10 players returning from injury to watch during the 2024 NFL season

2X57X0F Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) runs during the NFL football team's practice on Tuesday, May 7, 2024, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

• The returns of Aaron Rodgers, Joe Burrow and Kirk Cousins: All three star passers suffered season-ending injuries in 2023 and will look to bounce back this season.

• Nick Chubb has plenty left in the tank: He has never had a season with a rushing grade below 80.6, and 2023 was following suit until he collided with Minkah Fitzpatrick just 32 snaps in.

• Get a head start on fantasy football: Use PFF's fantasy football mock draft simulator to create real live mock draft simulations to get ready for your live draft!

Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes

With OTAs officially kickstarting this week, we as a football-deprived society move that much closer to being satiated once again.

For die-hard fans, this week brings a first glimpse of highly touted rookies debuting team colors. Beyond that, OTAs offer players entering key seasons the chance to break ground.

Speaking of which, late May serves as a critical step in the rehab process for players who suffered major injuries the year before. From household stars to younger up-and-comers, here are 10 players who could show out if they return to good health — and who could challenge for Comeback Player of the Year.

QB Aaron Rodgers, New York Jets

Where else could this list start? Rodgers lasted a mere four snaps before tearing his Achilles against the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football in 2023. The wait is over, and Jets fans should finally be treated to good quarterback play in 2024. Questions loom about the mobility and sustainability of the now-40-year-old, but Rodgers’ production is undeniable when he is on the field. He has gone seven straight seasons with at least a 74.9 PFF passing grade, and there’s little reason to expect his accuracy to decline in 2024.

The quality of Rodgers' weapons in his final years in Green Bay wasn’t spectacular (aside from Davante Adams), but the Jets have done well to surround him with promising pieces in Garrett Wilson, Mike Williams and Breece Hall. The bigger hurdle may be keeping No. 12 upright, given the injury-prone nature of New York’s offensive line, but additions like Tyron Smith, Olu Fashanu, Morgan Moses and John Simpson round out a deep unit.

QB Kirk Cousins, Atlanta Falcons

Cousins was in the midst of one of his best seasons to date until he tore his Achilles in Week 8. His 85.1 passing grade to that point ranked fifth in the NFL, and his 80.5% adjusted completion percentage was second (minimum 100 dropbacks).

After six strong seasons in Minnesota, Cousins heads east to his third team in Atlanta. The quarterback has a plethora of fun options to feed in Drake London, Kyle Pitts and Bijan Robinson, not to mention Darnell Mooney and Rondale Moore. If Cousins can play most or all of the season (which he’s traditionally done), look for No. 18 to lead an upstart Falcons team that could win the NFC South for the first time since 2016.

Subscribe to PFF+ to unlock the world's most advanced football database!

QB Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals

Burrow was off to a fourth straight good season until he tore a ligament in his throwing wrist on Thursday Night Football in Baltimore. The Bengals stayed alive even without their mainstay, finishing 9-8 behind decent play from Jake Browning, but it was far from the magic of No. 9.

A consistent element of Burrow’s game has been highly productive passes while not putting the ball in harm’s way. In 2023, Burrow was one of two gunslingers (minimum 400 dropbacks) to have a big-time throw rate of at least 4.4% and also a turnover-worthy play rate of 2.1% or lower. It's a feat he has accomplished in each of the past three seasons.

With the former No. 1 overall pick back under center, the Bengals should vie for not only their division lead but possibly even the AFC.

RB Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns

Simply put, Chubb has been one of the NFL’s best backs, if not the best, since he entered the league in 2018. Chubb has never had a season with a rushing grade below 80.6, and 2023 was following suit until he collided with Minkah Fitzpatrick just 32 snaps in.

Without Chubb, Cleveland’s rushing offense finished just 23rd in rushing grade, with backup Jerome Ford unable to replicate the tackle-shedding ability of the starter. It remains to be seen when Chubb will be fully ready, but the Browns should be able to match last year’s wild-card berth — if not better it — with their horse in tow.

ILB Matt Milano, Buffalo Bills

It was a real treat watching Milano make play after play during his tremendous 2022 season, but a fractured tibia and an ACL tear in Week 5 ended his 2023 far too prematurely. Without the stud manning the middle of its defense, Buffalo went from eighth to 16th in defensive expected points added per play.

