Top Ten with a Twist: Potential comeback players of the year

Robert Griffin III could play well enough to win himself some postseason hardware. (USATSI)
Robert Griffin III could play well enough to win himself some postseason hardware. (USATSI)

The season begins Thursday, so it’s only appropriate at this juncture to talk about what I think will happen by the end of the year. Namely those who overcame some kind of tremendous obstacle to play better than we had any right to expect.

That’s right: we’re exploring the possibilities of who can win the comeback player of the year award. One of the players listed below WILL win the award. Unless somebody else does. Either way, somebody will do something amazing that we didn’t expect. Which is why sports are great. And why lists like this are necessary.

10. Danny Amendola , New England Patriots receiver: Before Amendola has a chance to win this award, he has to prove he can stay healthy for an entire season. He didn’t last year, missing five games, and he didn’t the year before when he suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1. But if Amendola can string together a 16-game resume, he’ll have a chance to record the kind of season we normally see out of Wes Welker . Considering where Amendola has been before he entered the sphere of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, that would be an incredible leap.

9. Mason Crosby , Green Bay Packers kicker: Listen, there’s no doubt Crosby was subpar last season for Green Bay, converting on only 63.6 percent of his field goal attempts. In fact, it’s mind-boggling that coach Mike McCarthy didn’t cut him last year and it’s somewhat brow-furrowing that Crosby has made the 2013 squad. But if Crosby can return to his previous consistency -- and who knows, kickers go through weird spurts all the time -- why not give the honor to a special teamer who saves and resurrects his career?

8. Tim Tebow, free agent quarterback: I kid, I kid. Besides, how many more Tebow jokes can I possibly make this season in Top 10 with a Twist? Probably not very. You’ve got to take the opportunity when it comes. Tebow would agree with that, at least.

7. Johnny Jolly , Packers defensive tackle: Props to @zgoldberg for this entry. The last time Jolly played in the NFL was in 2009. Since then, he’s been indefinitely suspended for drugs and spent time in prison for illegal codeine use. But he made it out of prison early (he had been sentenced to six years), and he got the chance to make the 2013 Packers squad. And he did so. Even if he’s not a superstar for Green Bay this year and even if he has no chance of winning this award, the fact we’re even talking about him in positive terms should be cause for celebration.

6. Terrell Suggs , Baltimore Ravens linebacker: The fact Suggs, after tearing his Achilles in May of 2012, returned to the team in October was fairly amazing (maybe it wasn’t quite as impressive as Adrian Peterson , because Suggs only suffered a “partial” tear, but come on: Suggs was ridiculous). This year, Suggs should be fully healthy, and we fully expect him to return with the same kind of vigor that won him the 2011 defensive player of the year award.

5. Jason Pierre-Paul , New York Giants defensive end: After exploding for 16.5 sacks in 2011, Pierre-Paul dropped to 6.5 last year. In the offseason, Pierre-Paul underwent back surgery, and he admitted that his back bothered him throughout 2012. If that’s the case and if Pierre-Paul finally is healthy, he’ll be scary once again for the Giants.

4. Darrelle Revis / Brent Grimes , cornerbacks who play in the state of Florida: Revis, a huge offseason acquisition for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers , and Grimes -- now with the Miami Dolphins -- are coming off 2012 irrelevancy. Grimes missed all season with a torn Achilles, but he’d shown the past couple years in Atlanta that he was possibly on the verge of becoming one of the best young cornerbacks in the league. Revis already is the best cornerback in the NFL, but he played only two games last season before tearing his ACL. Both could be great this year, and you know, it wouldn’t shock me if Grimes was just as good as Revis. But he’d still have a tough time ever beating out Revis for this award.

3. Rob Gronkowski , Patriots tight end: I’m kind of beginning to think we’re nearing the beginning of the end of Gronkowski as an all-world tight end. He’s injured too much, dating back to college, and he’s taken too long to heal. The forearm issue he’s battled all offseason has to be a warning sign. That being said, Gronkowski will probably prove again that he’s still one of the best tight ends in the league and could very well win this award. But if we’re talking five years from now, I’m not sure Gronkowski will be relevant in the NFL.

2. Maurice Jones-Drew , Jacksonville Jaguars running back: When I opened up nominees for this award on Twitter, MJD had the most votes. Yes, the man who thought about retiring during training camp because he was in so much pain could very well be the man to whom we’re handing that comeback trophy. Two years ago, Jones-Drew rushed for 1,606 yards on a bad Jaguars squad. Last year, though, a foot injury kept him from playing after Week 7. Now, though, Jones-Drew seems healthy, and considering the Jaguars will play either Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne at quarterback, Jones-Drew should have plenty of opportunities to show why he’s not ready to leave football quite yet.

1. Robert Griffin III , Washington Redskins quarterback: You remember this photo, right? And this one? Yeah, that’s Robert Griffin III (and, indirectly, Mike Shanahan) destroying his knee in the team’s playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks . Eight months later, Griffin, after not taking a snap in a preseason game, is set to start for Washington in Week 1. And he’ll probably be awesome. And because Adrian Peterson won this award last year for being incredibly awesome after tearing up his knee at the end of 2011, I can see RG3 following up Peterson with an incredible performance of his own.

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