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Who will be the NFL's 2015 Comeback Player of the Year?

NaVorro Bowman, Victor Cruz and Nick Foles are just a few players who could be looking at a Comeback Player of the Year award with strong 2015 campaigns.

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski thought his playing days were over in 2013. A hit from Browns safety T.J. Ward tore his ACL and MCL. The year before that he needed four surgeries to fix his left forearm. All of the promise and production from his All-Pro season in 2011 looked like another talented player whose career was cut short by the game's physical toll. Then 2014 rolled around and Gronk squashed the questions about whether he'd ever be the same player.

The Patriots tight end caught 82 passes for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns in the regular season, and added 16 receptions for 204 yards and three touchdowns in the postseason. He helped the Patriots win a Super Bowl and was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year, an award that should be self-explanatory.

Gronkowski was that guy last year, but who has a solid chance to win it this time around? Below, we'll look at some candidates, most of whom were injured last season but who have a chance to turn things around in 2015.

NaVorro Bowman

The San Francisco 49ers lost Bowman for the entirety of the 2014 season when he was injured in the NFC Championship against the Seattle Seahawks during the 2013 postseason. Bowman tore his ACL and while there was some thought he could be healthy enough to play late in 2014, the 49ers didn't take the risk. Things got a whole lot worse for the team when Patrick Willis and Chris Borland both retired.

That means Bowman is now the primary starter inside, backed up by Michael Wilhoite, who initially filled in for Bowman in 2014. But Bowman, by all accounts, is up to the task. Prior to his injury, many considered Willis and Bowman not just the best tandem of inside linebackers in the league, but also possibly the top two individually. He's fast, he's smart, he takes perfect angles and he's all over the field. If he hasn't lost a step following an ACL tear -- not a given by any stretch of the imagination -- Bowman could easily take home this year's award.

Kiko Alonso

Alonso was the Pro Football Writers' Association Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2013. He led the Buffalo Bills with 159 total tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and four interceptions. He was absolutely one of the best linebackers in the NFL. Unfortunately, Alonso tore his ACL while working out in Oregon and missed the entire 2014 season.

On March 10 of this year, the Bills traded Alonso to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for LeSean McCoy. It was probably a good trade for both teams, though the Eagles definitely assumed plenty of risk getting a player recovering from such a debilitating injury. But Chip Kelly knows what he wants, and if Alonso isn't hampered by the injuries, he'll be a dominant force patrolling the middle of Philadelphia's defense.

Victor Cruz

Cruz exploded onto the scene for the New York Giants in 2011, catching 82 passes for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns. He then put up another 1,000-plus yards and 10 touchdowns in 2012, but his production started to drop slightly in 2013. Last season, he hit his lowest point by playing in just six games, with 337 yards and a touchdown. The missed time was from a torn patellar tendon.

His struggles before the injury are partially due to the fact that he went from being the guy behind Hakeem Nicks to the guy demanding the No. 1 cornerbacks. But the Giants have another target now in Odell Beckham Jr., and if Cruz makes a full recovery the landscape is perfect for him to once again put up big yardage and big touchdowns. At his best, he's one of the most exciting receivers in the game, and if healthy could be the next comeback player of the year.

Robert Griffin III

Griffin has had a tumultuous career to say the least. He's dealt with injuries, an ever-changing playbook and has been benched by two different head coaches. Many wondered whether Washington would move on from Griffin, especially after he only played nine games last season due to injuries. But Griffin did flash some of the potential he showed in his rookie season down the stretch.

That could be why Washington exercised the fifth-year option on his contract, keeping him with the team through 2016. They can still release him at any point next season if he's not playing to his potential, but Griffin will get one more chance at starting and it's his to seize or squander. Griffin completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 3,200 yards, 20 touchdowns and five interceptions as a rookie. If he can do something like that again, he'll earn this award no problem.

Sam Bradford

The Eagles traded for Alonso as mentioned above, but they also made other moves, like acquiring Bradford from the St. Louis Rams. The Eagles will roll with Bradford as their Day 1 starter next season ... so what's that going to be like?

Bradford has earned the first-round bust label despite flashes of solid play over the years. He's got a strong arm and generally makes good decisions with the football, but he's missed a staggering 25 of his last 32 games. He played in just seven games in 2013, and dealt with injury issues in 2011 as well. Last season, he didn't play a single game due to a torn ACL. But Bradford will be the centerpiece of Kelly's new offense, and he'll have DeMarco Murray at his side. Bradford could finally realize his potential.

Sean Lee

Lee is the third productive inside linebacker on this list, but unlike Alonso and Bowman, who are suffering extensive injuries for the first time, Lee has an extensive injury history and has never played a full 16-game season. Since being made a second-round pick by the Dallas Cowboys in 2010, Lee has played in 46 games, and missed the entirety of last season with an ACL injury.

When healthy, Lee is one of the most effective linebackers in the league. Like Alonso, he's fast with a nose for the ball and is generally great in the middle of the defense. He's always around the football, but he's now had multiple ACL injuries and has a much harder climb than the rest of the players on this list. Still, with just 17 games played over the last three seasons, he's a prime candidate for the comeback player of the year award.

Carson Palmer

Palmer sure has had some career, hasn't he? The 11-year veteran had a quietly productive career with the Cincinnati Bengals when the team brought in Andy Dalton and he left for the Oakland Raiders. After two years there, he joined the Arizona Cardinals and had a solid 2013 campaign. Palmer was on fire in the first part of 2014 as well, completing 62.9 percent of his passes for 1,626 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions in six games.

Unfortunately, shortly after signing a three-year contract extension with the Cardinals, Palmer tore his ACL and went on injured reserve. At his age and coming off that kind of injury, it's anyone's guess as to how long Palmer has left in the NFL. But if he can come back and play at the same level he was before the injury, he'll have that team competitive and maybe a comeback player of the year award to his name.

Nick Foles

Few quarterbacks find the kind of immediate success that Foles found when the Eagles gave him a chance to start in 2013. In 13 games, he completed 203 of 317 passes for 2,891 yards, 27 touchdowns and two interceptions. Unfortunately, Foles struggled quite a bit in 2013, throwing 13 touchdowns to 10 interceptions in eight games, and right when he seemed to be picking up steam, he sustained a broken collarbone and was placed on injured reserve.

Now Foles will get another chance at starting, but with the Rams, who swapped places with the aforementioned Bradford. Foles has a long way to go, joining an underachieving Rams team with a less-than-inspiring cast of receivers to throw to. But the Rams are going to concentrate on the running game with first-round pick Todd Gurley and incumbent starter Tre Mason, and that could be just what Foles needs to have a consistently strong season. That could be enough to get him the award.