Injuries are part of life in the NFL. When massive men are crashing into each other on a weekly basis, some players are bound to get hurt. And when that happens, rosters get shuffled, game plans get altered, and backups are forced into action.
With that in mind, let’s look at 20 players likely to make their returns at some point during the 2022 NFL season. Some of these players could come back as soon as Week 7. Others may not see the field until December, while a few might not return at all.
No matter their return date, each of these players has something in common: they will have an outsized impact on their team when they hit the field.
NFL Injuries | Imminent Returns
These players have a chance to come back in the very near future. For the most part, we’ve stuck with players who were either on injured reserve or the physically unable to perform list and avoided those who only missed a few weeks.
Van Jefferson, WR | Los Angeles Rams
The Rams are one of the most injured teams in the NFL, and that includes Jefferson, who’s been out since undergoing knee surgery in early August. LA’s offense ranks just 27th in yards per play. While Jefferson won’t fix the unit on his own, he can help take the top off opposing defenses, clearing out more space for Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson.
Jefferson won’t be the only Rams player getting healthy after the team’s Week 7 bye. Head coach Sean McVay said center Brian Allen and cornerback Troy Hill are among those who should be ready to return when Los Angeles faces San Francisco in Week 8.
Trent Williams, OT | San Francisco 49ers
After missing three games with a high-ankle sprain, Williams was back at practice this week on a limited basis. He could suit up against the Chiefs, but even if he doesn’t, Williams would likely return for Week 9.
2021 fifth-round pick Jaylon Moore has played well in Williams’ absence, but the 49ers obviously want to get the best left tackle in the NFL back on the field. Williams will help open up a San Francisco run game that was held to just 50 yards against the Falcons on Sunday.
Austin Jackson, OT | Miami Dolphins
Jackson hasn’t been a world-beater since joining the Dolphins as a first-round pick in 2020, but he has to be better than what Miami is currently running out at offensive tackle. Greg Little has arguably been the worst lineman in football this season, and the Dolphins’ quarterbacks took six sacks against the Jets in Week 6.
Miami activated Jackson (ankle) from IR last week, but the right tackle didn’t play against New York, and he’s been absent from practice so far this week. Luckily, left tackle Terron Armstead — who also missed Week 6 with an injury — is practicing.
Chase Young, EDGE | Washington Commanders
Young is on the PUP list as he recovers from a Nov. 2021 ACL tear, but good news might be on the horizon. The 2020 draft’s No. 2 overall pick will meet with Dr. James Andrews on Sunday, reports John Keim of ESPN. If that visit goes well, Young could play in Week 8 or 9.
At 2-4, the Commanders are essentially out of the postseason race, so Young’s return probably won’t affect the playoff picture. Still, he was the 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year and one of the best collegiate defensive players of his generation. Everyone wants to see Young come back to the field and thrive.
David Ojabo, EDGE | Baltimore Ravens
Ojabo would have been an early first-round pick in April had he not torn his Achilles at his Pro Day. The Ravens scooped him up in the second round, and that bet is now paying off as the Michigan product returned to practice last week. Baltimore activated Ojabo from the non-football injury list, and they have until Nov. 2 to move him to the active roster.
The Ravens could certainly use the pass-rushing help, as they’ve generated pressure on just 18.4% of opposing dropbacks, sixth-worst in the league. Odafe Oweh hasn’t taken the second-year leap many expected, while free agent addition Jason Pierre-Paul is showing his age.
In addition to Ojabo, Baltimore designated edge rusher Tyus Bowser and running back Gus Edwards to return from PUP and rookie tight end Charlie Kolar from IR. Justin Houston is also back at practice after missing three weeks with a groin injury.
Deion Jones, LB | Cleveland Browns
It hasn’t exactly been a banner few weeks for the Browns’ defense. Cleveland gave up 200+ rushing yards to both the Falcons and the Chargers before allowing fourth-round Patriots rookie Bailey Zappe to throw for 300 yards. The Browns lost all three of those games and now sit at 2-4.
Jones, whom Cleveland acquired from Atlanta on Oct. 9, can only do so much to stop the bleeding — but the Browns are hoping he can offer some sort of help. He’s been designated to return after recovering from a shoulder injury, and head coach Kevin Stefanski said Jones could play this week if he’s “up to speed.”
