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Getting Odell Beckham Jr. might not be the Chiefs’ best move

Recent history tells us that following ACL repairs, wide receivers do not quickly return to form.

NFL: Super Bowl LVI-Los Angeles Rams at Cincinnati Bengals Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to believe, but the 2022 NFL season is rushing along — and is already near its midpoint. This means while some franchises have already begun thinking about the 2023 draft, others — like the Kansas City Chiefs — are pondering Tuesday’s trade deadline, along with potential free-agency signings that could help them in the playoffs.

Among the free-agent signings the Chiefs could be considering is wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who is currently rehabbing from a torn ACL.

In 2021, Beckham helped the Los Angeles Rams win Super Bowl LVI. He played in six games for the Cleveland Browns before being released (and signed to the Rams) in November. He appeared in a total of 14 regular-season games last season, collecting 44 receptions for 537 yards and five touchdowns. He really shined in the four postseason contests for Los Angeles, with 21 receptions for 288 yards and two touchdowns.

Kansas City fans have hope that he could perform in a similar fashion for the Chiefs in 2022. But during a recent media availability, head coach Andy Reid was non-committal about that possibility — and as usual, deferred to general manager Brett Veach.

“He’s a heck of a football player,” noted Reid. “That I can tell you. I don’t know where he is as far as his rehab goes and that whole deal. Brett’s always maneuvering.”

Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce has seemed a bit more excited about the possibility. After restructuring his contract to free $3.5 million in cap space for the team, he contributed to the rumors during his “New Heights” podcast.

It’s unknown whether that $3.5 million could be enough to sign Beckham.

Perhaps more concerning, however, is that he is rehabbing not just an ACL tear, but a second reconstruction on the same knee. He first tore his ACL in Week 7 of the 2020 season — at the age of 27.

How have other receivers fared after ACL tears?

Beckham is not the only wide receiver returning from an ACL tear in 2022. Three other players have already made their return to the gridiron after suffering the injury last season.

Player
(Age)
Rehab
2021
(per game)
2022
(per game)
Notes
Chris Godwin
(25)
8.9 mos.
7 rec
78.8 yds
0.36 TD
5.8 rec
58.6 yds
0.00 TD
4th on the team in receptions, 2nd in yards. Missed 2 games with hamstring strain (same leg)
Robert Woods
(29)
10.1 mos.
5 rec
61.8 yds
0.40 TD
4 rec
38.3 yds
0.17 TD
Leads team in receptions and yards
Michael Gallup
(25)
9.1 mos.
3.9 rec
49.4 yds
0.22 TD
2 rec
21.5 yds
0.25 TD
Returned in Week 4, held without reception in Week 7

As you see, all three receivers have had a dip in their production from 2021 to 2022. Each is averaging at least one fewer catch — along with at least 20 fewer yards — in each game. Godwin — who also had the shortest timeframe for return to the field — also suffered a setback with a hamstring injury on the same leg as his ACL reconstruction.

Although they display different styles of play, Woods was the same age at the time of his injury as Beckham. It’s not a direct comparison, but with Beckham turning 30 in early November — and because this is the second ACL tear on the same knee — it should add cause for concern about his immediate production.

Even at a younger age at the time of his first ACL injury, Beckham saw such a dip. In his last full season prior to the injury, he averaged 4.6 receptions and 64.7 yards in each game. In 2021, he averaged 3.1 receptions and 38.4 yards. We could see another drop when he returns in 2022.

Each of these receivers needed nearly nine months to return to the field after their injuries — and also had training camp or practice time to get back to playing shape. With Beckham suffering his injury on February 13, he could be on track to return in late November or early December. But he will also need time to get back on the practice field with whichever team signs him. This would make his realistic timeline for a return to the playing field more like mid to late December.

Is Beckham worth the risk?

Given the evidence of reduced production in the season immediately following this injury — and the increased contract demand Beckham would require — it is questionable whether a team should focus on acquiring him.

While there have been several wide receivers who have returned to their previous production levels after recovering from this injury in previous seasons, few (if any) of them have been 30 (or older) upon their return — or have returned from a second ACL repair. And each has typically taken 1-2 seasons to regain their production.

And as we know, Reid’s Kansas City offense is also notoriously complicated.

Besides... in the past two weeks, we have seen offseason acquisitions Juju Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdez-Scantling becoming more assimilated with the offense and contributing to the team. The two players have contributed 15 receptions for 348 yards and two scores — and both players went over 100 yards during Sunday’s 44-23 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. The Chiefs were also boosted by veteran wide receiver Mecole Hardman, who contributed three touchdowns to the win.

It is never wrong to add depth or talent to a team; sometimes, an NFL season just comes down to whether or not a team remains healthy. It’s really just a question of priorities. Should the Chiefs focus their attention on the wide receiver position — or somewhere else? Should a great player who is recovering from his second ACL reconstruction be seen as the key to the offense in the home stretch?

Given the offense’s recent production against top-ranked defenses — and the recent history of wide receivers recovering from ACL repairs — it might be best for the Chiefs to focus their attention elsewhere.

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