What's better than a comeback story? Nothing is better. Well, maybe pizza is better. But pizza can't save a team's season. I know what you're thinking. "What if the pizza had extra pepperoni?" Perhaps that is an argument for another time.
Every NFL season has great comeback stories. Whether it's Peyton Manning coming back from a potential career ending neck injury to lead the Broncos to a 13-3 record and first place in the AFC, or Chad Pennington rising from the ashes to lead the 2008 Miami Dolphins to first place in the AFC East, the NFL is rich with comeback kids. Chad did it twice by the way.
There are a few factors that go into effect when considering an individual for Comeback Player of the Year. First and foremost, the player needed to be great or at least good at one point in their career. Otherwise, he would just be a breakout star. Second, the player has to be coming off a down year or, if they really want to be awarded Comeback Player of the Year, coming off multiple lousy years. Lastly, and most often than not, the player is coming off a year they missed due to injury.
With that being said, let's delve into the players most likely to make our hearts leap with joy at their burning inner desire to succeed, dominate, and become the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year.
15 Jimmy Graham
Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy, you were once the most dominating players at your position, possibly the most dominating player at any position. You were basically impossible to cover. Way too fast for linebackers, way too tall for corners, what was a defense to do? Jimmy, you had 51 touchdowns in your first five seasons and you are a tight end. In 2013, you caught 16 touchdowns for 1,215 yards. Jimmy , that's insane. Then, Jimmy, you were traded. In 2015, you were shipped to the far corner of our country for an offensive lineman. I do hope Drew Brees gave you a kind farewell. As a member of the Seahawks, Jimmy Graham has struggled to find chemistry with Russell Wilson totaling a dismal two touchdowns in 11 games. However, 2016 is off to a mildly respectable start. Although, missing the first game of the year due to injury, Graham has corralled receptions for 266 yards to go along with one touchdown. It only makes sense that once the deadliest red zone threat in the NFL will find his way back to the top. We shall see.
14 Mike Wallace
As a Pittsburgh Steeler, Mike Wallace was the most polarizing deep threat in the NFL. So much so that the Miami Dolphins signed him to a $60 million dollar deal in hopes of this trend continuing. Spoiler alert, the trend did not continue as most free agents who come to Miami sink to the bottom of the ocean. That was a pun. However, in 2014 Wallace managed to put up respectable numbers with the Dolphins scoring 10 touchdowns to go along with his 862 yards receiving. At the beginning of the 2015 season Wallace was traded to the Minnesota Vikings and had the least productive year of his career totaling a mere 473 yards and two touchdowns. In 2016 Wallace has returned to the AFC North to play for his former foe, the Baltimore Ravens. After Week 5, Wallace already has more touchdowns this year than all of last year with three, including one for 66 yards. Perhaps the return to the north along with the steady arm of Joe Flacco will help Wallace return to relevance.
13 Jason Pierre-Paul
I promise I'm going to make a minimal amount of fireworks jokes here. Jason Pierre-Paul, a short while ago, was a force to be reckoned with. Much like the force of gun powder that explodes from a roman candle and other fireworks, Pierre-Paul exploded off the line to burn down the dreams of a passing quarterback. Okay, it's out of my system. In 2011, Pierre-Paul heralded the ferocious defensive line of the New York Giants on his way to 16.5 sacks and a Super Bowl ring. Then, on July 4th before the 2015 season, Pierre-Paul mangled his hand in a fireworks accident. He still managed to return that season for a total of eight games. Now, five games into the 2016 season Pierre-Paul is not quite back to his glory days form, but he is holding his own. He has amassed 18 tackles, one sack, two batted passes, and a forced fumble, while sporting 1.5 hands. Personally, I'm rooting for the guy. He gets a thumbs up in my book.
12 Cameron Wake
The "Beast" was caged last season after suffering a torn achilles tendon against the New England Patriots in Week8. At the age of 32, which is ancient for defensive ends, Wake had seven sacks through the first seven games of the 2015 season. Wake's 71 career sacks ranks him second all time in Miami Dolphin's history behind Jason Taylor, who boasts a staggering 139.5 sacks. Wake has the uncanny ability to sprint past offensive lineman while almost crawling a foot above the ground. Try blocking a guy who is sprinting at your knee height. In the early stages of the 2016 season, Wake has been used as a pass rushing specialist rarely seen on first and second down. Given that the Dolphins rarely have a lead in the fourth quarter, or any quarter for that matter, it will make it difficult for Wake to be on the field when the opponent is pressed into a must-pass situation. However, Wake's work ethic coupled with his quick first step off the line could make for a return to greatness. His twilight years are near. It could be a now or never year for the former Pro Bowler.
