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Candidates vary for comeback award

About the Author

Hub Arkush

harkush@pfwmedia.com
Publisher and editor

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Posted Nov. 25, 2010 @ 1:48 p.m. ET
By Hub Arkush

I  have long been fascinated by the Comeback Player of the Year Award. Doesn't everybody love the Cinderella story about the person who overcomes huge odds to achieve great success? I do, but I've never been quite sure about one thing: Should a player qualify if the hurdles he's overcome are of his own making?

Michael Vick was in jail during the 2007 and 2008 seasons. Upon his return to the NFL, no one was terribly surprised when all he accomplished in '09 was 13 pass attempts, one TD and 24-95-2 rushing as a gimmick player in the Eagles' offense. This year, he's the NFL's top quarterback with a 108.7 passer rating and 55-373-5 rushing. Vick's is arguably one of the more remarkable comebacks in NFL history, and if he keeps it up for three or four more weeks, he should be the NFL's MVP. But I believe the fact his comeback is from nothing more than his own felonious behavior disqualifies him as the Comeback Player of the Year.

Seahawks WR Mike Williams was the 10th player chosen in the 2005 draft by the Lions. Over three NFL seasons with the Lions, Titans and Raiders, he managed just 44 catches for 539 yards, focusing more on partying than football and seeing his weight balloon to 270 pounds or more. Williams was was out of the league from 2008-09 before convincing his USC coach, Pete Carroll, to give him another chance. He showed up at training camp at his old playing weight of 235 and has been as low as 230 during the season. He currently has 52 catches for 654 yards. But should he be honored for coming back from his own excess, for which he has absolutely no one to blame but himself? I think not.

LaDainian Tomlinson cemented his place in Canton several years ago, but it looked like his career would end ingloriously in San Diego when his yards-per-carry fell to 3.8 in '08 and 3.3 in '09. Worse, after averaging 396 touches from 2001-08, L.T. managed just 243 touches in 2009. Reborn this year with the Jets, L.T. has 196 touches through 10 games and is gaining 4.5 per rush. Tomlinson did have some toe problems in 2009 and is definitely much improved this year. Yet he is no longer able to dominate as he once did, and his 93 yards on 30 carries over Weeks Nine and 10 suggest the season is catching up with him. There's no Cinderella in the Jets' backfield.

Vikings LB E.J. Henderson fractured his left femur in a Dec. 6, 2009, game vs. the Cardinals, an injury so gruesome that many wondered if his career was over. But following surgery to repair the thighbone with a titanium rod, Henderson reported to the opening of training camp eight months later and has started every game for Minnesota.

Wes Welker tore both the ACL and MCL in his knee on Jan. 3, 2010, in the Patriots' final regular-season game of '09. After reconstructive surgery, Welker overcame what is normally a 12- to 18-month rehabilitation process to report to New England's training camp on opening day and start the first game of the 2010 season. Welker has 57 catches for 502 yards and four TDs.

Bears LB Brian Urlacher dislocated his right wrist in the first half of the Bears' 2009 season opener in Green Bay. The damage was so severe that surgeons feared if they didn't operate within 24 hours, a full recovery for Urlacher might be impossible and his career might be over. The Bears are arguably the biggest surprise of the 2010 season at 7-3, and the Urlacher-led defense is near the top of the NFL in points allowed while its leader is a certain Pro Bowler and candidate for Defensive MVP.

Form your own conclusions and use your own criteria, but assuming all these players continue to play to form over the next three or four weeks, my vote will go to Welker or Urlacher based on their challenges, production and impact on their teams. Regardless of whom you choose, the best thing about the 2010 NFL season may very well be what these six players have achieved and the odds they've overcome to do it.

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