I was talking with a friend earlier this week, and we started to discuss how fate has it each year when a team is doing well, and one injury turns things around in a bad way. Injuries can effect a very good team, and turn them into a team that will be drafting in the top ten of the draft. They happen year in and year out, so here’s a list (in no particular order) of players that must stay healthy for their teams in 2012.
Dez Bryant/Miles Austin – Dallas Cowboys
I know the list says 15, but for this duo of Cowboys wideouts, they count as a pair. Each year it seems as if both of these guys have a nagging injury for more than half the season that sets America’s Team back a few notches from where they were projected to be.
Right now, it’s the same old story in Dallas. Neither of these two are at one hundred percent, and Cowboys fans are hoping they get there by the time the Season Opener rolls around. The team is struggling to determine who its third wide receiver is going to be. They know who the one and two is, but if they don’t stay healthy, they won’t be the true receivers that they can be.
They accounted for 106 receptions for 1,507 yards and 16 of the teams touchdowns a season ago – Good Numbers – but with the pair healthy, they could end up being great numbers.
Jay Cutler – Chicago Bears
The Bears have a slew of talent on offense this year. They acquired a Pro-Bowl Reciever in Brandon Marshall, they made Matt Forte happy with a long term deal and they brought in a lot of pieces to the puzzle that the team lacked one year ago.
The Bears had a 7-3 record last season and looked to be on a roll before losing Cutler to a thumb injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the season, where they went on a five game losing streak afterwards. Granted, the Bears didn’t have suitable backup to fill his shoes like they do this year in Jason Campbell, but nonetheless, Cutler needs to stay healthy.
He’s a very underrated QB in the league and last year amassed for over 2,300 yards and thirteen touchdowns. This year they’ve added a power back in Michael Bush along with a stronger receiving corps, and the most important change of all – The firing of Mike Martz – there will be no more drop-back-and-be-pressured type of offense.
The Bears look to regain position in the NFL and hope to see themselves represent the NFC North in the Championship game as they did just two years ago.
Kyle Williams – Buffalo Bills
Kyle Williams is becoming one of the better talents at his position. Unfortunately his season was cut short last year after appearing in just five games. The Bills revamped their defense this year bringing in Mario Williams (who we’ll get to later) and Mark Anderson, clearly focused on the pass-rush.
Williams will be a force to be reckoned with if he can stay healthy all year. Bringing in talent from the draft and being aggressive in Free Agency helped this Bills team so they can attack from all angles on defense. So far this preseason, Williams has looked like a beast. Bills fans hope he and the rest of the defense can play to their true potential.
In his career, Williams has accounted for over 300 tackles, two forced fumbles and 13.5 sacks.
Peyton Manning – Denver Broncos
You knew he was going to be included in this, right?
Peyton Manning has something to prove. Not to the fans, but to himself (and Jim Irsay) Peyton is a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer, and was known as one of the NFL’s most reliable until a series of neck surgeries derailed him for a season, causing him to be released.
He’s always been a Colt, but as the Broncos are renting him they’ll need him to stay healthy throughout to make sure they get a return on their five-year $96 million dollar investment. The Broncos went 8-8 to win the AFC West last year with Tim Tebow.
If the defense can continue on the same road they were on last year, and Manning can be even a shadow of his old self, the Broncos could be well on their way. But, with Manning’s surgeries he’s needed to be cautious, and he’s yet to take a big hit.
Eric Berry – Kansas City Chiefs
A low block by Bills Receiver Stevie Johnson last season ended the year for Chiefs Safety Eric Berry. Berry was explosive in his rookie year after being drafted fifth overall, and the Chiefs defense was much more dominant with him.
He’s been regarded as the best safety since Sean Taylor and he’s lived up to that hype while healthy. In his Rookie season, Berry was responsible for four interceptions, two forced fumbles, two sacks and 92 tackles. To put it in layman’s terms – he’s all over the field. All the time.
With Romeo Crennell taking over the Head Coaching duties while maintaining the defense, he’s sure to mix things up and Berry makes doing so much easier. He’ll be a big reason for the Chiefs success this season.
Antonio Gates – San Diego Chargers
A lot of people think of Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham when they think of the NFL’s Elite Tight Ends. But Gates has always been up on that list.
