The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) connects the tibia to the femur and is critical in keeping your knee stable, making it pretty important to you and me, but especially to professional athletes. There was once a time when a torn ACL was a career ending injury, but advances in medical science have practically made the procedure to repair it routine. The recommended recovery time is 6-9 months, though on occasion you will see someone return to the field in less time (such as when Jerry Rice returned in less than four months, though he did proceed to break his kneecap during his return, which may have been attributed to not being ready). It was less than a decade ago that the common thinking was it would take two years for a player to regain his old form. But in recent years it seems most players are back to their old selves the next season, though often with a slight hit to their production.
In 2007, Miami Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown suffered a torn ACL around mid-season. He returned in 2008 to play the entire season and would set a career high in touchdowns with 10. But prior to the injury in 2007, he was on pace for more than 1,300 rushing yards and almost 900 receiving yards, while averaging 5.1 yards per carry. His 2008 average fell to 4.3 yards per carry, which is right on his career average. His numbers have fallen off since, though much of that is due to the running back by committee approach the Dolphins have relied upon.
New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker tore his ACL in Week 17 of the 2009 season and he was back on the field to start the 2010 season. Physically it appeared that Welker was at or near his old form, but his stats fell off as he failed to produce 100 receptions and 1,000 yards for the first time in four years. He finished the season with 86 receptions for 848 yards and seven touchdowns, which many would consider to be good numbers. Some of that could be attributed to the loss of Randy Moss and the fact that the Patriots passing game really spread the wealth in 2010. He again was a productive fantasy option, though he did not quite live up to his lofty expectations.
The following players will enter the 2011 season, assuming there is one, recovering from ACL surgery:
WR Donnie Avery, St. Louis – Avery tore his ACL in Week 1, so he will have almost an entire year to rehab the injury. All signs are pointing to Avery being ready to compete with the logjam of receivers in St. Louis once training camp opens.
WR Arrelious Benn, Tampa Bay – Benn tore his ACL in Week 16, giving him less time to prepare for the 2011 season. Though he has been cleared to run and has been working out with teammates and expects to be at full strength to begin the season.
RB Montario Hardesty, Cleveland – Hardesty suffered his torn ACL in the final preseason game of 2010, giving him almost a full year to recover. Thus he is expected to show no ill effects from the injury. The emergence of Peyton Hillis in 2010 will likely relegate Hardesty to a part-time runner in 2011 though.
WR Terrell Owens, Free Agent – Owens suffered his torn ACL during the offseason and underwent surgery in June to repair it. He has long been praised for his incredible work ethic, but it is still unlikely he will be ready to play during the 2011 season.
Knee Injuries Requiring Microfracture Surgery
Microfracture surgery is performed to help replace or repair cartilage in the knee. The procedure creates tiny fractures in the bone, which will cause the body to develop new cartilage. The success rate for the surgery is about 75 percent with a typical recovery time of 4-8 months, so there is no guarantee one will return to the field after the surgery. Many players try to avoid this surgery until it is the last resort because of the fact they may be unable to return.
Kellen Winslow underwent the surgery in early 2007 and was able to play the entire 2007 season and continue to put up strong numbers. Though he continues to have problems with his knees and has required more surgeries since and has not produced numbers like he did early in his career.
The following players will be battling back from microfracture surgery in 2011:
WR Marques Colston, New Orleans – Colston is now batting 2-for-2 on microfracture surgery, having underwent the procedure to repair cartilage in his right knee this offseason after having the procedure done to his left knee in 2009. He has failed to meet his lofty numbers from 2007 though, but he has continued to put up solid numbers year-in, year-out. Fantasy owners have to be a little worried about the inconsistent recovery for microfracture patients and that he is now playing on two repaired knees, so you may want to take that into account early in the draft.
WR Steve Smith, New York Giants – Smith underwent a combination of microfracture and mosaicplasty during the offseason, which could make for a tricky recovery. He may not be able to recapture his old form. The Giants have plenty of young depth at the wide receiver position, so he is certainly a gamble. Many owners may be scared away from him, so he could come at a cheap price this season, making him a late gamble that could pay off.