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Analyzing Chiefs’ wide receiver Justin Watson’s elbow injury

After dislocating his elbow, Kansas City’s veteran wide receiver is expected to miss at least a few weeks.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs walked away with a 19-8 victory over their division rival Denver Broncos last Thursday night — but in the process, lost veteran wide receiver Justin Watson when he sustained a dislocated elbow.

According to reports, Watson’s initial X-rays and MRI revealed no structural damage after the injury, but early indications are that he could miss at least a few weeks.

Analyzing the injury

The elbow is a hinge joint. This means it has less freedom of movement in contrast to shoulder or hip joints, for example. Since it offers less mobility than these other joints, it offers more stability than they do.

An elbow dislocation typically occurs when a player falls forward onto an outstretched arm while his forearm is rotated. This creates an abnormal force at the elbow.

This was what happened with Watson. He fell to the ground after extending to catch a pass — and was then writhing in noticeable pain on the grass.

The elbow joint consists of three bones—the humerus, radius and ulna. It is stabilized by radial and ulnar collateral ligaments on each side of the joint, along with an anterior bundle which serves to stabilize it at the front.

Negative X-ray and MRI results indicate that no fracture took place — and there was no tearing of the elbow ligaments.

This means that Watson’s rehab process will consist of reducing pain and inflammation, while simultaneously restoring strength to the muscles surrounding the joint. Achieving dynamic stability for the joint — that is, creating stability with movement and working on stability under different levels of force and positions — will also be required before Watson can return to the field.

Kansas City Chiefs v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

When could Watson return?

Given that Watson’s elbow suffered no structural damage, he will certainly be able to return to the lineup this season — and sooner rather than later. Depending on how his rehab progresses, it may be possible for him to return in Week 9 against the Miami Dolphins in Germany.

The Chiefs, however, haven’t been known to rush a player back from injury too quickly. So I would expect a return in Week 11. Kansas City will be coming off its Week 10 bye. That schedule would give Watson over a month of rehab and recovery time — while missing just three games.

For comparison — including a reminder that no two injuries are exactly the same — the Chiefs’ tight end Jody Fortson suffered a dislocated elbow in Week 15 of last season. He then missed the following four weeks (including a playoff bye week) before returning for the Divisional round of playoffs.

Through the first five weeks of the season — and in both the box score and the meeting room — Watson has been the leader of the wide receiver group. He has been one of the offense’s most consistent and reliable targets.

In his absence, we should expect wide receiver Marquez Valdez-Scantling to be the veteran of the wide receiver corps; he will be expected to increase his production. Meanwhile, rookie wideout Rashee Rice will need to continue elevating his play — and his role — in the offense. Opportunities for young receivers like Skyy Moore and Justyn Ross should also become more frequent.

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