Whether it’s potential returns, players missing out or being on the fence, there’s a lot of activity around injuries heading into Week Nine of the NFL season.
As we head into the crunch period of the 2021 campaign, teams and fans will be hoping their star players are fit to carry them to post-season – or at least help them finish with pride in the case of some franchises.
Let’s take a look at some key examples.
Christian McCaffrey (Carolina Panthers)
First and foremost is Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey who has been out of the lineup since suffering a hamstring tear (likely a grade 2) in Week Three against the Chicago Bears.
That injury has now kept him out for nearly six weeks, though originally there was some thought he might return without a string on the injury reserve (which is a guaranteed three weeks out).
The length of the layoff isn’t that surprising considering the high demand the hamstrings come under, particularly for change of pace, high-speed tailbacks like McCaffrey. He was designated for return on Wednesday but his status remains uncertain due to the sensitive nature of the injury. He will likely be a game-time decision.
2️⃣2️⃣ on the field pic.twitter.com/QMWL3tRmJy
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) November 3, 2021
Kyler Murray (Arizona Cardinals)
Arizona Cardinals’ dynamic quarterback came up limping on the penultimate play of the team’s first loss of the season against the Green Bay Packers last weekend, when his foot and ankle were caught underneath a defender. Kyler Murray was unable to put much pressure through it on the final play of the game and clearly hobbled after the final whistle.
Murray missed the team’s walk-through on Wednesday which was a significant red flag and missed the team’s practice on Thursday as well. Based on the indicators, it’s trending towards very unlikely that Murray is able to play this weekend.
DeAndre Hopkins (Arizona Cardinals)
Kyler Murray’s top receiver (and arguably top in the league) DeAndre Hopkins also hasn’t practiced this week due to a hamstring injury that has already cost him the last two weeks. And looks as though it will cost him this week as well.
As I mentioned with McCaffrey, hamstring injuries are very sensitive and come high under high demand. High level research shows that nearly 30% of elite athletes who return from a hamstring injury have that same injury recur within the first two weeks!
For Hopkins, who needs to constantly shift speeds and change directions on routes along with using his massive leap (one of his key strengths) to catch lofted balls at their highest point, the hamstrings are constantly loaded.
For these reasons and considering he hasn’t practiced yet, I’d consider him highly doubtful to play.
Dak Prescott (Dallas Cowboys)
The Cowboys quarterback was a game-time decision last week with a mild calf strain and was ruled out for the game.
However, he participated in Thursday’s practice and the plan is for him to play this Sunday according to Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy.
QB Dak Prescott said it's "safe to say" he's playing Sunday against the Denver Broncos. He missed last week's game with a strained right calf. #DallasCowboys
— Fort Worth Star-Telegram (@startelegram) November 6, 2021
CeeDee Lamb (Dallas Cowboys)
Prescott’s teammate and blazing deep threat CeeDee Lamb rolled his ankle on practice on Wednesday and is now a doubt for the weekend’s game.
Judged on numerous reports, this sounds like a mild grade 1 sprain but with the game just days away, this will likely come down to the wire and availability will depend on how the ankle responds to treatment day to day. Keep a close eye on this one.
Michael Gallup (Dallas Cowboys)
The third head of the Cowboys passing attack Michael Gallup has missed all but one half of football this season with a calf injury.
Coach Mike McCarthy was quite vague on his return and considering the sensitive nature of calf injuries – especially higher grade tears like it seems Gallup is dealing with – I’d be surprised if he plays this week.
Rob Gronkowski (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Rob Gronkowski was unable to play in Week Eight due to back spasms that occurred after his return from broken ribs and a punctured lung.
Based on beat reporters’ observations, it doesn’t sound like he’ll be available for Week Nine.
Darren Waller (Oakland Raiders)
Oakland’s dynamic tight end Darren Waller missed Week Seven with an ankle injury but looks to be fully fit coming off the team’s bye week, being a full participant in this week’s practices.
— Jesse Merrick (@JesseNews3LV) November 3, 2021
Sam Darnold (Carolina Panthers)
The Panthers quarterback and former USC star took two brutal hits during last week’s game against the Atlanta Falcons and entered into the concussion protocol.
According to head coach Matt Rhule, he was “extremely limited” in practice thus far and the team actually signed another quarterback this week, which does not bode well for Darnold’s chances.
That being said, concussions can evolve very quickly so keep an eye out on his status.
James Robinson (Jacksonville Jaguars)
The Jaguars’ main back suffered an ankle injury that was initially feared to be severe but they got some good news early in the week regarding severity. He is expected to play this week.
Now let’s move on to some longer-term injuries…
Derrick Henry (Tennessee Titans)
The Titans suffered a massive hit – kind of like the ones Henry dishes out to cornerbacks trying to arm tackle him – when MVP-candidate and lead running back Derrick Henry was diagnosed with a “Jones fracture” and underwent surgery. A Jones fracture refers to a break at the base of the fifth metatarsal.
Outlets have reported a return timeline as early as six weeks but based on research regarding post-injury performance and re-injury risks, this is likely a 10-week injury (at minimum) which would essentially rule him out for the rest of the regular season.
Jameis Winston (New Orleans Saints)
Although Winston was seen dancing after the game and enjoying the Saints’ second win of the season over the defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tom Brady, the Florida State graduate was diagnosed with a ruptured ACL and will miss the rest of the season.
— NFL (@NFL) November 1, 2021
Michael Thomas (New Orleans Saints)
The icing on the Saints’ injury cake was the announcement from wide receiver Michael Thomas that he suffered a setback in his return from his surgically-operated syndesmotic tear (high ankle sprain) and will miss the rest of the season.
New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley has been ruled out until Week 11 or 12 after testing positive for COVID-19. This will be a dent in his fitness as he was just beginning to regain his form after returning from an ACL rupture.
The Green Bay Packers will be without superstar lynchpin Aaron Rodgers who also tested positive and will have to miss this week’s game because he is not vaccinated. Backup Jordan Love will get the start but there is some good news as star wideout Davante Adams will make his return from his COVID-19 absence.
Dr. Rajpal Brar, DPT, (@3cbperformance) is a physiotherapist, movement expert, fitness trainer, sports scientist and mindfulness coach. He runs the LA and online based wellness and athletic performance clinic 3CB Performance, and you can subscribe to his Youtube channel (which posts a variety of sports injury, performance, & skills content).