8 Injured Players Who Can Still Swing the NFL Season
Injuries are an unfortunate part of the NFL—they are simply unavoidable. Sometimes, the worst-case scenario strikes and a marquee player is forced to miss a substantial amount of time due to an ill-timed injury.
Some injuries are season-ending. Others, however, can allow a player to return over the course of the year. If a player starts the season designated as physically unable to perform (PUP), he becomes eligible to return after Week 6. The other option is admission to the reserve/injured-recall list, which allows a player to return to the active roster eight weeks after the initial designation.
After three weeks of regular-season action, there are plenty of teams that have a viable chance to compete for a playoff berth. Of these teams, a good amount have at least one key player whose return would be a welcomed sight.
So, which of these injured players can still swing the regular season and help their teams compete for the chance to play in January?
Rob Gronkowski: New England Patriots
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Possibly the biggest player on this list—both in size and contribution—is the New England Patriots' 6'6" tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Both the back and forearm of the tight end required surgery over the offseason, which has forced him to miss the first three weeks of the season—so far. Gronkowski was seemingly close to a return in Week 3 after being listed as questionable on the team's injury report and practicing earlier in the week, but he was inactive before the game.
The Patriots—and to a larger extent, quarterback Tom Brady—await the return of the man who hauled in 55 receptions for 790 yards and 11 touchdowns in only 11 games just one season ago.
After the departures of Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd and Aaron Hernandez over the offseason and the injuries to Danny Amendola, Shane Vereen and Zach Sudfeld, the Patriots could certainly use some stability in the passing game.
With struggling rookie wide receivers and a decimated backfield, Gronkowski will finally bring the formidable presence on the offensive side of the ball that is desperately needed.
Over the past couple of weeks, Brady's frustration has been on display. The return of Gronkowski could finally bring that to an end.
Percy Harvin: Seattle Seahawks
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Despite not playing a single snap for the Seattle Seahawks, Percy Harvin's absence is noticeable.
Second-year quarterback Russell Wilson has had two stellar games and one forgettable performance so far in 2013. Even with his success—he has a 109.6 passer rating this season—the lack of receiving threats in Seattle has limited him to 664 passing yards over the span of three games.
It is certainly not a fault of the Seahawks to rely so heavily on the running game; however, there will come a time when getting it done through the air will be a necessity.
That is where Harvin's versatility will come into play.
In 2012, Harvin recorded 677 receiving yards and three touchdowns on 62 receptions in just nine games. He was the reason that the Minnesota Vikings offense has been so balanced over the past four seasons. Now, with the Seahawks, Harvin can bring that same stability to another run-heavy team in 2013.
Seattle has a stranglehold on the NFC West at the moment with a perfect 3-0 record. Once Harvin returns—he's aiming for Week 7—the Seahawks will finally be at full strength and may not relinquish the division.
Michael Crabtree: San Francisco 49ers
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After finishing the season with 85 receptions for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns, Crabtree had a stellar performance—five receptions, 109 yards and one touchdown—in the team's Super Bowl loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
The standout wide receiver has been sorely missed in San Francisco this year, and no one has noticed it more than Kaepernick.
With Crabtree on the field, Kaepernick was able to finish the 2012 season with an impressive 98.3 passer rating. His favorite target is not available at this point in 2013 and it shows. Kaepernick's passer rating has dropped significantly this season and currently sits at a mere 72.5.
The 49ers now sit at 1-2 for the year and have some serious work to do in effort to keep their postseason hopes alive. The return of Crabtree would bring the stability needed on the offensive side of the ball to allow this team to make a much-needed run.
After having surgery on his Achilles tendon, Crabtree is not expected to make his season debut until late this year. For the 49ers, his return cannot come soon enough.
Jonathan Stewart: Carolina Panthers
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After having offseason surgery on both ankles, running back Jonathan Stewart was forced to start the 2013 season on the Carolina Panthers' PUP list. Being half of the backfield committee in Carolina, Stewart's absence places a heavy burden on fellow running back DeAngelo Williams.
So far, Williams has been able to shoulder the load. He has rushed for a total of 291 yards while averaging 4.7 yards per carry through three games this season.
Despite Williams' success, Stewart's return is still crucial to the offense.
Stewart is a powerful back who runs low and is a great complement to Williams—the shiftier back. This two-headed monster approach has served Carolina well in the past, as the Panthers finished ninth in total rushing yards in 2012.
