June 5, 2023
The Athletic

NFL Injury Mailbag Week 10: OBJ’s Risk Factor, Josh Allen’s Elbow Problem and More

In this mailbag: Virginia Zakas offers a pessimistic timeline via Josh Allen’s elbow, explains why OBJ is such a risky proposition, and more!

Inside Injuries was diagnosed by an orthopedic radiologist, Dr. Anand Lalaji (aka Dr. A), who contributes to all injury reports. dr A assembled a team of doctors and data scientists to develop an algorithm to assess the impact of injuries on a player. This algorithm drives the entire Inside Injuries analysis and determines that of each player risk of injury, health performance factor (e.g. the level at which a player is expected to be if they return early) and Optimal recovery time. This information is based on years of medical experience and historical injury research and has proven incredibly accurate in determining how injuries affect a player’s performance and risk of future injuries.

Josh Allen likely to play? And if so, will he see a drop in expected production? — Chad D.

I don’t see Allen play this Sunday and I wouldn’t be surprised if he misses a few more weeks. Scans on Allen’s elbow showed damage to the UCL (ulnar collateral ligament). This runs on the inside of the elbow and is important for stability. The damage isn’t severe enough to require surgery, but it will take more than a few weeks to fully heal. While the Bills have said it’s day-to-day, week-to-week is more realistic.

That Internal injuries The algorithm has determined that the sprain is a grade 2 sprain, meaning the ligament is partially torn. It should heal well on its own over time, but playing before then is a huge risk. This is especially true in the first few weeks. I’m not overly concerned that Allen’s tear could get so bad that he would need surgery – it would take a very specific type of play, similar to what caused the original injury, to do that. However, playing through comes with a lot of risk. Not only would it affect his performance, but returning too early could result in an aggravation and an even longer recovery time. The Bills are in a solid playoff position right now, and having Allen healthy late in the season and into the playoffs is far more important than pushing him back over the next few weeks.

According to our algorithm, Allen’s injury has an optimal recovery time of 5-6 weeks, although I expect he will play long before hitting that mark in December. A sprained UCL can cause pain, limited range of motion, and weakness. If he returns in the next few weeks, expect the Bills to rely heavily on the running game and Allen won’t be launching too many deep balls. The longer it rests, the better it will function.

How long will it take for Odell Beckham Jr. to be about 80 percent healthy? — Hitesh P.

OBJ has one of the highest injury risk percentages I’ve seen for an athlete just about to recover – right now it’s 51%. Beckham is almost nine months away from surgery to repair a second cruciate ligament tear. For most athletes recovering from a cruciate ligament tear, this is a crucial mark to hit to reduce the risk of torn ligaments again. Since this is OBJ’s second, 12 months is a much better goal.

Beckham is a hot commodity as he could be completely erased any day now but signing him comes with an incredible risk. His HPF (Health Performance Factor – predicted performance based on overall health) has just improved significantly and is now above average (70%) according to our algorithm. OBJ should have progressed enough to offer some value to anyone who signs him, but I’m not convinced he can stay on the field. Not only is another knee injury a concern, but he also has an increased risk of a soft tissue injury like a hamstring/quad/groin strain. Beckham is a high-risk, high-reward hideaway heading into the second half of the season. Whoever signs him will need to give him plenty of time to get used to the game again to avoid another injury.

Where is Keenan Allen? – Spencer K.

Keenan Allen’s hamstring “didn’t respond the way they hoped it would,” according to head coach Brandon Staley. That’s quite an understatement as Allen has been plagued by this injury for two months now. The Chargers still call him daily, but he wasn’t in practice Wednesday. Allen has now had two hamstring returns and at this point I don’t understand why they didn’t put him on IR so he could allow the muscle to fully heal.

Allen’s second aggravation happened almost three weeks ago and he’s still not ready to practice. Our algorithm gave him an optimal recovery time of five weeks from that date, meaning he won’t be fully healed until around week 12. He remains in the High Injury Risk category. There’s a good chance he’ll stay there for the rest of the season as muscle strains are common. I’m confident he’ll take the time he needs to heal and do something of value towards the end of the season, but he’s not ready yet.

Will Mark Andrews be 100% after bye week? – Maxwell L.

Andrews missed a game for the first time in his five-year career last Monday night but there is good news. Andrews has 24 days between games as the Ravens have a Week 10 bye and our predictions are promising. While Andrews is still at an increased risk of injury (currently 17%), his HPF is already back at its peak and that will only improve 10 days before the next game. I’m always hesitant to say that a player will really be 100% after injury, but he should be close by week 11.

Andrews was already struggling with a knee injury at week 8 and then he appeared to have sustained an AC sprain in his right shoulder. AC sprains heal well on their own, they just take time. An injection can also help relieve the pain if it’s still bothering him. The Ravens made the right decision to put him in Week 9 to allow the knee and shoulder to fully heal. Now he should have enough time to rehabilitate himself and get healthier for the second half of the season.

Will D’Andre Swift Ever Be 100% This Year? —Adam L

D’Andre Swift is a bit of a wildcard as we head into the second half of the season. He suffered an ankle injury earlier in the season but played through it. It’s still showing up on the injury report, so I suspect it was more significant than the Lions were initially willing to admit, or he made it worse and aggravated the sprain. Swift then suffered an AC sprain at week 3, the same injury that sidelined him for a month last year.

Now Swift is back on the field, but it is clearly limited. In the last two games, he’s only had seven carries for 16 yards. Head coach Dan Campbell was noncommittal about Swift’s future involvement, only hinting that he’s not ready for a full workload just yet. He said he expects to use Swift “a little bit more” this week. The way they’re using it right now just doesn’t make sense. You need to shut him down until he gets healthy and is actually effective because the limited snaps won’t help the team and will only delay Swift’s return to full health. Swift still has a high injury risk and below average HPF.

Are we tempering expectations for the future with Kyler Murray’s Achilles tendon? – Stu N

Murray showed up on Wednesday’s injury report with a hamstring strain and was officially a DNP. He appeared to suffer the injury late in the first half on Sunday but ended the game. His mobility appeared to be affected in the second half as he rushed just seven yards and took five sacks. I would consider Murray really questionable for week 10. If he passes, he will continue to be hampered by the injury. Our algorithm gave him an optimal recovery time of 2-3 weeks. By playing through this, he risks a more serious injury that could last well over a month. Murray’s effectiveness depends heavily on his mobility. Hamstring strains aren’t always a big deal for a quarterback, but based on Murray’s play we need to lower expectations at least for the next few weeks.

(Top Photo: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

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