How Long Does it Take A Running Back to Recover From An ACL Injury?
Surprisingly, one of the biggest concerns from Packers fans is depth at running back (personally I would have put safety as my top concern). Fans are worried that the combination of James Starks, Alex Green and Brandon Saine may not be enough to take pressure off Aaron Rodgers and the passing game. One thing that I think fans have missed is that Alex Green isn’t exactly ready to play, after suffering a brutal ACL injury during week 7 of the 2011 season, whether or not he can be a significant contributor for the offense in 2012. On the flip side, while Packers fans should not hold ill will against Adrian Peterson, who also injured his ACL (as he is a class act and a great football player), let’s just say Packers fans are hoping to see Peterson in sweat pants during week 13 and week 17.
I wanted to know a little more about ACL injuries in general and their effect in the NFL, so enter in “Outcomes of Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries to Running Backs and Wide Receveirs in the National Football League” by Brian J Sennett MD et al. which was published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, volume 34, no. 12 1911-1917. Sennnett et al. looked at 33 running backs and 31 wide receivers that had suffered an ACL injury while on a NFL roster between 1998 and 2002 and analyzed their performance compared to players in their respective positions who had not suffered an ACL injury. The results are not good.
1. Players on average take 55.8 weeks to recover from an ACL injury:The range for the time of recovery for players suffering an ACL injury is from 40 to 187 weeks. Keep in mind this does not factor in the offseason where a player may be healthy and capable of playing but cannot return to the field as there are no games to play and the specifics of the injury (such as additional MCL damage and the severity of the injury)
Alex Green: Injured on October 23rd, 2011.
- Best case scenario for return: July 29th, 2012 (training camp)
- Average case scenario for return: November 18th, 2012 (at the Lions, week 11, which is the week after the bye)
- Worst case scenario for return: May 24th, 2015
- Conclusion: While news coming out of OTAs was largely vague but positive, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Green start the season on the PUP, which would already deplete a running back core with injury issues.
Adrian Peterson: Injured on December 20th, 2011
- Best case scenario for return: September 30th, 2012 (at the Lions, week 4)
- Average case scenario for return: January 24th, 2013 (after the regular season)
- Worst case scenario: July 15th, 2015
- Conclusions: Peterson has vowed to be ready for the start of the season, but as no running back or wide receiver made it back that quickly between 1998-2002 and considering that Peterson blew out both his ACL and his MCL, chances are good that he misses the entire season. Then again AP is no ordinary running back so maybe he will be the statistical outlier.
2. Players coming off an ACL injury on average produce 65% less during the 3 years after the ACL injury compared to the 3 years before the ACL injury:Based on the author’s use of the “power rating” (which factors in yards gained and touchdowns scored), players on average can expect to see their production drop 35% after an ACL injury, which isn’t surprising as while a player may be able to step onto the field and play football, whether they will be able to perform at 100% is a completely different matter.
Alex Green: Considering that he was a rookie in 2011 and didn’t get much time on the field before his injury, I will instead be using the averages of his 2 years at Hawaii instead (Green played for Aaron Rodgers’ alma mater Butte Community College as a sophomore so he only had two years of playing time in a major football program).
- Before ACL injury: 826 yards, 10 TD
- 3 year average after ACL injury (projected): 537 yards, 7 TD
Adrian Peterson: I’ve included Peterson’s 2011 season as part of his 3 year average since he was placed on IR after week 16, meaning he only missed one game and since it was the last game of the season on a 3-13 team, it’s debatable if Peterson would have seen much time on the field anyways.
- Before ACL injury: 1217 yards, 14 TD
- 3 year average after ACL injury (projected): 791 yards, 9 TD
3. 80% of running backs make it back into the NFL after an ACL injury:On the flip side this also means that there’s a one in five chance that Alex Green and Adrian Peterson don’t make it back to the NFL, however my own opinion is that both will be around for a couple more seasons.
Alex Green: Since Green was injured during his rookie season, chances are very good that the Packers front office isn’t ready to cut their losses with their 3rd round selection. Add to that his contract is quite manageable and has him locked up until 2014 and I can’t imagine he isn’t with the Packers. Simply put that Packers still don’t know what they have in Green and they aren’t going to cut him until they do and it isn’t costing them much to wait and see, so they will wait for him to recover.
Adrian Peterson: Peterson is literally the heart and soul of the Minnesota Vikings and again there’s no way that the Vikings drop him, especially not after signing him to a 7 year contract worth $96 million last year, including $36 million guaranteed. The Vikings literally cannot afford for Peterson not to be on the team, and when you consider their depth at wide receiver and quarterback, Peterson is the Vikings offense.
Overall, I don’t think it would be a terrible blow for the Packers to have Alex Green start out on the PUP, for one the Packers offense is built around the pass and Aaron Rodgers has managed to produce at a MVP level without a dangerous running game for the entire time he’s been a starter. I would also argue that if Green can indeed produce around 500 yards and a couple touchdowns, that in conjunction with James Starks, Brandon Saine, John Kuhn and Aaron Rodgers would be good enough to keep defenses honest; I think it’s important to point out that while the Packers are unlikely to have a 1,000 yard rusher on the 2012 roster, as long as the Packers rush for over 1,000 yards as a group (hopefully Rodgers doesn’t contribute a large proportion of these yards scrambling) I think the effect will be the same. And for all you Ryan Grant lovers out there, if Alex Green does start on the PUP, the logical conclusion would be that Grant takes his place (if he isn’t on another team at that point).
On the flip side, the Viking are pretty much screwed without Adrian Peterson; Christian Ponder can expect to see a lot more cover-3 and nickel with 3/4/5 men in the box and while he may be a quality quarterback in the future, he’s only a 2nd year player who probably isn’t ready to hold up the team and the roster around him isn’t exactly going to give him any help.——————
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.