Everything about Robert Griffin III’s knee looks to be moving forward swimmingly, and it has been for quite some time. He’s been running, throwing, cutting, sprinting, shifting, juking, jiving, and generally quarterbacking.
Sure, all of that has happened in shorts during the spring, when facing contact (always the most important hurdle in any recovery) is a far away dream. But so far, the Robert Griffin III we’ve seen during OTAs has looked like the Robert Griffin III we saw throughout his dominant rookie season, which is quite remarkable since he tore his ACL and partially tore his LCL in January. That prompted reconstructive surgery, and initially the assumption was that he’d miss at least a month or so this fall, and likely more.
Ha, remember when that was a thing? Then Griffin started running on fields with exploding scoreboards, and blowing our damn minds. One question, though, and it’s a pretty big deal for both reality and fantasy purposes, especially for those of you who own Griffin in keeper or dynasty leagues.
Five years from now, will Griffin still be Griffin? How about 10?
Those are the great unanswerable questions that we’ve wrestled with for some time, and we’ll continue that great fight until Griffin either silences us over a period of several years, or he rips in two. That’s cold, but it’s the accepted reality for a quarterback whose style of play exposes him to significant contact.
While using Ron Jaworski’s quarterback rankings as a springboard (he ranked Griffin low, likely because of future re-injury concerns), yesterday CSN Washington’s Rich Tandler continued to explore Griffin’s future using the past.
Like so many of us have (myself included), Tandler quite rightfully admitted that short of deep crystal-ball gazing, there’s no way to definitively predict how any single recovery will end and effect a player over the long term, Griffin included. Bodies are built differently, and each individual reacts differently. I know, that should be and mostly is common knowledge. But following Adrian Peterson’s remarkable recovery, it’s important to keep reminding ourselves that he’s still likely far removed from the norm.
In addition to Peterson, Tandler’s travels through recent ACL rip history touched on two quarterbacks who recovered, and have done just fine for themselves.
Tom Brady tore his ACL in the 2008 season opener. He picked right back up in 2009, throwing for almost 4,400 yards and 28 touchdowns. Five years later he seems to be as good as ever.
It’s true that Brady did have about four months longer between his injury and the start of the next season than did RG3. But Philip Rivers had even less time to rehab after the tore his ACL during a divisional round playoff game on January 13, 2008. The Chargers won that game and advanced to the AFC title game against Brady and the undefeated Patriots. Rivers had the torn ligaments removed and played in that title game without an ACL. He underwent reconstructive surgery a few days later.
The next season Rivers played in two preseason games and every snap in all 16 regular-season games. He passed for over 4,000 yards and led the league with 34 touchdown passes.
Bring on the Rivers laughs, but know that his spiral over the past two seasons has been tied to his horrible decision making, his inability to throw the ball accurately (that one is pretty important), and to a lesser extent Norv Turner’s incompetence as a head coach. Five years later, his knee is removed from the conversation.
Tandler presents the positive recent anecdotal evidence in Griffin’s favor, so if you have a weak stomach or haven’t consumed your java yet this morning, please turn away. Here comes the not so nice stuff.
We’ll start out light. Last fall I talked to injury expert Jene Bramel, and although at the time the subjects were Peterson and Jamaal Charles and their recoveries, his assessment of re-injury risk still applies to Griffin. Here’s a digital sound bite from that Q & A:
Two prominent running backs (Jamaal Charles and Adrian Peterson) are returning from ACL tears. Is there a higher risk of re-injury to the same knee and the same ligament following an ACL tear?
Studies report a wide range of failure rates after ACL surgery, anywhere from a 1-3% risk up to more than 15%. There are lots of variables involved – type of graft, associated injuries, age of the athlete, etc – so it’s very difficult to figure the risk for any single athlete.
Still wildly unpredictable, but still a little scary on the high range of that projection. And like Peterson last year with his multiple tears, Griffin’s situation is unique. He also damaged two ligaments, and more importantly, he also tore his ACL early in the 2009 season, his sophomore year at Baylor.
But a recent study in the American Journal of Sports Science dumped water all over your long term RG3 optimism:
Many don’t come back at all. A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that only 63 percent of NFL athletes who had an ACL reconstruction returned to play another game. Roughly two out of three. And two years after ACL surgery, Andrews said, about 55 percent of NFL players are no longer playing in the league. For the majority, an ACL still is pretty synonymous with the end of a career.
As recently as three years ago, an ACL injury was still a career-ender for nearly 40 percent of NFL players. Three years is a long time for science and medicine, so those numbers may have presumably improved. But to what? 30 percent? 25 percent?
While the long-term performance rate after an ACL injury is certainly improving, there’s still a significant chunk of players who fade off, and are rarely heard from again. But instead, we hear about the Petersons, or the Bradys.