2010 Comeback Kids: 10 Candidates For NFL Comeback Player Of The Year
Everyone loves a feel-good story. More importantly, everyone loves a feel-good story about an underdog.
What's better than a guy on the ground? Kicking him while he's down, right? But what's even better than that? Seeing him rise up and defeat the odds.
The NFL has always been notorious for guys sustaining career-crippling injuries, or going down due to crime or poor play.
So, when we have a chance to see one of the mighty who have fallen, turn and make their bid to rise back to the top, well, it makes our heart smile.
Miami Dolphins' quarterback Chad Pennington won the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year award in 2009 after coming back from a shoulder injury, as well as a trade, in a triumphant 11-5 season with the Dolphins.
Then we all saw greatness rise from the dust when Tom Brady returned from a serious knee injury to pass for over 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns while leading his New England Patriots to a 10-6 record and division title.
So, who can we expect, hope, and cheer on in 2010 that could have a shot at this award? Read on to find out.
10. Mike Williams, WR, Seattle Seahawks
Williams has wasted such grand opportunities over the years, that it's beyond a shame that he has to be on this list, although difficult to ignore how far he's come since his rookie year.
Drafted by the Detroit Lions with the 10th overall pick a few years back, Williams has bounced around the league without amounting to anything more than a fourth receiver, as he's battled weight and character issues throughout his brief career.
Well, the former USC Trojan has his butt in gear, and is reunited with former Trojan head coach Pete Carroll in Seattle, and is reportedly in the best shape of his life.
With just Deion Branch and T.J. Houshmandzadeh standing in his way of a big role in Seattle's passing game, there's a decent chance the now committed receiver could bring his big-play ability to life on football's biggest stage.
While the Tennessee Titan corner clearly blew this play, Williams still exhibited some true play-making ability and solid speed enroute to a touchdown.
9. Chris Cooley, TE, Washington Redskins
Cooley has always been a solid tight end in the NFL, and if it weren't for inconsistent play for the quarterback position in Washington, it's arguable that Cooley has always had the talent to vault himself to elite status at his position.
With Jason Campbell in Oakland and Donovan McNabb now under center for the Redskins, Cooley has a terrific chance to rebound from a broken foot that killed his 2009 season, and get back to his 2008 form.
And judging by the way McNabb loves throwing to tight ends, Cooley has a solid shot at putting up career-high numbers in 2010.
8. Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh Steelers
Troy Polamalu became Madden's most recent NFL casualty, as he graced the cover of the popular video game and then went on to miss 11 games during the 2009 season due to various injuries.
It was a shame, too, as Polamalu jumped off to a terrific start, registering six tackles and an impressive one-handed interception before bowing out of a Week One victory over the Tennessee Titans.
Polamalu is simply too talented and determined to let one bad season get him down, and he should quickly get back into a groove as Pittsburgh's fiery defensive leader.
With Ben Roethlisberger out for 4-6 weeks due to suspension to start the season, Polamalu will have to be on top of his game to play a helping hand in keeping the Steelers' 2010 season afloat.
7. Clinton Portis, RB, Washington Redskins
He's 28 and coming off of a season riddled with knee and ankle issues, as well as a concussion that nagged him for so long, that his coaching staff ultimately shut him down for the season.
Portis dropped off considerably last season, rushing for just 494 yards and scoring just two total touchdowns in Washington's first eight games, before succumbing to lingering concussion affects.
However, it was just 2008 that saw Portis among the league's best backs, when he ran for 1,400+ yards and scored nine rushing touchdowns, while starting all 16 games.
Portis may have a lot of grind on his legs, and he's a fairly "old 29," but with a reunion with former Denver head coach Mike Shanahan, and an upgrade at quarterback (McNabb), he may be in line for the comeback trail.
With just Larry Johnson, Willie Parker, and Ryan Torain as his top competition for carries in 2010, there's a feeling in Washington that the now healthy former fantasy stud back can regain his 2008 form.
6. Brian Urlacher, LB, Chicago Bears
Brian Urlacher can't even remember what it's like to hit the football field. He probably can't remember his last big play, his last sack, or his last true football hit.
He has, after all, been away from the contact of the sport for almost an entire season.
Urlacher played less than one full game, exiting a Week One loss to the Green Bay Packers with a broken wrist, never to return again during the 2009 season.
Urlacher's injury sent the Bears down a road best left forgotten, and helped cost them a shot at the NFC North division, and ultimately the playoffs.
Despite being 32, missing almost all of last season, and registering just 93 tackles in 2009, Urlacher is heading into the 2010 season with a head over-flowing with steam and determination.
He still has the skill-set to be a major player at the highest level, and is a strong candidate for this year's Comeback Player of the Year award.
5. Ronnie Brown, RB, Miami Dolphins
Ronnie Brown has constantly flashed absolute brilliance as an impact running back with the Miami Dolphins, but has also seen his fantastic starts come to abrupt ends in two of the past three seasons.
Brown was on an absolute tear in 2009, starting the season with over 600 rushing yards and eight rushing scores in the first nine weeks.
