My first reaction to hearing the news about the Philadelphia Eagles trading for Houston linebacker DeMeco Ryans was that of utter excitement and the feeling of "Finally, a stud linebacker!"
Being a fan of the NFL, I immediately recognized that Ryans was a good player and that we seemingly made an excellent trade in terms of value (swap of third-rounders and giving up a fourth-round pick). Therefore, my instant reaction was that of overwhelming joy instead of "Who's DeMeco Ryans?"
However, amidst my euphoria over finally plugging the perpetual black hole at middle linebacker, I remembered that Ryans suffered a serious injury not all that long ago. I couldn't remember exactly what it was, but thanks to the explosion on Twitter, I saw that it was an Achilles tendon rupture in October of 2010.
Since the Eagles didn't really give up much in the trade for an apparent stud linebacker, I began to wonder a little bit about why we were able to get him for what amounts to the value equivalent of Casey Matthews (a fourth-round pick).
Therefore, I became a little concerned because an Achilles tendon injury is one of the worst, if not the worst, injury an NFL player can endure (even more so than the much-feared ACL tear).
Is DeMeco Ryans damaged goods? Will he ever return to his pre-injury form? If not, how much worse has the injury made him? Have there been other NFL players who have suffered such an injury and played at a high level after their return to the field?
Those were all the questions that began running rampant through my mind. That's why I decided to do a little research on the matter. Unfortunately, there isn't too much information available while performing such high-level scientific research via Google.
However, I was able to find some interesting things and signs of hope for our newly prized linebacker.
The first thing I came across was directly related to DeMeco Ryans; it comes courtesy of a Houston Texans blogger named Stephanie Stradley, aka "TexansChick" at blog.chron.com/texanschick.
Stradley's article was written in August of 2011 because she had the same concerns with Ryans before the start of last season, Ryans' first year back after the injury. The purpose of the article was to have a doctor's take on an a scientific study of NFL Achilles tendon injuries, done originally in 2008.
In a nutshell, the study determined that players who suffered this injury and were able to return to the field suffered a 50% reduction in "power ratings" (i.e., physical ability as compared to their pre-injury status). Basically, players lose a drastic amount of their physical ability after this kind of injury and do not produce nearly at the level prior to their injury.
Furthermore, the study specifically stated this about linebackers: "Linebackers suffered the greatest reduction in power ratings of all types of players, both offensive and defensive."
This, of course, would be cause for concern because it is, after all, a serious injury that has been the downfall for many players in the past. And out of all the players in the study, the linebackers were rated the worst.
This prompted Stradley to have a doctor take a look at that study and give his opinion on the matter. Stradley writes:
I’d like to introduce you to the writing avid and involved Texans fan and medical doctor, Dr. Jean Cukier. He is a Houston Medical Center board-certified Plastic Surgeon, who has had extensive experience in trauma and reconstructive surgery. Over the years, he has treated many collegiate and professional athletes and their families.
So, we have a surgeon who has experience in treating athletes who happens to be a Texans fan. Dr. Cukier goes on to point out the limitations of that study and basically makes it irrelevant to today's players. The key things he pointed out were that the study consisted of only 31 players, information was limited to online resources about the players, and the players sustained their injuries between 1997 - 2002.
When doing scientific research, this is not a good sample to make any relevant conclusions, especially given the constant advances in medical treatment (i.e., treatment is much better today than it was 10 or more years ago).
Therefore, I began looking for examples of more recent players who have suffered an Achilles injury to see if any came back and were able to play at a high level. The good news is, I was able to find a few...
In 2006, former Dallas Cowboy linebacker Greg Ellis suffered this injury at the ripe age of 31 and was able to come back the following season when he was voted Comeback Player of the Year in 2007. He played for three more seasons following his injury and produced 27.5 sacks over that time frame (including 12.5 in 2007).
In 2005, linebacker Takeo Spikes tore his Achilles tendon and has been playing good football since his return. In fact, if you look at his stats, he's steadily gotten better each year and was viewed by some as being snubbed for a pro bowl in 2010.
Then there's Demaryius Thomas, the wide receiver for the Denver Broncos. He tore his Achilles tendon in February of 2011 and was able to come back and play last season. He wasn't a factor early in the year but over the final seven games, including the playoffs, he caught 35 passes for 745 yards and four TDs--with Tim Tebow at quarterback.
So, with all that, there is no reason to think that DeMeco Ryans can't return to his pre-injury form. This will be his second year back from the injury, and first year back in a defensive system more suited to his skill set.
Hell, even at 75 percent, Ryans would still be an upgrade over any Eagles middle linebacker since the prime years of Jeremiah Trotter!
All signs (so far) point to Ryans being perfectly healthy and ready to go. I'm expecting big things from him this year and I believe he will deliver.
Finally, we have a middle linebacker to get excited about!