2023 NFL Week 1 Injury Takeaways: Jack Conklin Key Loss for Browns

The SIS Injury Model predicts the likelihood of skill position (QB, RB, WR and TE) players to miss at least one game during the season. 

Out of the top 100, a staggering 41 of those players have already either suffered an offseason injury/surgery, were placed on injured reserve, were on their team’s Week 1 injury report or had to leave their Week 1 game in some capacity. 

Early Season Strains

Many of the injuries sustained were soft tissue muscle pulls and strains. Players are ramping up the intensity to true game speed for the first time in several months. Since 2018, including the playoffs, on-field injuries that get diagnosed as a strain are most common in Weeks 1-5.

Season Quarter Games Played Number of Strains Strains Per Game
Q1 (Weeks 1-5) 393 156 0.397
Q2 (Weeks 6-10) 350 111 0.317
Q3 (Weeks 11-15) 377 105 0.279
Q4 (Weeks 16-23) 252 42 0.167

We saw Packers RB Aaron Jones reach for his hamstring while scoring a 35-yard touchdown and Steelers WR Diontae Johnson do the same on a target in the third quarter. WR Mike Evans battled a groin injury a few weeks prior to playing in the Buccaneers’ Week 1 victory in Minnesota. All three of those players fell in the top 100 of the SIS Injury Model.

Underrated Player Lost To Injury in Week 1

While most players will bounce back from injuries that occurred this past weekend, it was hard to watch players like J.K. Dobbins and Aaron Rodgers leave with season-ending injuries.

That leads me to another player who will have to watch the rest of the season from the sideline, 2016 first-round pick and two-time All-Pro offensive tackle, the Cleveland BrownsJack Conklin.

Unfortunately for Conklin, he tore his ACL and MCL in the first half of the Browns’ dominating win against the Bengals. Thankfully, based on a past study, this injury has a 70.8 percent return to play rate.

Athletes with ACL and MCL tears have a higher return to play rate, a significantly shorter time to return to play, and a greater likelihood of returning to prior performance than athletes with ACL and PCL/LCL tears.

Chris Godwin and Joe Burrow are solid examples of players coming back from this injury to perform at a high level. On the flip side of that, Ryan Jensen, offensive lineman for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will miss his second consecutive regular season while still trying to recover from an ACL, MCL and PCL injury he suffered in training camp of 2022.

Jensen had this to say after being put on injured reserve before the season: “I put more work in this offseason than I probably have in my entire career, and it just wasn’t responding how I needed it to respond for me to go out there and play at a high level.”

While the chances Conklin can return to form in 2024 are high, the Browns will be without him for the remainder of the season. His injury won’t garner a lot of media buzz because he doesn’t accumulate fantasy points, score touchdowns or sack the quarterback; but the Browns will certainly feel the impact.

Conklin tore his patella tendon in 2021 and did not suit up for 10 games that season. Those 10 games provide a solid sample size to see how the offense performed with and without him. Baker Mayfield started 14 games at quarterback for the Browns. He had 146 pass attempts with Conklin on the field and 270 attempts with Conklin off the field. His completion percentage with Conklin on the field was 69 percent, compared to a woeful 56 percent when he was sidelined.

The offense had to operate differently as well. When Conklin was on the field, Cleveland threw deep on 16 percent of its pass plays, compared to only 10 percent when off. The opposing team’s pressure percentage jumped from 28 percent to 34 percent when Conklin was off the field. When Conklin was off the field, the Browns quarterbacks had less time to let longer plays develop and take deep shots down the field.

The biggest indicator of Conklin’s value for the Browns is shown in the expected points added per 60 plays (EPA per 60), which is roughly a game’s worth. Their passing offense was significantly worse when he wasn’t suited up.

Conklin on Field Conklin Off Field
EPA Per 60 +5 -6
EPA Per 60 (Passes) +6 -11

Fast forward to now, and it’s 2023 with Deshaun Watson under center. It will be intriguing to see how the offense performs with fourth-round rookie Dawand Jones manning right tackle and having to deal with T.J. Watt and company on prime time Monday night.

This story was authored by Brett Barnes

Study credit: Bakshi, N. Khan, M. Lee, S. Finney, F. Stotts, J. Sikka, R. Bedi, A. (2018) Return to Play After Multiligament Knee Injuries in National Football League Athletes. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach Journal, 10(6), 495-499.

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