After naming the Minnesota Vikings' Jared Allen as my defensive player of the year, Owen Daniels of the Houston Texans is just as clearly my Comeback Player of the Year in the NFL this season.
Unlike the award winner from last year, Michael Vick, Daniels actually came back from something this year, and essentially the past two years, after tearing his ACL during last season.
What makes Daniels' comeback even greater, it was his second season-ending ACL tear in as many seasons, on different knees.
Prior to the 2009 season, when Daniels' season was finished after eight games and 519 yards with five touchdowns, Daniels had just completed a 70-catch season with 862 yards. This season's numbers are nowhere near those, as Daniels finished the season with three touchdowns, 54 receptions and 677 yards.
However, this year was probably his best of a six-season career.
Just returning from a torn ACL once, to a professional level, is very difficult; to return twice and play top quality football is asking a lot.
For the stat-heads, Daniels is an average tight end that doesn't deserve any kind of awards. That, in short, is the reason I don't like stat-heads. Daniels' 677 yards receiving were earned moreso than any other tight end in the whole league.
Forget the injuries to Daniels for a moment; just consider the injuries to key personnel around him.
Without Matt Schaub under center, the Texans offense went from being a balanced offense to a totally run-dependent team. Then, the emergence of Ben Tate as a second running threat further limited Daniels' opportunities to catch passes.
Things were worsened when Matt Leinart went down and rookie TJ Yates took over. Yates was a reliable passer, but never really got the best out of his first-choice receiver, instead preferring to check down to running backs and a, more often than not, wide-open Joel Dreesen off of play-action.
That's not really a knock on Yates; he was incredibly impressive for a third string rookie who wasn't expected to play all season.
Nonetheless, Daniels' opportunities to put up numbers took another shot with Yates starting under center. A good tight end is normally an inexperienced quarterback's best friend. However, when that tight end is your No. 1 option, it becomes more difficult to get the ball in his hands.
With Andre Johnson in the lineup, Daniels cannot be double teamed; however, without him, Daniels becomes the team's primary option in the passing attack.
Despite being a tight end, Daniels is a bigger threat to defenses than the uninspiring Kevin Walter and inconsistent Jacoby Jones. Outside of a big game against Cincinnati, Yates was rarely able to put the ball in Daniels' hands outside of situational football.
As Arian Foster took over the offense, Daniels was asked to block more than receive. He is not one of those tight ends that is essentially an over-sized receiver, but blocking still isn't his specialty like a Heath Miller or Jason Witten.
Regardless, Daniels proved to be reliable in his assignments while still picking his opportunities in the passing game. For a guy that was likely just dreaming of even playing a role part in the Texans offense this year, he became a key cornerstone of a team that continued to roll with the punches.
Rolling with the punches is exactly what the Texans will take away from the 2011 NFL regular season. Despite losing in the playoffs, the Texans proved a lot in 2011 and rightfully finished the season with a huge amount of pride.
Pride is something Owen Daniels should have a lot of after a great season.
The severity of two knee injuries on a football player who has to make cuts and shift his weight so often cannot be overblown.
Neither can Owen Daniels' case to win the Comeback Player of the Year award.
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