Trainers Table – 2021 Injury Recap

The 2021 NFL regular season has unfortunately come to a close.  With the playoffs looming, I think all quality fantasy players should reflect on their previous year of what worked well and what did not.  Any veteran player knows that there is a marginal percentage of fantasy that simply comes down to luck, and with that, the opposite of luck.  A large part of this “unlucky-ness” is the unfortunate physical nature of the game that leads to injuries of our favorite players.  There is no way to predict these injuries, and it is just an unfortunate part of the game we all love.

The past year of fantasy has been unrivaled in uniqueness.  Not only did there appear to be a copious amount of injuries to the game’s superstars, but weekly Covid outbreaks had fantasy rosters barren for serviceable players to field a team that provided an opportunity to win.  So with all that said, if you were somehow able to muster out a championship in the 2021 season all props to you.  The Undroppables always wants to give you an advantage in your leagues to help you win championships, so I wanted to do a year-end review article to touch on some players that suffered longer-term injuries that have solid dynasty value, but people in redraft leagues will also be concerned for come draft time.  I am coupling players that suffered similar injuries, with that being said, in no way am I saying that every players’ injuries are the same.  Every person can have a different outcome following injury, but coupling the same injuries together is helpful to talk about rough timelines for return and what to expect when they return (progress slowly back to gameplay or able to dive right in).

Achilles Tendon Ruptures

So first things first, I am absolutely shocked at what Cam Akers is doing.  He is flirting with returning to playing football at the highest level possible only 5 months after rupturing his Achilles, which is literally unheard of.  Although it is amazing to see, as he does look very promising in all the viral Twitter videos of his rehab, it does raise some concern if he is coming back too early. Of course, I do not hope that this is the case, but it does make me weary.

Research has shown that the best indicator for a high level of function post-injury is a previous history of functioning at a high level.  That is just a fancy way of saying that if you’re good pre-injury, you have a higher chance of being good post-injury.  The saying reigns true for professional athletes versus the general population, as the general population will typically take longer to return to higher levels of function relative to that of a professional athlete.  Research has shown that return to sport sooner than a 9-month mark for both Achilles and ACL injuries greatly increases the risk for re-injury to the same structure.

The Achilles is a tendon in the lower leg that is formed by the conjunction of the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, aka your calf muscles.  The Achilles is responsible for plantar flexion or flexing your calf/pointing your toes down.  As you can imagine, this muscle activity is essential in athletics for propelling the athlete forward when they run.  Rehab for these injuries not only takes a substantial amount of time due to the healing of the injured tissues but to allows the tissues to properly be exposed to the stresses that professional athletes place on them.  The healing structures need to handle the stress of running 20+ MPH for 100+ plays a game, jumping, cutting on a dime, and explosive movements that these athletes demand their bodies.

So, with all that said, what does it mean for your dynasty teams?  Everyone on your roster should be movable if the price is right.

Cam Akers

Getting action in Week 18 is extremely promising for Akers.  If you are able to get Akers for a mid/late first and some change, I would be all over it.  Although his rehab has been exciting to watch, I still want to walk on eggshells with him due to the poor outcome history of Achilles injuries for running backs.  If someone is willing to give you an early first for him, sell him.  Although he will not contribute to the 2021 fantasy season, barring any setbacks, he will be 100% ready for Week 1 of 2022.  Unfortunately, the price for Akers is returning back to the mean as his cheapest buying window was directly following injury.

James Robinson

This one is truly tricky.  Jrob was injured in Week 16, and if everything goes perfectly, that aforementioned 9-month timeframe is right at the beginning of the 2022 season.  Not only is he battling this injury, but Travis Etienne is supposed to come back as well. On a personal level, I love Jrob as a player, and he has the build to be a 3-down back.  He does have an uphill battle ahead of him, and it is more likely than not that he will not be ready come Week 1 (Cam Akers has skewed our view of coming back from Achilles).  If you can get Jrob for an early 2nd, then fire away.

Sterling Shepard

The difference between Sheppard and the 2 previous guys mentioned is age.  Akers and Jrob are 22 and 23 respectively, while Shepard is turning 29.  Shepard only has a few more years of viable playing time ahead of him, and Achilles is challenging to return from.  I would advise selling him where you can.

