Buy or Sell the Biggest NFL Stars Returning from Injury in 2022 | News, Scores, Highlights, Stats & Rumors

0 out of 7

    Derrick Henry | Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Each season, the return of injured stars is one of the most anticipated parts of the NFL’s opening week.

    Running backs Christian McCaffrey and Derrick Henry headed the pack in 2022. Quarterback Jameis Winston and wide receivers Chris Godwin and Michael Thomas are among the other big names taking a step back onto the field.

    But will these players regain their old form?

    The players have missed at least eight games in 2021 or are returning from a serious injury that sidelined them for most of the off-season.

1 of 7

    Sean Gardner/Getty Images

    Jameis Winston looked like a different player in 2021.

    During his stint as a starter for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — and even in college at Florida State — he was a prolific reckless quarterback. Winston averaged 3,947.4 yards, 24.2 touchdowns and 17.6 interceptions in his five seasons with Tampa.

    Last year, however, he threw just three picks in 161 attempts. Winston helped the New Orleans Saints start 4-2, throwing fairly efficiently for 1,114 yards and 13 touchdowns. But in the seventh game, a torn left ACL ended his season.

    Longtime Saints head coach and attacking player Sean Payton has retired, so on the face of it there are legitimate concerns about what will happen next. However, the offense is in the capable hands of coordinator Pete Carmichael. He has held the role since 2009 and has been the occasional main play-caller.

    It’s not controversial to say that Payton is a major starting point, but what the Saints lose on the headset they have made up for with first round receiver Chris Olave and the free agent signing Jarvis Landry.

    Winston won’t be an All-Pro, but he’s a solid QB1 who should avoid a risky passing game and keep New Orleans in the playoff race.

    Verdict: buy

2 of 7

    John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Context matters.

    Do we expect Christian McCaffrey to carry a huge workload and propel the Carolina Panthers into the postseason? No, because that is an incorrect expectation.

    However, he has been one of the NFL’s most prolific fullbacks. McCaffrey hit the 1,000-yard mark as both runner and receiver in 2019, the most recent healthy season of his career. He missed 13 games in 2020 and 10 games last season due to various injuries.

    Can the Stanford product become a superstar again? Doubtless.

    This off-season, the Panthers have significantly improved their offensive line. Carolina added center Bradley Bozeman and right guard Austin Corbett in free agency, also using a first round pick on left tackle Ikem Ekwonu

    McCaffrey, as long as he’s healthy, will be a hugely valuable player — and a fantasy football star.

    Verdict: buy

3 of 7

    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    After leading the NFL in carries, yards and touchdowns in both 2019 and 2020, Derrick Henry headed that way until a foot injury sidelined him in 2021.

    On the plus side, Henry recovered from the Jones break in time to appear in the postseason against the Cincinnati Bengals. In that game, however, he collected only 62 yards on 20 carries. Tennessee dropped the game 19-16.

    This offseason, the Titans had to replace left guard Rodger Saffold and right tackle David Quessenberry. Neither was a star, but they were decent run-blockers.

    Henry probably won’t flirt with another 2000m season, but his volume is unmatched in today’s competition. And his absence in 2021 made it clear that quarterback Ryan Tannehill needs a prolific run to succeed, so Tennessee will continue to lean on Henry.

    While it seems sensible to temper expectations for the Titans in general, Henry should once again be a great player.

    Verdict: buy

4 of 7

    Cooper Neill/Getty Images

    During the first four seasons of his career, Michael Thomas averaged 117.5 catches for 1,378.0 yards. He peaked in 2019, setting an NFL record with 149 receptions and winning the Offensive Player of the Year.

    However, he has struggled ever since. An ankle injury limited him to seven appearances in 2020, and Thomas missed the entire 2021 campaign after ankle surgery and a setback in his recovery.

    Thomas has a high high bar to meet.

    Don’t confuse a sale with the idea that it won’t be effective. Thomas should still be a key receiver for Winston, and a 1000m season is a fairly high-end projection.

    But a drop in his target stock is expected, especially now that Drew Brees doesn’t throw the ball. In addition, New Orleans became a more running-oriented offense last season without the Hall of Famer. The most prolific version of Thomas is probably in the past.

    Verdict: sell

5 of 7

    Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Late in the 2021 season, Chris Godwin suffered an ACL injury that left him missing the playoffs. He’s a game-time decision for week 1, but – in theory – suggests he’ll be almost completely healthy soon.

    And it’s hard not to like his vision.

    While ACL injuries are serious, there is a long history of elite players recovering just fine. The arrival of both Russell Gage and Julio Jones will scatter goals elsewhere, but the retirement of tight end Rob Gronkowski leaves a void in the middle of the field – which is exactly where Godwin thrives in this Tom Brady-led attack.

    He should threaten for the third 1000m season of his career, even though he was delayed early in the fall.

    Verdict: buy

6 of 7

    Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    As the 2020 regular season came to an end, the Green Bay Packers were a strong Super Bowl contender. However, an ACL injury ended David Bakhtiari’s year at the worst possible time. He then effectively missed all of 2021 and underwent another operation this low season.

    In short, the past 21 months have been a rough time for the All-Pro left tackle.

    If you’d rather have the glass half full, well, Bakhtiari is optimistic.

    “I can make it through the season,” he recently told reporters. “It’ll be fine. You just have to do it while playing.”

    Hey, nobody knows an injury situation better than those involved. There is a very real possibility that this prediction looks foolish. But that’s not exactly the most inspiring statement in the world, despite Bakhtiari’s elite ability when he’s healthy.

    Verdict: sell

7 of 7

    Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

    When the Chicago Bears traded for Khalil Mack in 2018, the initial results were overwhelmingly positive. But as the team declined—especially the offense—the value of a top-edge rusher diminished for Chicago.

    Enter the Los Angeles Chargers.

    The franchise is trying to take full advantage of the financial flexibility offered by Justin Herbert’s rookie deal, adding Mack through trade and the signing of cornerback JC Jackson. They join a defense that already boasts edge-rusher Joey Bosa and safety Derwin James.

    Mack is an interesting projection. If you’re expecting another Defensive Player of the Year campaign, that’s probably too much. Still, he racked up six sacks in just seven games last season on an uninspiring Chicago defense, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt to play against Bosa.

    Provided the expectation is an All-Pro caliber year like he garnered in 2019, Mack still has that advantage.

    Verdict: buy