Odell Beckham Jr is shopping himself around the free agency market.
What can we expect upon his return?
The Early Years
The hype surrounding star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr this year as he navigates free agency is ramping up. He’s been visiting with several organizations throughout the season, including his former team, the New York Giants.
Almost immediately after being drafted #12 overall in the 2014 NFL draft, Odell showed why he is considered one of the elite players in the league. He set several NFL rookie receiving records and received the Rookie of the Year award. He parlayed that into three pro bowl selections (2014, ‘15, ‘16) during his time with the Giants.
However, things changed in week 5 of the 2017 season. A season-ending ankle fracture that required surgery placed him on the sidelines. This would be the first of several season-ending injuries for OBJ over the next several years. He made his return from injury in 2018, the final year of his contract with the Giants, but did not put up as impressive statistics as he had his first three years in the league.
After the 2018 season, the Giants traded him to the Cleveland Browns for Jabrill Peppers, along with a first, and third-round pick. The 2019 season would see a sort of resurgence for OBJ in his new city. He would play all 16 games (only the second time in his career doing that), but again his statistics would not approach the statistical prowess they had before.
Once again, in 2020, in his second season in Cleveland, the injury bug would come back to bite. In week 7, he sustained a season-ending ACL injury to his knee. This almost jeopardized his chances at a return in 2021. With hard work, he made a comeback and provided some much-needed contributions to the LA Rams. After a falling out with the organization, he demanded a trade from the Browns in November of that year. He would go on to the Super Bowl with the Rams that year, only to again tear his ACL in the first half of the championship game.
Fast forward to the present day. As OBJ rehabilitates from his second ACL tear to the same knee in less than 24 months, he is very vocal in person and on social media as he visits with prospective teams trying to court him.
Most recently, rumors about him signing with the Cardinals, Chiefs, Giants, Vikings, and Bills have swelled. He is now approximately 8 months out from his second reconstructive surgery to repair his ACL on the same knee. He will return in mid-November once medically cleared.
But…does this mean he is ready? If so, how much will he contribute? These are all questions that are now more skeptical than ever.
Consider this…some literature has suggested that less than half (50%) of athletes who sustain an ACL injury are able to return to their pre-injury level of function/performance following reconstructive surgery. Also, somewhere between 50% and 100% will develop some degree of osteoarthritis within 5-10 years after surgery. These statistics are reflective of athletes who have had a primary injury and subsequent reconstructive surgery.
The incidence of an ACL injury after undergoing primary reconstructive surgery is significant within the first 12-24 months. OBJ re-injured his just under that 24-month time frame. Now consider that the risks go higher when you factor in revision ACL surgery. This is what Beckham Jr will be returning from this year.
There are many factors that predispose athletes to ACL injuries in the first place. Many have questioned the new synthetic playing surfaces as being the cause for most athletes rupturing their ACL. There are other extrinsic factors, some modifiable and others that are not. These extrinsic factors include playing surface, environmental conditions (e.g., weather), physical fatigue, and illegal play resulting in injury.
One study examining knee injuries in American Football, which was conducted using the NCAA injury surveillance system, found that in all collegiate division levels, ACL injuries are higher in competition than in practice. Also, they found that with regard to the playing surface, the more elite-level athletes did not suffer ACL injuries at a higher rate. Rather, the lower-level athletes in Division II and III had higher ACL injury rates when playing on artificial turf. One significant finding was the incidence of ACL injuries on synthetic turf, which was higher in American Football players when compared to soccer players. This suggests the type of sport played was more of a factor with regard to the risk of ACL injury than the level of competition.
So why do I bring this up? Well, for one, I want to temper expectations. If he is ready to make his return in week 11, as has been reported, and that is a big if, then we need to be realistic about his contribution to his new team. His presence on the field does not merely guarantee immediate success or the ability to contribute at a pro bowl level.
There continues to be much literature published annually on ACL injuries, surgeries, and performance following athletes’ return to sport. One thing that has been a constant over the years is that most players never return to their pre-injury performance levels. This is even more pertinent after a revision ACL reconstruction. In some studies, re-injury rates after ACL reconstruction approach 20%, with a premature return to the sport being the most significant risk factor. Eight to 12 months is now the average time frame for a return to sport following ACL reconstruction, but 10 months or more has been shown to pose less of a risk. Probably the most important bit of information to take from all these studies is that the athlete’s subjective feelings of being ready to return to the sport do not correlate with objective measures of strength, power, and agility.
The Legacy So Far
One of the most amazing in-game touchdown catches in the history of the NFL is eternally linked with Odell Beckham Jr. His receiving records have established a very high bar for young receivers in the league.
While I am excited to see him back on the field, I want to provide some objective data to help fan the flames of expectations. His speed and break-away ability may have declined, but he can still make one-handed catches in the end zone with defenders draped all over him. The anticipation is building as we wait to see what team he signs with as free agency signings loom closer.
Brian Scott, MEd, PA-C, ATC-Ret. is a professional certified healthcare provider in Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine. He serves as the Belly Up Media and Belly Up Fantasy sports injury expert. You can read his other articles and weekly injury updates, such as “Inside the Medical Tent,” right here on the Belly Up Fantasy website. Also, follow him on social media and on several other Belly Up Podcasts and Belly Up TV for weekly NFL injury updates.