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ProFootballDoc: Top 5 RB Injury Questions Heading Into NFL Season

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With meaningful NFL games around the corner, we chronicled the top five QB issues yesterday. Now let’s tackle running backs. Wide receivers and tight ends will follow but for those who are drafting now and can’t wait, download the free 74-page Preseason Injury Preview that covers players from all 32 teams at www.profootballdoc.com

RB top five injury questions:

1. RB Saquon Barkley  

The stud RB tore his ACL/MCL and meniscus in Week 2 last season but has now passed his physical and come off PUP. He is working his way back to full practice. Analyzing video, he is clearly not 100% yet and has a way to go before he is ready for game action. Even if he does play Week 1 vs the Broncos, it would likely not be with a full workload. We fully expect Barkley to improve as the season goes and have a more successful second half of the season. In the meantime, the goal it to progress in a controlled fashion to avoid compensation muscle injury as he tries to get back to full form. A less than 100% Saquon is still valuable, but some patience is needed.

2. RB Christian McCaffrey 

The elite running back’s 2020 season was marred by injury after injury. A high ankle sprain in the fourth quarter of a Week 2 loss landed McCaffrey on IR. He came back on Nov. 8, but separated his shoulder in that game and missed the rest of the season. McCaffrey was initially expected to return for the final few games of the season, but developed a thigh problem while recovering from the shoulder injury. With this, the Panthers decided to shelve him since they were well out of playoff contention. Evaluating his injuries, this should be a big bounce back year for CMC. None of the previous issues should carry over and a year of rest will have him fresh. Much of the absence last year was about preserving their biggest weapon for the long term. Of the top fantasy RBs, we have much more confidence in McCaffrey than Saquon Barkley as discussed above.

3. RB Antonio Gibson 

The stud RB had a fantastic rookie season before suffering a turf toe injury that cost him two games and lingered into the final games of the season and playoffs. Despite missing two games, Gibson managed to reach the end zone 11 times, rushing for 795 yards at a healthy 4.7 yards/carry. The turf toe injury did not require surgery but he admitted he was not 100% as of June. Yes, he has fully participated in mini camp and training camp but this is definitely something to watch as reaggravation is something to keep an eye on. Gibson is tough and will play through but can he have a breakout second season as many predict? An injury that is not 100% by six months is unlikely to get there by the start of the regular season, and Washington would do well to perhaps use more of a rotation until he is feeling back up to full speed. Peyton Barber was set to snag some goal line snaps as a short-yardage back, and J.D. McKissic was a big factor in the pass game, as well as an efficient runner. These two could pick up some slack until that toe issue is well behind Gibson, but Gibson should retain his place as the WFT’s lead rusher again.

4. RB Joe Mixon 

A foot sprain Week 6 kept the star running back out for 11 games. We didn’t see much on video and it appeared to possibly happen on a TD dance but nothing was definitive. The full story has not been told yet but in theory, Mixon is slated to be healthy and has not been limited in camp. Signs point to a healthy season and perhaps part of his early shutdown was due to preserving him for the future since QB Joe Burrow was out for the season anyway.

5. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire

The Chiefs’ No. 1 ball carrier recently suffered an ankle injury in the second preseason game and his night ended before Patrick Mahomes’ did. Although there was no clear video, the expectation is for a standard low inversion type ankle sprain. Piecing together reports, there is no worry for high ankle sprain as Edwards-Helaire was not placed on crutches or in a precautionary boot. Despite some more pessimistic reports, our belief is this should not be an issue moving forward. He is likely to miss some practice time and the final preseason game but expect Edwards-Helaire to suit up and play effectively Week 1.

Cam Akers is purposely left off the list on purpose as there is nothing in question. His season is over with surgery for an Achilles rupture with no chance to return. For other running backs not mentioned, download the free Preseason Injury Preview at www.profootballdoc.com. Tomorrow, wide receivers followed by tight ends.

Written by Pro Football Doc

David Chao, MD -- known digitally as Pro Football Doc -- is an expert contributor for Outkick. Chao spent 17 seasons as the team doctor for the San Diego Chargers (1997-2013) and is part of the medical team at OASIS in San Diego where he treats and specializes in orthopedic sports injuries, working with high-profile professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, and MLB.

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