http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2006/w ... index.html
Reuben Frank wrote:The long road back
Many skill players never recover from serious injuries
Posted: Thursday May 25, 2006 2:29PM; Updated: Thursday May 25, 2006 3:03PM
Jamal Anderson was only 26 when he blew out his knee. In 1998, he established himself as one of the top running backs in the NFL, leading the league with 1,846 rushing yards, 16 touchdowns and 12 100-yard games as the Falcons reached the Super Bowl.
In the third week of the following season, during the opening drive of a game at Arizona, Anderson tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and missed the rest of the season. He played one more full year, but his rushing total dropped 45 percent (1,846 yards to 1,024), his touchdowns dropped 57 percent (14 to six) and his rushing average fell 20 percent (4.5 to 3.6).
Two weeks into the next season, he suffered another ACL injury at Dallas, this time to his right knee.
He never played again.
He was 28 years old.
For all the advances in surgery that have been made, all the groundbreaking techniques in rehab, all the state-of-the-art medical facilities NFL teams now have, there are some injuries that simply end careers, or dramatically alter them.
Across NFL training camps this summer, we'll hear how players such as Carson Palmer, Daunte Culpepper, Braylon Edwards, Drew Brees, Deuce McAllister, Priest Holmes, Javon Walker and Donovan McNabb are progressing after suffering serious injuries in 2005. We'll hear how optimistic their coaches are, how well their rehab is coming, how encouraged their teammates are.
But if history is any indication, several of them -- maybe most of them -- will never be the same.
We took a look at starting quarterbacks, running backs and receivers who suffered major injuries over the past 10 years and examined their production before and after their injuries to see what long-term affect those injuries had on their careers. Here's what we learned.
From 1995 through 2004, 11 quarterbacks fit into our statistical model -- they played a full season one year, suffered an injury the next year serious enough to knock them out of at least 10 games, and returned to start the following year (Drew Bledsoe, Mark Brunell, Rich Gannon, Jeff George, Trent Green, Brad Johnson, Erik Kramer, Vinny Testaverde, Neil O'Donnell, Michael Vick and Kurt Warner).
Of those 11, only one performed at a significantly higher level after the injury. That was Bledsoe, who got hurt the second week of the 2001 season with the Patriots (opening the door for Tom Brady) and put up far better stats in 2002 with the Bills (24 TDs, 86.0 passer rating) than he had in 2000 with New England (17 TDs, 77.3 passer rating).
Some were never the same again.
Gannon got hurt in 2003 with the Raiders, tried to come back in 2004, got hurt again and retired. Warner put together some of the greatest numbers in NFL history, averaging 33 TD passes and 17 interceptions from 1999 through 2001. Since breaking a finger early in 2002, though, Warner has 21 TDs and 25 interceptions in four seasons with three teams.
Going into 1999, Testaverde was coming off his best season -- 29 TDs, just seven interceptions and a 101.6 passer rating -- 20th-highest in NFL history. But he ruptured his Achilles' in the season-opener and never came close to those 1999 numbers again, finishing out his career with 64 more TDs and 70 interceptions in parts of six seasons with three teams.
Most simply picked up where they left off -- George, Johnson, Vick and others posted numbers similar to those they had amassed before their injuries.
Some advice to running backs: Don't get hurt.
Since 1995, 16 running backs who were established starters have suffered an injury that cost them 10 games or more.
Only three of them -- DeShaun Foster, James Stewart and Fred Taylor -- registered a career-best rushing season at any point in the rest of their careers.
Those 16 backs had 35 1,000-yard seasons before their injuries and eight after, three of them by Taylor and two by Stewart.
It appears that injuries affect running backs later in their career more than receivers or quarterbacks. Many don't even approach their pre-injury numbers.
For example, Mike Alstott averaged 658 yards per year and 3.9 yards per carry before missing the last 11 games of 2003. In two seasons since, he's averaged 155 and 3.1.
Stephen Davis averaged 1,283 yards and 4.3 per carry from 1999 through 2003. After suffering a season-ending injury early in 2004, he came back with 549 yards and a 3.0 per-carry average last year.
In his first four NFL seasons, Terrell Davis averaged more than 1,600 yards a year and 4.8 yards per carry. After he got hurt in 1999, he averaged 398 and 3.8 and was out of football before his 30th birthday.
Olandis Gary ran for 1,159 yards as a rookie, got hurt one game into his second season and has averaged 280 yards per season since.
Dorsey Levens rushed for 1,435 yards in 1997, missed 10 games in '98, then averaged 407 yards for the rest of his career.
Duce Staley rushed for nearly 1,300 yards in 1999. He got hurt in 2000 and has averaged 570 yards since.
Michael Bennett ran for just under 1,300 yards in 2002, got hurt in '03 and has fewer than 800 yards total since.
Taylor is the most remarkable exception. He had a couple of 1,200-yard seasons before missing almost all of 2001. His first three seasons after coming back, he ran for 1,314, 1,572 and 1,224 yards.
Then there's Garrison Hearst, who proved that anybody can come back from anything. Hearst had three 1,000-yard seasons before knee injuries kept him out of football for 32 months. His first year back, he ran for more than 1,200 yards.
Unlike running backs, receivers seem to have a decent chance of not only matching their pre-injury performance but also surpassing it.
Of the nine 1,000-yard receivers from 1995 through 2004 who suffered a major season-ending injury, only three never had another 1,000-yard season. They are Ed McCaffrey, who was 34 when he returned after a broken leg (and did have a 903-yard season); Herman Moore, who never approached his All-Pro numbers after his 1999 knee injury; and Marcus Robinson, whose pre-injury and post-injury stats were pretty similar.
The rest? Seems like their injuries made them even better.
Steve Smith caught 103 passes for 1,563 yards last season, a year after missing virtually all of '04 with a broken fibula. Before the injury he'd never had more than 1,110 yards in a season.
Yancey Thigpen missed all but a few snaps of 1996 with a severe foot injury. A year later he had career highs with 1,398 yards and seven TDs.
Isaac Bruce missed most of 1998 after blowing out his hamstring. Over the next six years he missed one game and averaged 78 catches for 1,181 yards.
Jerry Rice was already 35 when he shredded his knee the second week of 1997. All he did when he came back was average 77 catches for 1,001 yards in the next six years.
Kevin Dyson blew out his knee in 2000 and a year later had career highs with 825 yards and seven TDs.