As NFL free agency quickly approaches, one of the hottest names on the market is Alshon Jeffery. When healthy, he’s one of the most athletic and dominating wide-outs in the game and will certainly demand top dollar on the open market. He’s been linked to teams such as the Eagles, Titans, and 49ers and may have a shot at re-signing with the Bears. Jeffery’s landing spot will be huge for his long-term dynasty value, but it’s not my biggest concern in owning Alshon. If you’ve ever owned him, you know how frustrating it can be to log in every week to set your lineup and see that tiny little ‘Q’ next to his name. Labeled as one of the more injury prone guys in fantasy, I’m here to tell you sell Alshon before it’s too late…but not just yet.
Let’s start with looking at Jeffery’s injury history. In 2012, he missed 6 total games – 1 due to a torn meniscus, 4 due to a fracture in his hand, and 1 due to a hamstring injury. In 2013 and 2014, Alshon burst onto the dynasty scene and had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons while playing in all 16 games. However, he tweaked his hammy in week 1 of the 2014 season, and while he was able to suit up for week 2, he was limited to just 3 catches for 47 yards. In 2015, Alshon played in just 9 games and was hampered by hamstring issues and a calf injury all season. Finally, in 2016, Jeffery missed 4 games due to his PED suspension but managed to stay relatively healthy throughout the season. You may have noticed by now, but there seems to be a common theme in Jeffery’s history – the dreaded hamstring strain.
As a physical therapist, I see hamstring “pulls” or strains in my clinic all the time. We all know that the hamstring muscle is located in the back of the thigh, but I thought I’d shed some light on some relevant anatomy, the mechanism of injury, and what rehabilitation for this injury looks like. The hamstrings are a muscle group made up of 3 different muscles. They attach by a long, broad tendon to the bottom of your “sit bones” (the one you can feel if lean to the side in your chair and feel at the bottom of your buttocks) and run down the back of the thigh to either the middle or outer part of the knee. Collectively, this muscle group allows you to bend your knee and extend your hip. In athletes who do a lot of sprinting, such as NFL WR’s, the main job of the hamstrings is to help control the forward motion of the femur, or thigh bone, as the leg swings forward to place the foot on the ground. This motion puts a lot of rapid and repeated stretch on the hamstrings, and when done too quickly and too forcefully, can lead to an injury of the muscle, its tendons, or both. Rehab for hamstring strains typically involves a relative rest period of a few days to a few weeks depending on the severity of the injury. Initially, pain-control methods are used in conjunction with light range of motion and stretching exercises. Next, in the recovery, rehab will focus on strengthening the hamstrings, hips, and quadriceps, and when the athlete is making progress, rehab will progress to agility drills, plyometric exercises, and eventually sport-specific activities. When an NFL player pulls their hamstring, they only have a week (or sometimes less if they play on Thursday the following week or played on Monday night the previous week) to return to the field, and in my opinion, this model of accelerated, time-dependent rehab is setting these athletes up for repeated hamstring injuries.
Research shows that athletes with chronic hamstring strains are at a greater risk for subsequent hamstring injuries. A study looked at a 10-year span among NFL players (1998-2007) and investigated the most common injuries. Second on that list during that time period were hamstring strains. The average number of days lost to this injury ranges from 8-25, depending on the severity of the strain. A bigger concern is that 1/3 of hamstring injuries will recur with the greatest risk during the initial 2 weeks following the athlete’s return to the field. In fact, over the course of the season, the athlete has a 31% chance of re-injuring the hamstring if he injures the hamstring earlier on in the season. What does this mean for Alshon? To put it simply, if Alshon tweaks his hammy in week 1 of the 2017 season, there’s at about a 1 in 3 chance it will happen again in a few weeks. Sound familiar? Given Jeffery’s history of chronic hamstring strains, I’d say that chance is even greater.
Now, what does all this mean if you own Alshon Jeffery, and what should you do with him? Alshon’s name still carries a ton of weight in the dynasty community, and there’s still a lot of believers out there. If one exists in your league, I recommend selling Alshon while he is in his prime (just 27 years old) and getting max value in return – but don’t do this yet. Let free agency shake out, and let the hype build over the offseason. As soon as Alshon goes off for a big game in the first couple of weeks of the 2017 season, sell like crazy and let his lingering soft tissue injuries be someone else’s problem. Like the saying goes, “History repeats itself,” and the medical field is no different. The strongest predictor of injury is previous injury.
- Freely et al. Epidemiology of National Football League training camp injuries from 1998 to 2007. American Journal of Sports Medicine. 2008; 36: 1597-1603.
- Heiderscheit et al. Hamstring Strain Injuries: Recommendations for Diagnosis, Rehabilitation, and Injury Prevention. Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy. 2010; 40: 67-81.
- Liu et al. Injury rate, mechanism, and risk factors of hamstring strain injuries in sports: A review of the literature. Journal of Sport and Health Science. 2012. 1; 92-101.
- *statistics and injury history obtained from ESPN and Pro Football Reference