At one time or another, some of the NFL’s greatest players have won the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award.
Whether it is a return from injury, a year out of football, terrible life circumstances or just poor play, the Comeback Player of the Year award is given to the player who exemplifies phenomenal play on the gridiron that year.
With so many star players returning with high hopes for the 2012 NFL season, it will be interesting to see which of those men can return to form and be a quality contributor for his team.
It may be a bit early as we look ahead, but here is a look at six players who are certain contenders for the Comeback Player of the Year award this season.
Kansas City’s Matt Cassel is coming off his worst season since becoming a starter, playing in only nine games in which he underperformed before getting placed on the injured reserve with a “significant” hand injury.
Five of the last six award winners have been quarterbacks, making Cassel a very likely candidate should he be able to have a good season in Kansas City.
With star running back Jamaal Charles back and a fearsome wide receiver group led by former Pro Bowler Dwayne Bowe, Cassel certainly has the tools for a rebound season in place.
In 2010, Cassel passed for 3,116 yards, 27 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. If he can return this season to replicate that kind of performance, he will be in good shape to contend for the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award.
Another quarterback who faced a down year in 2011 eventually cut short by injury, Jay Cutler returns for the Chicago Bears in 2012 with a vengeance.
After three seasons in Chicago with scarce options to spread the ball around to, the Bears have reunited Cutler with his running mate in Denver—Brandon Marshall.
Marshall tallied two seasons with over 100 receptions and at least 1,200 yards receiving, while Cutler had his best years to date, passing for over 4,000 yards in 2008 during their time together with the Broncos.
The two are a lethal combination and plan to do much of the same damage again in Chicago. As long as the offensive line can hold up, unlike it has the past two seasons for Cutler—he has been sacked 75 times in 25 games—and running back Matt Forte returns to keep opposing defenses honest, Cutler should have a spectacular 2012 reminiscent of the play he showed he was capable of as a member of the Denver Broncos.
All eyes will be on the Buffalo Bills’ pricey new acquisition, Mario Williams, this season. Williams will not just be playing to prove his worthiness of his hefty $100 million contract, but also to bounce back from a season-ending torn pectoral muscle that cut his 2011 season short in Houston—his second consecutive season landing on the injured reserve.
Williams has proven himself to be a defensive force since 2006, tallying 53 sacks in his young NFL career. The move to Buffalo also signals the move back to defensive end after a year at outside linebacker in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme.
With a dramatic boost in sack numbers in the 3-4, it will be interesting to see if Williams can continue to be the type of pass-rusher he is being paid to be.
Williams will be a member of a blossoming young defense that loves to force turnovers and get after the quarterback. Should he play up to par, Williams will fit right in and should have a fantastic season.
If he can return to the form he has shown the last five seasons, there is no reason Williams will not contend for Comeback Player of the Year Award, but no real fall-off—he tallied five sacks in five games last season—could hamper his chances to win.
Heading into the 2011 season, the Kansas City Chiefs’ Jamaal Charles was expected to be one of the best running backs in the NFL following two consecutive seasons with over 1,000 yards rushing. Unfortunately, Charles carried the ball just 12 times before a torn ACL landed him on injured reserve.
Charles is still yet to be cleared by doctors to start practicing, but he should be available to go for the 2012 season. If that is the case and there is no lingering hindrance from his injury, Charles will be a lethal back in the NFL once again.
A well-balanced back with blitzing speed, vision and the ability to contribute as a receiver out of the backfield, Charles is easily one of the top ball-carriers when he is on his game. He carries the ball a lot and for a lot of yards per carry, noted by his 6.1 yards-per-carry average over his career in Kansas City.
As a central figure in the Chiefs’ offensive plans, Charles will easily be one of the most likely candidates for the Comeback Player of the Year award with a stellar performance in 2012.
A future Hall of Famer and one of the all-time great wide receivers in NFL history, Randy Moss has quite the decorated career. Positives and negatives flash across his resume, conjuring plenty of memories for NFL fans both fond and unfriendly of Moss throughout his pro career.
But Moss has returned, signing with the San Francisco 49ers in hopes of revitalizing his career, as well as delivering the Niners with a boost in the passing game, and perhaps, finally claiming that elusive Super Bowl ring.
Out of the game in 2011 and having his worst season ever in 2010 as a member of three teams, posting just 393 receiving yards over 28 receptions with five touchdowns, Moss has much to prove in 2012. With a plethora of receiving options on the Niners roster, Moss will have to earn his place on the team for the first time in his illustrious career.
Everyone knows what Moss is capable of; it is just a matter of whether or not he can stay focused enough to live up to his capabilities.
There is little question Moss can still replicate one of his 10 seasons of 1,000 yards receiving or more. If he can accomplish that feat once more in San Francisco, Moss will be a very popular selection for the Comeback Player of the Year award at the end of the season.
Of course, the most obvious contender heading into the season will be the Denver Broncos’ Peyton Manning.
Easily one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Manning has already made his mark in the NFL. Following a year out of the game, however, Manning has much to prove in 2012, both about his playing ability and his health.
With a talented, young offensive group around him, Manning can return to form while lifting the Broncos’ young players to new heights.
Alongside Randy Moss, Manning will be the most-watched contender on this list. His prior playing history—with over 54,828 passing yards, 399 touchdowns and a Super Bowl ring—speaks volumes for the player he is capable of being and should he be able to replicate even half of what he did in Indianapolis this season, the Comeback Player of the Year award is as good as his.