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  • Which players are making their way back from disappointing or injury-marred seasons last year?
By Damichael Cole
July 24, 2019

Every NFL season, injuries and disappointments rob some of the league’s brightest players from productive years. And every year, a player will emerge from a lackluster season to silence skeptics.

Last year that player was Colts QB Andrew Luck. Concerns about Luck’s shoulder injury started to surface after a sprain in 2015 against the Titans. Luck missed two games but continued to play in 2016, despite lingering issues. After the season, he opted for surgery on a labrum tear and missed the entire 2017 season.

Many questioned if Luck would ever be the same. A setback during the recovery process even led to the quarterback seeking treatment in Europe.

In 2018, he responded by throwing for 4,593 yards and 40 touchdowns while compiling a career-best 98.7 passer rating. Luck lead the Colts to a 10–6 record—their best since 2014—and a playoff berth, and the QB won the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award.

Here are the top candidates for the CPOTY award in 2019:

Derrius Guice, RB, Redskins: Guice and Saquon Barkley were considered the top two running backs in the 2018 NFL draft, and before the beginning of last season, there was some debate over who could be the more productive rookie—that’s how good Guice can be. Guice’s angry running style has drawn comparisons to Marshawn Lynch, and this time a year ago, the Washington RB was turning heads with his work ethic and attention to detail before suffering a torn ACL last preseason.

Throughout the offseason the Redskins limited Guice’s usage so far, but head coach Jay Gruden expects that Guice will be ready to fully participate at training camp.

Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, 49ers: Garoppolo was traded to San Francisco at the trade deadline in 2017 and brought the 49ers home, starting and winning the team’s five last games. That made the team a trendy playoff pick ahead of the 2018 season—until Garoppolo suffered a torn ACL three games in.

Garoppolo is practicing with a brace, but has shown promising signs in his progression. One of the last hurdles in his recovery was throwing the deep ball, which he’ll need with players like Deebo Samuel, Dante Pettis and Marquise Goodwin at receiver. The 49ers have made it a focal point to surround Garoppolo with weapons. 

“The receivers make my job so easy,” Garappolo said during training camp in June. “When you have the speed of Quise and Dante and those guys, their ability to separate from the defense makes it easy. Just put it out there far enough and don’t underthrow them.”

Earl Thomas, S, Ravens: Thomas, one of the best safeties of this decade, was on his way to another All-Pro season with three interceptions and 22 tackles in four games in 2018—but a broken leg halted his season and ended his career with Seattle. Now with Baltimore, Thomas is expected to bring the same ferocity that made him one of the most feared safeties in the NFL. The biggest hurdle for Thomas will be scheme; in Seattle, the Seahawks primarily played Cover-3 zone, and the Ravens top-ranked defense is a bit more complicated.

“He looks like he understands the defense,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said after June minicamps. “He has been moving really well. ... I’m really excited about him.”

Deion Jones, LB, Falcons: Jones was a key component to the Falcons’ defense during their Super Bowl LI run, but a foot injury in 2018 caused the linebacker to miss 10 games, as the Falcons defensive woes led to them falling out of playoff contention. Jones was still rehabbing his injury in minicamp and was limited to individual activities, but he is expected to be a full participant in training camp. Jones’ playmaking ability and impact make him a prime candidate to be the first linebacker to win the award since 2005.

“I’m just trying to take some time to build up where I left off and just feel like myself again,” Jones said after June minicamps. “The speed is still there. I feel good.”

Le’Veon Bell, RB, Jets: Bell sat out the entirety of the 2018 season after negotiations for a contract extension with the Steelers broke down, leading to Bell being traded to the Jets. With Adam Gase as head coach and second-year quarterback Sam Darnold projected to start, it’s no secret that the Jets will run the ball. A full year off has resulted in signs of rust during his first minicamp practice, and he elected to skip most of the voluntary portion of the offseason program. Bell isn’t lacking for confidence and if his career numbers are any indication, he’s at the top of the list for CPOTY candidates.

“It was amazing just running around and being able to trash talk,” Bell said. “I feel like I’m going to go out here and make a lot of plays. I think I can help this offense a lot.”

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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