While the NFL media circus swarms around where Odell Beckham Jr will sign, there have recently been questions about whether the wide receiver is even healthy enough to be impactful for the 2022 season.
On Tuesday, Ed Werder reported that a source within the Cowboys suggested that the team was concerned that Beckham Jr. hadn’t recovered enough from his ACL tear to even play this year. Others have wondered why he’s not working out for teams during these visits.
To get a better understanding of the situation, we spoke to a couple of medical professionals to see what the typical ACL recovery timeframe is and just what fans should expect from Odell Beckham Jr. if he does return to the field this year.
Dr. Edwin Porras, Doctor of Physical Therapy, who completed a residency in orthopedics and currently works for the Minnesota Twins as a minor-league physical therapist, mentioned that “from a big picture perspective, we want these guys, based on the data and the risk, to wait at least nine or ten months [to return to competitive action].”
That 10-month mark is also supported by some case studies currently in the NFL.
“If you look at Chris Godwin, he tried to come back at eight months and injured his hamstring in that Week 1 game, continued Dr. Porras. “Then he, over the last few weeks, has been coming along right around the 10-month mark. That’s normal. Michael Gallup came back at a ridiculous seven-and-a-half month mark; that’s too early, and we see that only recently is he starting to come on as well, and he’s about a month behind Chris Godwin.”
So if we’re assuming that Odell Beckham Jr. could return to the field 10 months after his surgery, when would that be exactly? The wide receiver posted on his Instagram account that surgery was completed on February 22nd, which means that the 10-month mark would be in a few weeks on December 22nd, or Week 16 of the NFL season.
That would give him three weeks of the regular season and the playoffs, which isn’t bad for teams who hope to make a run at the Super Bowl, like the Cowboys and Bills.
However, it’s not that simple with OBJ since this is his second ACL surgery.
“When you look at his track record, with his first ACL it took him, I think, almost 11 months,” said Dr. Porras. “That’s something to consider for him. Is his body a slow healer? Does it adapt a little more slowly than average? All of these things that we have to take into consideration that we just don’t know about him.”
I also talked to Dr. Jesse Morse, a fellowship-trained sports medicine physician, who specializes in regenerative medicine. He regularly works with NFL players and understands what it takes to get them back on the field. Like Dr. Porras, Dr. Morse cautioned that “Sometimes these guys don’t get the motivation to rehab because they’re already financially stable.”
So while Odell has all of the resources and the natural athleticism to be physically ready around the 10-month timeframe, there are many variables that make it impossible for us to tell whether he actually will be or not without more evidence.
One of those variables is age.
Dr. Porras suggested that “There’s good data showing that NFL athletes who are 24 years old or younger have an easier time getting back to a previous level of performance.”
Dr. Morse suggested this same thing: “You have someone coming off of their second ACL tear in two years who is already a veteran at 30. It’s harder to rehab at 30 than at 22. We keep seeing a lot of these veteran wide receivers struggling with injuries at 30. Julio Jones. Keenan Allen. Mike Evans doesn’t look the same.”
However, Dr. Porras is not convinced that Odell Beckham Jr.’s age will definitely work against him here. “When you’re a freak athlete like OBJ is, it’s certainly possible to [come back] at 30 years old. It’s not unheard of, and the wide receiver position lends itself to do that a little bit better.”
Odell proved that, to a certain extent, during his time with the Rams in 2021. While he wasn’t impactful early in the season with the Browns, Beckham had 305 yards receiving and five touchdowns in seven games in Los Angeles. However, he was a huge asset in the playoffs, catching 25 passes for 316 yards and two touchdowns in a little over three games before he injured his knee again.
But his recovery could be harder this time.
“A lot of it is mental,” Dr. Morse added. “There is a huge mental barrier. Does he trust it? Is he going to run a route and stop on a dime and cut? And then not only do it once but do it thirty times. And then do it again tomorrow? Do you trust your knee to do that?”
There’s also the concern of whether or not Odell and his doctors properly identified what caused the second tear. “He may not have identified his contributing factors,” Dr. Morse suggested. “Was it his hip? Whatever the reason was, it wasn’t properly identified, and it allowed him to tear it again.”
This obviously raises concerns about whether things will be any different this time around.
“The risk of re-tear, from a biological perspective, doesn’t really go away,” admitted Dr. Porras. “The concern from anybody looking to sign him might be, “I dunno, man. You’re 10 months removed from a second ACL. How do we know that ACL isn’t gonna blow? You might want a long-term deal. We don’t know if we want to trust you with a long-term deal.'”
For Dr. Morse, the fact that Odell is allegedly not working out for teams is a “massive red flag.”
“If I was the GM or the owner, I would say ‘prove it to me,'” Dr. Morse said. “Because if he can’t do that for me now, what makes you think he can do that in two weeks? You need to be pushing him hard now in order to get him ready a month from now. If you’re not pushing him hard now, you’re rolling the dice to assume he’ll be ready in a month.”
So if any of the Cowboys, Giants, or Bills do sign OBJ, they’d be taking the risk that their strength and training staff can get him up to game speed in a month’s time. Obviously a deep playoff run for any of those teams could increase Odell Beckham Jr.’s effectiveness, but what can fans actually expect in terms of his performance if he does return around the 10-month mark? Will he be prime OBJ?
“No,” said Dr. Porras, pretty candidly, “but I do think it’s reasonable at the 10 or 11-month mark, if he has about an average recovery, that he can be about 85% of what that was. That split-second step that a non-injured athlete would have, those quick cuts, that ability to put your foot in the ground and power through a tackle, that’s just not there after two ACL tears. That suddenness that we’re used to, it won’t be quite the same.”
However, he could still be an impactful complementary receiver on a team that is anticipating a playoff run.
“Based on averages,” continued Dr. Porras, “I would say that he could be back and a marginal contributor at 10 months with his role slowly expanding into that 11 or 12-month mark.”
Dr. Morse is not as optimistic.
“I personally don’t think he’ll be ready to contribute until next season. I don’t think he’s going to be overly effective [if he plays this season]. If he contributes another meaningful year or two I’ll be genuinely surprised.”
With so much uncertainty around the effectiveness and long-term health of Odell Beckham Jr., it seems like whichever team signs him would be taking a big risk not only for this season but in terms of the entire length of whatever deal they agree to.
Perhaps that silence we’ve been hearing after his visits is each organization deciding that it just might not be worth it.