ACL Ruptures

What seems to be the most common serious injury in all athletics, the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) is the ligament inside the knee capsule that prevents anterior translation of the tibia on the femur.  To translate that to English, the ACL prevents the lower leg sliding forward relative the upper leg (think of running and then stopping suddenly).  As aforementioned in the Achilles paragraph, research shows a 9+ month return is optimal.  Surgery can sometimes be delayed due to allowing swelling to go down prior to surgery.  The swelling stems from the ACL being a intra-capsular ligament, aka the ACL lies within the knee capsule so when it tears and inflammation occurs, the inflammation is trapped inside the knee with no where to go.  The ACL has fibrous attachments to the Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) and the medial meniscus.  This is way sometimes athletes can tear all 3 in a single instance, sometimes called a unhappy/terrible triad.

J.K. Dobbins

Dobbins ruptured his Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL) in addition to his ACL. There has not been much news out of the Raven’s Medical camp as to how he is doing, but sometimes no news is good news as he is likely progressing accordingly.  Since his injury happened before the season even started, he will be at the 11-12 month mark post-injury for his return.  His price will only increase as we pass through the off-season, I would buy Dobbins as quickly as possible for the lead RB in one of the NFL’s must run-heavy offenses.

Chris Godwin

Godwin injured his MCL in addition to the his ACL.  An unfortunate injury for a lovable player in contract year.  Godwin will likely not be ready till November of 22, if not later.  I personally am a believer in Godwin as a player, if you can afford to give up assets and have him on the bench/IR for the majority of the 22 season, I would buy him at a discount where I could.

Jameis Winston

Jameis is doing well following surgery.  Early reports are that his rehab team is having him slow down because he is trying to progress too quickly.  Injured in week 8 and had surgery relatively quickly, he has the potential to be ready in the early weeks of the 22 season.  You can likely buy Jameis relatively cheaply if your heart desires.

Robert Woods

Woods apparently tore his ACL, unbeknownst to anyone at the time since he continued to practice on it, and later had an MRI to determine the extent of the damage.  There have not been any reports of the specific results, so to avoid speculation we will assume he had an isolated ACL tear.  Woods, 29, tore his ACL during Week 10.  Assuming he had no major delays in his surgery, there is potential he could be ready in the first half of the 2022 season.  Woods is a buy for me if I am a contending team.  If I can get him for a mid-second and sell the current holder on his age and injury, it is a smash.

K.J. Hamler

The former head coach of the Broncos reported that “KJ had some other stuff too” in regards to his knee.  With our anatomy knowledge, it is a safe leap to assume that by “other stuff” he is referring to potential damage to the MCL or medial meniscus.  Although a promising start to the season, KJ likely finds himself as now the 4th WR on the depth chart, and likely 7th option on the Broncos (Jwill, Melgo, Sutton, Jeudy, Patrick, Fant).  I probably do not advise selling or buying Hamler, as he is likely just best a hold at this point in hopes that he can return from injury and build upon the start that he had in the 21 season.

Deltoid Ligament Injury

Michael Thomas

MT has missed the majority of the 2020 season and all of the 2021 season.  The star wide out has dealt with a high ankle sprain and a medial (inside) ankle sprain, with the latter being the main culprit.  He attempted to forego surgery and rehab his ankle, but unfortunately that was unsuccessful.  He finally had surgery prior to the beginning of the 21 season, so he will have over a full year to return from his injuries.  MT’s price is cheapest now than it has ever been, and it will only increase as the 22 season approaches.  Although he has had a rough 2 years of injuries, if I can buy him cheap then I am willing to take a shot on him.

Lisfranc Injury

Travis Etienne

ETN suffered an injury to the midfoot that either involves the ligament that holds the metatarsal bones (long bones in foot) down to the tarsal bones, potential fracture to the metatarsal, or both. Lisfranc injuries are challenging injuries to return from due to the athletes needing to push off their foot leading to a large amount of stress occurring at this joint.  In addition to the forces occurring at the joint, the ligament does not have a good blood supply which typically takes longer durations of healing since blood carries the nutrients for these structures to heal.  I am a personal fan of James Robinson so I am slightly biased to preferring Jrob, but due to JRob’s injury it is likely that ETN will get first-team reps come summer while Robinson is potentially still rehabbing.  I personally am not targeting ETN, but he should be ready come 2022.