Tre’Davious White, CB | Buffalo Bills
No matter which metric you look at, the Bills again have one of the NFL’s best defenses. Thus, they haven’t felt the need to rush back Tre’Davious White, who tore his ACL last November. Rookies Kaiir Elam and Christian Benford have both played extremely well while filling in for White.
White returned to practice last week, but Buffalo isn’t expected to ramp him up until after their Week 7 bye, according to CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson. Given Elam and Benford’s early production, the Bills will have the option of working White back in slowly as they rotate corner snaps.
Trent McDuffie, CB | Kansas City Chiefs
McDuffie and Ojabo are two of only three rookies on our list, and McDuffie is the only one who’s actually played this season. He only got in 32 snaps (and wasn’t targeted) in Week 1 before going down with a hamstring injury, and the Chiefs will now get to drop the first-round pick into their secondary.
McDuffie has a chance to play in Week 7 against the 49ers, while fellow CB Rashad Fenton should also return soon after missing Week 6. Kansas City will need to sort out how it wants to deploy those two cornerbacks alongside L’Jarius Sneed, Jaylen Watson, and Joshua Williams.
Byron Jones, CB | Miami Dolphins
We’re listing Jones as an imminent return, but no one seems to know when he’ll actually come back. Throughout the offseason, the Dolphins said the veteran corner could be ready for Week 1, but he hasn’t even been designated to return from PUP yet.
Miami’s secondary is nearing Threat Level Midnight. Jones is out, Nik Needham tore his Achilles in Week 6, and Kader Kaohou and Keion Crossen are banged up. Against the Jets, the Dolphins had to turn to Justin Bethel, who hadn’t played regular defensive snaps since 2017.
Jones can impact the Dolphins in one of two ways going forward. If he returns, Miami can feel relatively confident about their secondary going forward. But if Jones is unable to come back soon, the Dolphins may have to consider trading for a corner.
Jason Verrett, CB | San Francisco 49ers
Verrett is certainly no stranger to injuries. He’s played six games or fewer in six of his eight NFL seasons. Yet, he’s been excellent when on the field, as evidenced by his outstanding 13-game campaign with the 49ers in 2020.
San Francisco has designated Verrett, who tore his ACL in Week 1 of the 2021 season, to return from PUP. Head coach Kyle Shanahan indicated Verrett should be able to return for Week 7, and he’ll compete with Deommodore Lenoir to fill the void left by injured corner Emmanuel Moseley.
Elijah Molden, CB | Tennessee Titans
Let’s wrap up our list of corners with Molden, who hasn’t played this year thanks to a groin injury. The Titans have designated him to return from IR, but he’s yet to practice.
Tennesee could desperately use him, as they rank 28th in expected points added on opposing dropbacks. The Titans just allowed 37-year-old Matt Ryan to post one of the best games of his career in Week 7. Molden was feisty in his rookie season and should garner immediate playing time upon his return.
NFL Injuries | Midseason Returns
These injured players’ statuses are a bit murkier. They should return down the line, but it will be several weeks until they’re back.
Marquise Brown, WR | Arizona Cardinals
Brown’s injury is the freshest of anyone on our list, as the Cardinals receiver suffered a foot injury in Week 7 that will keep him out 4-6 weeks. That prompted Arizona to send fifth- and sixth-round picks to Carolina for malcontent receiver Robbie Anderson.
Anderson can fill as some version of a speed threat in place of Brown, and DeAndre Hopkins returned from a six-game suspension on Thursday night. Still, Brown is clearly the Cards’ most talented wideout. The only question is whether Arizona will be anywhere near playoff contention by the time he’s healthy.
Jameson Williams, WR | Detroit Lions
The Lions aren’t headed toward the postseason after starting the season 1-4, but anyone who watches the NFL has to be excited about Williams’ potential return. One of college football’s most exciting players before tearing his ACL in the National Championship Game, Williams has been on the non-football injury list for the entire year.
Head coach Dan Campbell said this week he’s “optimistic” Williams will play this year but declined to put a timetable on the No. 12 overall pick’s return. Detroit has absolutely no reason to rush Williams, but I’m beyond excited to see what this offense will look like once his speed is added to the picture.
