The 2019 campaign is reaching the midseason phase, which means NFL teams are welcoming back a wave of reinforcements. Whether it's by way of long-term suspension, the non-football injury list (NFI) or the physically unable to perform list (PUP), a multitude of talented players are returning to the field in preparation for an impact over the season's final two months. Let's examine 10 names with the potential to bolster their team's chances after missing the early portion of the schedule.
With all of the attention paid to new coach Kliff Kingsbury and No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray, the early season absences of starting cornerbacks Peterson and Robert Alford have flown under the desert radar. While Alford may miss the entire season with a fractured tibia, Peterson wasted no time in his return from a six-game suspension, sacking Giants quarterback Daniel Jones and forcing a fumble in Week 7. Now that their perennial All-Pro is once again headlining the secondary, the suddenly surging Cardinals can boast an improving defense with an assortment of playmakers in Peterson, safety Budda Baker and the fearsome pass-rushing tandem of Chandler Jones and Terrell Suggs.
While 6-foot-5 doppelganger Auden Tate has compiled a personal highlight reel of at least a half-dozen spectacular catches over the past two weeks, the Bengals maintain that their suddenly brittle No. 1 receiver is untouchable in trade talks. It's an astonishing approach toward a 31-year-old wideout without a contract beyond the 2019 season, but it's hard to blame new coach Zac Taylor, who has yet to see his offense at anything resembling full capacity with Green nursing yet another foot injury and first-round left tackle Jonah Williams expected to miss the entire season following offseason shoulder surgery. Not yet practicing, Green is ostensibly eyeing an early November return after the Week 9 bye. If Taylor squints hard enough, he can look beyond the feckless 0-7 start toward a hazy future that includes Williams, Green and a potentially dynamic supporting cast composed of power runner Joe Mixon, scat back Giovani Bernard, reliable No. 2 receiver Tyler Boyd and speedy deep threat John Ross.
Touted by NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah as a top-three talent in the 2019 draft and a " home run" pick at No. 19 overall, Simmons missed the season's first six games while rehabbing a torn ACL sustained in pre-draft training. It's hard to overstate the former Mississippi State star's impact in his debut versus the Chargers, as Simmons not only registered his first NFL sack but also thwarted each of Melvin Gordon's now-notorious goal-line rushes with the game on the line. The effort earned him the highest ranking among Tennessee defenders in Pro Football Focus' grading system. As NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal put it in his Week 7 Debrief, Simmons was arguably the best player on the field in his first taste of professional action. Franchise legend Albert Haynesworth went a step further, declaring, "He doesn't look like a rookie, I'll say that. He looks like a fifth-year, sixth-year Albert. He's going to be really, really good. I was super impressed."
Out of the phalanx of key contributors serving time in the trainers room, it's the absences of Okung and star safety Derwin James that have hit the hardest for the 2-5 Chargers. Already an Achilles' heel that undermined the team's hopes for a deep playoff run last January, the offensive line has been the primary culprit in Philip Rivers' inability to surpass 20 points in five of seven games to open the 2019 season. Okung finally returned to practice last week after missing all of training camp and the first two months of the season with a pulmonary embolism so debilitating that it forced him to look " death right in the face." Coach Anthony Lynn confirmed Wednesday that the two-time Pro Bowl tackle will take the next step in his miraculous recovery, suiting up as Rivers' trusted blindside protector for the Week 8 showdown at Chicago.
One of the league's most disruptive interior defenders down the stretch last year, Reed tallied five sacks in the final five games and finished with 24 QB hits on the season. Opening the 2019 season under a six-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy, his presence was sorely missed on a Seattle defense that ranks a lowly 26th with just 11 sacks. Although Reed returned to play 49 snaps in the Week 7 loss to Baltimore, he had no better luck than his teammates in trying to solve the slippery Lamar Jackson. That didn't dampen Pete Carroll's enthusiasm, as the Seahawks head coach told reporters he " couldn't be more fired up" in reviewing Reed's performance. Carroll doesn't have a single player on pace for five sacks. He's counting on a marked increase in takedowns now that Reed is teaming up with Jadeveon Clowney and a healthy Poona Ford to harass opposing passers.