As an undrafted rookie in 2003, Gates took the position to a new level. Going into his 9th season, he’s appeared eight Pro-Bowls. The only year he missed the cut was his rookie year.
Since 2008, Gates has been bothered by a foot injury – while still making the Pro-Bowl – and a career year amassing 1,157 yards in 2009. This season, Gates is finally 100 % according to the team. He’s lacked the explosiveness and the ability to get downfield the last few years but he still finds a way to get the job done.
This year he is healthy, and he needs to stay that way for the Chargers, as Norv Turner may be on the way out if they miss the Playoffs.
Andre Johnson – Houston Texans
Last season was a disappointing one for Andre Johnson. Despite making the Playoffs for the first time in Franchise History, Johnson wasn’t too much a part of that as a string of injuries kept him on the sidelines for nine games throughout the season.
Johnson only accounted for 492 yards and two touchdowns on 33 catches. The lowest numbers of his career.
This season Johnson expects to bounce back. With the Texans defense finishing second overall last season, all signs point to the same success. Matt Schaub is healthy again from a Lis Franc injury, and the Texans have few guys to catch the ball. Johnson is the only sure-fire guy they have and they’re likely to use him as much as they can.
If he can stay healthy all season , and the defense plays as they did one year ago, the Texans will be right on the list of AFC Contenders.
Jamaal Charles – Kansas City Chiefs
Jam Chuck was a top-five fantasy draft pick two years ago. This year he’s being picked as late as the third round in some leagues. The fallout is because of the ACL injury he suffered last season, on a Chiefs team that seemed to fall apart.
They went from first to worst in the division in only a years time – and that’s largely in part to the running game that was diminished due to Charles’ injury. The Chiefs are looking to get back to running the ball and use the formula that helped get them to the Playoffs in 2010.
They went out and picked up Peyton Hillis to help them out, but the majority of the carries will be going to Charles. He can be one of the best backs in the league when he’s healthy, and that’s just what the doctor ordered in Kansas City this season.
Jermichael Finley – Green Bay Packers
Jermichael Finley is one of the most overlooked weapons in the league, likely because he plays for a team loaded with so many options. The Packers offense is dynamic, almost unstoppable every time they get on the field. It can be that much better with a healthy Jermichael Finley.
He’s suffered some type of injury every year, and last season was the only year in which he didn’t miss games because of it. He’s been rated as a top-five Tight End, but his numbers haven’t shown for that. He’ll take a step forward this season and possibly reach his goal of 1,200 receiving yards if he can remain on the field.
He played the 2011 season coming off of an injury that left him on Injured Reserve in 2010, and seemed to play a bit cautioned when on the field. This season he should have nothing to worry about, and that alone can help get him rack in receptions and become one of the more dominant at his position.
Ryan Matthews – San Diego Chargers
I almost have to laugh at this one. He made my cut for this list – yet he’s sidelined right now with a broken collarbone. Matthews was going to be a scratch from this list as I was making it, but I decided against it because his injury will allow him to be back on the field with a majority of the season left to go.
As mentioned, he’s out with a broken collarbone – on one lone carry. This was disappointing to Chargers fans, as this was a year where everyone expected Matthews to finally be that breakout player they expected when he was drafted 12th overall.
He’s been a disappointment up to this point for the Chargers, but Norv Turner says he has a plan in place, and that includes a heavy dose of Ryan Matthews. We’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t mention the fact that old Norv is on his way out if the Chargers don’t produce. His plan includes Matthews, so he’s going to need the RB each and every week or he’ll be gone. Matthews has yet to play a full season in the league and with this injury, that streak is likely to stay alive.
Mario Williams – Buffalo Bills
Mario Williams is most definitely a beast. His 53 career sacks and 241 tackles speak for themselves, this guy flies all over the field. Despite missing a big chunk of the season last year, Williams was still the prize of Free Agency.
As mentioned before. the Bills have bolstered their defense in hopes of watering the drought they have of not appearing in the Playoffs. Williams beings leadership to a Bills squad that needs it, and he needs to stay healthy throughout the year for the Bills master plan to work.
He’s never had the “if he can stay healthy” tag, but the Bills need him to do just that. He can be the spark the Bills need to get to that next level and be a dominate team, and it’s the reason they didn’t let him get on a plane to visit other teams in Free Agency.
