Each year, players make a complete 180 and return to elite form after a down season. This is why we have the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award category.
Last year, the injury-bug was cruel to several star players who are now yearning to make a smashing, healthy return this fall.
Other guys seeking bounce-back campaigns include veterans starting fresh with new teams.
Speaking of starting from scratch, will one the most talked about running backs in the league revive his career as an Oakland Raider? And can one of the NFL’s finest middle linebackers be able to produce at a high level after dealing with a season-ending concussion?
The following are the top-10 NFL Comeback Player of the Year candidates for 2017.
Rob Gronkowski, tight end, New England Patriots
Gronk will be returning from a back injury after posting the worst stat line ever in his eight-year career. The 28 year-old tight end was present in only eight games and managed a career low 25 catches for 540 yards and three touchdowns.
The previous two seasons Gronkowski produced grand total of 2,300 yards and tallied 23 total touchdowns. Can Gronk get back to these elite numbers in 2017? If so, he would surely make for a top comeback candidate.
Gronk recently said he is feeling great while participating in OTAs. Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels noted the two-time Super Bowl champ “looks like Gronk.”
Last season the Patriots won the Super Bowl without Gronk for eight games and minus quarterback Tom Brady for four. More spoils should be had if Gronkowski stays healthy all season.
Earl Thomas, safety, Seattle Seahawks
For the first time since being drafted 14th overall by the Seahawks in 2010, Thomas missed games. He always was the pillar of resilience and exceptional health until last December when he broke his leg.
It was such a devastating injury for Thomas to grasp that he entertained the idea of retiring.
Throughout Thomas’ brilliant career, he has played in five Pro Bowls and achieved First-Team All-Pro status three times. Getting injured was never in the plans.
Thomas has had six months to mentally and physically recover and is ramping up for 2017.
He even posted footage of resuming running on the treadmill. Thomas was nearly a full-go at OTAs as well. All signs point towards Thomas making a completely healthy comeback as he joins the Legion of Boom for his eighth season.
Jeremy Maclin, wide receiver, Baltimore Ravens
Maclin’s offseason included a shocking twist of fate when the Kansas City Chiefs released him earlier in June. Perhaps that was because of Maclin’s unfortunate drop in numbers in 2016.
His receptions declined to just 44 catches, 536 yards and only two touchdowns. Maclin recently revealed that he was toughing out a groin injury in Week 9 that held him out four games.
According to The Baltimore Sun, Maclin denies that he has “lost his step,” something which he has been accused of since signing with the Ravens. Capable of producing No. 1 receiver stats, Maclin will attempt to rebound from last year’s woes.
If he does, Maclin’s comeback might just make his former team silently eat a little crow.
Justin Houston, linebacker, Kansas City Chiefs
Speaking of the Chiefs, it is about time Houston progresses past two injury-riddled seasons and makes a Pro-Bowl caliber comeback.
Houston registered a league-best 22 sacks in 2014. He also added 68 combined tackles, defended five passes and created four forced fumbles. In the 2015 offseason, the Chiefs made Houston the highest paid linebacker in the game at the time.
The four-time All Pro played in 11 games in 2015 when his production plummeted. Knee injuries have limited Houston to a total of only 16 games the past two seasons. Along the way, he managed only 11.5 sacks.
Houston hopes that knee ailments, pain, and swelling are all a thing of the past.
“Last year, I couldn’t even run at this time,” Houston said per Tereza A. Paylor of The Kansas City Star. “It’s a night-and-day difference. I feel great just to be able to get up and go without ever thinking about it.”
The linebacker will look to further his comeback story next month in training camp.
Marshawn Lynch, running back, Oakland Raiders
Wouldn’t die hard Beast Mode fans love to see Lynch become the NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2017?
Fans are not alone, either. If Lynch can rack up the yards he did in his prime, he’ll be a huge asset on the Raiders offense.
“If” of course is the key word. Lynch sat out the entire 2016 season as a retiree. In his 2015 campaign he dealt with a lingering abdomen injury which limited him to scrape up only 497 combined yards and three touchdowns in seven games.
Lynch is also four seasons removed from 2012 when he rushed for a career-high 1,590 yards.
So, can the 31 year-old running back mirror his success of previous years? So far, Oakland’s offensive coordinator is impressed.