Out of sight, out of mind. When early season sensation Shaquil Barrett was racking up nine sacks en route to NFC Defensive Player of the Month honors, it was easy to forget that Pierre-Paul generated 12.5 sacks of his own for an otherwise toothless defense in his 2018 debut campaign with the Bucs. Rather than teaming with Barrett as bookend edge rushers in Todd Bowles' blitzing attack, Pierre-Paul has spent the majority of the past five months in a neck brace, the result of an offseason accident involving a Ferrari and a wet road. Recently reminded that players don't typically return from broken necks, JPP retorted, "Not a lot of people come back from blowing off their hand, too." Touche. The former Giants star recently returned to practice and is eligible to be activated from the NFI list. It may not be long before he's joining forces with Barrett after all.
What the Browns desperately need is a blindside tackle or a stalwart right guard to fix a leaky offensive line. Instead, they are welcoming one of the most productive running backs of the past few years. Released by the Chiefs after lying about an off-the-field incident with a young woman, Hunt is serving the final two weeks of an eight-game suspension with his new team. Rewarded for good behavior, he's already back practicing with the Browns in preparation for his Week 10 return versus Buffalo. It remains to be seen just how Hunt will be utilized alongside power runner Nick Chubb, who ranks fourth in the NFL with 607 rushing yards. An excellent receiving back, Hunt showed the ability to line up out wide or in the slot as a Pro Bowl playmaker in Kansas City. As ex- Browns guest stars Joe Thomas and Andrew Hawkins explained on Tuesday's edition of the Around The NFL Podcast, expect to see a different Cleveland offense in the second half of the season, featuring more quick passes and RPOs to get Baker Mayfield in rhythm.
Entering the season, GM John Elway readily acknowledged that the Broncos would sink or swim with new quarterback Joe Flacco. Elway may not be calling for the life raft just yet, but Tuesday's trade of longtime No. 1 receiver Emmanuel Sanders is a tacit admission that the Flacco-led offense has fallen short of expectations. How long will Elway and coach Vic Fangio continue to watch their sluggish signal-caller swallow third-down sacks before turning to their second-round pick for a glimpse of the future? Lock is reportedly ahead of schedule in his recovery from a sprained thumb on his throwing hand, but Fangio told reporters on Wednesday that the rookie is among the injured Broncos who aren't " ready to play right now." However, if Flacco falls flat against the Colts and Browns in the next two weeks, it's reasonable to believe Lock could get the shoulder tap after the Week 10 bye.
Nothing eases the pain of a lost season like the emergence of a few promising young stars to instill hope for brighter days on the distant horizon. The Redskins can point to third-round wideout Terry McLaurin as a legitimate Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate, perhaps the lone building block among starting skill-position players. As the season progresses, he may be joined by Guice and first-round quarterback Dwayne Haskins. Coach Bill Callahan revealed that Guice has a chance to return to the field this week, the earliest the power back is allowed to practice after landing on injured reserve with a meniscus injury sustained in the season opener. Look for Guice to start siphoning carries away from 34-year-old Adrian Peterson when Washington returns from the bye to face the Jets in Week 11.
Billed as a Super Bowl contender, the disappointing (3-4) Eagles rank 20th in Football Outsiders' pass defense efficiency. At one point, the injury-ravaged secondary was lining up without five of its top six cornerbacks. Help is on the way, with Mills returning from a yearlong absence to play 91 percent of the snaps and record the defense's most impressive interception of the season in the otherwise deflating Week 7 loss at Dallas. Afforded just three days of practice in his return from the PUP list, Mills has veterans of the Eagles beat wondering if he's already the team's best cornerback. He will soon have competition for that honor with fellow starter Ronald Darby, who was active but did not play vs. the Cowboys, making his way back from a hamstring injury that sidelined him for the past month.