Latest Injury Updates on Key NFL Players

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMay 11, 2017

Latest Injury Updates on Key NFL Players

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    The 2017 NFL offseason is no longer young. Free agency is all but over, the draft is behind us, and organized team activities are just around the corner. We're now further removed from the Super Bowl than we are the start of the 2017 preseason schedule. 

    With actual football on the horizon, we figured we'd check in on several of the league's most notable injury situations. 

    Here's the latest. 

Cam Newton (Shoulder Surgery)

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    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was routinely roughed up while experiencing the worst statistical season of his career in 2016. Now, he's fighting just to get healthy in time for the start of the 2017 campaign. 

    The 2015 MVP underwent surgery at the end of March to repair a partially torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder. At that point, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the procedure would sideline Newton for about four months, and—per David Newton of the same network—Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said April 21 that his franchise quarterback's recovery remained "on schedule."

    Even if he remains on track, don't expect the 27-year-old to play much of a role in the preseason. The Panthers will likely bring him along slowly in training camp and then hope he'll hold up better with new left tackle Matt Kalil and new offensive weapons Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel taking some pressure off.

Andrew Luck (Shoulder Surgery)

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Newton isn't the only 20-something-year-old former No. 1 overall pick who underwent shoulder surgery this offseason. And Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts is lucky he had his procedure right after the season because his projected recovery time is quite a bit longer than Newton's. 

    Initial word from NFL Network's Ian Rapoport was the three-time Pro Bowler would need six months to make a full return, which would probably make him questionable for the start of Colts training camp. 

    The team isn't panicking. 

    "We are not going to be rushing him," owner Jim Irsay said at the end of March, per Kevin Bowen of the official team website. "... We are going to make sure, if we need an extra arm in camp, as we start doing our work, we will be prepared for that."

    The Colts have failed to make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, and it's no coincidence that Luck has been dealing with nagging injuries for virtually that entire stretch. Getting him healthy would be huge, but he and the team can't afford any major setbacks. 

Marcus Mariota (Broken Leg)

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    It looked like young franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota was going to lead the Tennessee Titans to the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade before Christmas Eve last season. That's when a sack by Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Sheldon Day broke several thousand Tennessee hearts along with Mariota's right leg. 

    But four-and-a-half months later, Mariota is on the brink of returning in time to take part in OTAs. 

    "I feel great," the 2015 No. 2 overall pick told 104.5 The Zone in Nashville last week, adding that he's "probably a week or two away from full on running." 

    The Titans bolstered their secondary in free agency and the draft and added an enticing weapon to the passing game when they drafted Western Michigan receiver Corey Davis fifth overall in April's draft. A team that won nine games in 2016 looks a lot better on paper, but none of that'll matter if Mariota can't get back and stay that way. 

    So far, so good. 

Teddy Bridgewater (Knee Surgery)

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    Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    It's hard to be as optimistic about Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who tore up his left knee just days before the start of what many thought would be a breakout 2016 season.

    It was a bad enough injury that the Vikings almost immediately traded for a new starting quarterback in Sam Bradford for two draft picks (including their 2017 first-rounder), and eight months later, the team remains so unsure about Bridgewater's future that it didn't exercise his fifth-year option. 

    Per ESPN.com's Ben Goessling, Vikes head coach Mike Zimmer recently stated he's gained optimism that Bridgewater will play again, but he added the 24-year-old still "has a long way to go."

    Don't expect to see Bridgewater on the field anytime soon, which is a shame for Minnesota fans because his ceiling remains a heck of a lot higher than the limited Bradford's. 

Derek Carr (Broken Fibula)

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was often mentioned as an MVP candidate during a breakout 2016 season, until everything came crashing down when he broke his right fibula in a Christmas Eve victory over the Colts.

    But within a few months, the 26-year-old was cleared to resume practicing. And thus far he's been a full participant in the team's offseason training program, per ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez.

    So there's no reason to be concerned about Carr, which is great news for Raiders fans hoping he can return to the trajectory he was on before he suffered that injury late in 2016. He's got a new weapon in tight end Jared Cook, and a Raiders team that won 12 games last year should be even better across the board.

    So long as Carr stays on the field, of course.

Le'Veon Bell (Groin Surgery)

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Two months after Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell underwent surgery to repair a core muscle injury, little has been revealed about his recovery. 

    Rapoport reported at the time that it typically takes six weeks to bounce back from said surgery, but late last month, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert wouldn't provide a timetable for Bell's recovery, per Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    The Steelers don't need Bell—a somewhat injury-prone Pro Bowler entering his fifth season—at OTAs, and they hardly need him to do much in training camp or the preseason. The goal should instead be for one of the league's best backs to make it through an entire season for only the second time in his career. 

Earl Thomas (Broken Leg)

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    The Seattle Seahawks just weren't the same without three-time All-Pro safety Earl Thomas in December and January last season, but it looks as though they're going to have the 28-year-old back on the field before the 2017 season gets underway. 

