Saquon Barkley is set to return to the New York Giants for the 2021-22 NFL season after suffering a right anterior cruciate ligament tear last year. He underwent reconstructive right knee surgery on October 30th, 2020, to repair the ACL and a partially torn meniscus. Barkley is a vital piece of the Giant offense and essential to their running core, so his injury was a critical blow to the team.
Here is a little backstory about the injury and his rehab process: He suffered injuries to his right ACL, meniscus, and MCL, otherwise known as the unhappy triad, on September 20th, 2020, in week 2 of last season. He then went on the wait about a month before having the surgery. Why? Prehab.
Prehab is a personalized exercise regimen specifically tailored to avoid injury, decrease pain, and/or prepare for surgery. During prehab, Barkley worked to improve the strength of the right knee before the procedure, which would thereby help to accelerate and improve the rehabilitation and recovery after surgery. The more range of motion in the knee joint prior to the procedure, the better the prognosis. The lull in between injury and surgery also allowed his MCL to heal independently, and it also helped doctors repair his meniscus without the need for a more extensive procedure.
Now, athletes can return to play after an ACL repair after six months of rehabilitation, but recent research suggests that better outcomes and lower retear rates come from a return to play at nine months and beyond. It's in everyone's best interest in the Giants' decision room to hold Barkley off from return and not rush back into activity. Suffering an ACL tear makes one more susceptible to another tear down the line compared to healthy individuals who haven't had one, especially in the first year. If the ACL is properly rehabbed, studies show about 1 in 5 players go on to tear the same or opposite knee; this is something to keep an eye out for as the season progresses. The longer the player waits before coming back, however, the lower the chance of reinjury. One would think the team would be aware of this and would take the proper precautions. Luckily Barkley has time on his side, as he's a little over five months post-surgery, training camp starts in August, and the next season starts early September (about four months away).
The burning question on many minds is: will Saquon be at pre-injury level, which looked like him netting over 1000 rushing yards per season? History shows that an ACL tear is not the end of an athlete's career by any means. Research shows that over 80% of players who go through ACL-R successfully return to sport, producing at similar levels compared to uninjured players of the same level. On Barkley's side are his age (he's 24 years old), his injury history (this is his first ACL tear and knee injury ever), and time (he will have over nine months of rest time before the season starts). He will be ready by week 1 for sure, and I believe the team will put just as much stock in him as an RB1 and get him the number of touches he had before. If anything, they may be more conservative with his usage early on in the first few weeks and return him to similar performance levels after that. But that's a big if.
My verdict: He will perform at a similar level as last year at pre-injury in terms of usage and FPPG (fantasy points per game). His ADP has him hovering around pick 4 or 5 in redraft, so the football gods are still giving him the vote of confidence as well.