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Offseason Injury Primer: Tight Ends

For the purposes of this article, we will focus on fantasy relevant tight ends who finished the 2018 season on injured reserve.

Greg Olsen – The veteran tight end is reportedly going to try to return for his 13th NFL season, and staying healthy on the field will be crucial for his success in 2019. Throughout his career, Olsen has been an iron man, playing in every single game of his career from 2008-2016. However, in 2017, Olsen suffered a Jones fracture (broken bone in the outside of the foot), and he hasn’t been the same ever since. Olsen has been in and out of the lineup off and on for the past two seasons after injuring and re-injuring his troublesome right foot, which is not uncommon for guys coming back from a surgery for the Jones fracture. This time around, however, Olsen should be much more reliable and healthy. Research shows that up to 20% of players who have the Jones fracture require a second procedure, as Olsen did. The difference this time around is that the surgery done requires a bone graft to enhance the strength of the bone, and the injury rates are much lower after the second surgery. Look for Olsen to be ready well ahead of training camp and be a full go for 2019.

Jake Butt – It’s been an injury riddled NFL career for Jake Butt after he entered the NFL the season after tearing his ACL during his final year at Michigan. Despite graduating from Michigan in 2016, Butt has only played in 3 career games and recorded 8 career receptions. He missed all of 2017 while recovering from his torn ACL in his right from his senior year of college and then tore the ACL in his left knee in late September during practice. Unfortunately, this is the reality for players – the risk for tearing the opposite ACL increases after surgery. By the time training camp rolls around, Butt will be ready to fully participate, but don’t be surprised to see him limited during OTAs this spring.

Jack Doyle – Doyle missed a lot of time in 2018, allowing Eric Ebron to have a breakout campaign as Andrew Luck’s top target at the TE position. He missed time due to a subluxation (partial dislocation) of his hip joint then returned late in the year. Upon returning, Doyle suffered a freak injury in Week 12 with a lacerated kidney. This injury is about as fluky as they come, so it really can’t be held against him when it comes to factoring his injury history. In terms of the hip, players can do very well when this injury is managed nonoperatively, and with an entire offseason to continue to get even stronger, Doyle will be good to go for training camp.

Geoff Swaim – Swaim was placed on injured reserve late in the year with a broken bone in his wrist that required surgery. He will be ready for the team’s offseason program and be healthy as training camp opens without limitation.

Will Dissly – Dissly came of out nowhere in 2018 and started the year off hot as Russell Wilson’s top TE, but his season came to an abrupt end in Week 4 when he tore the patellar tendon in his right knee. A torn patellar tendon is tough for guys in the NFL to come back from, and research shows that players are more likely than not to return to their prior level of play. With Dissly’s injury happening in late September and his surgery taking place in early October, Dissly may not be himself until halfway through the season. He is a candidate to start the year on the PUP list.

Cameron Brate – Brate didn’t miss any games in 2018, but news surfaced that Brate played all year with a torn labrum in his hip. The labrum is a tiny piece of fibrocartilage that lines the hip joint and helps to create stability in the ball and socket. The repair is done arthroscopically and typically requires about a 6 month recovery. With Brate having surgery in January, expect Brate to be limited this offseason, but he will be 100% by the time training camp is here this summer.

O.J. Howard – Brate’s teammate, O.J. Howard, was also sent to injured reserve in 2018 with a lower body injury after he was injured in Week 11. For Howard, he’s coming off right foot and ankle injuries that fortunately didn’t require surgery. Based off reports I’ve read and the mechanism of his injury, Howard’s injury is likely a high ankle sprain. This is the second season in a row that Howard has been sent to I.R. with an ankle injury, so moving forward, Howard is likely to experience recurring ankle issues throughout his NFL career.

Dec 11, 2016; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker (82) carries the ball as Denver Broncos safety T.J. Ward (43) defends during the first half at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Delanie Walker – Walker’s 2018 season ended as soon as it started. He was injured in Week 1, going down with a fracture-dislocation of his right ankle. With this injury, the surgery done includes both ligament repair and hardware to stabilize the broken bones, and it’s a long recovery. Fortunately for Walker, he will have almost an entire year to recover for an injury that typically takes 9 months to get back to full strength. I expect Walker to be able to start running in a straight line for the majority of the offseason, but he won’t be back to sharp cutting and pivoting until training camp. Regardless, Walker will be ready for Week 1.

Jonnu Smith – With Walker’s injury, Smith had a huge opportunity in 2018 to be the go to guy at TE for Marcus Mariota. However, his 2018 season came to an early close in early December when he suffered an MCL sprain. MCL injuries heal extremely well without surgery, and dynasty owners can be confident in his health this offseason and moving forward. He’ll be a full go this summer.

Jordan Reed – It was a surprisingly healthy season for the oft-injured Jordan Reed, but he ultimately was placed on injured reserve late in the year as more of a formality. After being injured in Week 14, there was no way he was getting back out on the field with the Redskins struggling to stay in the playoff race. For the past 2 years, Reed has been dealing with foot and toe injuries, which required surgery last offseason. Reed’s injury history is well documented, and the foot and toe injuries are likely to continue to hamper him for however long he lasts in the NFL. For 2019, he will likely again be limited during training camp but should ultimately enter Week 1 as a full participant.    

Tyler Eifert – Like Reed, Eifert has struggled to stay on the field throughout his NFL career, and 2018 was no different. Eifert was placed on injured reserve after Week 4 when he suffered a gruesome right ankle fracture-fracture dislocation, which required season ending surgery. His injury is comparable to Delanie Walker, so a similar recovery timeline is expected. He is reportedly already running, which is positive news, but like Walker, don’t expect him to start cutting or pivoting for a couple more months. If Eifert can land another contract, he will be out there Week 1. 

Austin Seferian-Jenkins – ASJ was sent to injured reserve in mid October with a core muscle injury, which required surgery. The “core muscle injury” is often a junk term and can describe any number of muscles in the lower abdomen, hip, or thigh, so it’s difficult to speak to the exact injury he is dealing with here. Regardless, he will have plenty of time to be ready for training camp as he recovers from surgery. As a free agent, Seferian-Jenkins will hope to find a new home in 2019 after Jacksonville declined his option for next season.

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