    In March, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll told Sports Radio KJR (via John Boyle of the team's official website) that Thomas, who broke his left leg in a Week 13 victory over the Panthers, was "way ahead of schedule." And Carroll doubled down on that last week, telling Bob Condotta‏ of the Seattle Times the safety is on pace to be ready to start the season. 

    Like Bell, Thomas is a veteran who isn't learning anything new this offseason. He doesn't need a lot of summer reps in order to be ready to rock in the fall. And he hadn't missed a game in his seven-year career before going down with somewhat of a freak injury in December, so there's not much to worry about here. 

Julio Jones (Foot)

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Doesn't it feel as though Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones is always dealing with an injury? And yet the tough two-time All-Pro has missed just three games the last three seasons. 

    That's why there shouldn't be much panic regarding the fact Jones underwent surgery in early March to remove a bunion on his foot. 

    The team announced that it would take the 28-year-old four or five months to fully recover, per Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. That's obviously not ideal with everyone learning new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian's system, but Matt Winkeljohn noted for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in April that Jones has at least been a limited participant in the offseason program and "is walking with no apparent limp."

    Don't expect Jones to fall too far behind as a result of the injury. And if this lowers his chances of having to deal with another nagging foot issue in 2017, it'll have been well worth it. 

J.J. Watt (Back)

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    The Houston Texans had the league's top-rated defense last year despite the fact three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt missed the vast majority of the season after undergoing back surgery at the end of September. 

    Seven months later, Watt is back. 

    After a grueling recovery process which included an emotionally taxing two-month rest period, Watt was cleared earlier this offseason to resume practicing fully.

    "My body feels really good," he said last month, per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. "I'm looking forward to getting back to playing football. I can't wait."

    Believe it or not, there is room for that top-ranked D to improve. Ten teams still surrendered fewer points per game than the Texans last season, and Football Outsiders ranked Houston's unit seventh in the league in terms of DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average). 

    If Watt can stay healthy and get back to where he was in 2014 and 2015, that defense could be close to perfect in 2017. 

Mike Pouncey (Hip)

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    Ron Elkman/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

    A hip injury forced Miami Dolphins Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey to miss all but five games last season, and the hope is the stem cell procedure he underwent earlier in the offseason will help him stay on the field in 2017. 

    He remains sidelined heading into the OTAs, though, and Dolphins head coach Adam Gase said the plan is to "bring him along slowly."

    "Our goal is to make sure that he plays every game plus more," he said last week, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. "So if that means that he doesn't practice as much, I have no issues with that. We have four guys who can play guard/center. We did it so much last year, nobody is affected by it. It's been a smooth transition."

    The 27-year-old Pouncey hasn't played in all 16 games since 2012, and it's discouraging that a stem cell procedure became necessary that late in the offseason. Until he's off crutches, be a tad concerned about his chances of returning to form immediately in 2017. 

Keenan Allen (Knee Surgery)

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen went over 1,000 yards while scoring eight touchdowns as a rookie in 2013 and followed that up with 77 catches for 783 yards and four touchdowns despite missing two games in 2014. But the two games he missed late in that sophomore campaign were a bad omen. 

    Allen missed half of the 2015 season because of a lacerated kidney and then tore his right ACL in the first half of the first game of the 2016 season. He's missed 25 of the Chargers' last 34 games, which might explain why Los Angeles used the No. 7 overall pick in last month's draft on Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams. 

    But the Bolts are still holding out hope that Allen can return to his 2014 form. He only just turned 25, and last month, he told Ricky Henne of the team's official website he was about 85 percent recovered from surgery. The expectation has always been that he'll be ready for training camp, and it appears he remains on track. 

    A healthy season from Allen would be huge for a Chargers offense that has enough talent elsewhere—Williams, quarterback Philip Rivers, running back Melvin Gordon, tight ends Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry, a rebuilt offensive line—to do plenty of damage in 2017. 

Max Unger (Foot Surgery)

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Center Max Unger has started 31 of a possible 32 games since being traded from the Seahawks to the New Orleans Saints two years ago, but there's a chance he'll need to miss some time early in 2017 after undergoing foot surgery earlier this month. 

    Rapoport reported that the two-time Pro Bowler is expected to miss the start of the season, but a source told Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio that the team expects Unger to return during the preseason. 

    The latter scenario would be big for the Saints, who would prefer to have Unger snapping the ball instead of versatile backup guard Senio Kelemete in early-season games against tough defensive fronts from Minnesota, the New England Patriots, Carolina and Miami. 

    That line has become a major asset in recent years, but it needs Unger in order to remain that way. 

Latavius Murray (Ankle Surgery)

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    Just days after signing a three-year, $15 million contract with the Minnesota Vikings in March, running back Latavius Murray underwent surgery on a balky ankle.

