NEW YORK (WFAN) — Welcome back, guys.
When it comes to winning awards, the comeback player of the year honor is one nobody starts his NFL career hoping to get. Winning it means you’ve had some problems along the way, whether it’s a bad injury, a slip in production or some other issue that might have put you on the unemployment line.
The good news is that if you’re in the running for this award, you’re back in business.
The list of the award winners since 1998 includes some impressive names: Tom Brady last year, Drew Brees in 2004 and Chad Pennington twice. He could be in for a third if he attempts a comeback from yet another shoulder injury.
This year’s candidates again include guys who might also receive some legitimate MVP consideration. Here’s our Pick Six of the guys who have made the biggest career rebounds:
— Michael Vick, QB, Eagles: After watching his dominant, six-TD performance Monday night against Washington, it’s clear The Michael Vick Experience is back, maybe better than ever. Sure, he actually returned last season after serving 21 months in prison for his involvement in an illegal dogfighting ring. But no one could have seen this coming: Vick is the Eagles’ starting quarterback and has the top passer rating in the league. Yes, higher than Brady or Peyton Manning. Vick has 11 TD passes, four TD runs and NO interceptions. No matter where you stand on him personally, Vick has made the most of his second chance in the NFL and is again the most talented player on any field he steps on.
— LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Jets: The guy was done, wasn’t he? No one other than New York and Minnesota wanted one of the NFL’s greatest running backs after a steep decline recently and the fact he turned 31 in June. Rex Ryan raved about him all through minicamp and training camp, and L.T. has been playing with attitude after his bitter divorce from San Diego. He’s also making the Jets’ offense go, ranking in the top 10 in the AFC with 656 yards rushing — just 74 fewer than he had all of last season. OK, Rex. You were right.
— Mike Williams, WR, and Leon Washington, RB-KR, Seahawks: A pair of players in Seattle who have made remarkable returns. Williams was completely out of football for two years, a can’t-miss talent who was an epic first-round draft bust. Rededicated to football and reunited with his former college coach Pete Carroll, Williams ranks among the NFL’s top receivers with 46 catches — more than he had in three combined seasons — for 545 yards and a TD. Meanwhile, Washington’s career was in jeopardy after breaking the fibula and tibia in his right leg while with the Jets last season. New York traded him during the draft and he was back on the field with a metal rod in the leg by Week 1, stunning doctors. Washington ranks first in the league in kickoff return yardage, highlighted by two runbacks for TDs against San Diego in September.
— Wes Welker, WR, Patriots: Yes, he finished last season with a league-high 123 receptions, the second-highest total in NFL history. But he sustained a serious left knee injury in Week 17 and wasn’t expected back until about now. Instead, Welker somehow was back as Brady’s favorite target in Week 1. His numbers might not be as gaudy as last year’s — 52 catches, 444 yards, three TDs — but most expected his stats line to be all zeros at this point.
— Osi Umenyiora, DE, Giants: The two-time Pro Bowl selection missed the entire 2008 season after suffering knee cartilage damage during an exhibition game against the Jets. He was never quite right last season while struggling with his health, getting only seven sacks, and was benched late in the year by then-defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan. It got so bad, Umenyiora wondered if his days with the team were over. The Giants sure are glad things got patched up. He ranks second in the NFL with nine sacks and was the NFC defensive player of the month for October.
— E.J. Henderson, DE, Vikings: Anyone who was watching Minnesota’s game against Arizona in Week 13 last season knows why this guy’s on the list. In one of the more grotesque injuries, Henderson’s left leg snapped in half as it twisted around while he was trying to make a tackle. He was carted off the field wondering, like most, if his career was over. Not only was that not the case, but Henderson made a full recovery in time for training camp and is having a solid season for Minnesota’s seventh-ranked defense.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.