Jamaal Charles’ 2017 Fantasy Outlook – A Medical Practitioner’s Perspective

If you are like me and experienced the heyday of Jamaal Charles’ play in 2013 when he ran for 1,287 yards, had nearly 700 receiving yards on 70 catches, and amassed 19 touchdowns in one year – you think fondly of Jamaal Charles. If you are also like me and experienced the fantasy team-killing-blow due to his injuries in 2016 (or 2015… or 2011), the “what could have been” fuels your grief.

Now the 2017 season is upon us and Jamaal Charles is as healthy as he has ever been following his most recent ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury. Just check out his moves on the video below:

You can see that he is sprinting, sprinting against resistance, sprinting on an inclined treadmill, sprinting some more, and I guess he also does some fancy fast footwork… followed by more sprinting. He looks ready, but then again, he also looked ready in 2016, when his season ended in week 3 due to continuing knee issues. With difficulty staying healthy, will fantasy owners be taking a big risk by drafting Jamaal Charles? Currently his Average Draft Position (ADP) is #127 according to fantasypros.com. That’s a 9-12th round pick in 12-man leagues. But is he even worth that? Is he going to be more boom or more bust?

The uncertainty of Jamaal Charles‘ health is undeniably one of the greatest factors in creating the doubt surrounding the former 4-time pro-bowl running back (we’ll get back to this). The other major factor is his recent abrupt departure from the Kansas City Chiefs to the Denver Broncos. The Broncos backfield is crowded and currently Jamaal Charles is listed second to C.J. Anderson on the depth chart while 2016 rookie Devontae Booker is sitting third. Neither of the Broncos’ original RB crew have boasted yards per carry like Charles in their career, but neither of them have had bilateral ACL tears and meniscus surgeries either.  Jamaal Charles has more NFL experience than C.J. Anderson and Devontae Booker combined, but now that Charles has reached the big 3-0, that isn’t always a good thing for a running back. If anything, C.J. Anderson is reaching his prime as a RB in the league as he enters his fifth year as a pro and is just 26 years old. Charles will be facing a major uphill-battle to break through as the starting RB in this Denver offense.

Let’s address the knee issue. Much of the medical information in this article is gathered from uptodate.com, a professional medical subscription that analyzes and summarizes research on different conditions. (ACL TEAR).

  • It generally takes 6-12 months to return to full activity after an ACL tear and some times sooner for high-level athletes. (Jamaal Charles is over 12 months since his last ACL surgery but less than 12 months from his last arthroscopic knee surgery).
  • Those same high-level athletes who return to full activity can experience abnormal joint motion and relative weakness up to 22 months after reconstructive surgery. (Jamaal Charles is nearly 22 months post his ACL surgery in 2015).
  • Some studies indicate there is about a 20% chance of requiring additional surgery to the affected knee within 2 years of ACL surgery. (Jamaal Charles had an additional knee surgery in 2016)
  • Some studies indicate there is about a 10% chance of injuring the other knee after an ACL surgery. (Jamaal Charles ruptured his left ACL in 2011 and his right ACL in 2015).
  • Some studies indicate 20-40% of the time athletes are NOT able to return to their same level of sport activity within 12 months of ACL surgery. (Jamaal Charles returned to full football play in 2012. He also returned to his full level of play in 2016, however, he was eased back into RB duties and still re-injured his knee.)

The not-so-surprising conclusion is that the athlete who has torn their ACL and received reconstructive surgery is actually a much safer fantasy pick 24 months after the injury than 12 months after the injury.

Most of the complications and lack of improvement following an ACL injury will occur within 2 years. Jordy Nelson 12 months after his ACL surgery early in the 2016 season was not nearly as effective as he was at the end of the season (See my stats about Jordy Nelson in our article here) – one reason could be the improved stability and strength of his knee.

A hallmark study lead by Dr. Christopher Dodson and published in March of 2016 in the Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine studied ACL injuries in the NFL from 2010 – 2013. Dodson noted out of the 219 ACL injuries 18.3% were players who had previous ACL injuries and 12.3% were re-tears of a previous reconstructed knee. Those at greatest risk for ACL injuries were those who had a previous ACL injury, higher body mass index, played on special teams, and who were tackled a lot. The month of August also had the highest incidence of ACL injuries (possibly due to having the largest rosters during the year). From this research we can see that Jamaal Charles’ position as a running back and his history of previous ACL injury increases his odds of having another ACL issue.

CONCLUSION AND FANTASY FOOTBALL ADVICE

Jamaal Charles will be at his greatest value after August 2017, as his odds of ACL re-injury will be at its lowest and he will be close to 24 months removed from his last ACL surgery. Unfortunately we will not have a clear picture of Jamaal Charles’ involvement in the Denver offense come fantasy draft day and they will likely limit his touches early on, making it 3-4 weeks into the season before any discernible pattern of use can be made. It is possible with his talent that he could take over the starting role, but, while a majority of athletes will return to their full potential, it is hard to be optimistic that Jamaal Charles will be one of those players after all of his knee issues. While his video indicates he is sprinting, we don’t see cutting, quick stopping, or lateral movements, which is a better indicator of his ACL status.

Drafting Jamaal Charles is not advisable unless you have a lot of bench space in your league. It would be the safer bet to wait and see how the Broncos utilize Jamaal Charles first. If his touches are appearing to be worth fantasy value, you can pick him up off the waiver wire with little hesitation because his risk for another knee issue would be equal to the risk of his 2012-2014 all-pro seasons.

2017 Season prediction: 215 yards rushing, 32 catches, 318 receiving yards, 2 TDs (doesn’t suffer another ACL injury)

 

 

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