Baltimore notoriously suffered an unsurmountable number of injuries last season, with their top three running backs going down with a season-ending injury in the preseason. JK Dobbins underwent ACL repair on September 5th, 2021, Gus Edwards underwent the same ACL surgery after suffering an ACL injury on September 9th, and Justice Hill tore his Achilles tendon on September 6th. All three players missed the entire season while rehabbing from surgery.
Leading up to the draft, there was much speculation that Baltimore may add support to their running back room in the event that Dobbins and Edwards are not ready to go at the start of the season. Melvin Gordon visited, and it appeared the two sides were interested; however, Gordon resigned with Denver. During the draft, Baltimore elected to hold on the running back position until drafting Tyler Badie from Missouri in the 6th round, which potentially gives a vote of confidence to Dobbins and Edwards’s health entering the 2022 season.
The question fantasy players want answered is what can we expect from Dobbins and Edwards coming off ACL repair? A dive into the data can help players make the best possible decisions come draft time.
Since 2017, runnings backs returning from ACL repairs in their first game back the following season average a whopping 7.3 points LESS than they were averaging pre-injury! In games 2-3 the following season, they average 6 points per game less! And in games 4-6 back from injury, they average 2.7 points per game less. That is significant, and based on that data, it would be highly risky to start Dobbins or Edwards in the first quarter of the season. However, after the three-week mark, points begin to return closer to their baseline levels in the elite running backs in this sample (Dalvin Cook, Saquon Barkley).
Interestingly, even though the perception of ACL injury is not as significant these days as it was 10-20 years ago, and many players do return to their prior production level (Dalvin Cook, Saquon Barkley), we still do see several running backs who miss a good chunk of the next season, or never return to their prior performance. Jerrick McKinnon missed two seasons, Tarik Cohen has missed the past two seasons, Rashaad Penny missed much of the following season and tallied a total of 11 rushing attempts that year, and Jay Ajayi recorded a total of 10 more rushing attempts in his career following ACL surgery.
The good news for both Dobbins and Edwards is that their injuries occurred in the preseason, which afforded them an entire year to rehab. Based on the data, fantasy players may feel confident drafting them but may not expect peak performance in the first quarter of the season. Therefore it is wise to acquire depth at the running back position if you plan to have Dobbins and Edwards on your roster this season.
Tom Christ, PT, DPT, OCS