Some of you may call this an overreaction. Some of you want this to be an overreaction. The truth is Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham‘s career is in serious question after suffering a torn patellar tendon in Week 12 of the 2015 season.
The fact is, Graham would have been better off tearing his ACL. He would have been better off tearing his MCL. He would have been better off tearing both his ACL and MCL. Plenty of players over the last few seasons have come back from those injuries.
On December 26, 2011 Adrian Peterson tore both his ACL and MCL. Less than nine months later, he came back, ran for over 2,000 yards and won the league’s MVP award.
What you won’t find is an long list of players who have come back after tearing their patellar tendon. Instead, you’ll find a list of players whose careers virtually ended due to the injury.
Correll Buckhalter – In 2001, Buckhalter was a fourth-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles. Buckhalter suffered a torn ACL in 2002 but bounced back nicely the following season by averaging 4.3 yards per carry and accounting for nine total touchdowns. However, in 2004 and 2005 he tore the patellar tendon in his right knee in back-to-back seasons. Over the next five seasons, he would only average 80 carries and three touchdowns a year.
Buckhalter continued to play after the two patellar tendon injuries but was never the same player because he couldn’t regain the same type of explosiveness. The two longest runs of his career (64 yards in 2003 and 48 yards in 2001) both came before the patellar tendon injuries.
Carnell Williams – Back in 2005, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted a young running back out of Auburn by the name of Carnell “Cadillac” Williams. In his first season, he ran for 1,178 yards and won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
He had a down season in 2006 marred by back injuries but the real trouble came in 2007 when he tore his patellar tendon. Over the next four seasons, he would go on to carry the ball 373 times. That’s after he carried the ball 515 times in his first two seasons.
To Williams credit, he had a good 2009 season (832 rushing yards and 4 rushing touchdowns) despite tearing his right patellar tendon in December of 2008. Still, Williams was unable to ever regain form from his rookie season after the 2007 knee injury.
Gerald Mcrath – A fourth-round pick by the Tennessee Titans back in 2009, Mcrath played in 40 games over the first three seasons in the NFL and had 120 combined tackles. Before the start of the 2012 season, he had surgery on his knee after tearing his patellar tendon. After that, he did not play another down in the NFL.
Greg Childs – The onetime Arkansas Razorback was on his way to being to being one of the best wide receivers in the nation back in 2009. He finished his 2009 breakout season with 48 receptions, 894 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns. In 2010, he was on his way of breaking all his career highs but during the eighth game of the season, he suffered a torn patella tendon according to NFL.com.
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A season later, Childs only recorded 21 receptions for 240 yards at Arkansas.
He was drafted in the fourth-round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings but later that year, he suffered a torn patellar tendon in both of knees at the same time. The devastating injuries ended his professional career.
Victor Cruz – The former UDFA out of Massachusetts broke out in 2011 when he 82 receptions, 1,536 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns. Between 2011-2013 he averaged 80 receptions, 1,209 receiving yards and over 7 touchdowns.
Six games into the 2014 season, Cruz tore his patellar tendon in a game against the Philadelphia Eagles and he would go on to miss the rest of the season.
In 2015, he missed the entire season due to a calf injury. However, according to Jordan Raanan of NJ.com, the calf injury came as a direct result of “overcompensation after tearing the patellar tendon in his right knee the previous season.”
In a way, the torn patellar tendon has been directly responsible for causing Cruz to miss over 80% of the NFL regular season games over the last two seasons and it’ll be curious to see if he ever returns to pre-injury form.
Note – One key player not mentioned with the rest was was Virginia Tech/Arizona Cardinals RB Ryan Williams. That is because he suffered a ruptured patellar tendon and not a torn patellar tendon. A ruptured patellar tendon is a far more worse diagnosis.
Using History as a Predictor
Some of the players have come back and played in the NFL after a torn patellar tendon (Buckhalter, Williams) but were never the same player before the injury.
Re-injury is something most of these players experienced after their torn patellar tendon. In fact, Buckhalter, Williams and Childs all suffered another torn patellar tendon after their first one. Cruz suffered a torn fascia in his left calf and according to Todd Archer of ESPN, Williams was still experiencing swelling in his knee four years after he ruptured his patellar tendon in 2011.
Will Graham be lucky enough to gain the same type of speed and explosiveness that made him such a dangerous mismatch? It’s possible but not likely. Not to mention, he’ll most likely suffer some sort of lower-leg setback before being able to take the field. That is, if he takes the field.
Another crucial difference between Graham and every other player mentioned in the article is Graham was the oldest at the time of the injury. Graham was 29 years old when the injury happened and will turn 30 during the 2016 season.
At one point, Graham was arguably the best tight end in the NFL and was possibly on his way to a Hall of Fame career. Now, the odds are stacked against him in coming back like he was and in all likelihood, the Jimmy Graham we all watched in amazement over the last six years no longer exists.