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Injuries are a part of every sport but nowhere do they take their toll like the NFL. 2017 saw many top-notch players have their seasons cut short due to injury, while other big names didn’t have the kind of season they expected. Both sets of players will be looking to have bounce-back years and take home the award for NFL Comeback Player Of The Year in 2018.
First up is J.J. Watt. From 2012-2015, Watt was one of the most dominant NFL defenders in the league. He racked up 69 sacks over that time, but over the last two seasons, various injuries have limited him to just eight games. The Texans outstanding defensive end only had a sack-and-a-half in 2016 and none in the five games he played last year before heading to the IR. Can he get back to the level of play before the back-to-back season-ending injuries? The Texans are hoping he returns to his former self, especially after their 2017 defensive unit ranked 27th in yards allowed and dead-last in points given up. He has been making great strides in his rehabilitation and looks to be ready for a big season.
Next up is 2-time NFL MVP, QB Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers' season came to an abrupt end in Week 6 when Minnesota linebacker, Anthony Barr drove him to the turf. The hit, which wasn't flagged, came well after Rodgers had released the ball, fractured Rodger's right collarbone. He was put on the injured-reserve list the next day. He eventually underwent surgery and needed 13 screws to stabilize the collarbone. The Packers were the favorites to win the division, but without Rodgers, they finished just 7-9. Without the dynamic field general, the offense finished 26th in the league in total yards, 25th in passing and 21st in scoring. They averaged just 20.0 points per game after tallying over 27 per contest the previous year. Rodgers had 16 TD passes and a 97.2 QBR before getting injured and appeared to be well on his way to yet another big year. Now that the collarbone has healed, Rodgers will be looking to duplicate the 2016 campaign, which saw him throw for 4428 yards with 40 TDs with just seven INTs. If he plays the whole year, he should be poised to add one more piece of hardware to his trophy case; NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson burst on to the scene when the former third-round pick in 2015 had a breakout sophomore campaign. In 2016, as he ran for 1239 yards and 16 TDs while adding 879 receiving yards and another four TDs. At the beginning of the year, he ranked in the top three in most Fantasy Football leagues, but many were scrambling to find a replacement after he was lost for the year in Week 1. He rushed for just 11 yards last year, and the Cardinals were unable to find a suitable replacement, finishing a dismal 30th in rushing, compared to 18th in 2016. Johnson has pronounced himself completely healthy and is looking for a repeat of his stellar 2016 numbers.
Next up is a player that was healthy but is looking to bounce back from a sub-par 2017 season. Tennessee signal caller Marcus Mariotta threw for 3232 yards last year but tallied just 13 TDs while tossing 15 interceptions. That's a significant step back from 2016 when he rang up 3426 passing yards with 26 TDs and only nine INTs. His QBR went from 95.6 in 2016 to 79.3 last year, and he will be looking for a big rebound year. The Titans did make the playoffs last year, and Mariotta led them to an improbable second-half come-from-behind victory in the Wild Card round against Kansas City. Mariotta ignited the late heroics when he caught his own pass for a touchdown after seeing it swatted back to him by Chiefs cornerback Darrelle Revis. Overall, however, the offense was relatively anemic and went from 11th in total offense and 14th in scoring in 2016, to just 23rd in total offense and 19th in scoring last year.
Another player looking to rebound from a rough season is Amari Cooper of the Oakland Raiders. In his first two years in the league he combined for 2223 yards, 155 receptions, and 11 TDs, but last year he grabbed just 48 receptions for 680 yards. He did have seven TDs on the year, but still, his overall production was far below what was expected. He dropped a lot of crucial passes and saw his Pro Football Focus grade drop from 81.3 in 2016 to 51.9 last year. He's still young at just 24, but the Raiders desperately need him to regain the form that made him the fourth overall pick in the draft after his stellar career at Alabama. Along with a healthy David Carr, Oakland is looking to put last year behind them. 2017 saw the Raiders drop to 23rd in scoring after finishing 7th in 2016.
Even though he was a rookie in 2017, Tampa quarterback Deshaun Watson, who was lost for the season after playing in just seven games, still led the team in passing yards with 1699 and touchdown passes with 19. He also led the league in TD passes off play-action with 11 and his 124.1 QBR when throwing from a clean pocket also led the league (min 120 Attempts). If he manages to remain healthy, then he could be poised to have an incredible year and quite possibly a very successful NFL career.
Last on the list is Odell Beckham Jr. "OBJ," the standout wide receiver of the New York Giants, had been a model of consistency, racking up at least 91 passes 1305 yards in each of his first three seasons. Last year, however, was a different story as he was hampered by injuries and played in just four games. He had 25 receptions for only 302 yards and three TDs in those four games and the Giants as a team put up just 15,4 ppg, which was 31st in the league. First things first, however, as he remains unsigned for next season and all reports indicate he and the Giants are far apart in their negotiations. The next thing that needs to be addressed is his onfield antics. Although never reaching the level of 2016 when he was suspended for one game, he sometimes appears to lose focus and be more worried about hand-fighting with the cornerback instead of working to get open. The good news for the G-Men is, that when healthy, Beckham has the tools to be one of the best in the business again.
If these seven players on this list remain healthy, they all have a chance to return to form and vastly improve their team's fortunes. All seven have performed at the elite level, and all seven have an excellent opportunity to be the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award for 2018.