Meniscus Repair

Irv Smith Jr.

There was a lot of hype surrounding Smith Jr. prior to the season, but a meniscus tear derailed the hype train.  Meniscus tears are surgically treated one of two ways.

1. Removal- The torn part of the meniscus is removed.  Healing is a few weeks and most of the general population can return to normal walking within 2-3 weeks.

2. Repair – The meniscus is stitched back together at the tear and healing is allowed to occur.  Return to activity typically takes longer, relative to removing the damaged part of the meniscus, as the meniscus is a poorly vascularized structure so healing takes longer.  Repair is typically associated with the younger population and athletes due to these two groups putting a lot of stress on the knee joint and the joint motion (arthokinematics) does not want to be disrupted.  Smith Jr. should be ready come the beginning of 22.  Buy him accordingly to your team’s needs.

Lateral Ankle Sprain or Instability

Saquon Barkley

Saquon was coming off an ACL reconstruction from the 2020 season, and there were many questions as to if he would be ready come the beginning of the 21 season.  The Giants chose the conservative route and to slowly reintroduce him into game action.  Saquon was doing very well and then he suffered a nasty ankle sprain that forced him to miss several weeks.  If you haven’t seen a picture of it, I encourage you to google it.  Saquon was able to return to action following his ankle injury and was able to finish the final 8 games of the season.  Several people have started to place an injury prone label on Saquon, and I implore you to not do so.  The ACL injury obviously forced him to miss all of the 20 season, but he was able to return from the significant ankle injury only after a few games.  He did not have a significant injury history prior to the ACL injury.  I am excited that the Giants got rid of their Coach, and Saquon should benefit from a fresh start.  He proved that the ACL and ankle injuries did not affect him to finish out the year, and they should not impose any limitations going forward.  Ideally the team will improve under new leadership, and Saquon can return to the premiere running back we believed him to be.

Adam Thielen

Thielen underwent ankle surgery for what is a suspected grade 3 lateral ankle sprain.  The ligaments were likely torn and created ankle instability, which he was quoted saying his ankle “felt unstable.”  Thielen reports that he is already walking around is feeling much better following surgery.  He will have 9+ months to rehab his ankle and strengthen it for the upcoming season.  As is the case with every injury, the #1 predictive factor for an injury is a previous history of the same injury.  So reinjury is obviously a concern, but not such a concern for me to avoid Thielen.  A perennial top fantasy WR, Thielen is a cheaper buy for contenders due to his age.

5th Metatarsal Fracture

Derrick Henry

Derrick Henry is allegedly to return in the playoffs of the 21 season.  His injury should not affect him in his NFL career, as bones typically heal very well and do not lead to prolonged complications like ligamentous or tendon injuries have potential to.

OCD Lesion, Meniscus

Raheem Mostert

Mostert, 29, has an extensive injury history.  I hate the injury prone tag some players get, but Mostert does not have history in his favor.  He is coming off a meniscus removal/repair and some kind of bone damage to his leg.  I am avoiding Mostert, who is also an upcoming free agent, at all costs unless his price is dirt cheap.

Ankle Fracture

DJ Chark

As previously mentioned in Henry’s portion, bone injuries tend to heal very well and athletes do well relative to returning to their previous level of function (See Dak Prescott, Paul George, Gordon Hayward).  Chark, injured in Week 4, will have roughly 10+ months of rehab prior to the beginning of the 2022 season.  As Trevor Lawrence should only improve, Chark is a big buy candidate for me.  His price is the lowest right now and will only increase as the 22 season approaches.

Finger Fracture

Will Fuller

Fuller had a challenging 21 season as he missed time with personal issues, and upon his return suffered a finger fracture that forced him to miss the remainder of the 2021 season.  As aforementioned, bone injuries typically do well so it is unusual to see this injury forcing Fuller out for the time it did.  Although the finger should not be a factor come the 22 season, I am selling Fuller where I can.  He also has an extensive history of hamstring strains, and I would pivot to other capital where I can.