The key to their success has been the split workload. These running backs have been able to spell each other often and have been able to stay fresh late in the season. If Williams is to keep up his current pace for the remainder of the 2013 season, he will need Stewart in the lineup.
The Panthers are currently 1-2 and have a difficult schedule. Stewart's return will be a necessary step to get this team headed in the right direction.
Adam Carriker: Washington Redskins
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The Washington Redskins could certainly use some help right now. They are currently winless after dropping their first three games of the 2013 season.
One of the major problems the Redskins currently face is on the defensive side of the ball. They are allowing far too much time to opposing quarterbacks. A lack of pressure is one reason why they have given up 999 passing yards over three games.
Adam Carriker would help those struggles.
After recording 5.5 sacks in 2011, Carriker was sidelined for all but two games in 2012 after suffering a torn right quadriceps tendon. His recovery has been a long one after having undergone three surgeries, but Carriker remains optimistic for a return this season according to the Washington Post:
My target is as soon as possible. It’s an interesting situation where I’ve had the three surgeries. They just see how I progress and react to that rather than have a set protocol that we follow. So far, it’s been going well.
He is not a sure bet to return this season, but if he does, Washington will receive a much-needed boost on the defensive line.
Andrew Hawkins: Cincinnati Bengals
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After suffering an injury to his ankle during offseason workouts this year, speedy slot receiver Andrew Hawkins has been missed by the Cincinnati Bengals offense in 2013.
The 5'7" receiver is known for his explosiveness and big-play ability. Within the first three games of the 2012 season, Hawkins recorded two touchdowns of over 50 yards. So far this season, the Bengals have lacked that threat outside of All-Pro receiver A.J. Green.
The longest play from scrimmage by a Bengals wide receiver outside of Green this season was a 32-yard catch and run by Mohamed Sanu in Week 3 against the Green Bay Packers.
Hawkins' versatility and explosiveness will certainly help the Bengals in their quest to attain the AFC North title this year. The team currently holds a 2-1 record, which is tied atop the division with the Baltimore Ravens.
Dennis Pitta: Baltimore Ravens
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During the Baltimore Ravens' training camp, tight end Dennis Pitta suffered a dislocated hip that looked to be a season-ending injury. Luckily, there was no ligament damage, which makes a return in 2013 a possibility.
The Ravens placed Pitta on the reserve/injured list but designated him to return. According to ESPN, Pitta is eligible to return after Week 8 but will likely see action later in the season.
After the departure of wide receiver Anquan Boldin to San Francisco, Pitta figured to be a huge factor in the Ravens' offensive scheme this season. Without the tight end in the fold, quarterback Joe Flacco has struggled.
With an 80.0 passer rating and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 3-2, Flacco has been underwhelming so far—something that can be credited to his lack of weapons.
The absence of Pitta and his 61 receptions for 669 yards and seven touchdowns in 2012 are magnified by the remaining inexperience in the Ravens' wide receiver corps. After Torrey Smith—who is only in this third year—the next most productive receiver is rookie Marlon Brown.
Baltimore will not want to rely on aging veterans Brandon Stokley and Dallas Clark down the stretch, so the return of Pitta is of the utmost importance for the reigning Super Bowl champions.
Derek Sherrod: Green Bay Packers
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The Green Bay Packers could certainly use some help at the offensive tackle position right now.
After the season-ending injury to Bryan Bulaga, left tackle David Bakhtiari has stepped in and struggled mightily. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) has given the tackle a negative-2.8 grade in pass protection so far this season. His worst effort on the year came against the Bengals this past Sunday—defensive end Michael Johnson repeatedly beat him to the tune of 1.5 sacks.
If the Packers are to right the ship, the first order of business is to keep quarterback Aaron Rodgers upright. Rodgers has been sacked 10 times this season, which puts him on pace to be sacked 53 times on the season.
Sitting at 1-2 on the season, the Packers could use an injection of youth on the offensive line. This is where former first-round selection Derek Sherrod comes in.
Sherrod broke both his tibia and fibula in his right leg back in December of 2011. According to Pro Football Talk, complications with his surgery was the reason for Sherrod's prolonged absence. He was placed on the PUP list to start the 2013 season and will miss at least the first six weeks.
The Packers have suffered due to mediocre play on the offensive line and Sherrod was intended to be a key factor to change that trend.
If Sherrod can find his way back onto the field this season, the Packers offensive line would receive an immediate upgrade—much to the delight of their quarterback.