Fantasy football injury outlook for 2023

Jenna Watson-USA TODAY Sports

This NFL injury file will be updated for players whose status has changed in a significant fashion since the column originally published. The date of the latest update will appear in italics following the analysis for such players.

No NFL team escapes unscathed during a season when it comes to injuries, and 2022 was no different. There were 69 quarterbacks who made starts last season -- the San Francisco 49ers alone went through three different multiweek starters -- and numerous other skill-position players rotated in and out of NFL lineups. The injury carousel often left fantasy managers scrambling to find viable replacements each week. Thankfully, the offseason affords most players the time to recover and do it all over again; but not everyone's timetable matches up with the seasonal calendar. Among the players who were impacted by injury last season, here are the key names we've got our eyes on heading into the 2023 campaign.

Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts

Taylor struggled after injuring his right ankle early in the season, and a subsequent injury to the same ankle in Week 15 ended his season for good. In January, Taylor underwent an arthroscopic procedure on the ankle, later deeming it a "perfect success." It was a bit of a surprise when Taylor began training camp on the PUP list, but it is not entirely unusual for a team to bring a player back gradually during camp -- working individually before returning to the group setting.

This story took another turn, however, when it became clear there was a disconnect between Taylor and the team around contract issues, with Taylor reportedly requesting a trade. The Colts gave Taylor permission to seek a trade, but in the end no trade partner was found. The team then opted to keep Taylor on the PUP list to start the season, meaning he remains in Indianapolis but is unable to practice or play through the first four games of the season. (Updated Sept. 1)

Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams

Kupp was en route to yet another stellar season of being the Rams' biggest offensive weapon when he suffered a right high ankle sprain in Week 10 that was severe enough to require surgery. Kupp underwent a TightRope implant procedure with InternalBrace augmentation. The TightRope stabilizes the joint and restores normal alignment, while the InternalBrace provides reinforcement strength to the healing ligaments. The procedure has become more common in recent years, and the success rate of returning to prior level of performance is exceptionally high. Not only are these athletes successful upon return from this procedure, thus far it has proved to hold up well over time. Kupp proved in 2019 he could perform after sustaining a major injury when he returned the season following an ACL reconstruction and played in all 16 games.

When training camp opened, Kupp entered without restriction and appeared headed for smooth sailing to Week 1. Just days later, he pulled up short on a red zone route and exited practice with a hamstring strain. He underwent an MRI and while the results were not shared and the team did not offer a timetable, Adam Schefter reported Kupp could return "for scrimmages in a few weeks." The Rams were expected to be cautious in returning Kupp given the high rate of recurrence for hamstring strains. A seasoned veteran like Kupp who is well-versed in the offense and in lockstep with his quarterback does not need multiple preseason reps, allowing the Rams to be generous with his recovery time. Acclimation to football is warranted, however, and likely why the Rams sought to get him involved in scrimmage activity. Kupp returned to practice when the Rams joined the Broncos for joint practices in Week 3 of the preseason. He told reporters he was on track for Week 1 and there was no reason to doubt him.

That is, until Aug. 31 when coach Sean McVay told reporters that Kupp suffered a setback with his hamstring and is now considered day-to-day. Given the proximity to the start of the season, this latest news certainly puts Kupp's availability for Week 1 in question. McVay said a "return to performance" is key for Kupp and they will make sure they are "smart" in bringing him back. It's certainly sounding like the team will err on the side of caution when it comes to a return date with the more important goal of avoiding another setback. Still, this incident proves how challenging it is to mitigate the risk of a setback. That risk will remain during the season, but the longer Kupp stays healthy post-return, the further that risk should decline. (Updated Sept. 1)

Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals

After returning from a major knee injury (torn left ACL/MCL/PCL) that required a gradual progression through his 2021 training camp and a bout of acute appendicitis (requiring surgery and extended antibiotic treatment) that forced him out of the bulk of camp in 2022, Burrow had seemingly earned the right to have a smooth, uneventful training camp in 2023. Unfortunately, "uneventful" lasted approximately one day. Burrow, already wearing a compression sleeve on his right calf due to what coach Zac Taylor referred to as "soreness," scrambled out of the pocket. But several steps into accelerating to his right, he pulled up his right leg sharply, then hopped several steps on his left foot before going to the ground and reaching for his calf. Ultimately, Burrow was taken off the practice field on a cart and brought indoors for further evaluation.

A day later, Taylor told reporters Burrow's injury was a calf strain, noting he could miss "several weeks." Given that there were no further details offered regarding the MRI results or the actual degree of injury, we are left with little upon which to gauge just how long we should anticipate Burrow being sidelined. For more details on the spectrum of injury with a calf strain and its potential impact on Burrow's availability for the regular season, click here. Reading the tea leaves here, expect the Bengals to be cautious about returning Burrow too soon, especially when their hope is that his season will extend into February.

