NFL Players Who Tore Their ACL
An ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, tear is one of the most debilitating and difficult injuries that can be suffered by an athlete. Essentially sidelining a player for the remaining season, ACL tears can dampen a player’s playing career and can make it difficult to resume top-tier playing status.
But an ACL tear doesn’t have to sideline an NFL or football player for life. Below, we are going to look at the top NFL players who suffered a torn ACL and those same players who made a comeback, despite the difficult road to recovery.
Be sure to check out our review of the top NBA players to suffer an ACL injury!
What is the ACL?
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of a pair of cruciate ligaments (the other being the posterior cruciate ligament) in the human knee.
The two ligaments are also called “cruciform” ligaments, as they are arranged in a crossed formation. The ACL is composed of strong, fibrous material and helps in controlling excessive motion.
This is done by limiting mobility of the joint. The anterior cruciate ligament is one of the four main ligaments of the knee, providing 85% of the restraining force to anterior tibial displacement.
However, unbeknownst to many, the ACL is the most injured ligament of the four located in the knee.
What is an ACL Tear?
An ACL injury or tear occurs when it is either stretched, partially torn, or completely torn. The most common injury is a complete tear.
Symptoms of an ACL tear include pain, an audible cracking sound during injury, instability of the knee, and joint swelling. In addition, in about half of the cases, other structures of the knee such as surrounding ligaments, cartilage, or meniscus are damaged.
The reasons for an ACL tear often involve a rapid change in direction, sudden stop, landing after a jump, or direct contact to the knee.
ACL tears are more common in athletes, particularly those who participate in full-contact sports such as, soccer, football, and basketball.
How to Treat an ACL Tear?
If someone suffers an ACL tear, there are two main options to treat the tear and begin resumption of normal activities upon the knee. However, during treatment of an ACL tear, it is important to follow the below guidelines:
- Reduce abnormal knee movements and improve knee function
- Build trust and confidence to use the knee normally again
- Prevent further injury to the knee and reduce the risk of osteoarthritis
- Optimize long-term quality of life following the injury
Once these guidelines have been established, individuals can opt for surgical or non-surgical treatments.
Nonsurgical treatment for ACL tears involves progressive, structured rehabilitation that aims to restore muscle strength, dynamic knee control and psychological confidence.
ACL surgery options involve replacing the torn ACL with a graft. Grafts can be taken from the patellar tendon, hamstring tendon, quadriceps tendon from either the person undergoing the procedure. The graft serves as scaffolding upon which new ligament tissue will grow.
Unbeknownst to many, the all-time great Tom Brady suffered both an ACL and MCL tear in the 2008 NFL season. Brady, as is widely known, holds nearly every major quarterback record, including passing yards, completions, touchdown passes, and games started, in addition to the most Pro Bowl selections.
In addition, he has never had a losing season, is the NFL leader in career quarterback wins, quarterback regular season wins, quarterback playoff wins, and Super Bowl MVP awards, as well as the only Super Bowl MVP for two different franchises.
Even further, he is the only quarterback to win a Super Bowl in three separate decades. He is the oldest NFL MVP at age 40, the oldest Super Bowl MVP at age 43, and the oldest quarterback selected to the Pro Bowl at age 44.
Brady is also the only NFL quarterback named to two all-decade teams (2000s and 2010s) and was unanimously named to the 100th Anniversary All-Time Team in 2019.
However, in 2008, during the New England Patriots season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs at Gillette Stadium, Brady’s left knee was badly injured midway through the first quarter on a hit by Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard.
The team would later confirm that Brady had torn both his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL), requiring season ending surgery. He was able to, however, return for the start of the 2009 NFL season.
Reggie Wayne, the wide receiver who played 14 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, would tear his ACL midway through the 2013 NFL season.
Reggie Wayne was drafted by the Colts in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft. He would go on to become a six-time Pro Bowl selection and was a member of the Colts’ Super Bowl XLI championship team. He ranks tenth all-time in NFL career receptions, tenth all-time in NFL receiving yards, and 24th all-time in career touchdown receptions.
Despite his ACL injury in the 2013 NFL season, Wayne was able to start for the Colts in the 2014 NFL season.
J. J. Watt
Justin James Watt, or better known as J. J. Watt, suffered an ACL injury in the 2017 NFL season while playing against the Kansas City Chiefs. The injury, which sidelined Watt for nearly a year, came after he attempted to sack then Chiefs’ quarterback Alex Smith.
And although the ACL injury did sideline Watt, he still managed to have one of the more impressive NFL careers of any defensive end. Considered to be one of the greatest defensive linemen of all time, Watt received the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award three times in his first five seasons.
Longtime teammate to Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski tore both his ACL and MCL in the 2013 NFL season. A four-time Super Bowl champion, a five-time Pro Bowl selection, a four-time First Team All-Pro selection, Gronkowski suffered the ACL and MCL injury after taking a direct hit from safety T. J. Ward.
Although the injury sidelined Gronkowski for the 2013 NFL season, he would return for the 2014 NFL season and would finish the season with 82 receptions for 1,124 receiving yards and 12 receiving touchdowns.
One of the greatest running backs in NFL history, Adrian Peterson tore both his ACL and MCL in the 2011 NFL season.
Drafted by the Minnesota Vikings seventh overall in the 2007 NFL Draft, he was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year with the Vikings. He was then named the MVP in the Pro Bowl and became only the fifth player in NFL history to have more than 3,000 yards through his first two seasons.
In 2010, he became the fifth-fastest player to run for 5,000 yards, doing so in his 51st game.
However, in the 2011 NFL season, Peterson was injured by safety DeJon Gomes and needed assistance getting off the field. It was later confirmed that he had torn both his ACL and MCL.
Despite the injury, he was able to start in the 2012 NFL season, a mere eight-months after his injury.