Which Injured NFL Stars Are in Line for Comeback Player of the Year?
Every NFL season there are a number of players who missed most or all of the previous campaign who come back to do some seemingly unthinkable things the next year.
Think about Chad Pennington's response not once, but twice to major shoulder surgery and his ability lead the Jets and Dolphins, respectively, to the playoffs.
Think of Drew Brees, when many feared his career was over after a brutal hit he took to his right shoulder in a meaningless 17th-week contest back in 2005. He of course led the New Orleans Saints to their first conference championship the very next season.
Then there's Tom Brady, who had his knee destroyed on opening day by noted cheap-shot artist Bernard Pollard. The next season he led the Patriots back to the postseason.
Those are just the most memorable of the past decade at the quarterback spot. Over the course of the decades, many players have returned from sitting out the previous season at any given position to win games and individually do very memorable things.
With one of the most noted and decorated quarterback ever in such a position in 2012, it would seem a lock that Peyton Manning would win the award. Perhaps it is, but let's at least review all the candidates before we decide that for certain.
Raiders RB Darren McFadden
When healthy, Darren McFadden is one of the five best running backs in the entire NFL. Unfortunately no one says that about him, because he doesn't stay healthy.
His 2010 campaign securely put him on the fantasy map and the highlight express every Sunday.
In 2011, McFadden looked like he might win offensive player of the year, until a foot injury that developed in the middle of the Kansas City game on October 23. The Raiders lost that game 28-0 after McFadden managed only two carries for four yards.
He was shut down the remainder of the season, and the promising Raiders pulled off an almost epic tailspin in the second half of the 2011 season.
In six games and change, McFadden rushed 113 times for 614 yards, good for 5.4 yards per carry and better than 100 yards per game.
He also had 19 catches for 154 yards and five total touchdowns.
Reports out of Oakland indicate McFadden is back to his normal self again in training camp, and it's only a matter of time until No. 20 is lighting up fantasy scoreboards and creating highlight touchdowns, one after another.
Comeback Player of the Year may be a heady accomplishment, but it certainly is within the realm of possibility.
Texans WR Andre Johnson
2011 was the best year in Houston Texans' history. Interestingly enough, three of the team's top players—Mario Williams, Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson—missed much of it.
Johnson managed just 33 receptions for 492 yards and two touchdowns. For many receivers those would be fine numbers.
Not for Johnson, one of the top three receivers in the game annually. Of course, the numbers mostly resulted from a myriad of injuries that Johnson could never seem to fully overcome.
With a healthy Arian Foster, Ben Tate and, oh yeah, Matt Schaub, look for Johnson to regain his form prior to 2011, so long as he himself can overcome the injury bug.
He will still be held out of some practices in training camp due to a groin injury.
His likelihood of earning the award seems low because the nagging injuries are really beginning to pile up on him. If he can catch a break, though, look for Johnson to again put up All-Pro-type numbers in Houston's offense.
Bills DE Mario Williams
No player in football is a more complete defensive end than Mario Williams. In 2011, he was placed in a bit of an odd fit as an outside linebacker in Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense.
In five games he responded with 11 tackles, five sacks and one forced fumble.
Then Williams feel violently to the turf in a game against the Oakland Raiders, and just like that his season was over with a torn pectoral muscle.
Still Buffalo decided to offer him a giant free-agent contract (six years, somewhere north of $50 million guaranteed). The Bills are counting on Williams leading a super talented 4-3 front in 2012 and well beyond.
If he is able to do so, Buffalo could reach the playoffs for the first time since Clinton was president and the YMCA was considered cool.
That's a big if, though. Time will tell if he can do something so spectacular.
Texans QB Matt Schaub
Matt Schaub had a super disappointing 2011 campaign. In fact, it was depressing by any normal human being's standards.
He was about to finally lead the Houston Texans to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history when he suffered a Lisfranc injury—which I still have no clue what that it is.
Even before the injury, Schaub was having a down year statistically and had adopted more of a game-manager role than playmaker, as he held in previous seasons.
With Schaub coming off the injury, and headed into a contract year, everything is on the line in 2012. It is time for Schaub to become elite or forever hold his peace.
If he becomes elite, he'll clearly win this award (short of Peyton Manning taking the Broncos to the Super Bowl or Darren McFadden becoming Bo Jackson).
That is another big if, though.
Vikings RB Adrian Peterson
That Adrian Peterson missed the latter half of the Vikings' 2011 campaign had to be one of the best kept secrets in recent memories, relatively speaking.
Most fans remember he did not play, but a torn ACL? I'm not sure how many realized that is what happened.
Even when healthy, Peterson wasn't quite his usual self with rookie Christian Ponder taking over the reins of the offense in the Green Bay home game, after the Donovan McNabb experiment went horribly wrong.
But Peterson is supposed to be healthy and ready to go in Week 1 for a Minnesota team looking to rebound from consecutively awful seasons in 2010 and 2011.
Peterson is going to have to return to regular form early on if the Vikings want to contend in 2012. Doing so would also give him the opportunity to earn Comeback Player of the Year.
Broncos QB Peyton Manning
You know the story, he missed the entire 2011 season with an odd neck injury. That was Peyton Manning's final season in a historic run in Indianapolis with the Colts.
Manning actually has a hard act to follow in that regard. It's the reason I do not ultimately think he will win this award. But I fully expect him to have a great comeback season in 2012 before beginning to really slow down in 2013.
And the Winner Is...Darren McFadden
One must remember there are other great candidates—Eric Berry and Jamaal Charles of the Chiefs, perhaps even Chiefs tight end Tony Moeaki as well.
But at the end of the day, the winner will come from a different AFC West player, Darren McFadden.
He will continue to put up Tecmo Bowl statistics while earning the Raiders' first playoff spot in 10 years.