That's a pace that would have led him to nearly 1,200 rushing yards and 15+ rushing touchdowns if he stayed healthy and continued playing at a high level.
While we can't expect Brown to pick-up right where he left off, we can expect his talent and athleticism to continue shining bright, if only he can remain healthy and stay on the field.
He also has veteran back Ricky Williams to worry about, but Brown remains one of the strongest contenders for this year's comeback award.
4. Jake Delhomme, QB, Cleveland Browns
What constitutes a comeback? Do you have to do what Chad Pennington did, and return from a major injury, lead your team to the playoffs, and have arguably your best season as a pro?
Do you do what Tom Brady did, and return to be about half the player you were before the year of your injury (arguably)?
Or do you rise from ashes, a turnover-machine season, and prove everyone wrong who thought you were washed up?
For Delhomme, merely surviving in a city where quarterbacks generally go to die may be enough to win him this year's award.
Delhomme has endured the unbearable. After throwing five interceptions in a deflating playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl-participating Arizona Cardinals in 2008, Delhomme started the 2009 season off with a bang, playing horribly in a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, en route to a terrible eight touchdown and 18 interception season.
Delhomme was injured, benched permanently, and then released.
Sometimes you don't have to come back in dramatic or in excellent statistical fashion to deserve an award. Sometimes you just have to come back at all.
If Delhomme can even get back to the level he played at during the 2008 season, Cleveland Browns fans (and Delhomme fans) can chalk it up as a resounding success.
3. Donte Stallworth, WR, Baltimore Ravens
After going through the motions in New Orleans, Stallworth busted his hype potential in Philadelphia and New England, and then finally looked like he was ready to fade away in Cleveland.
An offseason tragedy, in which an inebriated Stallworth committed manslaughter by running over a pedestrian in his car (and was sentenced to roughly a month in jail), it appeared as though the once-promising receiver had hit rock bottom.
People wondered if he would ever play again, much less ever reach the star potential that was so often matched with his speed and play-making ability.
Say what you will about him, but Stallworth owned up to his mistakes, and as inconsistent of a player he has been in his career, he has still always possesses game-changing ability.
If he makes the Baltimore Ravens' final roster, step one of an impressive comeback is complete. If he can supplant Mark Clayton and make him expendable, you can jot down step two as in the books.
Anything after that will simply be gravy.
2. Michael Turner, RB, Atlanta Falcons
After taking the league by storm with 1,699 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns on 377 carries in 2008, Michael Turner looked tired and worn down in 2010, and ended the season with under 900 yards in just 11 games.
You can't blame the former San Diego speedster. He touches the ball close to 400 times in his first season as a starter, after rushing for more than 100 attempts, well, zero times before in his entire career.
That kind of major shift and workload can just about kill a man.
Regardless, Turner just ran into nagging injuries, and the most telling part was that despite missing some action and finishing with under 1,000 yards, Turner "The Burner" actually still scored 10 touchdowns, and finished with a better yards per carry averages (4.9) than he had the previous season (4.5).
Turner is healthy again, and is even expected to be more involved in the team's passing attack. Fair enough if you don't count Turner as a legit player in the "Comeback" race, but if he can come anywhere close to what he did in 2008, he gets my vote.
1B. Owen Daniels, TE, Houston Texans
Owen Daniels suffered a fate much like the No. 1 guy (who you'll see in a second), but if he can come all the way back and put up the numbers he's capable of, his comeback would arguably be more impressive.
Daniels was on pace for disgusting offensive production in 2009, before going down with knee ligament tears in Week Eight.
Had he stayed healthy, Daniels was on pace to record over 80 receptions, 1,000 yards, and 10 touchdowns.
The Houston Texans' passing offense finished atop the league in passing yardage on the season, but one has to wonder just how much more potent the offense would have been, had Daniels not been hurt.
Daniels is already well on his way to making a comeback, and if he can even get back to his 2008 form, his comeback will be a great success.
1A. Wes Welker, WR, New England Patriots
Wes Welker has done nothing but overcome the odds his entire life. He got a shot as a special teamer in San Diego, then got cut.
He made his way onto the Miami Dolphins, worked his way into a measly slot role, and then got traded.
Little did he know, all that hard work as a special teamer, return man, and soft-handed slot receiver paid off. And it paid off big.
Welker joined the New England Patriots during their disgusting offensive display in the 2007 season, and nearly helped the Patriots win the Super Bowl with an MVP-like 11-catch performance in a narrow loss to the New York Giants.
All in all, Welker has simple recorded at least 112 receptions and 1,000 yards in each of the past three seasons, while leading the NFL with 123 catches in 2009, despite missing much of Week 17 with a disastrous knee injury.
That same knee injury ended his season and kept Welker out of the Patriots soon-to-be short playoff run, and sent him on a maddening journey to make his way back in time to start in Week One of the impending 2010 season.
With his two-catch, 20-yard preseason debut recently, Welker has already technically completed his comeback bid, and while we'll need to see more out of him to officially crown him, there is no doubt in this writer's mind that he is already (although not permanently) the most deserving candidate.