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Tershawn Wharton’s ACL tear already impacting the Chiefs’ defense

How Wharton’s loss has weakened the run defense — and other injury news

Kansas City Chiefs v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs’ up-and-coming defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton’s 2022 campaign came to an end in the team’s Week 5 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders. As reported, Wharton suffered an ACL tear and was placed on injured reserve prior to Sunday’s 24-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

ACL injuries

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of four main stabilizing ligaments for the knee. It is crucial in providing stability for running, jumping and cutting — and generally giving the knee the support it needs for any power move. The ACL functions to prevent forward translation of the tibia (shin bone) on the femur (thigh bone), as well as providing rotational stability.

ACL injuries are one of football’s more common injuries — especially since players continue to get bigger, stronger and faster. Leading into Week 6 , there had been 29 ACL tears reported across the league. In all of 2021, there were 56. See my previous article for more about how decreased practice affects the likelihood of soft tissue injuries.

As with many orthopedic injuries, surgical and medical advancements have led to quicker rehabilitation periods. The most recent high-profile ACL rehab is that of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who suffered his injury in the Super Bowl on February 13th. Current estimates are that he could return to action in late November to December. This means that in 2023, Wharton could return in time for training camp.

Wharton was in the midst of a contract season with Kansas City — and was performing well for the club. He finished his 2022 campaign with eight total tackles (behind only Khalen Saunders among defensive tackles) and one sack. Wharton was a key cog in the Chiefs’ run defense, which ranked third in the league when he was playing.

The team is already feeling the effects of Wharton’s loss. He had played only four snaps against Las Vegas before being injured. In the four previous games, the Kansas City defense had faced 79 rushing attempts, allowing an average 3.3 yards per carry. In the two games since, the defense faced 55 rushing attempts and allowed 5.1 yards per attempt.

The team’s pass rush also appears to have suffered. In the first four weeks, the defense tallied 11 sacks — nearly three per game. In the past two weeks, the Chiefs have managed three sacks total.

Although the sample size is small, replacing his production along the defensive line rotation will be vital for the remainder of the Chiefs’ season. What’s encouraging is that Saunders is perhaps having his best year as a pro — and rookie defensive end George Karlaftis should only continue to improve.

Other injury updates

Still, the Chiefs have been relatively fortunate with injuries in 2022. Since injuries have played a role in the special-teams collapse against the Indianapolis Colts and inconsistent play along the offensive line, this may seem crazy — but the Chiefs currently have the league’s second-fewest players on IR.

While their collective egos may be bruised after Sunday’s loss to the Bills, the players came out relatively unscathed; head coach Andy Reid reported no new injuries following the game. Meanwhile, placekicker Harrison Butker, defensive end Mike Danna and guard Trey Smith all returned to the field against Buffalo.

In his Monday press conference, Reid gave an update on the status of cornerback Trent McDuffie, who has been designated for return from injured reserve (allowing him to participate in practices), but has not yet been activated to the roster.

“If he can go this week,” said Reid, “we’ll get him in there playing. [We] just want to see how he does during the week’s practice and see how it feels. If he can get back in, we’ll let him play.”

McDuffie participated in all three of last week’s practices, which is an encouraging sign for the secondary. Cornerback Rashad Fenton (hamstring) and safety Bryan Cook (concussion) — both of whom missed Sunday’s game — might be able to play in the Week 7 matchup against the San Francisco 49ers, giving the unit another big boost. But since the Chiefs will have their bye week following their trip to the west coast, they may choose to take a cautious approach with those two players.

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