The college football season is right around the corner right now. With the hype building for another highly anticipated year, the focus has shifted to the players that are expected to make the biggest impacts this season. While there has been a lot of talk about Heisman trophy contenders like Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield and the reigning Heisman champ Lamar Jackson, there hasn’t been enough talk about the returning stars that have the potential to surprise in 2017 after having their 2016 seasons cut short by injuries. Here is a look at college football’s top candidates for comeback player of the year.
QB: Josh Rosen, UCLA
Rosen isn’t a favorite to win the Heisman trophy right now but that could definitely change early on in 2017. Rosen was carving out a solid second season at UCLA when he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury against Arizona State last October. Now he returns healthy and entering his third season in the program, with high expectations in a loaded Bruins offense heading in to this season. Rosen, who already ranks sixth all-time in UCLA history in passing yards, total yards and completion despite playing just one-and-a-half seasons, is ready for the spotlight. A strong pick to rank among the comeback players of the year, it won’t be a surprise if Rosen lights up the Pac-12 and forces his way on to the Heisman trophy radar in 2017.
S: Derwin James, Florida State
James played in just two games for Florida State last season when he suffered a season-ending lateral meniscus tear in his left knee. After a full year to rehab and build up his strength, James will return to the Seminoles secondary with a sense of urgency as he attempts to make up for lost time. The 6’3’’, 211-pound safety is one of the best defensive backs in college football and his potential is off the charts heading in to 2017. The Florida-native registered 91 tackles including 9.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in 2015 when he was named to the All-ACC third team as a true freshman. It won’t be surprise if he puts up even better numbers this year as one of the most talented players on a loaded Seminoles defense.
DB/KR: Evan Berry, Tennessee
The younger brother of NFL Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry is one of the most electric kick returners in college football. His 34.2-yard kick return average is the best in school history and he has already produced four kickoff return touchdowns in his young career. After suffering a knee injury last fall, Berry is primed to bounce back for the Vols this season. It won’t be a surprise if he electrifies on kick returns once again while adding to his impressive highlight reel in 2017.
LB: Joe Dineen Jr., Kansas
Dineen bounced around several different positions in 2015 before a breakout season in 2015 left to him becoming a full-time starter for Kansas. Dineen led the Jayhawks when he recorded 86 tackles in his sophomore season, but a hamstring injury prevented him from reaching his potential as a junior last year. Dineen is fully healthy once again and ready to produce at a high level for Kansas as a senior this season. He will have every opportunity to make his mark for the Jayhawks as a comeback player of the year candidate to keep an eye on in the SEC.
OL: Antonio Riles, Florida
Riles opened his career on the defensive line before he was moved to the offensive side of the football. In 2015, he thrived as a key part of a five-man unit that became the first Florida offensive line to start the first six games of a season since 2008. A season-ending injury last year in camp prevented him from building on his immense potential in 2016. However, Riles has worked hard to get back in shape and return to his previous form. The Gators will need Riles to perform at a high level as a key cog in their offensive line. He might fly under the radar, but Riles has the potential to be a legitimate comeback player of the year candidate in 2017.
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