Shoulder repair surgery (typically rotator cuff and/or labrum repairs) is a major surgery that can impact fantasy football performance. While not as common as ACL tears discussed in last week’s post, fantasy football players will want to know how this surgery may affect their player’s performance in the upcoming season. We have calculated the data and written in detail about this injury, surgery, and rehab in the Shoulder Repair Surgeries: Rotator Cuff and Labrum pages.
This season, we have three fantasy-relevant players returning from shoulder surgery. These players are quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and wide receivers Tee Higgins and Juju Smith-Schuster (technically, he returned for one game last year). Surprisingly there is a short list of fantasy-relevant players who have underwent shoulder repairs. However, we can still dive into the data and what to expect from the abovementioned players.
Key players returning from shoulder repair surgery
Garoppolo underwent surgery on March 8th, 2022, which raised some controversy on why the eight-year veteran waited so long to have the procedure performed, being that their season ended on January 30th. This delay of over a month does delay his rehab timeline; however, he should still be on track for training camp.
Higgins was seen at a Cincinnati reds game donning a sling on his left shoulder. Shortly after, reports came out that the wide receiver, fresh off a break-out second season, had undergone a shoulder labrum repair in the offseason. Higgins’s exact surgery date is unclear, but reports state it occurred in March. This would put him on a similar time frame as Garoppolo, with the distinct difference being Higgins does not need to throw the ball, therefore asking a great deal less from his shoulder.
Juju miraculously returned for the playoffs on January 16th after undergoing labrum repair on October 13th. Technically he shouldn’t qualify for this list since he already has returned to an NFL game, but we will discuss his fantasy football outlook anyway.
For all players returning from major surgery, the timing of that surgery is crucial for predicting how ready they will be to start the season. Surgeries all have general timelines for recovery, but these timelines are not set in stone, and many factors during the rehab process can impact how long it takes until a player is ready to return to an NFL game. Below is the average number of weeks it took players to return to an NFL game after shoulder repair.
Quarterbacks: 29 weeks
Running backs: 30 weeks
Wide Receivers: 39 weeks
Now lets consider the time frame that our three players returning from shoulder surgery are looking at.
|Player||Surgery Date||# of Weeks From Surgery Date to Week 1||Average # of Weeks Between Surgery and Return to NFL Game by Position|
|Jimmy Garoppolo||March 8, 2022||27||47|
|Tee Higgins||March 2022 (exact date unknown)||27||39|
|Juju Smith-Schuster*||October 13th, 2021||13||39|
As we can see, Juju’s quick return was quite astonishing, returning to the field in 1/3 the time wide receivers average. Some of this data is misleading as the season has a fixed start date, and some players may have been ready to go sooner, which will inflate the position-specific averages.
Fantasy performance when returning from rotator cuff and shoulder labrum repairs
At the Fantasy Injury Team, not only do we provide the in-depth analysis of injuries and the associated rehab process, but we provide the data on how players at each position historically perform when returning to the field following each injury. This data can be powerful and can 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 shoulder repair surgeries. A more detailed chart can be found on our Shoulder Repair 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||-3.9||-5.5||+5.3|
|Number of Players Who Have Met Their Baseline at Current or Previous Time Points||0/3 (0%)||1/3 (33%)||3/3 (100%)|
|Average Compared to Pre-Injury Baseline||-0.5||-2.8||-2.5|
|Number of Players Who Have Met Their Baseline at Current or Previous Time Points||2/6 (33%)||2/6 (33%)||3/6 (50%)|
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. Interestingly quarterbacks historically struggle in the first game back but appear to be at their norms a quarter into the season. Wide receivers are a bit of a toss-up in the first few games back, as some immediately reach their pre-injury baseline, but others never did. It is worth mentioning, however, that in the data sample we have from 2017, some of the WRs who never returned to their pre-injury performance was at the end of their career (Eric Decker, Tyrell Williams), potentially skewing the data.
Team Front Office Moves
Every offseason, numerous significant changes occur to each roster. Not only is the player’s injury status a factor in their performance, but so is their team situation. Two of our three players discussed in this article will experience significant changes in their team situations this season that may directly impact their fantasy performance.
Jimmy Garoppolo: San Francisco has made it clear that Trey Lance is their starter at quarterback this season. Until that changes or Garoppolo gets traded, it is unlikely for him to see the field during a game, rendering him not valuable in fantasy.
Tee Higgins: Cincinnati is loaded on offense, boasting what many believe to be the best group of wide receivers in the league with Ja’mar Chase, Higgins, and Tyler Boyd. All three were present last season, and Higgins went 74/1,091/6, good enough to finish at WR24. Tight end Hayden Hurst joins the Bengals offense this year but is unlikely to pose much of a threat to Higgins’s target share. Additionally, the Bengals attempted to sure up their offensive line woes with the additions of big guys La’el Collins, Alex Cappa, and Ted Karras. It does not appear Higgins’s situation has changed much from last season.
Juju Smith-Schuster: Juju signed a one-year $3.25 million contract to catch passes from Patrick MaHomes. With this signing and the departure of superstar Tyreek Hill, Juju steps into a role that has the potential to fill stat sheets. Kansas City also added veteran receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling to a three-year $30 million contract and drafted Western Michigan receiver Skyy Moore with the 54th selection in the 2022 draft, giving Juju some competition for targets.
All three players will likely be ready to go in week 1 of the 2022 season. As it stands today, it is unlikely that Jimmy Garoppolo will be the starting quarterback for San Fransisco this season. Unless he is traded, he does not appear to be a fantasy-relevant player. Both Higgins and Smith-Schuster have no reason not to be ready to start week 1, and it is unlikely that their shoulder surgeries should impact their performance.
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!
Tom Christ, PT, DPT, OCS