of the year. Jones called it a “brutal” season, but he’s prepared to once again be an outstanding playmaker for the Dolphins.
He’ll reassume his role as the team’s starting strong safety. In 2015, the last time he was healthy, he put up historic numbers with 135 tackles, five interceptions, two interceptions and 10 passes defensed.
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Keenan Allen, WR, Chargers
For the second straight year, Allen saw his season cut significantly short due to injury. He’s played just nine games since the start of 2015, but in those games, he was highly productive. That makes his inability to stay healthy even more frustrating. This will be his year to make the Pro Bowl and put up big numbers over the course of a full season.
With rookie first-round pick Mike Williams on one side, Allen is going to draw single coverage often. He should have 100-plus catches and at least 1,300 yards this season with Philip Rivers at the helm as the Chargers improve upon an injury-plagued 2016 season.
Earl Thomas, FS, Seahawks
The Seahawks quickly realized just how important Thomas is when he went down with an injury late in the season. Their pass defense suffered and tackles were missed, setting up big plays for opponents. He missed five games plus two playoff starts, and the Seahawks struggled defensively in just about all of them.
With Thomas back in the mix, the middle of the field will be a no-fly zone once again. There's no reason he can't be a Pro Bowler, and likely an All-Pro. There may not be a better safety in the game today than Thomas.
J.J. Watt, DE, Texans
Watt missed 13 games last season due to a back injury. He admitted that he tried to return sooner than he should have, which ultimately worsened the issue. After having a full season and offseason to recover from back surgery, Watt will be good to go for the start of 2017.
Back injuries are obviously tricky and can be recurring, but Watt should return to his Defensive Player of the Year form. He won the award in 2014 and 2015 and would have had a good chance to defend it this past season, too. Look for Watt, on a stacked Texans squad, to approach 20 sacks yet again. He’ll face plenty of one-on-one matchups with Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney in the mix, which will only drive up his numbers.