Prior to his departure from the team, former New York Jets offensive coordinator Mike LeFleur spoke to the media about the team’s running back situation, saying:
“He’s a big part of our plans, he’s really … Joe D (Douglas) and they brought him in for a reason. I’ve been in situations before where a guy had an injury that he had and when you had an injury that he had 21, it takes a lot of time, a lot of rehab, a full offseason that’s not just about that to recover but also to get back in football shape and work properly to be able to play at the highest level so he’s a big part of our plans, he’s a hell of a runner I thought in ’21 before he got injured , in those first six, seven, eight weeks I thought he was one of the best defenders in the league and I’m so grateful he’s in this squad and I can’t wait to see what he does in the future will do.”
In the back of that quote, LeFleur seemed to imply that James Robinson was doing significantly better before suffering a torn Achilles tendon in December 2021. This diminished performance was more predictable, however, since a torn Achilles tendon is a notoriously difficult injury to heal for NFL athletes, especially running backs. As reported in a peer-reviewed publication by Robert Jack and colleagues (2017) in the journal “Foot & Ankle International: “The postoperative performance values were significantly worse (P <0.05) for running backs (RBs) (n=4) and linebackers (LBs) (n=12) compared to preoperative results.” This would indicate to us that we are exceeding our expectations for a player as tall as James should reassess and mitigate Robinson in the face of such an injury (which the Jets appear not to have done, given that Robinson was taken over and benched shortly thereafter). .
This need to factor injury history into expectations is also relevant to Jets running back and fan favorite Breece Hall, who tore an ACL in Week 7. More specifically, as analyzed by thefantasyfootballers.com’s Matthew Betz, running backs see dropoffs in fantasy points (a proxy for overall performance), but also in efficiency stats like yards per carry, yards after contact per attempt, yards per touch, and elusive rating in her first year after returning from a cruciate ligament tear compared to her pre-injury level.
Although there are some exceptions to this rule, these results generally show that running backs experience reduced play in the first year after the injury. However, for those looking for a rosier outlook, the same study also provides a rationale for why this may not matter as much to Breece’s long-term projections. In particular, Betz found support that:
Aside from players who quit after their ACL injury, the vast majority of players have been more efficient in yards per try, yards per touch, and fantasy points per game in the second year after the ACL operation [compared to the first year following ACL surgery].
Additionally, Betz added a caveat to that statement with additional information demonstrating why Breece could return to full strength when the time comes given his young age of just 21:
Age seems to play a role. Younger defenders in this sample (younger than 26) were more likely to have a recovery season in the second year after ACL surgery than experienced defenders, at least when looking at efficiency metrics and fantasy points per game. Unfortunately, late-career ACL injuries can be potentially career-threatening (Darren Sproles, Lamar Miller, etc.)
A visualization of the comparison of the first year of recovery to the second year of recovery data can be seen here:
Taken together, the accumulation of the above data suggests that injuries can have a long-term impact, even after a player has been medically cleared. For James Robinson, the data suggests his performance may never fully recover. For Breece Hall, the data suggests that we may see a lower level of performance from him next season, but that drop may be short-lived.
It’s important to keep these timelines in mind as we make predictions for a variety of injured Jets, including Breece Hall, Guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, Tackle Mekhi Becton, and a few others.
But what do you think? Does this information affect your expectations for Robinson or Hall in the 2023 season?