No one likes to see injuries in the NFL, but they’re an unfortunate reality of pro football. As teams ramp up for the start of the regular season, which health issues will most heavily affect rosters, depth charts, and game-planning? Let’s go around the league and look at the most critical injury situations in the NFL.
NFL injuries to watch for at the start of the 2022 season
As we examine how NFL teams will adjust to various injury scenarios, we’ll highlight players that are expected to return and contribute at some point in the 2022 campaign. As such, we won’t include Buccaneers center Ryan Jensen, Jets offensive tackle Mekhi Becton, or other players that aren’t likely to see the field at all this year.
Zach Wilson, QB, New York Jets
The Jets breathed a sigh of relief over the weekend after Wilson’s injury was revealed as a torn meniscus and a bone bruise. Initially, Wilson appeared to have suffered a much more severe injury, which would have had serious repercussions both for Wilson and the Jets organization. Gang Green needs a verdict on Wilson — for better or worse — and a season-ending injury would have denied the team its opportunity to evaluate the former No. 2 overall pick.
Wilson is now expected to miss between four and six weeks, according to Jeff Howe of The Athletic. As such, he seems likely to be sidelined through at least Week 1, and there’s a possibility he’s out for multiple games. It’s not an ideal situation, but Wilson should be back by October at the very latest.
Joe Flacco is expected to start in Wilson’s stead. Assuming he plays in the Jets’ opening game, Flacco will face the Ravens, the team he led to a Super Bowl victory after the 2012 season. Flacco, 37, has started five games for New York over the past two years, completing 57.4% of his passes for 1,202 yards, nine touchdowns, and three interceptions while posting an 0-5 record.
James Robinson, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Achilles tears used to be a death knell for NFL running backs, but Rams RB Cam Akers showed last season that earlier-than-expected returns are possible. Now, only eight months after his Achilles injury, Robinson is heading toward a Week 1 clearance.
“It’s the expectation. It’s kind of the hope that he can be there at that point,” Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson told reporters on Thursday. “And listen, if not, it’s OK. We’re comfortable with the guys behind him, and we’ll go with what we have.”
Jacksonville will lean on 2021 first-round pick Travis Etienne, who missed his entire rookie season with a Lisfranc injury, but Robinson should have a role once he returns. Robinson put up more than 2,400 yards from scrimmage over his first two years with the Jaguars, and his prowess in the passing game — both as a receiver and a blocker — will get him on the field even if Jacksonville wants Etienne to be their lead back.
Chris Godwin, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Godwin participated in 7-on-7 drills during the Buccaneers’ joint practices with the Titans on Wednesday, and he may end up doing even more work this week. It’s a remarkable recovery for Godwin, who tore his ACL in the middle of December.
Godwin hasn’t been able to complete a full season in any of the last three years, but he’s one of the NFL’s best wideouts when healthy. Tampa Bay removed him from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list in late July, a signal that they expect him to be available for the start of the season. Had the Bucs thought Godwin would miss at least four games, they surely would have kept him on PUP.
If he’s healthy, Godwin will join Mike Evans, Russell Gage, and the newly-acquired Julio Jones in an offense that ranked first in passing DVOA by a wide margin in 2021.
Michael Gallup and James Washington, WRs, Dallas Cowboys
You know you lack receiver depth when a James Washington injury absolutely debilitates your passing game plans. Washington could be out until October after suffering a Jones fracture in his foot. Meanwhile, Gallup has indicated Week 1 is not a realistic possibility as he recovers from a January ACL tear.
Where does this leave the Cowboys? Third-round rookie Jalen Tolbert is already penciled into the starting lineup alongside CeeDee Lamb, and tight end Dalton Schultz will likely serve as Dallas’ No. 2 pass catcher.
But given that the Cowboys don’t have a reliable third wide receiver or second tight end on their roster, we could potentially see running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard on the field together, as Michael Gelken of the Dallas Morning News recently reported. In an effort to get their five best skill players on the field, Dallas could deploy a “pony package” with Elliott and Pollard seeing time together (and Pollard potentially playing in the slot).
Jameson Williams, WR, Detroit Lions
After tearing his ACL in the national championship game in January, Williams was never expected to be ready for the start of the regular season. He’s currently on the non-football injury list — if he stays there into the regular season, Williams will be forced to miss at least four games. The Lions have a Week 6 bye, so it might make sense to hold the No. 12 pick out until at least Week 7.
There’s an opening for Detroit to make the playoffs in a weak NFC, but Williams’ long-term outlook is far more important than a potential Wild Card berth. Once he’s back, though, Williams will give the Lions an impressive and well-rounded receiving corps. With Amon-Ra St. Brown working inside and DJ Chark serving as a contested-catch winner, Williams’ efficacy as a speed demon should open up Detroit’s offense even further.
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Free Agent, and Van Jefferson, WR, Los Angeles Rams
Even though they’re not technically on the same team anymore, we’ll lump Jefferson and Beckham together — because every indication is the Rams are the best suitor for OBJ. Still, there’s no deal imminent between Beckham and LA, and he may not be ready until the second half of the season after tearing his ACL in the Super Bowl. Beckham posted a 48-593-7 receiving line in 12 games with the Rams, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that they want him back for another playoff run.
Beckham’s recovery timeline won’t help the Rams account for the potential loss of Jefferson, who is questionable for Week 1 after undergoing knee surgery of his own in early August. Jefferson will be LA’s WR3 when he’s healthy, but his absence could allow Ben Skowronek or Tutu Atwell to gain more reps early in the season.
