One of the most serious injuries in football is the torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament, or ACL. A complete tear of this knee ligament usually means that an average person would spend 12 months or so in rehab, but professional athletes can return quicker than that.
The Packers lost wide receiver Jordy Nelson for the entire 2015 season when he suffered an ACL tear during the team’s second preseason game in Pittsburgh. Nelson appears to be well on schedule to be a full participant in training camp this summer, and famously said this June that he would have been healthy enough to play in a game even though the team kept him out of full work during OTAs and Minicamp.
Now, let’s imagine a scenario in which Nelson only missed six weeks after having his ACL repaired. Is that crazy? Apparently not, considering advances in medicine that are being pursued by the NFL Player’s Association and their partners:
#NFLPA George Atallah: There's medical research starting & one of our guys is looking at reducing ACL recovery time to 4-6 weeks— SiriusXM NFL Radio (@SiriusXMNFL) July 8, 2016
What would the Packers’ offense and 2015 season have looked like if Nelson were able to return after six weeks? Well, that would put him back around the Packers’ week four game in San Francisco. This is actually an ideal situation, since the 49ers were the first team to effectively shut down the Packers’ offense - Green Bay scored at least 27 points in each of their first three games, but put up just 17 in San Francisco and was held under 20 in five games later on in the season.
With Nelson back, perhaps the 49ers would not have been so willing to challenge the Packers’ receivers with press-man coverage and a single-high safety alignment. If they didn’t have success with that, it is likely that other teams would not have tried the same blueprint and been so successful at it. And that in turn would have allowed the Packers’ other receivers to get open more regularly. You can feel confident that even a limited Nelson would have helped the Packers to win at least another one or two games in the second half of the year, which would likely have earned them an NFC North title and made them a much tougher out in the playoffs.
After all, the team wouldn’t have been down to just James Jones, Jared Abbrederis, and Jeff Janis against Arizona in the Divisional round, and with Nelson added to the mix they would have had a better shot at moving on.
It’s crazy to think about players returning from these injuries in just a matter of a few weeks, but modern medicine is getting pretty ridiculous. It’s just too bad for the 2015 Packers that the future had not arrived yet last August.