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Marquee players on both sides of the line of scrimmage have seemingly defied the odds. Fantasy gamers relied upon running backs, linebackers, and pass rushers lost to catastrophic injuries in the 2022 season. A remarkable number of them returned to play by Week 1 of 2023. Denver's Javonte Williams, New York's Breece Hall, Seattle's Jordyn Brooks, Green Bay's Rashan Gary, and Tennessee's Harold Landry III all slid down draft boards over concerns about effectiveness and reinjury in 2023.
Early Returns on 2022 Injuries
Jordyn Brooks underwent ACL reconstruction in January, the latest of the group. He played 52 snaps fewer than eight months after his surgery, 64 percent of the defense's total. He's averaged 83% of snaps since then, similar to his playing time in 2021, when he last played alongside Bobby Wagner.
In contrast, Breece Hall's workload has gradually increased throughout the early season. He played 17 snaps in the opener and eclipsed 40 for the first time in Week 6. Javonte Williams, who arguably suffered the worst injury, has yet to play more than 30 snaps in a game.
Rashan Gary is paralleling Hall's trajectory, gradually increasing his workload through six weeks. He played just 12 snaps in the opener (16% of the Packers' defensive snaps) and 30 (47%) in Week 6. He has yet to reach his regular 2022 snap share. He never played fewer than 61% of his unit's snaps until he tore an ACL in Week 9.
Harold Landry III suffered his ACL tear earlier than most, just a few days before the 2022 season opener. He resumed his normal workload early in 2023 with fifty-something snaps in each of the first two weeks. He hasn't played that many since, as his play has not met his pre-injury standards. He also missed much of the Titans' summer program as he worked his way back.
Shaquille Leonard has perhaps been the biggest disappointment of the marquee players returning from injury. He has settled into the Colts' LB2 role, averaging about 80% of snaps when healthy. He's making tackles on 10% of his snaps, among the lowest rates in the league. His caliber of play has simply not met his pre-injury form, an observation supported by his Pro Football Focus grade of 59.0 for the season to date.
Leonard sits a distant 63rd in fantasy points among linebackers. Brooks is 22nd. Both are playing similar shares of their teams' snaps, so effectiveness upon return from injury has been remarkably disparate.
Through six weeks, both aforementioned pass rushers rank in the seventies for fantasy points. While Landry's problem has in part been effectiveness, Gary just hasn't had enough opportunities to stat. Landry hasn't pressured opposing quarterbacks at high rates in 2023; however, he has always been a good rather than great player, reliant on volume for production. Gary continues to grade among the league's top pass rushers by Pro Football Focus, but coaches acknowledge they're limiting his reps.
With reduced workloads, both pass rushers are liabilities in fantasy gamers' line-ups. Neither player appears on injury reports, so fantasy gamers must hope the Titans' and Packers' coaches unleash their star defenders. Gary's workload growth is on a trajectory to a pre-injury level workload by midseason. At that point, he'll be twelve months removed from his ACL tear. He's, therefore, the better bet than Landry to resume pre-injury production.
#Packers Rashan Gary has a QB pressure rating of 21.2%(Ranked 2nd)— NFL Highs (@frito_paw) October 19, 2023
He’s playing at an elite level, what a comeback for him #GoPackGo #thursdaymorning
Unrestricted free agency offered NFL teams sparse options to bolster their pass rush off the edge for 2023. Several teams awarded multi-year contracts of $20 million or more to journeymen. The Titans were among them, signing Arden Key on a three-year deal. Key's workload has increased at Landry's expense. Landry, whose contract is worth twice that of Key's, played one fewer snap in Week 6. Titans' coaches suggested for years that Landry was playing too many snaps. Arden might be the key to a rebalanced rotation.
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