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This article has been peer reviewed. It is the author’s final published version in Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine

Volume 5, Issue 9, September 2017

The published version is available at DOI: 10.1177/2325967117729334. Copyright © Yang et al.


BACKGROUND: Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries pose a significant risk to the careers of players in the National Football League (NFL). The relationships between draft round and position on return to play (RTP) among NFL players are not well understood, and the ability to return to preinjury performance levels remains unknown for most positions.

PURPOSE: To test for differences in RTP rates and changes in performance after an ACL injury by position and draft round. We hypothesized that skilled positions would return at a lower rate compared to unskilled positions. We further hypothesized that early draft-round status would relate to a greater rate of RTP and that skilled positions and a lower draft round would correlate with decreased performance for players who return to sport.

STUDY DESIGN: Case-control study; Level of evidence, 3.

METHODS: Utilizing a previously established database of publicly available information regarding ACL tears among NFL players, athletes with ACL tears occurring between the 2010 and 2013 seasons were identified. Generalized linear models and Kaplan-Meier time-to-event models were used to test the study hypotheses.

RESULTS: The overall RTP rate was 61.7%, with skilled players and unskilled players returning at rates of 64.1% and 60.4%, respectively (P = .74). Early draft-round players and unskilled late draft-round players had greater rates of RTP compared to skilled late draft-round players and both unskilled and skilled undrafted free agents (UDFAs). Skilled early draft-round players constituted the only cohort that played significantly fewer games after an injury. Unskilled UDFAs constituted the only cohort to show a significant increase in the number of games started and ratio of games started to games played, starting more games in which they played, after an injury.

CONCLUSION: Early draft-round and unskilled players were more likely to return compared to their later draft-round and skilled peers. Skilled early draft-round players, who displayed relatively high rates of RTP, constituted the only cohort to show a decline in performance. Unskilled UDFAs, who exhibited relatively low rates of RTP, constituted the only cohort to show an increase in performance. The significant effect of draft round and position type on RTP may be caused by a combination of differences in talent levels and in opportunities given to returning to play.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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