NFL 2022: McCaffrey, Young, Ramsey among key players returning from injuries


By Dr. Matt Provencher
FOX Sports Injury & Performance Analyst

Season-ending injuries can have widespread effects on players and teams that can often last for an extended time.

Our data shows that the impact of these injuries, and the subsequent surgeries, can last into the next season and even longer. Understanding the injuries, past player performance and a multitude of other variables that affect return to play can help paint a better picture of future performance.  

There are a number of notable injuries from last season that we will be closely monitoring as we head into the 2022-2023 NFL season. 

Chase Young, DE, Washington Commanders

Among the biggest news coming out of Commanders camp is still that Young will miss at least the first game of the season against the Jaguars.

Chase, who tore his ACL and had it reconstructed in November, is not quite ready to return to game action. As we talked about in our previous ACL article, these injuries usually take nine to 12 months for a full return. Additionally, many times there is also knee meniscus, cartilage, or other ligament damage that must be addressed as well. These things can lead to swelling, motion, pain and strength concerns.

Outside of ligament and surgical healing time, strengthening and stability play a huge part in the return-to-play timeline. It is unclear whether Young hasn’t reached sufficient strength levels or if he is having trouble with swelling or pain. But one thing is certain: He is not quite ready for game-play situations. I would even venture to say he will probably miss more than just the first week of the season, and that the athletic training room will become a necessity pre- and postgame for treatments throughout the season.

We know that ACL tears impact performance, and even though Young is an amazing athlete, we will most likely see decreased productivity from him when he returns to the field. For a defensive end of his stature coming back to play after an ACL injury, our data shows that we can see up to a 44% decrease in snap percentage when compared to pre-injury performance.

Darius Shaquille Leonard, LB, Indianapolis Colts

Leonard, who is now known as Shaquille, battled through last season after ankle surgery. Then in June, he underwent surgery for his lower back. The back may have been related to a nerve entrapment issue (usually due to a lumbar spine extruded disk), and this will take a bit of time to rehabilitate and recover and cause him to miss some camp time.

However, we see him coming back for the regular season and in shape to compete. The real question is what does this mean? Back injuries are tricky, and nerve issues are even more so. 

The good news is that once nerve issues are fixed (via a lumbar disc decompression), it can have a lasting and drastic improvement on performance. Unlike other back operations that can cause negative effects on performance, generally if a nerve issue is fixed, a player can perform at an even higher level. 

If this back surgery did fix issues in firing his calf and musculature surrounding his ankle, then we can expect a great year from Leonard. 

Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals

Burrow underwent an appendectomy on July 26 and is missing some time at the start of Bengals training camp. Coach Zac Taylor isn’t worried about his return, saying: “We don’t expect him to miss a step.”

Appendectomy recovery usually takes two-to-four weeks, and we have seen a number of players return closer to the two-week mark. The team will be careful with the 2021 Comeback Player of the Year, but we don’t expect to see any effect on his usual high level of performance.  

Keep in mind that we will also be monitoring his knee — Burrow tore his ACL and MCL in November 2020 and came back with a vengeance following that surgery.

Jalen Ramsey, DB, Los Angeles Rams

The Super Bowl champions are playing it safe with Ramsey considering he signed a five-year, $100 million extension in 2020, with $71.2 million guaranteed. 

Ramsey has started training camp on the PUP list after an offseason surgery to fix the AC joint in his left shoulder. He played all of last season with the injury in both shoulders. Though non-op treatment was considered — as it always should be — he opted to have surgery in the offseason with the goal of stabilizing the AC joint to reduce pain and improve strength and function in the shoulder.

In Ramsey’s position, shoulder mobility and strength are vital to more than just tackling. Battling to stay alongside receivers, pass deflections and tight coverage are just a few of the situations where his operative shoulder may be in a much better place this year. 

During rehabilitation, he will have to focus on mobility and strength, but we can assume that if all goes to plan, Ramsey will be right back to being one of the best corners in the league. He should be ready to go for the beginning of the season, and we expect to see little to no drop in performance.

James White, RB, New England Patriots

White is coming off a big injury in 2021 in which he sustained a right hip subluxation against the Saints in Week 3 that ended his season. 

As a dual threat out of the backfield, White was the perfect quick outlet for Tom Brady, and now for Mac Jones, with the Patriots. Hip subluxations can come with additional injuries to the labrum, cartilage, and in some cases fractures of the hip socket. It has been reported that White is still having some issues with his gait and will be rehabbing through training camp. I would be very surprised to see him on the field at the start of the year, especially with the Patriots’ depth at the running back position.

White did just sign a new contract this offseason, but I don’t think the team should be in any hurry to get him back on the field until he shows in practice that he is ready to be in game situations. There is a potential for re-injuries to the hip joint that we will have to watch as he returns this season.

Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints

Thomas has been on an injury rollercoaster the past two seasons, with his initial ankle injury leading the conversation. 

After suffering the injury in the first game of the 2020 season, he missed four games. He then missed two more games after injuring his hamstring, before reaggravating the ankle joint and sitting out the remainder of the regular season. Surgery was delayed, and Thomas participated in the postseason, but he chose to have surgery following a New Orleans playoff exit, as it was clear that he wasn’t at his best. Following surgery in June 2021, Thomas had continued issues and missed all of last season. 

What can we expect now? Thomas is back, off PUP and running routes, a great sign for Saints fans. The team has added to the position, bringing in veteran Jarvis Landry and drafting an explosive Chris Olave out of Ohio State to round out an exciting receiving corps. 

Ankle injuries can be tricky to return from and easy to reaggravate. Thomas has been rehabbing his for more than a year after surgery. He looks good in the videos we have seen, and I expect him to come back close to his pre-injury levels. He will have to test the ankle in game situations to get a real feel, but I think the stability and strength will be there to help make him an asset for quarterback Jameis Winston this season. 

Sterling Shepard, WR, New York Giants

Shepard was plagued by injuries last season. It seemed that as soon as he got over one, he was hit with another, which eventually culminated with an Achilles tear in Week 15. 

Shepard is a valuable slot receiver in that eight-to-12-yard range. His quickness prior to injury gave him separation and allowed him to be a very reliable target. But Achilles tears can be challenging for receivers, who rely on push-off strength, power, quickness and explosion. This can all add up to decreased performances.

Shepard started jogging in late May, and though Giants GM Joe Schoen previously said he thought Shepard would be back for the start of camp, the wideout was listed on the PUP list. 

We expect the injury to cause a decrease in performance, and he could potentially miss games periodically for swelling, pain and flareups. Overall, our data shows that many wide receivers don’t see the field again the following season, but if they can return the next year, we see a decline of 10 to 15% in receptions and five to 10% in receiving yards. 

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers

CMC has been injury-prone over the past two seasons, with hamstring and ankle injuries showing just how detrimental these ailments can be to a skill-position player.

McCaffrey has played in only 10 games the past two seasons, which puts a big question mark next to his name when it comes to this year. Like with Thomas, it was hard to watch him trying to play through injuries. But now that he has taken time to recuperate, he should be ready to return and dominate. 

That comes with a caveat, of course. The Panthers need to be mindful of his overall load throughout the season — and may need to limit his snap percentage. McCaffrey did not need surgeries for his injuries last season, but any of them could flare up from overuse. 

If the team can find a way to split time among the running backs in the beginning of the season, it will give McCaffrey’s body a chance to get back to a game level he hasn’t seen in nearly two years. I expect him to be back but at lower productivity than his 2019 campaign. The good news is that he says he is feeling better than ever.

Ronnie Stanley, LT, Baltimore Ravens

Stanley is another case of an ankle injury that didn’t go as originally planned. He sustained the injury prior to the 2021 season and was able to play only one game before having a setback that required follow-up surgery. 

The good news is that the Ravens’ medical team has said that he is on pace to start the 2022 season, which would be important for a team that was decimated by injuries last year. Stanley is 6-foot-6 and 315 pounds, so his ankle undergoes a lot of force, therefore requiring a lot of strength and stability to be back at full speed. 

Due to the nature of ankle injuries, we would expect that he will not be at his best over the first part of the season. But as he gains strength and confidence in his ankle, Stanley should get back to his usual performance by the second half of the season. 

Travis Etienne, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

A Lisfranc injury — which is an injury to ligaments that help stabilize the bones of the forefoot — ended Etienne’s 2021 season before it started. Everyone was excited to watch the explosive and exciting running back out of Clemson last season, but his foot injury sidelined his debut. 

Now he is back and has shown serious strides to return from an injury that has been known to slow down running backs. The Jaguars have released video of Etienne during a workout that shows excellent performance on the previously injured forefoot. 

This season I think will be less about his injury and more about how he transitions to the pace of NFL play. Etienne is a special player, and if he feels comfortable in his new offense, he can be a real threat. Yes, he will have some aches and soreness that may nag him, but overall the previous Lisfranc injury shouldn’t be too limiting when it comes to his overall production. 

Renowned orthopedist Dr. Matt Provencher and his company, Proven Performance Technology (PPT), deliver data-driven injury insights to football fans. In this first-of-a-kind role as Athlete Injury and Performance Analyst for FOX Sports’ digital platforms, Provencher provides important predictive player health and recovery information about post-injury performance, the impact of weather, field conditions and more.

Get more from National Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more.

in this topic