11 Jamaal Charles
I know. After Week 5, we have yet to see Jamaal Charles toting the rock in Kansas City. However, this writer believes that once Coach Reid is comfortable with Charles' health, he will quickly return to form. Charles only managed to play in five games during the 2015 season after succumbing to every running back's greatest fear, the torn ACL. He still got four touchdowns that year. And in the years prior, Charles averaged above 1000 yards on the ground and 300 yards in the air. In 2013, Charles ran for 1,287 yards and caught passes for 693 yards, while finding the end zone 19 times. That's nasty. Kansas City is sitting at a 2-2 record right now. Once the chains are taken off this star, the Chiefs might see that .500 record soar with the eagles nest.
10 Tony Romo
Tony Romo is another victim of the injury bug. Before the 2016 season began, Tony was crunched in half by Cliff Avril of the Seahawks. Romo's 2015 season was also plagued by a back injury. By the time Tony is done playing football the skeletal structure of his back is going to be chop suey. Unfortunately for Romo's imminent return, he will possibly be in a lover's quarrel with the current starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, Dak Prescott. Dak is kind of killing it. After Week 5, the Cowboys are 4-1. Dak is making a strong case for Rookie of the Year. But he isn't Tony Romo. Tony Romo is awesome. Tony is a four-time Pro Bowler and has been the face of the Dallas Cowboy's franchise for nearly a decade. Jerry Jones loves him. The fans love him, and he's so handsome. But when it is all said and done, and the Cowboys make the decision to stick with Dak or Tony, whoever it is gets to throw the ball to Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. He gets to hand it to the other Rookie of the Year candidate, Ezekial Elliot. And he gets to play behind the best offensive line in the NFL. If Tony gets another shot he's bound to be in the Comeback Player of the Year discussion.
9 Jordy Nelson
The "Great White Hope" at wide receiver is off to a great start in the 2016 season. At 6-3 and 217 pounds, Jordy Nelson is a beast. Jordy finds himself eligible for the Comeback Player of the Year award after tearing his ACL during the preseason of 2015. In 2011 Jordy went berserk catching 15 touchdowns for 1,263 yards. In 2014, Jordy shot to stardom making first team All Pro after accruing 13 touchdowns and 1,519 receiving yards. Must be nice to have Aaron Rodgers as your quarterback. On that note, it must be nice to go from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers if you are the Green Bay Packers. But I digress. Through four games of the 2016 season Nelson already has five touchdowns. Those kind of numbers put him on track for 20 touchdowns. Which would assuredly give him the honor. Of course, the NFL is an unpredictable animal. The Packers are 3-1. and they've already enjoyed a relaxing bye week. Will Nelson's knee hold and guide him to glory?
8 Kelvin Benjamin
Out of all the wide receivers in the NFL, Kelvin Benjamin might be the prettiest. He just seems to have a natural feminine glow about him. I wonder if that glow contributes to his stellar play, because Kelvin Benjamin is a rare find. As a rookie in 2014, Benjamin caught nine touchdowns for just a hair over 1000 yards. He is a whopping 6-5, and he weighs 245 pounds. For comparison's sake, New England's Rob Gronkowski is also 6-5 and he weighs 265 punds. Gronk is a tight end. Benjamin is a receiver. The dude is massive for his position. Benjamin's 2015 season ended before it began when he came up lame after a non-contact injury messed his knee up during a practice with the Dolphins. However, Benjamin is off to a great start this year. After five games, he has four touchdowns and over 300 yards receiving. Not having Cam Newton under center for the time being is definitely going to hurt Benjamin's production. Although, once Superman returns the dynamic duo will be back in action and possibly flying his way right into the Comeback Player of the Year award.
7 DeMarco Murray
Running behind the offensive line of the Dallas Cowboys, DeMarco Murray gashed opponents for a ton of yards. In 2013, he ran for 1,121 yards and scored nine touchdowns on the ground. In 2014, he kicked it up a notch and scorched the turf for a league leading 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns. Murray has a rare combination of speed and power to go along with great vision. Murray, had a somewhat of a down year when he signed with Chip Kelly's Eagles. Chip kind of took a butcher knife to the entire roster of the Eagles and all of the talent on the team never really reached its potential. Luckily for Murray, he found his way to the beautiful terrain of Tennessee. Murray is off to a great start with his new team. He has gained 461 yards on the ground to go along with 172 yards receiving. He's also found the end zone five times in those 5 games. Murray does have to share carries with the former Crimson Tide stud, Derrick Henry, but currently Murray is getting the lion's share of the carries. Murray looks good. He just might be adding to his trophy case real soon.