T.J. Watt, EDGE | Pittsburgh Steelers
Watt, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, tore his pectoral muscle in Week 1, then underwent knee surgery in early October. Now, he’s not expected to return until after the Steelers’ Week 9 bye.
Fellow pass rusher Alex Highsmith has stepped up with 6.5 sacks in Watt’s stead, but on the whole, the Steelers have struggled to get after the quarterback. They’ve generated pressure on just 16% of dropbacks — only the Falcons, Rams, and Dolphins have been worse.
Pittsburgh has every reason to be cautious with Watt. He’s the best player on their roster, and the Steelers aren’t necessarily in the running for a playoff appearance. Still, the Watt brothers typically have to be pried off the field, as evinced by T.J.’s brother J.J. playing just days after a heart procedure.
Randy Gregory, EDGE | Denver Broncos
On a snap-for-snap basis, Gregory was one of the NFL’s most effective pass rushers before undergoing meniscus surgery in early October. He’s on IR, but if only has to miss the minimum four games, the 29-year-old could be back after Denver’s Week 9 bye.
Once he returns, the Broncos will have a lethal three-headed edge-rushing group comprised of Gregory, Bradley Chubb, and Baron Browning, the latter of whom has become a terror after converting from inside to outside linebacker. If Denver is going to make a run, it looks like they’ll have to rely on their elite defense rather than their struggling offense.
D.J. Reader, DT | Cincinnati Bengals
Reader is one of the most underrated players in the NFL, and the Bengals have felt his absence over the last two games as the Ravens and Saints both rushed for more than 150 yards. Cincinnati doesn’t have anyone who can adequately fill in at nose tackle. Josh Tupou, Reader’s nominal replacement, was in a walking boot after Sunday’s win.
Over the next two weeks, the Bengals will face the Falcons and the Browns, two of the league’s run-heaviest teams relative to game situation. Reader is allowed to come off IR after Week 7, but his MCL injury will likely require a six-week recovery.
NFL Injuries | Long-Term Returns
We don’t know if all of these players will return in 2022. A few of them may very well not. But their respective teams are holding out hope.
Tyron Smith, OT | Dallas Cowboys
Appearing on 105.3 The Fan on Thursday, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said the team expects Smith to return “closer to the end of the year.” The 31-year-old stalwart underwent early September surgery to reattach a torn hamstring tendon to his left knee.
First-round rookie Tyler Smith has been a revelation at left tackle, but Dallas’ line would ascend to a new level with Tyron Smith on the blindside. A front five of Smith-Smith-Tyler Biadasz-Zack Martin-Terrence Steele, with Connor McGovern and Jason Peters as super subs, would rank among the best OLs in the NFL.
Rashawn Slater, OT | Los Angeles Chargers
Slater was originally thought to be lost for the season after suffering a biceps injury in Week 3. However, Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reported in early October that the Chargers believe the second-year left tackle could return at the tail end of the regular season or for the playoffs.
Rookie Jamaree Salyer has been up and down while filling in for Slater, who earned a second-team All-Pro nod in his first NFL campaign. If Slater is able to come back later this year, Los Angeles could potentially shift Salyer to right tackle (depending on how incumbent Trey Pipkins is playing at the time).
Ryan Jensen, C | Tampa Bay Buccaneers
As was the case with Slater, we thought Jensen was done for the year after he went down with a knee injury in training camp. At least one report has indicated Jensen could return as early as Week 9, although Greg Auman of the Athletic has said the veteran center isn’t expected back until the playoffs.
A Jensen reappearance — on any timeline — would represent a boon for a Tampa Bay offense that has struggled to put points on the board. Robert Hainsey has shown progression while filling in for Jensen at the pivot. If Jensen is healthy enough to play, Hainsey could conceivably shift to left guard to replace struggling rookie Luke Goedeke.
Joey Bosa, EDGE | Los Angeles Chargers
We’ll close out with another Charger. Bosa is expected to be sidelined until December after injuring his groin in Week 3. Los Angeles has tried to replace Bosa with a combination of Chris Rumph and Kyle Van Noy, but neither has been all that effective over the past three weeks.
Khalil Mack, one of 2022’s best NFL acquisitions, is still racking up pressures on the other side of the line. But the Chargers may have to consider trading for another edge rusher before the Nov. 1 trade deadline.