RENTON, Wash. – They are both from Florida, each graduating from high school in 2002.
Mike Williams and Leon Washington have converged on the same spot this year, Seattle Seahawks teammates who are two worthy candidates to be named the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year.
“They’ve overcome the odds,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “Resurfaced maybe when a lot of people might have counted them out. In that, it’s a statement for both guys about how tough they are, how determined they are to push to the limits and show who they are.”
But that’s where the parallels end, and not just because Washington is a 5-foot-8 running back and Williams a 6-5 receiver. They’ve taken different paths to reach this point, Washington coming back from injury while Williams addressed his work ethic.
Washington suffered a compound fracture of his leg last year with the New York Jets, an injury so serious some thought he would not play football again. The Jets traded Washington to move up in the draft order from the seventh to the fifth round. Washington, a Pro Bowl returner in 2008, might earn that honor again after returning three kickoffs for touchdowns and taking a punt to the 2-yard line.
“Leon is one of the top guys in the league at what he does,” Williams said. “He came back from something.”
That’s the difference in Williams’ mind. Washington has reestablished himself, but Williams is not reclaiming a starring role, he’s claiming it for the first time after spending the past two years out of the league.
“If you can really put your finger on something that I came back from, maybe it’s Comeback Couch Player of the Year,” he said.
Williams was chosen No. 10 overall by Detroit in the 2005 draft, catching 44 passes his first three years in the league as he played for three teams and reportedly weighed as much as 270 pounds.
Signed by Seattle in April, he arrived in great shape and has been every bit a No. 1 wideout. He has caught 60 passes despite missing all of two games and most of a third. He has been the most important component of Seattle’s passing game, someone capable of not just winning 1-on-1 matchups but dominating them. He has three games with 10 or more catches. He has come so far in just one year, which is why Washington said he’d lean toward his teammate if he had a vote.
“He was out of football, for what, two years?” Washington said. “When I was out of football, I missed like nine games. If you’re looking at it in that way, he definitely has the advantage.”
The reality is it’s an award that Michael Vick might win even though he returned to the NFL a year ago. Now Philadelphia’s starter, Vick has emerged as an MVP candidate.
There’s a criteria to be the Comeback Player of the Year, and in Williams’ mind, Washington fits that. Same for New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker.
“That award is for people who have established themselves in the league,” he said. “Established themselves playing at a high level and then hit a misfortune, injury or what have you.
“I don’t represent that. I’m not trying to beat myself or talk down on myself, but I don’t represent that.”