David Bakhtiari, OT, Green Bay Packers
The Packers received great news earlier this week when offensive tackle Elgton Jenkins was activated from the PUP list, but Bakhtiari remains sidelined. In an era when players seemingly recover from ACL tears as if they were hangnails, Bakhtiari has played just 20 offensive snaps since injuring his knee in December 2020.
Bakhtiari is arguably the NFL’s best pass-protecting tackle when healthy, so getting him back will be a boon for Aaron Rodgers. Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst told reporters last week that it would be “ideal” for Bakhtiari to return by Week 1 but added that his presence isn’t totally necessary. Yosh Nijman will likely fill in at left tackle — as he did for eight starts in 2021 — as long as Bakhtiari is out.
Jason Kelce, C, Philadelphia Eagles
Kelce underwent elbow surgery on Aug. 9 to help alleviate some discomfort, and there’s a chance he’ll be ready for the season opener. But his absence has allowed the Eagles to get a look at his eventual replacement at center, second-round pick Cam Jurgens.
Everyone saw the viral clip of defensive tackle Jordan Davis pushing Jurgens back into the pocket, but one play does not a center make. Jurgens was excellent in Philadelphia’s first preseason game against the Jets, giving up one pressure and moving like Kelce in the run game on 36 offensive snaps. If Kelce is forced to miss a week or two, the Eagles know they’re in good hands with their rookie center.
Ronnie Stanley, OT, Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens didn’t make any notable additions to their pass-catching corps this offseason, potentially signaling that they’ll get back to their run-heavy ways in 2022. With J.K. Dobbins set to return after missing the 2021 campaign, the focus will shift to a Baltimore offensive line that’s banged up at the moment.
While the Ravens reportedly think there’s a chance Stanley — who’s been dealing with an ankle injury since November 2020 — could return for Week 1, they’re still preparing veteran Ja’Wuan James for a move from right to left tackle. That would represent a significant change for James, who has only played right tackle in the NFL and hasn’t appeared in a game since 2019 while dealing with injuries of his own.
Baltimore finished bottom-three in early-down pass frequency each season from 2018-2021 before ranking as the 12th-pass-happiest team in 2021. Stanley is an elite pass blocker, so if he’s not ready for the season, the Ravens may believe they can get better offensive results by pounding the rock early and often.
Lucas Patrick, C, Chicago Bears
Patrick isn’t a household name, and the Bears aren’t really competing for anything this season — so why is Chicago’s center listed here? Patrick followed new Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy from Green Bay, inking a two-year, $8 million deal to join the NFC North rival. Given his familiarity with Chicago’s new scheme, Patrick would have provided Justin Fields and the rest of the Bears’ offense with stability up front — including help with protection calls — even if he’s not an All-Pro caliber center.
Instead, Patrick has been out since the first week of training camp after injuring his hand, and there’s seemingly no timetable on his return. Sixth-round rookie center Doug Kramer is on injured reserve, so Sam Mustipher, who was arguably the worst center in the NFL last year, is back in the middle of Chicago’s line.
The Bears have made some last-second additions to bolster their front five, signing tackle Riley Reiff and guard Michael Schofield at the start of camp. Losing Patrick for any amount of time won’t affect Chicago’s win total, but his absence represents yet another obstacle that Fields will have to overcome in his second pro campaign.
Chase Young, EDGE, Washington Commanders
Commanders head coach Ron Rivera said in late July that Young will likely stay on the PUP list into the regular season, which would mean he’ll be sidelined for at least four games. Even if Young is activated from PUP before then, Rivera has already declared that the former No. 2 overall pick will not play in Week 1 against the Jaguars.
The fact that Rivera has already seen fit to rule Young out for the season opener doesn’t inspire faith about the edge rusher’s eventual return from his ACL tear. Young’s injury also shines a light on Washington’s lack of EDGE depth. James Smith-Williams will likely start opposite Montez Sweat in Young’s absence, but the Commanders could theoretically add free agent help before the season commences.
Shaquille Leonard, LB, Indianapolis Colts
Leonard is still on the PUP list after undergoing back surgery earlier this month, and the Colts aren’t sure when he’ll be back.
“We’re hopeful and optimistic that he’s ready, but you’re preparing as if he’s not going to be ready,” head coach Frank Reich said recently. “You prepare for the worst-case scenario.”
Indianapolis is installing a new defensive scheme under Gus Bradley, so Leonard is missing out on valuable training camp and preseason reps. Leonard, who’s earned first-team All-Pro nods in three of his four NFL seasons, is an absolute playmaker, as evidenced by his league-leading eight forced fumbles in 2021. His absence will be felt, and the Colts will have to ask more of fellow linebackers Bobby Okereke and Zaire Franklin.
Tre’Davious White, CB, Buffalo Bills
The Bills have repeatedly refused to give updates on White as he recovers from a November ACL tear. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said Tuesday that the team is “crossing [their] fingers” that they get their No. 1 corner back soon. That doesn’t sound overly optimistic, and Buffalo will likely be relying on at least one rookie to play starter’s snaps in Week 1 and beyond.
Dane Jackson is set to start at one corner spot, and Taron Johnson will man the slot for the Bills. That leaves two first-year players — first-round selection Kaiir Elam and sixth-rounder Christian Benford — competing to be Buffalo’s other outside CB. Based on training camp reports, Benford has surprisingly looked like the better player and could take over a starting job.
It’s rare to see one rookie beat out another who was chosen 160 spots earlier, but that could be the situation in Buffalo. Still, Elam flashed during the Bills’ first preseason game and still has plenty of time to secure his place in Buffalo’s lineup.