NFL injury mailbag: Ja’Marr Chase optimism, Justin Jefferson’s refreshing rehab approach and more

In this week’s column, Greg Scholz offers a positive outlook on Ja’Marr Chase’s back injury, appreciation for Justin Jefferson’s rehab approach … and more.

Before we dive in, here’s a quick glossary of terms commonly used by Inside Injuries:

  • IRC = Injury Risk Category (three designations: “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).

Q: What are the thoughts with Ja’Marr Chase’s back? Will he miss time? — Jonathan K.

Right now, the concern is minimal. Chase underwent an MRI on his back that came back negative, so the injury is just a contusion.

It’s unlikely Chase misses time with this sort of injury, but his Injury Risk is High and will remain in that range for the next week at least. Additionally, his Health Performance Factor is Below Average, but that number is trending in the right direction. It’s unlikely he reaches a Peak designation before Sunday, but he should get back into Above Average territory.

When it comes to back injuries, one of the big things we look for are radiating symptoms. This is when numbness or a tingling feeling spreads to other parts of the body. Additionally, we look at things like the impact the injury is having on mobility or history with back issues. When it comes to Chase, none of these are relevant, so everything should be getting better from here.

Q: Justin Fields’ injury — it’s only a thumb, so if he can hold the ball he can play, right? — Ed M.

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as him just being able to hold the ball. The thing about the thumb is that it allows us to grip things, which is crucial for throwing. When attempting a pass, the ball has to remain stable in the hand for the entirety of the throwing motion until release. Beyond that, even if a quarterback were able to maintain grip on the ball throughout the throwing motion with an injured thumb, the strength of the grip impacts both the velocity of the pass and the accuracy.

Circling back to the injury itself, thumb dislocations don’t heal conservatively. The process can be pretty complex, with a fair amount of monitoring and intervention by medical staff. For example, the thumb may be realigned correctly, but there could be damage to surrounding ligaments or structures. If this is the case (as it often is), a major focus will be in treating those injuries. If those don’t heal properly, future instability of the thumb becomes a concern.

It sounds like Fields is getting to the point where those injuries are healing well and he is a few weeks away from returning, but this can’t be rushed. Right now, we have him reaching Optimal Recovery in the next week, so expect more progress as Week 11 ramps up. His Injury Risk should drop into Elevated by then while his Health Performance Factor gets back up into Peak.

Q: What is the status of Justin Jefferson’s injury? Will he play this weekend? — Chandler M.

Jefferson has been limited at practice since returning to practice on Wednesday and is not expected to play this week against New Orleans.

Jefferson recently told reporters that he doesn’t want to play until he’s fully healthy, saying he doesn’t “want to go out there at 80 or 90 percent and have the chance of hurting it again.” For us, this is a huge relief and a breath of fresh air. If you’ve read any of my previous pieces on Jefferson, you already know how adamant I’ve been that he needs to give this time, especially early in his career.

Hamstring injuries are a slippery slope. If the first one doesn’t heal properly, another one is bound to pop up at some point. Since Jefferson is young, it could be a few seasons. Then, after the second, the injuries come faster and faster. A lot of this risk can be mitigated early by making sure the original injury is treated adequately and healed completely.

It’s really refreshing to see Jefferson and Minnesota’s approach. If you play dynasty, this is a major green flag moving forward. His Injury Risk will remain High for the remainder of the season, but his Health Performance Factor will be in Above Average territory.

Q: What’s the prognosis for Dallas Goedert? Will he be effective when he comes back? — Andrew R.

The prognosis for his type of injury is generally pretty good, especially when addressed quickly, like the Eagles are doing.

A fracture to the forearm means either (or both) the radius or ulna is fractured. Surgery involves putting the fractured bones back in place with plates and screws. This allows the bones to heal straight and fuse together properly.

Things get a little complicated for Goedert when looking at the recovery timeline provided by the Eagles. Four weeks is definitely optimistic, even if he returns with a cast or splint. We feel more comfortable with a recovery time closer to six weeks.

All things considered, when he does return, his production should be around pre-injury levels. There may be a dip in production in the first game or two but once he starts to feel comfortable it shouldn’t impact his play. His Injury Risk will be High, but his Health Performance Factor will at least be Above Average.

Q: What are your thoughts on Cam Akers’ dynasty value after two Achilles tendon tears? He looked to be taking over RB1 duties before the injury. Can he come back and be effective next year and beyond? — Aj N.

Akers’ future is uncertain. In short, there is major concern about availability, let alone effectiveness, after two Achilles tendon ruptures.

His first Achilles rupture came just before the 2021 season. At the time of the injury, it was expected that he would miss the entirety of that season, however he managed to return in less than six months. This raised some red flags because rushing Achilles recovery can lead to serious complications either immediately or down the line. Ultimately, Akers played well for the Rams in the playoffs and was serviceable in 2022 despite some locker room issues.

Before we get to his most recent injury, it’s important to note why his quick recovery was concerning. Running backs tend to suffer some of the greatest side effects related to Achilles tendon injuries. The significance of Achilles ruptures in running backs stems from the function of the tendon itself. Running along the back of the calf, it connects the calf muscles to the heel of the foot. It plays a crucial role in a player’s ability to stop, cut, drive, and jump — all of which are required to be an effective running back. Because the Achilles does so much for players like Akers, we prefer to see more conservative recovery times.

The biggest concern surrounding a fast recovery is that the Achilles tendon didn’t heal properly or fully. Some risks associated with an incompletely healed Achilles are reduced function, pain, and altered mechanics, among others. That said, Achilles injuries have a reputation for a reason, and these concerns exist with any Achilles tendon injury. They’re just made worse when the player returns sooner than expected.

Now that Akers has another rupture (this time in his other leg), all those concerns come back at an even greater magnitude. As a result, it’s difficult to picture a scenario where he returns to pre-injury form. At age 24, he does have youth on his side, but his dynasty value is not worth the risk.

Q: What do I do with Zay Jones? Is he ever going to be right and become a relevant part of the offense? — Shane W.

Jones’ Injury Risk recently dropped into Elevated territory and his Health Performance Factor is trending in the right direction as well. We have him reaching Optimal Recovery this week, but his limited availability at practice is not a great sign.

Despite the elongated absence, there are some things working in his favor. PCL sprains rarely require surgery and most players make a full recovery. To answer your question, he should become relevant again.

Right now, it looks like Jacksonville has been taking a more conservative route. They weighed putting him on IR, but have decided against it (as of now), likely indicating they are seeing progress in his recovery.

(Photo of Justin Jefferson: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)

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