Christian McCaffrey is slated to return this 2021 season after his injury-riddled 2020 season in which he experienced a right high ankle sprain, right shoulder AC separation, and a quadricep injury limiting him to play in just 3 games. All the injuries combined severely limited his playing time last year, inevitably hurting the Carolina Panther offense and the stock of fantasy football managers alike who hoped he’d carry their teams to the promised land. Each one of his injuries were not that severe individually, and with the amount of time he's had to heal, he should make a full recovery. However, due to the nature of his position, it’s worth examining the potential impact year 2020 could have for him long term.
Starting with his first injury, high ankle sprains - (an injury typically caused by external rotation and hyperdorsiflexion of the ankle) can take anywhere from 2-12 weeks to return from depending on the grade of injury and structures involved. The sprains exhibited by most players tend to be milder in severity and require around 4-6 weeks to heal.
Based on the timeframe McCaffrey was out of commission for, which was 6 weeks, it is likely that was the case for him. The downsides to high ankle sprains, along with the prolonged time out from games compared to other injuries, are the long term effects one may sustain after they return. People who sustain high ankle sprains may continue to have functional limitations from continued ankle instability and/or pain, especially since the injury involves ligaments and not muscles. Also no matter how the ankle is managed, whether conservatively or surgically, the recurrence of a high ankle sprain is a possible consequence and is something to look out for in the 2021 season. Given enough time to rehab, athletes will typically return to pre-injury levels of performance.
The next injury was his AC joint sprain suffered in Week 9 after returning from the ankle sprain. An AC joint separation, which stands for Acromioclavicular joint separation, is an injury common in contact sports like football. It occurs when the clavicle or collarbone separates from the shoulder blade. AC joint separations are classified based on a system called the Rockwood Classification that rates the sprains into types from 1 to 6 based on the ligaments that are injured and the extent of the damage. Type 1 is a mild sprain of the AC joint and type 6 is a complete displacement of the clavicle. Type 1s and 2s can be managed conservatively while types 4-6 are more severe and require surgery to fix; Type 3s fall somewhere in the middle. Considering how there were no reports of McCaffrey requiring or performing shoulder surgery, one can surmise he had somewhere between a Type 1-3 AC joint sprain and there shouldn’t be any lasting issues moving forward with the amount of time he’s had to heal.
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Lastly, we have the quad injury which he sustained while practicing during a Bye week and effectively sidelined him the rest of the year. It was never specified as to what the specific injury was to his quad, so we can only infer that it was something that required him to be out a few weeks but not something substantial that required extended playing time off or surgery. All in all, considering the severity of the individual injuries, amount of time he’s had off from last season to this season, his injury history, age and the position he plays, he should not have any significant setbacks going into 2021. He’s a running back, so while each injury is relatively important to his role, the main one to keep an eye on as a potential problem child would for sure be the high ankle sprain. That being said, he should be ready to go by Week 1, back to putting up pre-injury numbers with virtually no time lost stemming from the aforementioned injuries. If we were to rate his potential injury risk on scale from 1 to 5, 1 being low injury risk with no performance impact and 5 being high injury risk with severe performance impact, I would rate him a 1 for the 2021 season.