2021 NFL Preseason Injury Analysis: Licensed PT Breaks Down Biggest Health Questions

Week 1 of the NFL season is just over a month away, with fantasy football drafts and betting odds heating up to add extra intrigue to every game. Already, some injuries could alter betting odds or derail a fantasy football championship if you don’t have the right information.

Below are injury breakdowns and analyses of several players of concern heading into the season to help you avoid any pitfalls or capitalize on uncertainty to win your bets and leagues!


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2021 NFL Preseason Injury Analysis

Carson Wentz, QB/Quenton Nelson, OG, Indianapolis Colts

Foot surgery

Preseason for the Colts has gotten off to a rough start with the back-to-back injuries to both Carson Wentz and Quenton Nelson with “virtually identical” injuries. Wentz’s injury was the result of a routine rollout in practice where he felt a twinge in his left foot. It was later reported that this was due to a high school injury from 10+ years ago.

An example of sesamoid bones within the foot. Credit: Evergreenfootankle.com

Nelson’s injury was described as a developmental anomaly and aggravated when his foot was stepped on in practice. Both will require surgery to remove a piece of bone with return-to-play timelines of 5-to-12 weeks. This leaves open the possibility of a Week 1 return.

It is not clear which procedure each player will have, as I suspect Wentz had a sesamoidectomy and Nelson may have had an accessory navicular removed, also known as the Kidner procedure.

Carson Wentz/Quenton Nelson Injury News: Fantasy Football & Betting Analysis

Looking at a return timeline, I believe that Nelson will return sooner than Wentz, with a return no later than Week 3 against the Tennessee Titans, though very possible to return for Week 1. Nelson’s status could affect the production of Jonathan Taylor, an expected first-round fantasy selection.

As for Wentz, I expect a return closer to Week 5 against the Baltimore Ravens. Wentz’s ADP at FantasyPros is currently 157.8, making him a late-round flier in your draft at best or a waiver wire pickup for bye weeks.

Unless the Colts somehow get off to a hot start under Jacob Eason, don’t waste your money betting them to win the AFC South, currently at +190 according to BetMGM.

Indianapolis Colts To Not Win AFC South

prop bet

+190

Indianapolis Colts To Not Win AFC South (2021 NFL Season)

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DeVonta Smith, WR, Philadelphia Eagles

MCL Sprain

The reigning Heisman Trophy winner suffered a setback in his NFL development, sustaining an MCL sprain early in training camp. This ligament runs on the inside portion of the knee and provides medial stability when cutting and running, preventing the knee from buckling inward.

This is a highly common injury, especially in training camp, and should not cause worry long term. He is reported to be out 2-to-3 weeks, but this is an injury that takes closer to 4-to-6 weeks to fully recover. Fortunately, there are no long-term concerns once DeVonta Smith returns and he should be ready for Week 1.

DeVonta Smith Injury News: Fantasy Football & Betting Analysis

Smith is currently at an ADP of 81.3 according to FantasyPros, putting him in the 6th round. He is a player that could fall in your draft and have a slow start to the season as he gets re-acclimated to the offense. Unfortunately, Smith’s presence will not change the Eagles’ chances of winning the NFC East, currently at +500 according to BetMGM. Avoid picking Philly to win the division.

Philadelphia Phillies To Not Win NFC East

prop bet

+500

Philadelphia Eagles To Not Win NFC East (2021 NFL Season)

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Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals

Left ACL tear

The Bengals franchise signal-caller continues to work back from his devastating left knee injury that included tears to his ACL and MCL along with partial tears to his PCL and meniscus. Joe Burrow continues to be on track for Week 1, though there appear to be reservations regarding his training camp performance. Burrow has come out and admitted his struggles as a “mental thing.” Coming back from this injury requires a lot of confidence, especially due to the direct contact he suffered to the knee in the pocket.

Quarterbacks can and do return well following these injuries, but it is not immediate. As of Week 1, Burrow will be 9 months removed from surgery. He likely won’t feel like his normal self until 2022, but he may begin to show flashes of normalcy in November and December. 

Joe Burrow Injury News: Fantasy Football & Betting Analysis

Burrow’s current ADP is 84.8 according to FantasyPros and should still be selected accordingly in drafts. He will play Week 1 and still be able to perform, but it may be more matchup-dependent through the season. I’d hesitate to make him QB1 in your drafts. 

Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants

Right ACL tear

Like Burrow, Saquon Barkley is coming off an ACL injury that also injured his MCL and meniscus. The Giants have expressed the preference to bring him along conservatively.

While he is still an elite talent, I don’t believe that he will be the bell cow back he once was in 2021. I expect him to return to form over time going into next year but I am concerned about his availability all season if he deals with hamstring or groin strains, commonly associated with an ACL reconstruction. I also believe that he will initially lack that burst that he once had.

Saquon Barkley Injury News: Fantasy Football & Betting Analysis

Barkley is still very much worth rostering but don’t reach for him in drafts. If he falls to you, get him but make sure you have a solid RB2 and RB3 as insurance. There are reports that he may not return until Week 3. This doesn’t surprise me at all, as the Giants would want to protect their top assets. However, he was activated off the PUP list on August 9th, which gives me confidence he suits up and is ready Week 1. 

