In this week’s fantasy football draft guide, we will talk about players returning from ACL surgery. Every season it happens, the dreaded anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear. For years the ACL tear has marked the end of the season for football players, and it still does. Fantasy football players know that when their player suffers an ACL injury, it warrants an automatic drop in re-draft leagues, and in dynasty or keeper, it means they will clog up your injured reserve spot. But what is less clear is what to make of that player’s outlook for the upcoming season? This season, we have several high-profile fantasy football-relevant players at all four position groups returning from an ACL injury. With draft season quickly approaching, let’s dive into what fantasy players need to be considering when they are on the clock.
*Note: We have a very small sample size of tight ends returning from ACL injuries, therefore they will not be discussed in this article.
Key Players Returning from ACL injury
Quarterbacks: Jameis Winston
Running Backs: JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards
Wide Receivers: Odell Beckham Jr., Jameson Williams, Michael Gallop, Chris Godwin, John Metchie III, Robert Woods
Tight Ends: Logan Thomas, Robert Tonyan
The date of injury and, more importantly, surgery is crucial, and understanding the rehab timeline can help fantasy football players understand that there are numerous checkpoints along the rehab process that must be met prior to returning to the field. Unfortunately, teams don’t often disclose the surgical date, but the injury date is public knowledge, as an ACL injury will always be reported. Below is the average number of weeks it took players to return to an NFL game after suffering an ACL injury, broken down by position
- Quarterbacks: 46.8 weeks
- Running backs: 60.2 weeks (51 weeks if Jerrick McKinnon is removed from the sample)
- Wide Receivers: 49 weeks
Now, let’s consider the time frame that each key player returning from an ACL injury this season is looking at.
|Player||Injury Date||# of Weeks From Injury Date to Week 1||Average # of Weeks Between Injury and Return to NFL Game for Position|
|Jameis Winston||November 1st, 2021||45||46.8|
|JK Dobbins||August 28th, 2021||54||51 (excluding Jerrick McKinnon)|
|Gus Edwards||September 9th, 2021||52||51 (excluding Jerrick McKinnon)|
|Odell Beckham Jr.||February 13th, 2022||30||49|
|Jameson Williams||January 10th, 2022||35||49|
|Michael Gallop||January 2nd, 2022||36||49|
|Chris Godwin||December 19th, 2021||38||49|
|John Metchie III||December 4th, 2021||40||49|
|Robert Woods||November 12th, 2021||43||49|
As we can see, Jameis Winston, JK Dobbins, and Gus Edwards have the time factor working in their favor. Unfortunately, not one of the key wide receivers returning from an ACL injury this year has that luxury. Each of them will have a tough time returning to the lineup week 1. I would find it hard to believe that any of Odell Beckham Jr., Jameson Williams, Michael Gallop, or John Metchie III will play in the first quarter of the season.
Fantasy Performance when returning from ACL Injury
At the Fantasy Injury Team, we provide an in-depth analysis of injuries, the associated rehab process, and the data on how players at each position historically perform when returning to the field after each injury. This data can be powerful and help fantasy football players navigate tough decisions on draft day and during the season. Below is the historical performance of each position group returning from an ACL tear since 2017. A more detailed chart can be found on our ACL tear and reconstruction page.
|Position||1st Game Back From Injury||Games 2-3 Back From Injury||Games 4-6 Back From Injury|
|Average Compared to Pre-Injury Baseline||-6.6||+0.7||-4.1|
|Number of Players Who Have Met Their Baseline at Current or Previous Time Points||1/5 (20%)||3/5 (60%)||4/5 (80%|
|Average Compared to Pre-Injury Baseline||-7.3||-6||-2.7|
|Number of Players Who Have Met Their Baseline at Current or Previous Time Points||1/6 (17%)||1/6 (17%)||1/6 (17%)|
|Average Compared to Pre-Injury Baseline||-3.6||-1||+1.5|
|Number of Players Who Have Met Their Baseline at Current or Previous Time Points||2/9 (22%)||4/9 (44%)||7/9 (78%)|
We can see clearly, that all three position groups struggle in the first game returning from an ACL injury. The gross points per game average are important; however, more important to consider is the percentage of players who have met their pre-injury baseline at current or previous time points. When a player has met their baseline at a given time point, that indicates they are again capable of producing at their pre-injury level. Considering this, we see QBs and WRs progress nicely over time, but running backs struggle to reach their baseline into the 6th game back from injury.
