Back from the Grave: Each NFL Team's Best Players Returning from the IR in 2011

J FCorrespondent IApril 3, 2011

Back from the Grave: Each NFL Team's Best Players Returning from the IR in 2011

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    In the 2010 NFL season, several star players found themselves forgotten on the Injured Reserve. Injuries did not spare a single team as at least one notable starter's season ended abruptly for nearly every franchise.

    Every team continued to fight despite the adversity thrown their way. Even if they couldn't achieve all their goals in 2010, there was a bright side.

    Most injuries can be overcome in the offseason, and the players will be back on the field by the start of training camp. For what couldn't be accomplished last year, there is new hope as the IR boys come back to town.

    For those of you who have forgotten them, here are each team's best players that will journey back from the depths of the Injured Reserve to start fresh in 2011.

1. Detroit Lions

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    The Lions' second year QB, Matthew Stafford, was hounded by shoulder injuries in 2010, which eventually led to season ending surgery. In just three appearances he put up six touchdowns and only a single pick.

    His ability to return to the starting job in 2011, and leave his shoulder problems in the past, will dictate the offensive success of the hopeful Lions.

    DE Kyle Vanden Bosch will be back in action after recovering from neck surgery to join the dangerous Ndamukong Suh on the Lions' improving defensive line.

    The 40-year-old K Jason Hanson will also be returning after rehabbing his knee, but it is unclear if he'll continue his nineteen-year career in Detroit.

2. Minnesota Vikings

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    The Vikes' secondary will receive a boost with the return of Cedric Griffin and Madieu Williams to the lineup. Griffin only played in two games in 2010 before tearing his ACL.

    QB Tavaris Jackson was sent to the IR with a turf toe injury late in the season, but he'll probably be on a new team when he gets back on the field in 2011.

    G Steve Hutchinson will also be saying goodbye to the IR, but the 33-year-old may be departing Minnesota. He's made the Pro Bowl seven times, but his durability has been questioned lately.

3. Green Bay Packers

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    The Packers missed out on two of their biggest offensive threats in 2010. RB Ryan Grant was sent to the IR after a devastating Week 1 injury, and TE Jermichael Finley followed him in Week 5.

    Grant had rushed for over 1,200 in his previous two seasons with the Pack, and will be ready to go as the the starting running back in Green Bay come September.

    Finley had two 100-yard performances prior to his injury, and was expected to have a breakout season as a favorite target of QB Aaron Rodgers. He'll look to gain status as an elite tight end in 2011 as one of the Packers' favorite weapons.

    Other key returnees include ILB Nick Barnett and S Morgan Burnett. Barnett has been a leader on the Packers' defense for eight seasons and will continue in that role in 2011. Burnett's rookie season was cut short by injury, and he'll most likely snag back the starting position when he is back on the field.

4. Chicago Bears

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    Although rookie RB Harvey Unga and LB Hunter Hillenmeyer were hurt before the regular season began, the Bears escaped injuries to their prominent players all season long. Their Injured Reserve list was short and sweet in 2010.

    However, a crucial injury caught them at the worst possible time in the NFC Championship. QB Jay Cutler sprained his MCL and opted not to play the remainder of the second half.

    The rival Packers went on to win the Super Bowl, and Cutler was beaten to the pulp with criticism from the media, fans, players, and even former players.

    Cutler will be back looking for vengeance in 2011, unless he decides to wallow in the misery of the Bears' season finale, and if that is the case, he'll lose any loyalty he has left in the Windy City.

5. Denver Broncos

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    The Broncos added LenDale White to their collection of mediocre running backs with a one-year deal, but after tearing his Achilles tendon his return to Mile High is doubtful.

    The real disappointment in Denver, was the departure of pass rushing DE Elvis Dumervil to the IR. He was fresh off his first Pro Bowl after recording 17 sacks in 2009 when he signed a six-year deal in July 2010. A month later, a torn pectoral muscle in practice ended his 2010 season before it even began.

