2010 NFL Awards: Countdown of Top 10 Candidates for Comeback Player of the Year

Dmitriy IoselevichSenior Analyst IIIJanuary 16, 2011

2010 NFL Awards: Countdown of Top 10 Candidates for Comeback Player of the Year

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    The NFL is a thankless league. One day you can be on top of the world—multiple Pro Bowl appearances, Super Bowl champion and millions of fans. But then the next day you can find you can find yourself on the scrap heap and on your way out of the league.

    That's what makes these 10 players so impressive. They fell out of the spotlight but fought their way back and are now once again among the NFL's elite. Regardless of what the reason was, these players battled for their football lives.

    Here are the top 10 candidates.

    For other NFL Awards columns, please follow the links below.

    MVP

    Defensive Player of the Year

    Offensive Rookie of the Year

    Defensive Rookie of the Year

    Coach of the Year

10. Dwayne Bowe, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Bowe seemed well on his way to NFL stardom, collecting 156 receptions and over 2,000 receiving yards in his first two season in his league. But in 2009 his season was cut short by injury and Bowe managed only 47 receptions for 589 yards and a career-low four touchdowns.

    This year Bowe came back with a vengeance and established himself as one of the league's best wide receivers. He finished with 72 receptions, 1,162 yards and a league-high 15 touchdowns. 

9. Ronnie Brown, RB, Miami Dolphins

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    Brown has been a big disappointment for the Dolphins since being drafted 2nd overall in the 2005 NFL Draft. He seemed to finally be on the way to living up to his potential last season, rushing for over 600 yards and eight touchdowns in just the first nine weeks. But injuries ended his season prematurely for the second time in three seasons.

    Brown returned for his sixth season in Miami this year and played in all 16 games for just the second time in his career, carrying the ball 200 times for 734 yards and five touchdowns.

8. Chris Cooley, TE, Washington Redskins

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    Cooley has been one of the best tight ends in football since being drafted in 2003 by Washington, playing in every game his first five seasons. But the Redskins joke king broke his foot in 2009 and only played in seven games.

    This year Cooley returned to form and was a favorite target of Donovan McNabb, catching 77 passes for 849 yards and three touchdowns. He was Washington's second leading receiver behind Santana Moss and the NFL's second leading tight end behind Jason Witten.

7. LaDanian Tomlinson, RB, New York Jets

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    Tomlinson is one of the greatest athletes to ever touch a football. He had eight straight 1,000-yard seasons after being drafted 5th overall out of Texas Christian University in 2001, and never scored less than 10 touchdowns. He had one of the best seasons for a running back ever in 2007, running for 1,815 yards and scoring an NFL-record 28 touchdowns.

    But age caught up with the now 31-year-old Tomlinson and he had a career-low 223 carries in 2009 for 730 yards and a paltry 3.3 yards/carry. He still scored 12 touchdowns but he didn't look like a feature back anymore, let alone one of the best backs in the history of the game.

    Tomlinson left the San Diego Chargers in the offseason and joined the New York Jets where he was expected to share carries with Shonn Greene. Instead, Tomlinson was the Jets leading rusher. He finished the year with 914 rushing yards on 219 carries (4.2 yards/carry) and scored six touchdowns.

    With the way he's playing, he's definitely got a few seasons left in him.

6. Brian Urlacher, LB, Chicago Bears

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    Urlacher has been one of the best players in the NFL for a long time and will one day be inducted into the Hall of Fame. But even the great Urlacher is not infallible.

    The Bears defensive leader and captain suffered a season-ending injury in the first week of the regular season in 2009, finishing the year with just three tackles.

    It's not really a surprise that Urlacher returned to form, but he still deserves mention here. The monster linebacker finished with 125 tackles, 4.0 sacks and two forced fumbles all while leading the Chicago Bears to an NFC North title.

5. Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Polamalu has dealt with a multitude of injuries throughout his eight-year NFL career, but he was never hit harder than in 2009 when he was only able to play in five games.

    The Steelers star safety shrugged off the Madden cure this year and returned to play in 14 of Pittsburgh's games, compiling a stat line of 63 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and seven interceptions. 

    Polamalu may not have a chance at this award but he will definitely receive serious consideration as Defensive Player of the Year.

4. E.J. Henderson, MLB, Minnesota Vikings

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    Henderson was one of the best defensive players in football, missing only three games in his first five seasons and dominating in 2007 when he recorded 118 tackles and 4.5 sacks. The linebacker looked great again in 2008, but a broken leg in Week 4 against the Arizona Cardinals ended his season.

    Henderson returned in 2009, but clearly wasn't the same player. He played in only 12 games and earned 83 tackles and 2.0 sacks with his leg at less than full strength.

    It was a completely different story in 2010, as Henderson once again played like the leader of the Vikings defense. He started all 16 games and recorded 106 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a career-high three interceptions.

3. Wes Welker, WR, New England Patriots

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    Welker is no stranger to overcoming odds. He went undrafted and was hardly used in his first three seasons with the Miami Dolphins, relegated to special teams duty. But then the New England Patriots plucked him from the Dolphins roster and made him into an NFL superstar.

    Welker had at least 100 receptions and 1,000 receiving yards for three straight seasons while in a Patriots uniform. He was having a career-year in 2009, with 123 receptions for 1,348 yards, before destroying his knee in the final week of the regular season. Welker missed New England's playoff game against Baltimore and spent his entire offseason rehabilitating.

    The 5'9" wide receiver somehow returned to action in time for the beginning of the 2010-11 season, and was electric once again. He finished this year with 86 receptions for 848 yards and seven touchdowns while serving as Tom Brady's only real holdover on offense. Welker took just seven months to recover from an injury that takes most players twice that long.

2. Mike Williams, WR, Seattle Seahawks

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    Williams' entire career has been surrounded by the question of if and when he can come back. Well, in 2010, he finally did it.

    The former USC star was widely considered a draft bust after being drafted 10th overall by the Detroit Lions in the 2005 NFL Draft. He spent just two seasons in Detroit before leaving the NFL entirely following the 2007 season. But the 6'5" wide receiver saw an opportunity to return to football and come play for his former coach, Pete Carroll, in Seattle. There was just one problem—he was horribly overweight.

    Williams dropped nearly 70 pounds to get ready for the football season and after Deion Branch was traded to New England, he emerged as the Seahawks No. 1 receiver. He finished with career-highs in every statistical category, recording 65 receptions for 751 yards and two touchdowns.

    Williams seems to have finally reached his potential, and in any other season he would be the unanimous choice for this award. But this wasn't just any season.

1. Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Vick has become a poster boy for players that deserve a second chance.

    The former Atlanta Falcons star missed the entire 2007 and 2008 season in prison after being indicted in a controversial dogfighting scandal. The Philadelphia Eagles were kind of enough to offer him a two-year contract after he was released from jail, but Vick barely saw the field and earned less than 200 total yards on the year.

    Everyone expected 2010 to be more of the same, with Vick riding the bench behind declared starter Kevin Kolb. Vick may have started the year on the bench, but he finished it as one of the best quarterbacks in football.

    The former No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft was among the league leaders in most major statistical categories, including passer rating (100.2), completion percentage (62.6), passing yards (3,018), passing touchdowns (21) and interceptions (6). The dynamic Vick also added 676 rushing yards and a career-high nine rushing touchdowns.

    In just one year Vick went from being one of the least popular athletes in all of sports into one of the country's most celebrated. Now that's a comeback.