Betting-wise, Barkley’s return, plus the added offensive weapons still don’t move the needle to bet the Giants to win the division. However, Barkley is a great candidate to win the Comeback Player of the Year Award if he’s able to return to his former self. 

Saquon Barkley To Win Comeback Player Of The Year Award

prop bet

+700

Saquon Barkley To Win Comeback Player Of The Year Award (2021 NFL Season)

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Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys

Right lattismus dorsi strain

Dak Prescott is currently sidelined with a latissimus dorsi strain in his throwing shoulder. He says it’s due to not warming up properly, as other reasons could include that his throwing mechanics were altered from the ankle injury, forcing him to overuse his arm to push the ball down the field. 

Example of the Latissimus Dorsi anatomy. Credit: dr.ahmadsportsmedicine.com

Whatever the cause, this is not an injury the Cowboys want him to rush back from. The latissimus dorsi assists with a variety of shoulder motions, including internal rotation and extension, both important for generating force in throwing the football, especially deep. 

Dak Prescott Injury News: Fantasy Football & Betting Analysis

Don’t hesitate to go grab Dak in fantasy. Barring any setbacks with his shoulder, he should be fully healthy for Week 1. He may be limited in his running coming off his ankle injury last year, but I expect that only for the first few weeks. Dallas is an excellent bet to take to win the NFC East at +130. They have the talent to do so, they just need the health. 

Dallas Cowboys To Win NFC East

prop bet

+130

Dallas Cowboys To Win NFC East (2021 NFL Season)

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Amari Cooper, WR, Dallas Cowboys

Right ankle injury

Amari Cooper is a mystery. He had what was termed an ankle cleanup in January and he is still not fully healthy. He has dealt with plantar fasciitis in the past but even if he still was, that wouldn’t hold him back from practicing to this extent. Even without a lot of information, I’d expect that he is ready for Week 1.

Amari Cooper Injury News: Fantasy Football & Betting Analysis

Cooper’s ADP is currently 48.3 at FantasyPros, which puts him back at the end of the 4th round. However, if he shows no ill effects of his injury in preseason games, I would expect his stock to increase. He is a wait-and-see approach, but don’t be scared off by the injury based on the current information available.

Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints

Left ankle surgery

Suffering a left high-ankle sprain early last season, Michael Thomas continued to play through the injury in hopes of delivering QB Drew Brees one last playoff run before he retired. While the gesture was noble, this injury robbed Thomas of any substantial production. 

Regrettably, Thomas delayed having surgery to correct the deltoid ligament, the strong band of tissue that stabilizes the medial ankle. New reports indicated that Thomas didn’t communicate with the Saints for three months while he rehabilitated, ultimately putting them in this predicament. Thomas is not expected to return to the active roster until at least Week 8 and may still not be 100 percent even then.

Michael Thomas Injury News: Fantasy Football & Betting Analysis

Thomas’ current ADP is 50.8, according to FantasyPros, though I believe that is still too high for what his availability will be for this season. He could be a great stash and play for the second half of the season but do not chase him in your draft. He is likely to frustrate you from a fantasy perspective, and there are much safer picks around him, including Mike Evans, D.J. Moore, and even Diontae Johnson.

Unless the Tampa Bay Buccaneers start slow, which would allow New Orleans to keep pace, it will be difficult to challenge for the division. I like them for a playoff spot, but they will need excellent second-half play from Thomas to make that happen.

New Orleans Saints To Make The Playoffs

prop bet

+100

New Orleans Saints To Make Playoffs (2021 NFL Season)

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Justin Jefferson, WR, Minnesota Vikings

Left AC joint sprain

The second-year wideout went down hard in practice directly on his left shoulder Friday following a catch. Justin Jefferson was observed rolling on the ground in obvious discomfort and was assisted in walking off the field. It was quickly reported that he suffered an AC joint sprain but that it was not serious.

Example of AC joint sprain grade severities. Credit: Orthogate.org

An AC joint sprain is where the clavicle and acromion of the scapula connect to provide stability for shoulder movement. These are unfortunately quite common in football, but don’t keep players out for long with return-to-play noted on average in just under ten days. 

Justin Jefferson Injury News: Fantasy Football & Betting Analysis

Jefferson may miss a significant portion of the preseason as he recovers, but don’t be alarmed. By Week 1, he should be near 100 percent healthy, allowing him to build off his explosive rookie season. I am also not concerned about his chance for re-injury. FantasyPros has Jefferson at 22.8 for his ADP, so don’t be afraid to grab him early.


Kyle Trimble is a licensed physical therapist who also works as an injury spotter for Dr. David Chao. Kyle has extensive experience in outpatient orthopedics, skilled nursing, acute care hospital, and home care. He’s also a member of Bills Mafia and runs the website Banged Up Bills.

Disclaimer from Kyle: My opinions are my own. Any thoughts I have on the injuries are based on media reports, my knowledge of the injury, and speculation based on the information currently available including video and print media. This information is subject to change based on the information released by the team.

After reading Kyle’s 2021 NFL Preseason Injury Analysis: Licensed PT Breaks Down Biggest Health Questions, get more NFL betting and fantasy football tips:

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