Injuries are part of life in the NFL. Each year, very important players go out for the entire season due to injury. The results of this can devastate a team’s season. However, each year there is usually some player who comes back from an injury in suffered the preceding year and exceeds all expectations. Who would have possibly foreseen Peyton Manning breaking every single season passing record in the book when they were watching him lie in the dirt with a terrible neck injury?
There were many big name players to get injured during the 2013 season. Nobody will forget the blow NaVorro Bowman took in the NFC Championship against the Seahawks. Unfortunately, Bowman more than likely will not be returning until mid-season in 2014. When he does, it should be expected he will perform well. Modern medicine is a marvel. If that type of injury happened in the early days of football, that player would never play another down.
This list ranks the ten players who are most likely to have a great 2014 season after missing a great deal of time in 2013. One major criterion is that the player must have missed the end of the season. This means players like Michael Crabtree and Percy Harvin are going to be excluded from the list. Even though these players missed the majority of the season, they still had the opportunity to come back and help their teams win. After all, if a player is not on the field at the end of the season, they are missing the most important time to help their team win games.
10. Rob Gronkowski — TE — New England Patriots
The past two years have been rough for New Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski. After setting the single season record for most touchdowns by a tight end in 2011, Gronk has missed games due to injury in both 2012 and 2013. He missed the final five games of 2012. That injury carried over and caused the two-time Pro Bowler to miss training camp and the beginning of the 2013 season. Towards the end of 2013, he injured his shoulder. We still don’t know if Gronk will miss the 2014 training camp. One thing is certain though, when he’s in the game he is a force to be reckoned with.
9. Jerod Mayo — LB — New England Patriots
Another major contributor on the Patriots to make the list is linebacker Jerod Mayo. Mayo only played six games in 2013. Mayo is a two-time Pro Bowler and was the 2008 Defensive Rookie of the Year. In 2010, he led the NFL in combined tackles. Unfortunately, Mayo’s career has been filled with injuries. He has missed games in three of his six seasons in the league.
8. Tyrann Mathieu — S — Arizona Cardinals
Going into the 2013 NFL Draft, teams were very leery on selecting Tyrann Mathieu. The college standout had big question marks from scouts on his character. Despite being a first round talent, Mathieu fell to the third round where he was picked up by the Arizona Cardinals. Mathieu promised to work hard and ensured the team he would not have any off the field issues. He did that and ended up starting at free safety for 11 games last season. Prior to injuring his ACL and LCL, Mathieu was making a strong case for being named Defensive Rookie of the Year. He compiled 65 tackles, a sack, two interceptions, and one forced fumble. He was also a fine contributor on special teams.
7. Doug Martin — RB — Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Doug Martin emerged as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ biggest offensive threat in his rookie year. The first round pick in the 2012 Draft rushed for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns, earning him his first trip to the Pro Bowl. He only played six games in 2013 because of injury. In those games he rushed for 456 yards and one touchdown. He was only averaging 3.6 yards per carry at the time, but this could be attributed to the Bucs’ terrible offensive line. Luckily for Martin, the team recruited a lot of new talent up front.
6. Vince Wilfork — DT — New England Patriots
After Vince Wilfork went out in week three, the Patriots had a huge hole up front. The defensive tackle is a five-time Pro Bowler. Without Wilfork, the Patriots struggled to stop the run and rush the passer. Getting him back is a huge boost to their defense. He was a member of the team when they won Super Bowl XXXIX. Wilfork is also the Patriots’ leader on defense in the locker room. It’s almost impossible to replace a player who is as influential and as talented as he is.
5. Jeremy Maclin — WR — Philadelphia Eagles
Things look very good for Eagles’ wide receiver Jeremy Maclin in 2014. Maclin missed all of the 2013 season after tearing his ACL in training camp. This February, he signed a one-year deal with the Eagles. His new contract guarantees him $3.5 million and he can earn $6 million in total if he reaches his bonuses. Maclin is going to be expected to take the place of departed Pro Bowl wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Jackson was in a similar situation last season and went on to have a huge year in 2013. Maclin should benefit the same way Jackson did from Chip Kelly’s offensive system. It also helps that Nick Foles will have a whole year under his belt befor he even throws a pass to Maclin.
4. Maurkice Pouncey — C — Pittsburgh Steelers
Maurkice Pouncey may be the most important player on the Pittsburg Steelers’ offensive. After Pouncey tore his ACL and MCL in the first week of the 2013 season, the Steelers’ offense looked horrible. The star center was drafted in the first round of the 2010 Draft. Since then, Pouncey has gone to three Pro Bowls. With Pouncey back on the line, the Steelers might finally be able to get a ground game going.
3. Reggie Wayne — WR — Indianapolis Colts
It is not a stretch to think that Reggie Wayne is going to come back from injury and have a great season. The Colts’ veteran wide receiver is a six-time Pro Bowler who has over 13,000 career receiving yards. He was a major contributor on the teams run to Super Bowl XLI. He only played in seven games last season. In that time, he compiled 503 yards and two touchdowns on 38 receptions. This season looks very good for Wayne. Andrew Luck has another year under his belt at quarterback and the team has seen good development from young skill position players.
2. Julio Jones — WR — Atlanta Falcons
It was not easy to put Falcons’ wide receiver Julio Jones at number two. He very easily could be number one. Jones was the most dominant receiver in the NFL for the first five games of last season. He was leading the league in receiving yards when he got injured. Even more impressive, he was doing this while experiencing double coverage most of the time. His fellow wide out, Roddy White, was injured during the beginning of the season. Jones is going to come back in 2014 and will not see the same level of coverage he did in 2013. The results could be very good for him.
1. Arian Foster — RB — Houston Texans
The most likely candidate to bounce back in a big way in 2014 is Houston Texans’ running back Arian Foster. Foster is a three-time Pro Bowler. From 2010 to 2012, he rushed for at least 1,200 yards three times. He was average 4.5 yards per carry last season before his injury. Losing Foster was the biggest blow the Texans’ offense could have taken in 2013. They did not win a single game without him last year.