Jeffrey Simmons, widely regarded as a top 15 pick, may be one of the best defensive tackles in the draft. Sadly, Simmons confirmed on his official Twitter account that he had “torn [his] left ACL when going over positional drills” and explained that everything happened for a reason.
Some people have started to compare the situation Simmons is in to the one former Michigan defensive tackle Maurice Hurst faced a year ago. Hurst watched as his stock plummeted from first round prospect to the fifth round pick after a chronic heart symptom was discovered during the Combine. To me, it is more likely that Simmons should be compared to former Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith in 2016, which saw a prospect who was likely to be drafted in the top 15-25 drop a round due to the fact that he suffered an injury that would require a prolonged amount of time to heal — including every likelihood that he would miss his rookie season.
It is somewhat fascinating what modern surgical methods are able to accomplish with ACL injuries. It wasn’t particularly long ago that these injuries were reasonably likely to end an athlete’s career. With this in mind, I performed research to determine the probability that Simmons will return to his dominant play after he recovers from injury. A study by the US National Library of Medicine speaks directly about to this issue, analyzing ACL injuries by offensive and defensive linemen between 1980 and 2015.
This report concluded that so long as a player makes a return to football and plays in at least one full game, there is a strong likelihood that they will return to previous form. According to the study:
“...defensive linemen who [returned], mostly returned the season after injury (88.9%). There was no difference between defensive linemen who [returned] after ACL reconstruction and matched controls in any performance metrics as an average over the remainder of their career (all P > .05). However, NFL defensive linemen who tore their ACL played fewer total seasons than matched controls (P = .020)”.
The study also states that of all the defensive linemen who complete ACL reconstruction, 65.9% return to play and of that group, 88.9% return the season right after the injury. This data, however, is somewhat skewed since the return rates where much lower in the 80s and 90s than they are present. Therefore, it can be assumed that return rates nowadays would be significantly higher.
Later in the study, the author addresses average production and statistics of the players before and after the injury. As it can be noted, the number of Pro Bowls played differed by 0.3, the number of sacks differed by 0.7, and the starts per season differed by 1.4.
Therefore, it is entirely reasonable to conclude that a player who returns from an ACL tear and successful corrective surgery is likely to play at or similar to pre-injury levels. It should be noted that these results reference a player’s abilities after reconstructive surgery. It does not speak to players who do not require reconstructive surgery and to this point, Simmons has not announced that successful surgery has been completed.
Simmons has announced plans for surgery to repair his ACL. If he goes that route, it will take at least 7 to 9 months to heal and perhaps a little longer to get back into playing shape. Worst case scenario, he’s unable to practice until November and it takes him some time to have any impact on the field. Ballard has consistently stated that he isn’t looking for “instant coffee” and that he wants to pile up around 3 drafts classes on top of each other. If the Colts are able to nab Simmons in the second round and Ballard and his staff are willing to look long term, it could go a long way to making 2019 another incredible draft haul.