“He has pleasantly surprised me at every turn. It’s been really neat to be around him. … So everything that we’ve seen on him thus far — and, of course, we’ve only been in pajamas out there practicing — but what we’ve seen has been fantastic.”
At this time, the Raiders’ investment in Lynch looks to be paying off.
Tyrann Mathieu, safety, Arizona Cardinals
Mathieu will be entering his fifth season with the Cardinals. He received a contract extension in May of 2016 that made him the highest paid safety at the time.
Now Mathieu needs to get back to producing at the level he was at in 2015. That season the talented safety tallied career highs with five interceptions, 17 defended passes and a combined 89 tackles. When healthy, Mathieu is one of the most elite defensive backs in the league.
Unfortunately, a shoulder injury hampered Mathieu’s performances in 2016 when he took part in just 10 games. Over that time he managed one interception, defended four passes and totaled 35 tackles.
Throughout four seasons, injuries have impacted Mathieu’s career. In addition to the shoulder injury, he has torn both of his ACLs in the past.
Looking ahead to a fresh start in 2017, Mathieu has resumed practicing.
“Just a good feeling to be healthy again and just back out there on a football field 100 percent,” Mathieu said in May, per Adam Green of Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
Should Mathieu remain injury-free, he is destined to have a bounce-back season.
Adrian Peterson, running back, New Orleans Saints
Peterson stagnated as a free agent for weeks until the Saints decided to give him a chance. Now he will look to revive his NFL career taking hand-offs from quarterback Drew Brees.
Brees already poured on the praises after working with Peterson in practice sessions. The 32-year-old running back should play a complimentary role alongside fellow back Mark Ingram. But as we have seen in the past, the Saints tend to go with the hot hand when it comes to running backs.
If Ingram stutters Peterson could be up for a larger role. This is provided Peterson picks up where he left off in 2015. That year he rushed for a league-best 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Just the opposite happened last season when in 37 attempts Peterson managed just 72 yards before suffering a knee injury. The seven-time Pro Bowler clearly has the ability to make a huge comeback playing with last season’s No. 1 ranked offense.
Desmond Trufant, cornerback, Atlanta Falcons
Despite missing the latter part of the 2016 season with a shoulder injury, the Falcons signed Trufant to quite the generous contract extension in April.
The team just made Trufant the highest paid corner in the league, which means it must believe Trufant will produce at a premier level this season. Prior to 2016, Trufant had yet to miss a game.
He has since resumed practices with his team. This is significant considering Trufant was expected be absent through his OTAs.
DQ said today that Desmond Trufant could be back at 💯 before Training Camp.
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) June 2, 2017
According to this positive prognosis by head coach Dan Quinn, it appears Trufant is primed to make a smashing comeback in 2017.
Brandon Marshall, wide receiver, New York Giants
Marshall’s time in the NFL is ticking down. The 33-year-old receiver signed with the Giants to play with a winning team — one that could get him his first postseason visit…ever.
The Giants are definitely up there when it comes to teams that could reward him with an eventual Super Bowl run. Marshall contributing at a high level would certainly help.
Last year, Marshall’s production tapered off when he caught a career-low 46.1 percent of his targets. He tallied just 788 yards and three touchdowns on just 59 catches. Paltry numbers compared to Marshall’s league-high 14 touchdowns scored in 2015.
Things should improve for Marshall working with Eli Manning versus the awful quarterbacks he caught passes from with the Jets last year. That’s a huge positive.
If Marshall remains healthy, another 1,000-plus yard season and half dozen touchdowns is easily within reach.
Luke Kuechly, linebacker, Carolina Panthers
Kuechly took a brutal hit in Week 10 of 2016 and suffered a terrible concussion. The NFL concussion protocol, combined with the fact that the Panthers’ season was already toast, prevented Kuechly from ever suiting up again last season.
Why risk the health of a brilliant first-round talent when the season was going nowhere?
The former Boston College linebacker has tallied 12 interceptions, 45 defended passes, nine sacks and 722 combined tackles in five seasons. He was an overall ninth pick from the 2012 draft.
If Kuechly can stay healthy, he’ll fill the gaping hole on defense that was painfully obvious during his absence last year.