5 NFL stars worth watching in their returns from injury
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The NFL suffered a major blow 2017 with the number of stars who missed much or all of the season due to major injuries. You could find a superstar (or two) at almost every position whose injury directly impacted his team’s place in the standings.

Too many prime-time games lost their luster when backups were thrown into prominent positions, which is probably one reason for the 2018 ratings dip.

Wednesday, we examined the impact Andrew Luck could have on the Colts after he missed the 2017 season to recover from shoulder surgery. The Colts can reclaim their status as an AFC South powerhouse if Luck comes back and is truly himself again.

Here’s a look at five other stars whose comebacks will be worth watching:

QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers

A healthy Rodgers is the difference between Green Bay re-emerging as NFC North champs and legit Super Bowl contenders, or falling into last place in the division, even behind the improved Chicago Bears. The Packers were 4-2 in 2018 and looking formidable until a broken collarbone sidelined the 2014 MVP for seven weeks, a span when Rodgers' team won just three games.

The 34-year-old came back early and labored through a loss to the Carolina Panthers that knocked the Packers out of playoff contention. Then he went on injured reserve as Green Bay dropped its last two games.

Since the start of 2010, the Packers are 77-33 when Rodgers starts and just 6-11-1 when he doesn’t. The Packers, behind a new GM, finally took an aggressive approach to free agency, bringing in Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham and defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson to help Rodgers lead Green Bay back to the Super Bowl.

Rodgers took the Packers to the postseason every year from 2009 to 2016, winning the Super Bowl in 2010. But he’s 0-2 since then in conference championship games. The Packers have enough around him to get back to the Super Bowl if he can stay protected and healthy.

WR Odell Beckham Jr., Giants

Beckham wants to be the league’s highest-paid player. He won’t have that chance without converting to quarterback and playing at an All-Pro level. But he does have the chance to reset the wide-receiver market with a bounce-back season after undergoing surgery to repair a broken ankle five games into 2017.

Beckham put up insane numbers his first three seasons, making the Pro Bowl every year while recording 288 receptions for 4,122 yards and 35 touchdowns. He had more receiving yards and just five fewer touchdowns in his first three seasons than Jerry Rice did after three years.

When healthy, there’s no question Beckham is the most dominant receiver in the league. But his behavior also causes fits for Giants coaches and ownership, which is why he hasn’t received an extension yet despite that astronomical production.

The Giants are banking on Beckham to stay levelheaded and put up great numbers in a contract year, all while being part of an outstanding supporting cast for 36-year-old Eli Manning that also includes No. 2 overall pick Saquon Barkley, flashy slot receiver Sterling Shepard, and speedy tight end Evan Engram. The Giants have weapons, and they could be scary good offensively if Beckham is motivated by the payday looming ahead.

DE J.J. Watt, Texans

He once seemed destined to join Reggie White, Lawrence Taylor, and Deacon Jones on the league’s Mount Rushmore of pass-rushers. Now, Watt is fighting to keep his career alive before he turns 30.

Major injuries have sidelined Watt for all but eight games over the past two seasons, and he's recorded just 1.5 sacks during that period as a result. That's a dramatic decline from the force who racked up 69 sacks from 2012 to 2015, leading the NFL twice and producing two 20-plus sack seasons.

Watt broke his leg early in 2017 during what was supposed to be a comeback year after a back injury that required surgery. The Texans have enough firepower to win the AFC South, especially if quarterback Deshaun Watson returns from the ACL injury that prematurely ended his dazzling rookie season.

Watt can combine with defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus to give the Texans a potent front seven. If Watt is anywhere near the 20-sack force we saw earlier in his career, the Texans could easily make a deep postseason run.

QB Carson Wentz, Eagles

It’s been a long time since the NFL has seen a quarterback challenge for MVP in just his second season. Carson Wentz was battling Tom Brady neck-and-neck for the award in 2017 until tearing knee ligaments in Week 14.

Wentz suffered the injury before he threw his 33rd touchdown of the year, setting a new franchise record. Nick Foles then took over and led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl title. Remarkably, Wentz should be ready for the 2018 season opener despite suffering the injury so late in 2017, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen.

Wentz is already participating in 7-on-7 drills during OTAs and is expected to take first-team reps when training camp begins in July. The Eagles won the Super Bowl without him, but there’s no question they’re more equipped to become the first team since the Patriots in 2004 to repeat as champs if Wentz is leading the huddle.

S Eric Berry, Chiefs

The Chiefs lost Berry during their 2017 season opener when the five-time Pro Bowl safety ruptured his Achilles. Berry went on injured reserve and the Chiefs defense ranked outside the top seven for the first time since 2013, finishing 15th overall and 28th in scoring. That’s how valuable Berry is to Kansas City.

Earl Thomas might be the league’s only safety who can make an argument that he’s better than Berry, a freak of nature who’s already overcome an ACL injury and cancer earlier in this career. It’s not shocking Berry has been practicing with the team during OTAs.

The Chiefs are skilled up front, but they need Berry to return at full strength and play at a Pro Bowl level to help support an offense that could be prolific if second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes takes a huge step forward.

Geoff Mosher is an award-winning sports reporter, radio host, and TV personality with more than 20 years of experience covering all major sports and leagues. He also hosts regularly on 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia and co-hosts "The Sports Shop" on Facebook.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

5 NFL stars worth watching in their returns from injury
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