As far as the Comeback Player of the Year Award is concerned, it’s highly unlikely we’ll have another season like last, when winner Peyton Manning and runner-up Adrian Peterson put up MVP-type numbers (Peterson did claim that award). But there are a large number of high-profile players who, due to injuries or general poor performance, disappointed last season. Here are 10 who are poised to return to form this year.
1. Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs
Bowe hurt his ribs in Week 14 and missed the rest of the season, but he wasn’t very productive before that, scoring just three times. He has just eight touchdowns since his 15-touchdown campaign in 2010. Bowe’s on this list because he is a talented receiver and the Chiefs quarterback situation looks much better this season: Alex Smith replaces the Matt Cassell/Brady Quinn/Tyler Palko rotation from the last two years.
2. Darrelle Revis, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The former Jet certainly believes he will come back in a big way: none of his six-year, $96 million contract is guaranteed. Revis Island tore his ACL in Week 3 last year and missed the rest of the season. He’ll be plenty motivated to be on the field Week 1, as Tampa Bay plays the Jets in New York, and to reclaim his status as the league’s top cornerback.
3. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
McCoy juked his way to the Pro Bowl in 2011 but was disappointing last season, tallying more lost fumbles (three) than rushing touchdowns (two). He missed four games late in the year due to a concussion but wasn’t consistently explosive before the injury—in six games he failed to crack 3.5 yards per carry. It’s reasonable to assume the arrival of Chip Kelly (you’ve heard about Oregon’s running game, right?) will help McCoy get back on track.
4. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
The lifetime Jaguar didn’t report to training camp last year in the hopes of getting a new contract. He injured his foot in Jacksonville’s sixth game, missed the rest of the season, and eventually needed surgery. The result was just one rushing touchdown. Jones-Drew is in the final year of his contract and should be rejuvenated; the diminutive running back will certainly be counted on given Jacksonville’s quarterback situation.
5. Brian Orakpo, Washington Redskins
The outside linebacker made the Pro Bowl in his first two seasons (2009 and 2010) and could return to that form in 2013. He tore a pectoral muscle in Week 2 last year and missed the rest of the season. The Redskins could use his pass-rushing prowess (28.5 sacks his first three years) going against Eli Manning, Tony Romo, and Michael Vick twice each.
6. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
Throughout his career, Fitzgerald consistently ranked among the top receivers in the league—until last season. His numbers plummeted, as he caught 71 passes for 798 yards and just four touchdowns. It wasn’t his fault—the Cardinals went through a quarterback carousel of Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley, and Brian Hoyer, all of whom started for Arizona at one point last season. Carson Palmer, while not the player he once was, is still an upgrade.
7. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
At times last season, Stafford looked more like the rookie he was in 2009 than the breakout quarterback he was in 2011. He didn’t have a bad year statistically—he threw for nearly 5,000 yards—but his 20 touchdowns and 17 interceptions were underwhelming. Making matters worse, the Lions lost their final eight games to finish 4-12.
8. Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers
There was a lot of excitement surrounding Mathews heading into last season after his 2011 campaign in which he cracked 1,000 yards rushing. But two broken clavicles—one before the season and another towards the end—cost him four games. The Chargers signed Danny Woodhead, but Mathews could realize his potential in his fourth year in the league.
9. DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles
The speedy wideout played in only 11 games last year, which explains his dip in production. Now playing under Chip Kelly, who values speed as much as any coach in the country, there is potential for a healthy number of big plays involving Jackson.
10. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders
No list of comeback players would be complete without Run DMC. The fourth pick in the 2008 draft, the oft-injured running back has never played more than 13 games in a season. But there’s no denying his skills, and maybe a new offensive coordinator will help.
Other candidates: Trent Cole, Philadelphia Eagles; Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers; Matt Forte, Chicago Bears; Jason-Pierre Paul, New York Giants
Andrew Kahn is a contributor to CBS Local who has written for ESPN the Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about the NFL and other sports at http://andrewjkahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.