    Broncos' fans will be exuberant when Dumervil returns, and they hope that he will once again be able to lead the league in sacks.

6. San Diego Chargers

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    San Diego's elite tight end, Antonio Gates, was limited by injuries in the latter half of the 2010 season. He reeled in 10 touchdowns in 10 games before being sent to the IR.

    Gates didn't need surgery in the offseason and he'll be back for his ninth season with the Chargers to go for his eighth consecutive Pro Bowl.

    FB Mike Tolbert was also placed on the IR with a neck injury, but only missed the season finale. He will mostly likely return to reinforce the Bolts' backfield even though he is a free agent.

7. Kansas City Chiefs

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    A frightening neck injury in the preseason led the promising rookie linebacker, Cameron Sheffield, to the IR, but overall there weren't too many big names on the Chiefs Injured Reserve list in 2010.

    They won the AFC West for the first time since 2003, but collapsed in the Wild Card round to the obviously superior Baltimore Ravens.

    For better or worse, Kansas City won't get much assistance in 2011 from players returning from injury as they look to defend their division crown.

8. Oakland Raiders

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    Of the three players on the Raiders' IR in 2010, two were backup quarterbacks: Charlie Frye and Bruce Gradkowski.

    Both are free agents along with the other pair of Oakland's cast of castaway QBs: Kyle Boller and J.T. O'Sullivan.

    Gradkowksi became the starter after Jason Campbell proved ineffective until his injury, but Campbell will return to the starting job in 2011.

    Charlie Frye is as good as gone, but the Raiders will be eager to re-sign Gradkowski for backup duty. Although they hope they won't have to promote him again because of Campbell's poor play.

9. New England Patriots

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    Veteran RB Kevin Faulk only appeared in two games in 2010, and probably only has one more year in the tank. He's a free agent and the Patriots won't need him back with Danny Woodehead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis providing stability in the backfield.

    Nine-year veteran LE Ty Warren will bring his talents back to Boston in 2011 after tearing his labrum and missing the 2010 season.

    K Stephen Gostkowski will recover from surgery in time to be New England's place kicker in 2011 if his leg can hold up after suffering such a serious quad tear.

    Another veteran, G Stephen Neal, retired after starting on the Pats' line since 2004. Dan Conolly replaced him in the lineup after his shoulder injury and performed well, not to mention returning a kickoff 71 yards.

10. Miami Dolphins

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    Linebacker Karlos Dansby had three sacks and two forced fumbles before a toe injury ended his first season in Miami. The Dolphins can't wait to have him back on their defense as his presence will determine its success in 2011, both in stopping the run and the pass.

    QB Chad Pennington will probably go from the IR to free agency, and there will be only one Chad on the Dolphins QB' depth chart, the inconsistent Chad Henne.

    The Fins' first round pick DE Jared Odrick recorded one tackle in his one appearance prior to fracturing his foot. He'll be ready to prove his worth by the start of 2011, and the Dolphins will be praying injuries don't become common in his young career.

11. New York Jets

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    S Jim Leonhard expects to be recovered from a broken leg that he suffered at practice in early December last season.

    If everything goes as planned, he'll be back as a leader in the Jets' secondary in 2011. Leonhard will bring stability at the safety position, and the Jets hope he'll be just as effective at returning punts as he was prior to the injury.

    DE Ropati Pitoitua, an undrafted free agent signed by the Jets in 2008, tore his Achilles in the 2010 preseason. He only recorded six tackles in '09 after spending '08 on the practice squad, but he was improving despite being buried on the depth chart.

    Pitoitua's return won't have much affect on the Jets' defense in 2011, but Leonhard's presence on the field will definitely have an impact.

12. Buffalo Bills

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    Rookie offensive lineman Cordaro Howard played in 10 games in 2010, and made four starts. However, he'll have to compete for a job if he can recover from shoulder surgery in time for the 2011 season.