    That should keep the 27-year-old on the sideline during OTAs, but he did tell Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press last month that "the plan" is to be ready for training camp. And the Vikings had initially announced they expected him back by then.

    That's probably all that matters for the veteran, but he is joining a new team and is expected to compete for reps with rookie second-round pick Dalvin Cook. 

    We'll see how Murray's spring absence impacts that competition, but as long as Murray is back in August, expect some sort of platoon in that backfield at the start of the regular season. 

NaVorro Bowman (Achilles)

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    Daniel Gluskoter/Associated Press

    NaVorro Bowman is over six months removed from suffering a torn Achilles, but the San Francisco 49ers Pro Bowl linebacker knows a thing or two about long and tough recoveries. He missed the 2014 season after tearing up his knee in a 2013 playoff game, and he missed 12 games last year with the Achilles injury. 

    Don't expect that to keep him sidelined any longer. 

    The 28-year-old was a full participant in last month's minicamp, according to Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. And 49ers general manager John Lynch told Alex Marvez of SiriusXM NFL Radio on Tuesday that Bowman is ahead of his rehab schedule. 

    The 49ers defense is undergoing a major transformation, but Bowman was still arguably the best player on that defense before suffering the injury in October. It needs him. 

Tavon Austin (Wrist Surgery)

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    Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    With veteran wide receiver Kenny Britt gone, there's a lot of pressure on 2013 No. 8 overall pick Tavon Austin to finally break out for the Los Angeles Rams in 2017. But Austin will be sidelined for most if not all of the offseason after undergoing surgery on his left wrist earlier this month. 

    On Tuesday, Rams general manager Les Snead told SiriusXM NFL Radio (via Marvez) the "goal" is for Austin to be back in time for the start of training camp, but it's a little concerning that's a goal rather than an expectation. 

    Even if Austin does return for camp, missing out on OTAs as a new offense is implemented under head coach Sean McVay and offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur could hurt his chances of holding off newcomer Robert Woods for the No. 1 receiver job in Los Angeles. 

Jaylon Smith (Knee)

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    When the Dallas Cowboys landed linebacker Jaylon Smith in the second round of the 2016 draft, there was an impression they were getting a first-round talent. But he slid for a reason—the Notre Dame product was forced to sit out his entire rookie season because of a knee injury and the resultant nerve damage. 

    But it appears Smith is making major progress this offseason. 

    Cowboys owner Jerry Jones noted last month that "doctors are very encouraged" that Smith is "getting feeling in his toes," per Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News.

    "I really do think he hasit's in God's hands in terms of how you heal medically, buta great opportunity to really start to have full regeneration as we close in on the season," executive vice president Stephen Jones later added, according to Machota. "Of course, he's doing some incredible work out here already, with it not 100 percent.

    "He's making huge jumps from each test, from each week in terms of the progress he's making. It's certainly encouraging where he's going. I think he's going to make a big difference for our football team this year before it's all said and done."

    Speaking at the team's annual golf tournament Wednesday, Smith himself told reporters that he expects to play in the Sept. 10 season opener against the New York Giants at AT&T Stadium. And Jerry Jones noted that there's an OTA plan already in place.

    "Jaylon will be practicing," Jerry Jones said, per Nick Eatman of the team's official website. "What we want to do is keep him fresh. We'll probably alternate days with him. When we get to those OTAs, you'll probably see him every other day."

    That would be a boon for the Cowboys, who are in desperate need of playmakers on defense after losing several key defensive backs (Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox) in free agency.

Marshal Yanda (Torn Labrum)

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Baltimore Ravens guard Marshal Yanda made the Pro Bowl for the sixth consecutive season in 2016, despite the fact he was bothered by a balky shoulder for much of the year. He had said shoulder operated on in order to repair a torn labrum earlier this offseason, but Ravens head coach John Harbaugh doesn't seem worried. 

    "He'll be ready for training camp, 100 percent," Harbaugh told ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley in March.

    The Ravens had better hope so because they lost right tackle Rick Wagner this offseason and let guard Kelechi Osemele get away in free agency last year. That offensive line isn't in great shape, and Yanda remains its best player. 

Kyle Long (Ankle Surgery)

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Chicago Bears guard Kyle Long suffered a gruesome right ankle injury in November, and it's been a roller-coaster ride ever since. 

    Howie Long, Kyle's father, told Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune in February that that his son struggled with medication after undergoing surgery on that ankle. Per Howie, Kyle lost 40 pounds, but Biggs added that "part of that was by design in order to make his ankle recovery easier."

    In order to keep the focus on that recovery, Long chose not to have surgery to repair a partially torn labrum in his left shoulder. Earlier this month, he tweeted that he's back up to 310 pounds (after dropping to 265, per Rotoworld) and is "relearning movement patterns and range of motion" while running on an underwater treadmill. 

    "Next step is getting on that damn field!" he also said.

    That would be huge for Chicago because Long is a three-time Pro Bowler who should be in his prime at 28. And the Bears need all the help they can get.