Which Players Will Bounce Back from Injuries in the 2015 NFL Season?

Matt Bowen @MattBowen41NFL National Lead WriterMay 30, 2015

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When you're looking at a player coming off a major injury in the NFL, there are a variety of factors you have to consider to determine whether he'll be able to bounce back and play a vital role.

Is he truly recovered from the injury? Is it the type of injury that will linger and affect his performance chronically? Has he worked to get back into NFL shape? Does he have the talent to win back a major role?

But the most important question of all is: Will his team put him in a situation to succeed?

As we move through summer training camps and continue to look ahead to the 2015 season, here are five players I believe have the talent and work ethic to recover from their injuries—and who will be in good positions to play key roles for their teams:

OLB/DE Jadeveon Clowney, Texans

Clowney came into the NFL with an enormous amount of hype because of his freakish athleticism, size and explosive power off the edge. But after missing 12 games during his rookie season due to injuries and undergoing microfracture surgery on his knee, can the 2014 No. 1 overall pick impact the game plan in 2015?

When a rookie isn't available to play on Sundays, there is some concern from a developmental perspective, because live game reps are the ultimate teaching tool in the NFL. That's when young players learn to focus on technique and correct mistakes through self-scouting. Clowney missed plenty of those opportunities.

Clowney is also still going through rehab on the knee this offseason, though general manager Rick Smith is encouraged by his progress.

Houston Texans @HoustonTexans

"I've been encouraged and impressed. He's doing well. We expect him to be a major contributor this year." - Smith on Clowney's progress.

If Clowney is healthy and shows his previous speed off the ball during camp, the Texans can utilize him as a rush end in defensive sub packages—even if his reps are somewhat limited early in the season. Add that rare blend of speed and power to the same defensive front as J.J. Watt, and it's something special. He'll be in a position to do some damage.

It's time for the Texans to get some return on the investment they made in Clowney as a top pick. There's so much talent to work with here, but he has to be on the field to produce numbers as a pass-rusher.

QB Sam Bradford, Eagles

Bradford has ended the last two seasons on the shelf with ACL injuries, and his durability has been brought into question because of that. But this didn't stop Eagles coach Chip Kelly from trading 2014 starter Nick Foles to the Rams to get him. Bradford's the guy, the new No. 1 in Philadelphia who is expected to orchestrate Kelly's spread system in 2015.

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

I can see the benefits with Bradford playing in the Eagles offense this season. He has a quick release, can get the ball out on time and is accurate enough to challenge intermediate throwing windows. That doesn't guarantee success in Philadelphia, but given the addition of DeMarco Murray and his ability to produce in the Eagles' zone schemes, Bradford will have plenty of opportunities to use play-action concepts off the run game.

This offense is unique with its multiple formations and alignments, and the tempo challenges opposing defenses to play assignment-sound football.

There is some risk involved with Bradford given his injury history. That has to be mentioned. But if he can stay on the field, there will be plays to be made throwing the ball against defenses that have to match up versus spread alignments. 

LB Sean Lee, Cowboys

The 2014 Dallas Cowboys defense wasn't loaded with talent, but it played extremely fast, maximized its effort on the field and collectively produced in Rod Marinelli's scheme. The Dallas defensive coordinator is one of the best in football and always gets the most out of his players. Now, imagine this defense, which upgraded through the draft, adding Lee back into the mix. The veteran linebacker can be a vital piece on Sundays.

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 03:  Middle linebacker Sean Lee #50 of the Dallas Cowboys in action during the game against the Minnesota Vikings at Cowboys Stadium on November 3, 2013 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

With Rolando McClain staying inside at the "Mike" linebacker position, Lee slides to the weak side (or "Will") in the Cowboys' 4-3 front. That's a playmaking position in this scheme that should cater to Lee's skill set. He's athletic with the speed to make plays in the passing game while also cleaning up against the run.

Drop to a landmark, get your eyes on the quarterback and break on the throw. That's the drill for underneath defenders, along with the ability to blitz in both the base and nickel packages.

Injuries have been the story throughout Lee's career as he comes back to the squad this year after going down with an ACL injury. That's why availability is often more important than pure talent in the NFL. But given the additions of rookies Byron Jones and Randy Gregory, plus Greg Hardy once he comes off a suspension, the Cowboys defense will have much more talent to work with this season. And Lee is a natural athlete at the position, along with being a leader in the huddle.

WR Victor Cruz, Giants

Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. had an amazing rookie season and has the ability to make ridiculous catches and produce numbers in the Giants offense. But let's not forget about the impact Cruz can have once he gets back in the lineup after working through the rehab process for a knee injury that ended his season in 2014.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 14:  Wide receiver Victor Cruz #80 of the New York Giants looks on prior to a game against the Arizona Cardinals at MetLife Stadium on September 14, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images
Alex Trautwig/Getty Images

Cruz has the formation flexibility to align outside of the numbers, work in the slot and win on third downs. He is tough to defend in the middle of the field and has the route-running ability to get on top of defensive backs in the vertical passing game. I love Cruz's quickness, the sudden change of direction that allows him to work off a defender's leverage and get open. This guy is a complete receiver.

When Cruz is game-ready, the Giants and quarterback Eli Manning will have one of the top receiving duos in the NFL. He and Beckham will cause constant matchup problems for opposing secondaries and be sources of stress for opposing defenses as a whole.

FS Jairus Byrd, Saints

I was a big fan of the aggressive move by the Saints last offseason to pay up for Byrd because of his natural instincts, ball skills and range in the middle of the field. Guys like that are hard to find, and Byrd has the ideal skill set to play the free safety position, while pairing with strong safety Kenny Vaccaro in the New Orleans secondary.

Sep 21, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints free safety Jairus Byrd (31) against the Minnesota Vikings during the first half of a game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

However, injuries limited Byrd in the offseason program and during the regular season, in which he appeared in just four games. And in those four games, Byrd failed to produce impact plays on a defensive unit under Rob Ryan that drastically underperformed in 2014. From a number of explosive plays allowed due to poor tackling, Ryan's defense was near the bottom of the list this past season.

The hope is that a now healthy Byrd can play the same brand of football he put on tape back in Buffalo. Ryan needs a middle-of-the-field defender who can close the post and make plays on the ball. That's why Byrd got paid and why the free safety position is crucial to the success of any pressure scheme. He's the angel over the top. I expect Byrd to be that player for the Saints in 2015 and show us why he is worth the cash.

Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.


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