    Wide receivers Lee Evans and Roscoe Parrish both hit the IR with an ankle sprain and fractured wrist, respectively. Evans picked up 578 yards and four TDs in 13 games, but had lost the top wide out spot to Steve Johnson. Parrish had 400 yards and two TDs, along with 131 punt return yards.

    Both should return to the line up to restore the BIlls receiving corps, but LB Shawne Merriman will provide the most spark to the team. Merriman was claimed off waivers in November only to suffer an Achilles injury in his first work out in Buffalo.

    Bills fans should be excited for him to finally get on the field and improve the Bills' weak pass rush.

13. Arizona Cardinals

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    The Cardinals undrafted QB Max Hall proved he was not the answer at quarterback. Hall had six interceptions, two lost fumbles, and only one touchdown in six games. He'll be the backup to whoever Arizona can find for the position in 2011.

    WR Early Doucet didn't have a very good year replacing Anquan Boldin as the Cards' No. 2 receiver. Injuries and quarterback play were mostly to blame, and he should be ready to go next season.

14. San Francisco 49ers

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    Frank Gore rushed for 853 yards before missing the last five games. The 49ers and new headcoach Jim Harbaugh can't wait for him to return to work as a workhorse in the backfield.

    After K Joe Nedney found himself on the IR for the second consecutive season, he'll have some competition next year to retain his starting role.

    In his first season with the Niners, veteran LB Travis Laboy recorded five sacks and a fumble recovery before landing on the IR with a knee injury. If he's re-signed he'll be back in action for San Fran in 2011.

15. Seattle Seahawks

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    WR Deon Butler severely fractured his leg last season, and his career may be in jeopardy. Reports are that his recovery is going well, but only time will tell if he'll be back on the field for Seattle next season.

    CB Roy Lewis emerged in 2011 after two seasons on the Seahawks practice squad. The 'Hawks resigned him and after his recovery, he'll likely return to the role of a nickelback or a dimeback.

16. St. Louis Rams

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    Mark Clayton became QB Sam Bradford's go-to receiver in the beginning of the season. He recorded over 300 yards and two touchdowns before his departure with a torn patella in Week 5.

    Clayton's a free agent, but the Rams want him back to strengthen their receiving corps. It's just a matter of getting a deal done.

17. Dallas Cowboys

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    Tony Romo claims that he's fully recovered from a broken collarbone, and after "shouldering" the blame for the Cowboys horrific season, he'll be looking for redemption as America's Team's starting quarterback in 2011.

    DE Marcus Spears hit the IR with a strained calf, and Dallas will not attempt to re-sign him.

    With Romo's return the Cowboys will look to be the Super Bowl contenders they were supposed to be in 2010.

18. Washington Redskins

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    Veteran RB Clinton Portis was the only big name on the 'Skins injured reserve list in 2010.

    Portis is no longer a Redskin now that the team released him after seven seasons in Washington, but he'll find a home somewhere by next season.

19. Philadelphia Eagles

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    Rookie DE Brandon Graham suffered a torn ACL last season, and according to Andy Reid it is unlikely he'll be ready by the start of the upcoming season. However, fellow rookie S Nate Allen will.

    CB Ellis Hobbs will probably retire after his second neck injury, meaning he also won't be back with the Eagles.

    FB Leonard Weaver's return from a knee injury is also in question, but he's confident he'll be back.

20. New York Giants

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    DE Mathias Kiwanuka had four sacks in three games for the Giants before his neck injury. His return to the team is questionable since he is a restricted free agent, but they'll likely re-sign him.

    WR Steve Smith may miss the beginning of the 2011 season if he stays in New York, but fellow receiver Domenik Hixon should be good to go after missing most of 2010 with a torn ACL.

21. Tennessee Titans

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    Troubled Titans' QB Vince Young finished the season on the IR due to a thumb injury, but it is old news that the team will release him if they can't deal him.

    DE Dave Ball had a career-high seven sacks in 2010, but he'll test the free agency market this spring.