Adrian Peterson – Minnesota Vikings
Since the 27th retirement of Brett Favre, Vikings fans haven’t had much to cheer for. They’ve been at the bottom of the league for a few years now, and the only things that have even made them watchable is the pass-rush of Jared Allen and the legs of Adrian Peterson.
The stud back suffered a gruesome injury last season that looked as if it could have been career ending. Peterson had about 2.3 seconds where he let it disappoint him, but he got over it and knew that he’d be back on the field – never in a million years would I have guessed AP would potentially be on the pace for a week one return.
For the Vikings sake, it’s a good thing Peterson will be back as they are in full-on rebuild mode. They have a young QB who struggled a bit last year and they look to keep the ball on the ground with Adrian Peterson. To have any success at this plan, AP needs to remain on the field. I commend him and his work ethic for getting to the point he’s at now, but if he suffers any setbacks whatsoever, it can ruin this Vikings team for longer than just a season.
He is the core of what the Vikings are, and without him they are in some serious trouble. He needs to stay on the field all season.
Matt Stafford – Detroit Lions
Before last season, when anyone talked about Matt Stafford, they’d immediately follow with “if he can stay healthy”. Last season, he finally did just that, and had a stellar season throwing for over 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns as he was robbed of a Pro-Bowl appearance. Yes, R-O-B-B-E-D of a Pro-Bowl spot.
This season Stafford looks to start right where he left off last year. Healthy. He’s suffered a broken blood vessel this preseason but that is nothing major, he was pulled from the game as a precaution but he could have played throughout if needed. He’s looked good thusfar with the help of Calvin Johnson, but in order for the Lions to appear once again in the playoffs, they’ll need Stafford all season.
He immediately jumped from a guy that nobody could trust in terms of staying on the field, to one of the best quarterbacks in the league. The Lions offensive line will have to be at the top of their game each week and keep Stafford upright, and if they do – the sky is the limit for this Lions squad.
Michael Vick – Philadelphia Eagles
This season there is a lot on the line for the Philadelphia Eagles. The owner admitted that Head Coach Andy Reid’s job is on the line after a disappointing 8-8 season one year ago. They were the biggest shoppers in Free Agency last season and were a heavy favorite entering the season. This year they’ve been a little bit under the radar, and that’s for the better. There is nobody screaming Dream Team, but the expectations are still high.
If the Eagles miss the playoffs, Reid is likely on his way out. His job security is behind the arm (or ribs) of Michael Vick. Vick is an extremely explosive quarterback – hate him or love him – the guy is a baller. His strength of making something out of nothing is also his downfall. He takes too many hits that lead to injuries. He took twelve snaps in the preseason, yet has undergone two medical evaluations.
For the Eagles to make the playoffs and Reid to keep his job, they must rely on the man they awarded with a $100 million dollar contract one year ago.
They are a much better team with Vick under center, even though sometimes it may seem his style hurts them. They have a decent backup in Nick Foles, but he won’t be able to get the job done consistently if Vick misses a chunk of games.
Darren McFadden – Oakland Raiders
This list is not in order, but if it were, McFadden would still be the highest. McFadden is more than a beast. He is the best running back in the league when he is healthy. Yes, you read that right. The. Best. Running. Back. In. The. League. He’s yet to be on the field for a full season though, and that’s his downfall. Year in and year out, reports say he’s healthy, he’s ready to go, yet he falls to an injury each season.
Last year the Raiders were on a roll, they entered a game with the Kansas City Chiefs with a 4-2 record after losing Jason Campbell to injury the week before. The game plan was simple, give the ball to McFadden and let newly acquired QB Carson Palmer get comfortable for a week. That plan backfired when McFadden fell to a lis franc injury that caused him to miss the rest of the season.
Not only was it a blow to McFadden who was leading the league in every running back statistic, but it sent the Raiders offense spiraling in a whole new direction and they fell flat. For the Raiders to have any glimpse at a playoff spot, McFadden needs to stay on the field for the whole season.
He looks good so far, but he hasn’t been used much. He looks bigger, faster, and stronger. Which is what he needs. If McFadden falls to injury, the Raiders fall with him. He’s the workhorse of that team, and without him they are nothing. The goal for the Raiders this season should be to keep McFadden healthy, if they do that, everything else will fall into place and the Raiders will be in a much better situation at the end of the year.