Five Favorites for NFL Comeback Player of the Year

Angel Navedo@NamedAngelSenior Writer ISeptember 18, 2008

NFL fans have a short-term memory. We're all guilty of it. We manage to remember the misery and the embarrassment and have a tendency to dismiss players after tumultuous seasons and rough patches.

Poor performances end up becoming more significant than the style of play that made athletes the cornerstones of our favorite organizations.

With a game like football, and in a league like the NFL, history has taught us that a short-term memory is the most dangerous thing to approach the game with. And the first two weeks of the 2008 season have solidified that point.

Compiling this list was difficult. Deciding which players have re-emerged as the difference-makers for their teams was a daunting task.

J.T. O'Sullivan of the San Francisco 49ers could be worthy of recognition, but it could also be argued that he has to have been here in order to come back. His career as a journeyman doesn't exactly qualify him, but it shouldn't be difficult to make a case for him if he has a few more 300-yard passing games.

Reggie Bush was also a consideration. But with only three years in the league, it seems as if the game is slowing down for him, and he's finally realizing his potential. But calling it a come back would be premature.

In two weeks of regular-season football, many men that were written off and forgotten have stepped up when the game counted. If they can continue to build on their performances, the race for Comeback Player of the Year may be the closest it's been in years.

5. Jake Delhomme, QB Carolina Panthers

While Delhomme's numbers this season aren't exceptional, his poise in Week One against San Diego has to make him an early favorite. His 2007 season ended early with an injury, but his abilities as a leader had been in question since the end of 2006. Fans were citing the drop in his talent and wondered if Carolina should look elsewhere for a quarterback.

When the season began, excitement for the Carolina QB was at a low. But after 59 minutes of Week One football, feelings changed quickly. A last minute victory against the presumably stronger San Diego Chargers restored the faith in Delhomme.

With 375 yards and one TD in two weeks of play, it's clear that he's not dicing any secondaries, or lighting up the field with huge pass plays. But he's also not playing with Steve Smith.

If Delhomme can be successful in the clutch without his best receiver, imagine the tempo he can create for an entire game when they take the field together.

4. Jonathan Vilma, MLB New Orleans Saints

When the New York Jets traded Jonathan Vilma to the New Orleans Saints, Jets' fans knew it was for the best. The 3-4 defensive scheme was the round hole, and Vilma was the square peg.

His abilities as a sideline-to-sideline tackler were nullified by big linemen he couldn't shed. In his last healthy year as a Jet, he recorded 113 tackles—a significant drop from the 276 he recorded during his first two seasons with the club.

His 2007 season was then cut short with a knee injury, and his value with the team dissipated as rookie David Harris emerged as a true inside linebacker for the defensive alignment. Vilma had difficulties recording multiple tackles in a game, while Harris managed to stop the ballcarrier over 15 times in several games.

Now that Vilma is healthy, and with a new team and defense that plays to his strengths, he's been knocking down ballcarriers all over the field again.

In two games, he's recorded a total of 25 tackles. If Vilma continues at that pace, he may be looking at a near 200-tackle season, and his first trip to Hawaii since being chosen as an alternate in 2005.

3. Kurt Warner, QB Arizona Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals are at the top of their division.

Take a minute to soak that in. The Arizona Cardinals are 2-0—and they have done so with authority.

The offseason was rough for fans, as they wondered if the organization would do the wrong thing and start the unprepared Matt Leinart. After awful preseason performances, things were scary in the desert. Would Ken Whisenhunt and friends really start Leinart because he was drafted early three years ago?

Fortunately, that question was answered the right way when Kurt Warner received the starter nod. At 37, Warner's been a class act for the last four-to-five years, graciously smiling as teams ask him to be the veteran presence for a shiny, new rookie.

But can it really be called a comeback? In 2007, he stepped in for the injured Matt Leinart and tossed 27 touchdowns. It's a tough call, but it should qualify. Going in to 2008, this team was expected to be Leinart's, and Warner was simply the insurance policy.

Warner is the quarterback the NFL has been trying to disregard as another guy that won't retire. Fortunately for Arizona, he knows he still has it. With 558 passing yards, four touchdowns, and a passer rating of 128.5, Matt Leinart has to be wondering if the team will ever be his.

And if the Cardinals can continue this success throughout the season, and take advantage of a weak division and an under-achieving Seahawks team, then Warner has to be given real consideration for such an award.

2. Kris Jenkins, NT New York Jets

Kris Jenkins was acquired from Carolina, at the very start of the offseason, to play a position he hasn't had experience with since his rookie year. The former All-Pro was believed to be on the back-end of his career as he voiced his displeasure with the Panthers' franchise.

There were knocks on his size as he neared 400-pounds, and some believed he was too large to play at the same level he had earlier in his career.

Packaging third-and-fifth-round draft picks for his services, Jenkins has done exactly what's expected of someone his size in this defensive scheme. The Jets demanded that he maintain a weight of 360 pounds, and Kris Jenkins has been what the Jets needed through these first two weeks of play.

He's recorded eight tackles and one sack thus far, but his presence alone has allowed for the rest of the team to apply the kind of pressure that makes the 3-4 defense work!

Since implementing the 3-4 with Eric Mangini, the Jets' defense allowed 4.6 yards-per-carry in 2006, and 4.2 yards-per-carry in 2007. With Jenkins in the middle, that number is down to 3.1.

Shipping Dewayne Robertson off to Denver for a bag of Frito's and an old Broncos hat left in the parking lot, has allowed Jets' fans to see how effective this defense can be with a true big man in the middle.

To quote the evil Bill Belichick, "Jenkins is a force in there. There is no doubt about it."

1. Donovan McNabb, QB Philadelphia Eagles

There should be absolutely no surprises here. Everyone has been trying to predict the end of Donovan McNabb since the Super Bowl loss. Maybe Terrell Owens got in everyone's head when he tried to publicly assassinate McNabb's spirit.

A series of unfortunate injuries over the last three seasons has forced fans to wonder when a new quarterback will have a chance to start in the City of Brotherly Love. The 2008 offseason failed to inspire much confidence, and a familiar debate reared its ugly head once again. Where are the receivers? Who does McNabb have to throw the ball to?

Apparently, there are 10 men up to the task. Rookie DeSean Jackson controls the receiving department, hauling in 12 of McNabb's 46 completions. With 642 yards, four touchdowns, and a rating of 114.1, fans should stop wondering who his receivers are.

A healthy McNabb is also a mobile McNabb. He's used his feet to buy time and make plays happen.

The Eagles' defense is also making life easier for McNabb, Brian Westbrook, and friends. Alleviating the pressure on the offense to win games is essential for every quarterback. It's allowed McNabb to play mistake-free football and kept him in a shoot-out with the high-powered Dallas Cowboys in their Monday Night contest.

If McNabb can continue to play at such a high level, he could even be looking at an MVP season.

The season is young, and the potential for someone to drop-off, or for someone else to hit a hot streak is inevitable. But sometimes players can set the tone for a season early on. Without a question, these men have the potential to dictate the pace of a game and rally their teams around them.

Angel Navedo is the Head Writer at, boasting Jet Fuel Radio, frequently updated news and opinions, and a premier fan community. He is also the Community Leader for the New York Jets on Bleacher Report


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