Jalen Hurts shoulder injury could not have come at a worse time for fantasy players. The current QB1 on the year may miss the second round of the fantasy playoffs and possibly more due to a sprain to his throwing shoulder. What do we know about his injury? And what can we expect from the emerging star?
Details of Jalen Hurts shoulder injury
The Eagles have not given specifics of the injury outside of a shoulder sprain. A review of the video of the play he was injured on suggests an AC joint sprain. The AC joint is always suspected as the location of injury when a player lands directly on the shoulder. In the video below, we can see the defender land on Hurts, with Hurt’s right shoulder slamming into the ground. Studies suggest that nearly 40% of NFL QBs will suffer an AC joint injury to some degree in their career.
AC joint injury
What is an AC joint injury? And how does it impact a quarterback? An AC joint injury is often termed a “shoulder separation” and is the same injury Bear’s QB Justin Fields dealt with earlier this season. The difference is that Fields injured his non-throwing shoulder.
The Acromioclavicular (AC) joint is the junction of the part of the scapula (shoulder blade) called the acromion and where it connects to the clavicle (collar borne). The connection gives rise to its name. The AC joint functionally links the shoulder girdle to the torso and is important for shoulder mobility and stability. The AC joint relies on ligaments for stability. A sprain by definition, is an injury to a ligament. Jalen Hurts shoulder injury is described as a sprain, making it likely that it is his AC joint that is injured.
The ligaments involved in supporting the AC joint are the acromioclavicular ligament, which connects the end of the clavicle to the acromion, and the coracoclavicular (CC) ligaments, which comprised of two ligaments (conoid and trapezoid ligaments) that connect another part of the scapula called the coracoid process to the clavicle. These ligaments provide the joint stability.
The AC joint must move during the throwing motion. The injury will do one of two things that influence throwing. 1) Ligament injury creates laxity (too much mobility), altering the mechanics of the throw to negatively influence power and accuracy. 2) Swelling and muscle guarding create pain and stiffness that reduces the range of motion, altering throwing power and pain and negatively influencing accuracy.
AC joint healing and rehab
The severity of injury dictates the healing process. More severe injuries will require surgery. Surgery does not appear on the radar for Hurts, indicating his injury is less severe. For less severe ligament injuries, healing typically takes a few weeks to become strong enough to function without laxity or pain and up to six weeks to regain near full strength of the tissue. While six weeks is for complete healing, he can play much sooner.
Rehab will consist of offloading the shoulder (break from throwing, lifting), range of motion exercises, gentle strengthening, and ensuring proper motion of the neck is maintained. As Hurts’ injury heals, he will progress to higher-level strength exercises and return to throwing. Hurts is an elite athlete and his injury appears minor, I would expect him to return to throwing within a week, if not sooner.
AC joint injury impact on QB performance
Functionally, an AC joint injury will only negatively impact a quarterback if it is his throwing shoulder. Therefore, the comparison to Justin Fields is irrelevant (and not included in the sample below) since Fields injured his non-throwing shoulder. Since 2017, there have been six instances of a QB injuring the AC joint on his throwing shoulder. On average, they miss 1.1 games but see a steep decline in fantasy production upon return. This data should be taken cautiously, as six is not a significant sample size. Despite being unable to draw conclusions due to a small sample, the negative trend in fantasy production does not produce confidence for Hurts owners.
Hurts advantage is his legs. An AC joint injury will not impact his rushing ability. However, the potential downside would be Philadelphia calling less-designed runs for Hurts. We saw a decline in designed runs for Justin Fields when he returned from an AC joint injury, going from 15 carries per game in the three weeks before the injury to only six in the first game after the injury.
Jalen Hurts rest-of-season outlook
With Philadelphia atop the NFC at 13-1, needing only one more win to secure the top seed, it is unlikely they will rush Hurts back to play. He almost certainly won’t play Christmas Eve against Dallas. His outlook for week 17, the fantasy championship, is up in the air.
Fantasy players need to consider that even if Hurts does play week 17, he may have some limitations throwing and likely will not see as many designed runs. As we can see from the data set above, QBs struggle in their first game after an AC joint injury. Unfortunately, it will be hard to trust Hurts if he does play in week 16 or 17.
The Eagles situation is a major factor here. If they needed to win to make the playoffs, they would be more aggressive with Hurts return. With a more than capable backup in Gardner Minshew, I expect the Eagles to be conservative with Hurts. Conservative means fantasy owners likely won’t have their start QB for the rest of the playoffs. Hurts should be able to return to 100% for the NFL playoffs, but unlikely before.