Two years ago, Milano was the only inside linebacker with 24-plus pressures and 57-plus stops. His skill set was also evident in coverage, where he allowed receptions on just 72.8% of targets — the fourth-lowest rate among inside linebackers to play 1,000 or more snaps. In other words, the Bills will be getting back arguably their best defensive player when No. 58 takes the field yet again.

Subscribe to PFF+ to unlock the world's most advanced football database!

CB Trevon Diggs, Dallas Cowboys

Diggs was off to a good start in 2023 until he tore his ACL in a late-September practice. The 26-year-old has been a ballhawk through four NFL seasons, with his 18 interceptions ranking second most since he entered the NFL in 2018 and his 52 pass deflections the fifth most. However, Diggs hasn’t graded amazingly in coverage, largely because he has surrendered more than 15 yards per catch in his career.

Although there might be a bit of an adjustment to learn Mike Zimmer’s scheme, Diggs should be in a good position to produce in the second year of his $97 million extension.

EDGE Jaelan Phillips, Miami Dolphins

Phillips was on his way to a potential Pro Bowl season until he fell victim to the MetLife Stadium turf in Week 12. The third-year edge defender was in the midst of a career performance on Black Friday — with three pressures, a sack and two stops — before disaster struck.

The 2021 first-rounder was exceptional in 2022, with 77 pressures and an 88.8 overall grade. If Phillips can recover from his Achilles injury and stay on the field in 2024, his ceiling is limitless.

DI Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh Steelers

A groin injury led Heyward to play his fewest snaps since 2012, and he also didn’t look like his usually unblockable self. The veteran’s 21 pressures were his fewest since 2016 and a far cry from his six straight seasons of accumulating at least 58.

The 2024 season shapes up to be a massive one for Heyward and his longevity, with the 35-year-old intending to renegotiate his contract before hitting free agency this offseason. Pittsburgh got a good contribution from rookie defensive lineman Keeanu Benton, but the bottom line is its defense is, in many ways, anchored by No. 97. If Heyward doesn’t look like his pre-2023 self, it might spell bad omens for Pittsburgh.

RB Keaton Mitchell, Baltimore Ravens

Mitchell became a late-season revelation during Baltimore’s quest for the AFC North throne. Despite not playing until Week 7, the former UDFA exploded to the tune of 8.4 yards per carry. His 92.5 rushing grade ranked second in the NFL.

Yet, Mitchell tore his ACL in Week 15, putting his short-lived rise on the back burner. Even with Baltimore adding legend Derrick Henry in free agency, there’s almost no way head coach John Harbaugh will be able to keep Mitchell off the field if he looks anything like his 2024 form, creating a terrific tandem for the Ravens.

Click here to see Keaton Mitchell's PFF Premium Stats profile.

CB Christian Gonzalez, New England Patriots

Gonzalez was stellar through four career games, accruing an 80.8 overall grade, a 79.3 coverage grade and a low 67.5 passer rating against on his first 209 snaps. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury proved to be season-ending, curtailing his highly promising first campaign.

The former Oregon star was already on his way to becoming a lockdown cornerback, and with New England hardly touching the position this offseason, new head coach Jerod Mayo is certainly expecting major strides from Gonzalez in his effective redshirt freshman year.

Honorable Mentions: EDGE Joey Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers; EDGE Matthew Judon, New England Patriots; S Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh Steelers; EDGE Bradley Chubb, Miami Dolphins; CB Jaire Alexander, Green Bay Packers; OT Jack Conklin, Cleveland Browns; S Talanoa Hufanga, San Francisco 49ers; EDGE Uchenna Nwosu, Seattle Seahawks; CB Jaycee Horn, Carolina Panthers; CB Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans Saints; Alijah Vera-Tucker, New York Jets; QB Anthony Richardson, Indianapolis Colts; WR Tank Dell, Houston Texans; C Corey Linsley, Los Angeles Chargers


Unlock the 2023 Fantasy Draft Kit, with League Sync, Live Draft Assistant, PFF Grades & Data Platform that powers all 32 Pro Teams

$31 Draft Kit Fee + $8.99/mo
$89.88/yr + FREE Draft Kit