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7 Patriots on the comeback trail this summer

With a week to go until training camp, we rank the seven New England players working back from injury.

Patriots LB Dont'a Hightower
Patriots LB Dont'a Hightower

The belief is that football has a 100-percent injury rate. So, sooner or later all players will have to work back from an injury.

This is that time of year that many of those players are ramping up the rehab as they target training camp and regular season returns.

How well and quickly players get back to full health can be a key factor for teams early in the season.

With a week until training camp opens, we count down the top seven key Patriots hiking the comeback trail heading toward 2018.

1. Dont'a Hightower – The former Pro Bowl linebacker spoke this spring about his focus on staying healthy this season. Not only did Hightower miss all but five games last season, he's missed three or more games in four straight seasons. The linebacker and team captain is one of the top health situations to monitor this summer. Hightower's health is especially important given the lack of depth at the linebacker position.

2.Julian Edelman – The good news regarding the slot receiver missing last season to a torn ACL was that suffering the injury in preseason action got him started early on the road to recovery. That road will hit a speedbump with his four-game suspension to open the season, though. It will be interesting to see how quickly the 32-year-old receiver gets his quickness back as he tries to return to form as Tom Brady's most frequent target.

3.Marcus Cannon – The big tackle missed all but seven games to an ankle injury last fall. This came after a 2016 season in which he earned a contract extension as arguably the team's top offensive lineman. Already holding an open competition to replace Nate Solder at left tackle, New England needs Cannon to return to form to stabilize the other end of the line.

4. Derek Rivers – The hope a year ago was that the 2017 top pick could add a spark to the pass rush. That never came to fruition after he went down with a torn ACL in joint practices with the Texans. Now, there are more options on the edge but it would be nice to see if the athletic Rivers might be an impact player at some point down the road of his recovery.

5. Nate Ebner – Yet another member of the Patriots 2017 ACL club, Ebner has turned into an elite core special teams player and leader in the kicking game. If healthy he's probably the favorite to lead the team in special teams tackles.

6. Cyrus Jones – The torn ACL suffered in preseason action derailed any hopes the former second-round pick had of a bounce back sophomore season as both a cornerback and a punt returner. As he works back to full health, uncertainty at both slot corner and in the return game could give Jones the chance to turn his New England career around.

7. Malcolm Mitchell – The receiver made an instant impact as a 2016 fourth-round rookie, including six catches for 70 yards in the comeback win over the Falcons in the Super Bowl. But his knee issues date back well before his time in New England. He couldn't stay on the practice field this spring after missing all of last season. Given the uncertainty at receiver, if Mitchell can get healthy he could be a top early-season option at the position. But that's a big if.

Thoughts on our list? Let us know with a comment below!

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