NFL injury mailbag Week 6: Checking in on Keenan Allen, Tee Higgins and more (2023)

NFL injury mailbag Week 6: Checking in on Keenan Allen, Tee Higgins and more (1)NFL injury mailbag Week 6: Checking in on Keenan Allen, Tee Higgins and more (2)

By Virginia Zakas, Inside Injuries

Oct 13, 2022

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In this mailbag: Virginia Zakas shares her thoughts on Keenan Allen’s hamstring, Tee Higgins’ ankle and more!

Inside Injuries was founded by an orthopedic radiologist, Dr. Anand Lalaji (aka Dr. A), who contributes to all of the injury writeups. Dr. A put together a team of doctors and data scientists to create an algorithm to evaluate the impact that injuries have on a player. This algorithm powers all of Inside Injuries’ analysis and determines each player’s Injury Risk, Health Performance Factor (the level a player is expected to perform at if they return too soon, for example) and Optimal Recovery Time. This information is based on years of medical experience and historical injury research and has proven to be incredibly accurate in determining how injuries will impact a player’s performance and risk of future injuries.

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A quick description of terms from our injury algorithm:

  • IRC = Injury Risk Category (Low, Elevated, High) — the overall likelihood a player will get injured
  • HPF = Health Performance Factor (Peak, Above Average, Below Average, Poor) — our metric to predict player performance
  • ORT = Optimal Recovery Time — the amount of time a player needs to fully recover from an injury (not the same as how much time they will actually miss)

Any news on the injuries to Elijah Mitchell and Jonathan Taylor, and what their workload coming off of them will be? — Dustin S.

Elijah Mitchell remains sidelined with a significant MCL sprain and could be out another month.

Jonathan Taylor is dealing with two injuries — a right ankle sprain and a toe injury (likely turf toe). He was forced to sit out in Week 5 as the Colts played on Thursday night, and four days wasn’t enough time for him to recover. Heading into Week 6, Taylor missed practice Wednesday but was back out there Thursday. He is trending in the right direction for Sunday’s game against the Jaguars. Unfortunately, our algorithm doesn’t have a very favorable outlook on him this weekend, with equal concern related to the toe and ankle. Both are easily aggravated in the first few weeks back. Taylor comes with a High Injury Risk (25%) and a Below Average HPF (42%). His numbers should significantly improve around Week 8 when he reaches his Optimal Recovery Time.

Will Alvin Kamara be healthy and playing at his pre-injury level for the foreseeable future? — Lucas R.

A Week 1 rib cartilage fractured sidelined Kamara for two of the Saints’ first four games. He looked good in his Week 5 return, rushing for 103 yards on 23 carries. While Kamara’s rib isn’t going to be fully healed quite yet, he should be in significantly less pain at this point. This is an injury that is very slow to heal and can be incredibly painful. The rib cartilage connects the lower ribs to the sternum, and it’s an area that doesn’t receive good blood supply. Now that he has had over a month to get healthier, Kamara should produce at a high level. That is until he suffers his next injury, which is bound to happen. Kamara’s overall Injury Risk remains High at 24%.

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What is the status of Keenan Allen’s injury? His injury was initially deemed week to week, but at this point, he has missed significant time. — Mark R.

Keenan Allen hasn’t suited up since suffering a hamstring injury in Week 1, and it’s not looking good for this Sunday. Allen was trending toward returning in Week 4, but he appeared to aggravate it during a practice that week. Hamstring strains are pesky injuries that are easily aggravated, especially for wide receivers. It’s an explosive muscle that is important any time the athlete goes to push off or accelerate. Unfortunately, Allen is just one of many players to try to do too much too soon, causing a more serious strain and an even lengthier absence.

Allen hasn’t reached his Optimal Recovery Time and remains a very High Injury Risk (30%). He also has a history of hamstring strains, both in 2019 and 2020. At this point, he’s probably more day-to-day than week-to-week, with a realistic chance to return in Week 7. That would be around three weeks after his aggravation. The Chargers have a bye in Week 8, so if they really want to be cautious and make sure that hamstring is fully healed they will wait to let him return until then (but I don’t see that happening).

It seems Tee Higgins’ ankle problem has been lingering for a few weeks. Is this something to be concerned about rest of season? — Kenion H.

If the Bengals sit him and allow it to heal then this shouldn’t linger. If they keep allowing him to play through it then, yes, it could linger and affect him for months. Higgins injured his ankle in Week 4, and by video this looked like it could have been a high ankle sprain. This is more concerning than a standard low ankle sprain, as the syndesmosis ligaments in the high ankle are slower to heal and harder to play through.

While Higgins was active in Week 5, he didn’t last long and was unable to finish the game. He comes with an incredibly High Injury Risk (44%) and a Poor HPF (31%). If he does try to play in Week 6, our projections show that it won’t be good. Higgins missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday so it’s unlikely he plays through this. Our algorithm is showing that he will reach his Optimal Recovery Time in Week 8. Returning before reaching that mark puts him at risk of a more serious injury and a lengthier absence that will affect him into the second half of the season.

How likely is it that Tua Tagovailoa returns to the lineup within three weeks? — Michael W

Tua is progressing through concussion protocol, and while he won’t be available in Week 6, Week 7 or 8 is a possibility. Of course, the recovery from head injuries is unpredictable and symptoms can recur when advancing through the steps in concussion protocol. Tagovailoa returned to practice this week on a limited basis, a sign that he is progressing. There are a series of clearly outlined steps a player must pass to be fully cleared. This starts with light aerobic activity and advances to full practice with contact and clearance. If symptoms reappear at any point, the athlete essentially goes back to the start. Given everything that has transpired since Week 3, the Dolphins will take an incredibly cautious approach with Tua. Even though he technically has enough time to get fully cleared ahead of Sunday’s game, that won’t happen.

Curious your thoughts on how James Robinson has looked despite coming back so quickly from the Achilles tear… seems like he is faring much better than Cam Akers. Any insight into why that might be? — Blake L.

James Robinson’s start to the season is certainly promising as we look for signs that NFL players can return and have successful careers following a torn Achilles tendon. He has far exceeded my expectations for him this year, but I don’t think we can say yet that he has returned to his pre-injury form. Robinson put up solid numbers in the first three games but has fizzled out a bit over the past few weeks. That includes a 10 carries for 27 yards day against a poor Texans rushing defense. His numbers early on included a few long runs (22, 37 and 50 yards between Weeks 1 and 3), and he hasn’t had that in recent weeks. His average yards after contact this season is at 2.4, which is lower than his first two seasons (2.8 in 2020 and 2.5 in 2021). At this point I see Robinson having a much better career than most other running backs who have returned from a torn Achilles, but his performance so far isn’t enough proof that RBs can return to or exceed their pre-injury level. It’s not too late — Robinson is just over eight months removed from surgery, so he isn’t even fully recovered and back to full strength yet. He should only get more explosive as he gets healthier.

I’ve been seeing a lot of people disappointed in Cam Akers so far. He is just over a year removed from surgery, so even though he has had more time than Robinson, he also likely doesn’t have full strength back in his legs yet. The calf, which connects to the Achilles, is incredibly important for explosiveness. If it is still experiencing weakness, that will affect performance. It can take well over a year to get that back, and even then it might never return to normal. There’s no real explanation for why Robinson has looked more explosive than Akers up until this point. Recovery from Achilles surgeries remains incredibly challenging, and at this point most running backs won’t truly make a full recovery.

(Top photo: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

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