Labrum Repair

Juju Smith-Schuster

Just like Chark, Juju is a great buy candidate at the WR position.  A young talented WR on a team with a plethora of youth that is likely replacing Big Ben this off-season, Juju has the potential to make strides in returning to form.  Labrum injuries can present challenges for overhead athletes like WRs with their ROM in their shoulders for jump balls.  The shoulder has the most ROM of any joint in the body, so retrieving ROM in rehab is essential.  Injured in Week 5, Juju will also have several months for his rehab.  Buy him for cheap, a mid to late 2nd is a smash.

Clavicle Fracture

Quintez Cephus

Clavicle fractures have the potential to prevent ROM at the shoulder if ROM is not properly restored.  Cephus was off to a great start and quickly became the Lions’ WR1 while he was playing.  Cephus should be a relatively cheap buy if you want to invest in a Lions WR as the team showed promised to finish out the year.

Cervical Fusion

Chris Carson

Carson suffered what is believed to be a disc injury in his neck and then had a cervical vertebrae fusion.  Due to the physicality of the running back position, I do not want any part of a neck injury so I am selling Carson for literally anything I can get.  Unrelated but appropriate, Rashad Penny looked promising to finish the year.

Daniel Jones

Jones’ injury is unclear in nature.  The team shut him down to finish the year, and it is unclear if this is due to the extent of the injury or due to the team’s outlook during the time of injury.  Until more information is released, Jones is likely a hold as buying him is likely not worth the loss of capital, and selling would likely not return much capital.

Hand Fracture

TJ Hockenson and Miles Sanders

Both Hockenson and Sanders suffered hand fractures toward the end of the 2021 season.  The specifics of the injuries for both athletes are unclear as to what bones are broken, but regardless of what structures were broken the injury should not affect them much going forward.  Both should easily be ready for the 2022 season, and if you can buy them for a discount then do so.

Other Injuries Without Prolonged Rehab

Christian McCaffrey

I just had to talk about CMC with everyone throwing the injury prone label at him, right? CMC suffered a hamstring strain that cost him a few games, and then later suffered a lateral ankle sprain that landed him on the IR for the 2nd time thus ruling him out for the remainder of the 2021 season.  I do not believe in the lie that is injury prone, so therefore I still believe in CMC.  I probably have CMC as the #2 RB behind Jonathan Taylor in the dynasty.  At only 25 years old, CMC still has his prime years ahead of him.  I do strongly believe that CMC’s injuries are just unfortunate events and that he should return to the running back we all know and love.  Buy him (don’t be scared to use his injury history as a buying point to try and get his price lower).

Julio Jones

Julio had a reoccurring hamstring issue/strain all season long.  The tricky thing with hamstring injuries is that it is very common for the athlete to feel good a couple of days after injury, and they return to sprinting too quickly without proper rehab/strengthening to occur and the exact same injury occurs.  Julio is now in the later years of his career, and dealing with a nagging injury is not a recipe for success.  Playing second fiddle to AJ Brown, I am trying to sell Julio where I can.

Curtis Samuel

Like Jones above, Samuel battled an injury (groin strain) just about all season long.  In addition, the WFT has Qb woes, and he is playing behind McLaurin and 2 solid TEs.  I would move Samuel if possible.

Leonard Fournette

I love me some Lenny.  Fournette suffered a grade 1-2 hamstring strain that landed him on the IR.  One can speculate that the IR stint stemmed from the Bucs having the luxury of coasting the last couple of weeks, and having depth at the RB position.  There was no rush to get him back.  I personally believe the Bucs will resign him and let Ronald Jones go in the off-season.  Lenny has the potential to have another top 10 finish next year.

Lamar Jackson

He had a likely grade-2 ankle sprain that held him out most of the end of the season.  The injury will highly unlikely affect him in the 2022 season.  Fire him up for the 2022 season.

DeAndre Hopkins

Grade 2+ to 3 MCL sprain.  MCL sprains typically heal very well, and do not affect return to place much after proper rehab.  If he’s available for a discount, grab him.

Darren Waller

He had a rough 2021 season.  I think it is the perfect opportunity to buy him since he did have a rough season.  He is still easily a top 5 TE, which as everyone knows is so hard to come by.

DeAndre Swift

A consensus top 10 dynasty running back, Swift suffered a grade 2 AC joint (Shoulder) sprain that kept him out for several weeks.  AC joints typically do not affect players in the long run after the tissue has healed.  He is shoulder should not affect him going forward.

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