Since the original injury on July 27, Burrow returned for his first throwing session on Aug. 11. It was relatively unremarkable but it did mark a progression in Burrow's activity. Then, on Aug. 31, Burrow returned to practice for individual drills. Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan indicated Burrow would progress to more intensive team periods next week and says he is "in a good place," noting the team has a "good plan in place for him" to get ready for Week 1. It appears Burrow will be on the field when the season begins, provided there are no setbacks.(Updated Sept. 1)

Javonte Williams, RB, Denver Broncos

Williams went down in a heap in Week 4 with the knee injury all athletes dread -- a torn ACL. Unfortunately for Williams, the scope of his injury also included a torn lateral collateral ligament (LCL) and posterolateral corner damage, all of which translates to a multi-ligament injury rendering his right knee less stable and the recovery more complex. While the early words from Broncos management indicated Williams would be ready to start the season, the immediate signing of Samaje Perine in free agency suggested otherwise. Since then, there has been a bit of walking back on Williams' timeline to reflect the uncertainty of his status. After all, Williams is just 23 years old and early in his career, and it's better for him to be fully recovered before returning to action. Fantasy managers would no doubt agree.

And yet, Williams keeps pushing the envelope, surprising us all with his rapid functional progression. After entering camp off the PUP list, a move which could be viewed as something to allow him to engage in practice while still having his activity controlled, Williams indicated at the outset that he had been cleared for contact and he did indeed appear at the team's first padded practice. Still, the Broncos appeared to be managing his workload volume via restricted reps. The next progression was game action, which came in the Broncos' second preseason game. Williams had seven touches (three carries for 12 yards and four receptions for 18 yards) and emerged unscathed. The decision for him to see preseason action was an important one, as there is no other way to replicate game conditions. The Broncos clearly believe Williams is ready for game action when the season begins; the question now is how much volume he will be assigned and how will they progress him. Assuming Williams does open the season in uniform, it will come at just the 11-month mark since his injury, something the team does appear to still be mindful of, as offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi hinted at easing him back among the running back group. It appears the Broncos plan to have Williams available to begin the season, but the workload -- at least to start -- remains unclear. (Updated Sept. 1)

Breece Hall, RB, New York Jets

Hall was on track for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors with his early-season performance in 2022. Proving his effectiveness in both the running game and the passing game, Hall had more than 600 yards from scrimmage in just seven games played, before tearing his left ACL. Fortunately for Hall, he has youth and the limited wear and tear of half a professional season on his side, and he is reportedly making excellent progress in the offseason. Until he can put his skills on display -- which could happen during training camp -- there won't be proof that he is ready to start the season, but all signs thus far are pointing in that direction. Hall opened camp on the PUP list, but the Jets activated him on Aug. 15. On his first day of practice, he began with individual drills. Coach Robert Saleh maintains his confidence that Hall will be ready for Week 1 but, as ESPN's Rich Cimini notes, the Jets plan is to lean on the recently signed Dalvin Cook as the primary ball carrier early in the season. It is worth noting that regardless of when his season begins, there will likely be an acclimation period for Hall to get up to speed, both in terms of performance and volume of work. (Updated Aug. 18)

Tony Pollard, RB, Dallas Cowboys

Pollard looked like a player with something to prove last season, as he burst up the field with an explosiveness and agility not recently seen by this team on such a consistent basis. By amassing 1,007 yards on the ground on 5.2 yards per carry, Pollard set himself up for a big payday -- until he suffered a severe left high ankle sprain and fibula fracture in the Cowboys' divisional round loss to the 49ers. He underwent a TightRope procedure in January to stabilize the ankle and was promptly franchise-tagged by his team. Pollard participated in portions of OTAs and indicated he would be ready to fully practice by the time the Cowboys report to training camp. True to his word, Pollard began camp without restrictions, although his reps in certain team drills were limited. He quickly demonstrated he could handle the work and responded well to practice, showing his agility in team drills in both passing and running plays. There is no doubt that Pollard will begin the season on time and his acclimation to football through camp suggests he should pick up where he left off pre-injury. The only real question for fantasy managers is what Pollard's volume post-Zeke will look like. The Cowboys didn't add any running backs in free agency, choosing to rely on their in-house group of Rico Dowdle, Deuce Vaughn and Ronald Jones. Jones is suspended for the first two games of the season, so it will be on Dowdle and Vaughn to spell Pollard as the team sees fit. (Updated Sept. 1)

Kyle Pitts, TE, Atlanta Falcons

Pitts is an undeniable talent, but his utilization was disappointing for fantasy managers who were looking for big things in his second season. Just when it appeared he might be turning a corner in that regard, Pitts suffered a torn right MCL that required surgery, and his season came to a halt. The Falcons hope he will be ready to go when the 2023 campaign begins, but it's worth noting Pitts did not participate in any offseason workouts, including June minicamp. Given the procedure he underwent, it was a bit surprising to see him held out entirely. Atlanta coach Arthur Smith said at the time he expected "everybody" to be ready for the season opener, but he didn't offer much in the way of specifics regarding a timeline for Pitts. Even if Pitts participates in camp, and the ramp-up is gradual and he sees limited or no preseason game action, his return to prior level of performance might be a longer road back than simply his return to play. The Falcons added depth at the tight end position, which could be viewed as either insurance or luxury. Training camp might be the proving ground for Pitts in his recovery.