Teams Front Office Moves
Finally, another factor to consider is what moves the player’s teams made during the offseason. This is always a major factor that fantasy football players need to be considering when preparing for draft day. As fans, we do not have as much insight into a player’s rehab as we would like, and in some instances, the team front office decisions can guide us into understanding how the team feels about said player’s potential for the upcoming season. Let’s take a look at each player’s team situation.
Jameis Winston: Jameis signed a two-year $28 million contract to be the starting quarterback for New Orleans. They made no other significant quarterback acquisitions this offseason, and it appears they are fully confident he will be ready to play week 1.
JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards: The Baltimore backfield has been discussed in a previous article and is promising for the outlook of each. Yes, Baltimore drafted rookie Tyler Badie in the 6th round and signed Mike Davis to a one-year deal in May, but each of these acquisitions provides little threat to Dobbins and Edwards’ workload. Davis is likely an insurance addition if either Dobbins or Edwards is not ready to go, but as discussed above, each has had more than the average time for running backs to rehab from an ACL injury.
Odell Beckham Jr.: Odell remains unsigned as of this writing, and it is certainly possible that he may remain unsigned into the start of the season.
Jameson Williams: Williams was selected by Detroit with the 12th overall pick in the 2022 draft. This is high draft capital, and Williams is expected to be a franchise-altering talent at the wide receiver position. However, Detroit is in a complete re-build and is unlikely to rush Williams onto the field before he is ready.
Michael Gallop: Gallop is interesting. Dallas traded away star receiver Amari Cooper and let role player Cedrick Wilson walk in free agency, leaving a void of 165 targets behind. Dallas did select rookie Jalen Tolbert out of South Alabama with the 88th selection in the draft and likely will expect Tolbert to produce right away with Gallop unlikely to be ready for the start of the season. Gallop was given a contract extension this offseason worth $57 million over five years. With the turnover of receivers in Dallas combined with the new contract, I would not be surprised if Gallop is pressed to return early and into a star role alongside CeeDee Lamb, as Dallas will be competitive this year. That being said, Gallop will only be 36 weeks post-injury by week one and will have a hard time being fantasy relevant until the second half of the season.
Chris Godwin: Tampa signed Russell Gage to a 3-year $30 million contract, signaling that they expect Gage to be a significant part of Tom Brady’s passing attack. Antonio Brown hilariously voluntarily left the team in week 17, OJ Howard signed with Buffalo in the offseason, and Gronk still has not decided if he wants to continue playing, leaving a potential void of 172 targets in the passing attack. Much of this void will be filled by the Gage signing, and with Tampa expecting to make another Super Bowl run and with plenty of other options for Brady to throw to, they likely won’t rush Godwin back onto the field.
John Metchie III: Metchie III was selected with the 44th pick in the 2022 draft. Like his college teammate Jameson Williams, this high draft capital indicates that Houston expects him to be a highly productive part of the offense. However, like Williams, Houston is in complete rebuild mode and has no reason to rush Metchie onto the field.
Robert Woods: Tennessee was active with their receiving corps this offseason. They traded for Woods in March and traded away superstar AJ Brown during the draft. Additionally, they selected Arkansas Razorback Treylon Burks with the 18th overall pick. The departure of a bonafide number 1 wide receiver and the addition of a rookie indicate that Tennessee has high expectations for Woods this season. Of all the WRs returning from an ACL tear, his was the earliest and provides the best chance of being ready to go week 1.
Several factors are at play when considering drafting one of these high-profile players coming off an ACL tear. In the short term, it appears the wide receivers are riskier plays secondary to the time frame of their injuries. However, receivers tend to respond better than their running back counterparts. Front office moves can’t be ignored either, and roster construction is constantly changing; therefore, fantasy football players must always keep up with the news.
At the Fantasy Injury Team, we will be providing year-round content on how injuries impact the game of fantasy football. Be sure to check in weekly for updated content!
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