Return to Play Rates in NFL Wide Receivers and Running Backs After ACL Reconstruction: An Updated Analysis

Aditya Manoharan, Dane Barton, Ansab Khwaja, L. Daniel Latt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) ruptures are potentially career-threatening injuries to National Football League (NFL) skill position players. A 2006 study showed a return-to-play (RTP) rate of 79% for NFL running backs (RBs) and wide receivers (WRs). Since then, a number of factors affecting RTP, including style of play as well as rules regarding hits to the head, have changed how defensive players tackle offensive ball carriers. Purpose/Hypothesis: To determine whether the RTP rate for RBs and WRs in the NFL has changed since data were collected in the 2000s. Additionally, we evaluated player performance before and after ACL reconstruction (ACLR). We hypothesized that there will be a lower RTP rate than previously reported as well as a decrease in performance statistics after ACLR. Study Design: Descriptive epidemiology study. Methods: Publicly available NFL injury reports between the 2009-2010 and 2015-2016 seasons were utilized for RBs and WRs who underwent ACLR. Successful RTP was indicated by playing in at least 1 NFL game after reconstruction. Position-specific performance statistics from before and after reconstruction were gathered for these players, and the RTP players were compared against the players who did not RTP (dnRTP group). Pre- and postinjury performance measures were also compared against a matched control group of NFL RBs and WRs who had not sustained an ACL injury. Results: Overall, 61.8% of players (64.5% of RBs, 60% of WRs) returned to play at a mean of 13.6 months. Prior to injury, the RTP group had played in significantly more career games and had significantly more rushes and receptions per game than the dnRTP group; however, there was no significant difference in performance after ACLR. The WR RTP group had significantly decreased performance in all measured categories when compared with the control group. Conclusion: Our study found a lower RTP rate in RBs and WRs than previous studies conducted in the early 2000s. WRs who achieved RTP had decreased performance when compared with noninjured controls.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalOrthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021


  • ACL
  • NFL
  • anterior cruciate ligament
  • football
  • knee ligaments
  • return to play

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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