6 Kiko Alonso
Did you know that Kiko Alonso speaks fluent Spanish? His dad is Cuban and his mom is from Colombia. That equals a fluent Spanish speaking person. Apparently, it also equals a heckuva middle linebacker. Alonso was an absolute animal his rookie year. Drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 2013, Alonso combined for 159 tackles, two sacks, four batted passes, and four interceptions. Those are crazy numbers for a rookie. Sadly, in 2014 Alonso missed the entire season with a torn ACL. Then in 2015, he was traded to the Eagles where he joined Chip Kelly who squandered the team's talent including Alonso's. Next year, Alonso would pack his bags once again and join the Dolphins in sunny Miami, Florida. Plenty of Spanish speaking guys and gals to make him feel right at home. Alonso seems to be back to form as he has amassed 50combined tackles after five games which currently ranks him third in the league. A lot of this has to do with the swiss cheese defensive front the Dolphins have assembled, but Alonso continues to clean up the melting mess where he can.
5 Matt Forte
I'll admit, Matt Forte is suspect on this list. He is coming off a season where he struggled with a knee injury, however he still had a semi-productive year. It was certainly a down year for Forte considering he had grown quite accustomed to rushing for over 1,000 yards, as he did in five of the previous seven seasons. When Forte did return from injury he found himself sharing carries with fantasy waiver wire star, Jeremy Langford. After the 2015 season Forte had a meet and greet with multiple NFL teams as he enjoyed his first experience as a free agent. Forte would sign with the Jets who have found a way to play to Forte's strengths immediately. Forte has rushed for 341 yards in five games, which puts him back on track to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark. He also added three rushing touchdowns. The 1-4 Jets would be wise to lean heavily on Forte going forward.
4 Le'Veon Bell
Le'Veon Bell tore his MCL in the Week 8 tilt against the Bengals in 2015. He was averaging over 100 yards per game prior to the injury. Bell is the scariest threat out of the backfield since Barry Sanders. When Bell is healthy, he is public enemy number one for opposing defenses. Bell's use of patience behind the line of scrimmage before he revs to full speed in a nano second to hit the hole makes him nearly unstoppable. He isn't just a speed guy though. Bell is strong enough to punish corners and safeties who are unfortunate enough to tackle Bell on the regular. Bell was suspended the first three games of the season this year, but immediately returned to form in his first game back. He's gained over 200 yards on the ground and over 100 in the air after two games. This former Pro Bowler's path to the Comeback Player of the Year honor is as wide as the lanes he runs through to gash his opponents.
3 Sam Bradford
All Sam Bradford does is get paid a ton of money to perform mediocre at the quarterback position. Until this year. Sam Bradford was part of the last class of draftees to get the huge rookie contracts. At first pick overall, Bradford smiled while he inked a 60 million dollar contract before he even took an NFL snap. Bradford has never been terrible, but he's certainly never been great. He's never led a team to the playoffs or made a Pro Bowl. But the guy still shows up and chucks it. Last year, on the underperforming Eagles, Bradford put up his most respectable numbers throwing for 3,725 yards and 19 touchdowns. This was good enough to get him kicked off of Philadelphia and onto the Vikings. Bradford may have found his home in the frozen tundra. The Vikings are 4-1 this year. Bradford is 3-0 in as many starts. He's thrown six touchdowns and zero interceptions. He's playing the best football of his career trudging his way to relevance.
2 Terrell Suggs
Terrell Suggs is the scariest guy in the NFL. I remember seeing him warmup before a game. He stares at the opposing fans with the look of a psycho killer. He is listed at 6-3 and 265 pounds. He's bigger than that in real life. Since Ray Lewis retired, Suggs has assumed the role as the leader of the Raven's defense. He has not let down. Suggs has six season with double digit sacks and 110.5 in his career... so far. Suggs tore his achilles in the beginning of the 2015 season causing him to miss the entire year. Since his return, Suggs is back on his terror. After five games he has four sacks. At the age of 34, Suggs is still dominating at his position. His age combined with a very tough injury to rehab from, and his return to dominance gives Suggs a great shot for the Comeback Player of the Year Award.
1 Andrew Luck
The Colts are struggling this year, but Andrew Luck is not. Luck only played in seven games during the 2015 season after suffering a lacerated kidney. Coming out as the first overall pick in the 2012 draft, Luck has been advertised as the best quarterback prospect to come out of college since Peyton Manning. In three and a half seasons Luck has thrown for over 16,000 yards and 111 touchdowns. In the years Luck started all 16 games, the Colts have not missed the playoffs. This trend started Luck's rookie year. All you have to do is watch him drop dimes all over the field to know this guy is for real. Barring anymore kidney lacerations, which is possible as the Colts offensive line looks horrendous, Luck should cruise atop the Comeback Player of the Year mountain.