J.K. Dobbins, RB, Baltimore Ravens

Dobbins opened training camp on the PUP list, a bit of a surprise given there were no specific injury issues cited. It's worth noting he did not participate in June minicamp, despite being present at the team facility. When asked about reports of a soft tissue injury, Dobbins declined to comment but did express frustration with his contract situation.

Last year, Dobbins was delayed to start the season following surgery to reconstruct his ACL and repair damage to his LCL, meniscus and hamstring. When he did return in Week 3, he struggled with stiffness and ultimately underwent another surgery to address scar tissue in his reconstructed knee, missing Weeks 7 through 13 to recover. Dobbins actually showed flashes of his pre-injury self in the latter weeks of the 2022 season and looked to be finally moving forward post-surgery ... making his absence in the early part of camp -- and his placement on the PUP -- a bit puzzling. It no longer matters, however, as Dobbins was activated on Aug. 14 and returned to practice the same day. Coach John Harbaugh said Dobbins looked good and is fully healthy, but acknowledged the Ravens will ramp up his activity and "be smart" about how they do it. (Updated Aug. 18)

Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals

Through his first four seasons in the league, Murray has displayed his physicality on the field as a true dual-threat quarterback. Now he will have to prove that he can be the player he was prior to tearing the ACL in his right knee. The injury came late in the 2022 campaign (Week 14), and Murray did not have surgery until January. While Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill expressed optimism in February that Murray could return before midseason, he also noted there should be no definitive timeline. The complex work for a mobile quarterback returning from this injury involves more than just being able to run and throw. He has to be comfortable as an every-down target of defenses knowing he can depend on his knee for escapability, yet still have confidence his knee will survive the inevitable sacks. That component takes time and might be the biggest factor in dictating when Murray will indeed be ready to return to action. The Cardinals decided to keep him on the PUP list to begin the season, which means he is ineligible to practice or play through the first four games. While this move comes as no real surprise given the recency of his ACL surgery, it confirms he is out until at least October. (Updated Sept. 1)

Jaylen Waddle, WR, Miami Dolphins

Waddle exited a joint practice with the Falcons on Aug. 9 with what was later described as an injury to his midsection. Waddle was down on the field briefly, but walked to the locker room holding his side, escorted by members of the medical staff. Head coach Mike McDaniel told reporters Waddle was "fine" and indicated the injury was not serious. Ultimately, it was described as an abdominal injury, but Waddle has been able to return to limited practice. For his part, Waddle says he is feeling better and he expects to be available to start the season. (Updated Sept. 1)

Brock Purdy, QB, San Francisco 49ers

Purdy tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing arm (right) in the NFC Championship Game and underwent a surgical repair with InternalBrace augmentation. He has progressed well through rehab and his return-to-throwing program. Purdy upgraded to a regular practice workload and then appeared in the Niners' final preseason game, looking sharp and even running for a touchdown. He begins the season as the team's starting quarterback and with the departure of Trey Lance, Sam Darnold is Purdy's backup. (Updated Sept. 1)

Trey Lance, QB, Cowboys

The 49ers had more than one quarterback injury in 2022 -- and Lance's was the first of the season. After playing the opener in a Chicago monsoon, Lance went 15 snaps in Week 2 before suffering a right ankle fracture that required surgery. The good news is that he appears to be fully recovered; the unknown is just what the future holds for him, as he was traded to the Cowboys for a fourth-round pick in late August. (Updated Sept. 1)

Zach Ertz, TE, Cardinals

Ertz had a career resurgence of sorts when he joined the Cardinals, but his first full season with the team was derailed when he tore his left ACL and MCL in November. Early this year, Ertz set his goal at being ready when the season begins, but the tight end also said he would not put the team at risk by trying to return too early. Ertz showed enough progress through camp that he was removed from the PUP list. This does not necessarily mean he will be ready for Week 1 and Trey McBride may handle the larger role. (Updated Sept. 1)

Keenan Allen, WR, Los Angeles Chargers

In 2022, Allen was a case study in how difficult it can be for a hamstring injury to fully resolve during a season. He initially strained his left hamstring in Week 1. He sat out until Week 7 then promptly aggravated the injury, and he didn't return until Week 11. Allen played the remainder of the campaign -- and after the offseason, he comes in healthy for 2023. Yes, there is an increased risk for hamstring injury after suffering a significant strain, but considering Allen missed only two games in the five seasons prior to last year, his health history is among the best at the position.

Justin Herbert, QB, Chargers

Herbert dealt with significant injuries last season -- including fractured rib cartilage -- but managed to play in every game, despite struggling at times. The cartilage has had time to heal, and Herbert had the labrum in his non-throwing shoulder (left) repaired in January. He should have no limitations in training camp.

Zack Moss, RB, Colts: With Jonathan Taylor out for at least the first four games of the season, Moss would've been next in line to lead the Colts' backfield. However, Moss broke his arm in practice on July 31. He is expected to be out approximately six weeks -- which is when the Colts play their first game -- but as of Sept. 1 Moss is still not practicing. (Updated Sept. 1)