    Derrick Morgan, also a defensive end, was progressing as a pass rusher before missing 12 games with a torn ACL. He'll be excited to be back and to make an impact on the Titans defense in 2011.

22. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    DE Aaron Kampman had four sacks in eight games for the Jags in 2010 before having to undergo ACL surgery. He says he'll spend all offseason recovering, but should be good to go once games begin in September.

    Quarterback David Garrard will return as the starter in Jacksonville after missing two games because of a finger injury. However, the Jaguars may bring in some competition at the position, either through free agency or the draft.

23. Indianapolis Colts

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    Wide receivers Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez both missed nearly half of the 2010 season and are questionable for the start of the 2011 season.

    However, Peyton Manning's favorite target, TE Dallas Clark, will be back in action after playing in only six games last season.

    Clark is recovering well from wrist surgery and will receive a warm welcome from Indy's offense in August.

24. Houston Texans

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    The Texans defense will receive a boost in 2011 with the return of LB Demeco Ryans and DE Mario Williams.

    Ryans missed 12 games with a torn Achilles in 2010, and he expects to come back stronger by the start of next season.

    Mario Williams suffered a hernia late last season and missed three games. He'll make the transition to a pass rusher in Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense upon his return.

    RB Ben Tate has also been cleared to return after missing all of 2010, and he will back up the league's leading rusher, Arian Foster, next season.

25. Cincinatti Bengals

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    After signing with the Bengals, CB Adam Jones played well in five games last season before injuring his neck. He's aiming to be a starter in 2011, but he's still in the process of recovery.

    DE Antwan Odom hasn't played a full season since he's been in Cincinnati, but he's definitely a force when he's on the field. The Bengals hope he will shake his wrist injury and return to his 2009 form in which he recorded eight sacks in six games.

26. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Dennis Dixon started the season for the Steelers at quarterback in Big Ben's absence, but a knee injury knocked him out after two games.

    Dixon will compete with Byron Leftwich for the backup job in 2011.

    C Maurkice Pouncey will be back on the field after his ankle injury forced him to sit out the Super Bowl.

27. Cleveland Browns

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    Montario Hardesty is making progress in his recovery from an ACL tear and will back up breakout RB Peyton Hillis in 2011 after missing all of last season.

    Although he missed all of 2010 as well, LB D'Qwell Jackson has re-signed with the Browns and can be a beast if he stays healthy.

    Fellow linebacker Scott Fujita will also return to Cleveland's defense as they transition to a 4-3 approach.

28. Baltimore Ravens

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    After OT Jared Gaither didn't get on the field in 2010, it appears his time in Baltimore is most likely over.

    Cornerback Domonique Foxworth is expected to make a full recovery after being sidelined all of last season with a torn ACL and return full speed as a starter for the Ravens.

29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    DT Gerald McCoy had a solid rookie season before landing on the IR with torn biceps and will return with fellow rookie WR Arrelious Benn who also was improving through the course of the 2010 season before tearing a ligament in his knee.

    CB Aquib Talib's hip injury won't stop him from being on the field in 2011, but a suspension might after he turned himself in for firing a gun at his sister's boyfriend.

30. Atlanta Falcons

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    Jerious Norwood had been a top-notch backup for RB Michael Turner, but after suffering a torn ACL in Week 2 of 2010, his time in Atlanta is likely over.

    The Falcons only had four players on the IR last season, but they still fell to the Packers in the playoffs who had 16 on the Injured Reserve.

31. New Orleans Saints

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    The Saints placed six running backs on the IR in 2010, most notably Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas.

    Both should be ready to revive New Orleans' backfield in 2011.

32. Carolina Panthers

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    Although DeAngelo Williams is a free agent and missed most of 2010 with a foot injury, he wants to return to Carolina to share carries with Jonathan Stewart.

    On the other hand, quarterback Matt Moore will be headed elsewhere as the Panthers will likely draft a QB to compete with Jimmy Clausen and Tony Pike.