NFL News & Analysis

Reacting to key Week 1 injuries: Aaron Rodgers, J.K. Dobbins and more

2RT9PYE New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers (8) looks to pass against the Buffalo Bills during the first quarter of an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

• Should Jets stick with Zach Wilson as their starter? While Aaron Rodgers' injury is unconfirmed at this point, head coach Robert Saleh said, “It's not good.” New York should look to the free agent or trade markets for reinforcement.

• Browns have an excellent replacement in Dawand Jones: The rookie behemoth showed well in the preseason and in relief in Week 1. He is set to take over for the injured Jack Conklin this season.

• Despite a crowded RB room, Ravens should give Leonard Fournette a call: J.K. Dobbins tore his Achilles in Week 1, leaving Justice Hill, Gus Edwards, injured rookie Keaton Mitchell and veteran Melvin Gordon in the backfield.

Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes

A handful of key injuries dominated the headlines in Week 1. The next question is always whether in-house replacements can get the job done or if external reinforcements are needed. While some player’s statuses are still uncertain, others have, unfortunately, confirmed the worst already.

We will update this article if anything else becomes official. For now, we take a look at the biggest losses from the first slate of the 2023 NFL season and suggest whether the team should trust their current roster depth or look to add another player to help fortify the roster. Should teams replace (use a current backup) or reinforce (sign or trade for someone)?

QB Aaron Rodgers, New York Jets

In a storyline that would seem even too far-fetched for a “Curb Your Enthusiasm” riff on the brutal luck suffered by the New York Jets franchise, it appears the very worst could be the reality for newly acquired quarterback Aaron Rodgers. While we await the news from a Tuesday MRI on the exact injury Rodgers sustained on Monday Night Football, a talented Jets roster needs to find a way to push forward and compete in a year with Super Bowl aspirations.

Replacement or reinforcement? Reinforcement

The Jets know Zach Wilson is not capable of winning many games as a quarterback in 2023; that’s why Rodgers is on the roster to begin with. And Wilson threw an interception right into the hands of Buffalo Bills linebacker Matt Milano on one of his first dropbacks. New York may need to get creative in finding a replacement that can step in and get up to speed rather quickly.

As far as trade options go, there is not a lengthy list of teams likely to be willing to depart with their backup. The New Orleans Saints have four quarterbacks on their roster if we include Taysom Hill and rookie Jake Haener, but Haener is currently serving a six-game suspension and Hill is obviously utilized far more than just as a backup quarterback. Nevertheless, Jameis Winston is still one of the top backups across the NFL, and the Jets should make the call. Winston was averaging 7.5 yards per attempt with a 66.9 passing grade in 2022 as he played through early-season injuries. He was eventually benched and then supplanted by Andy Dalton, something he was very displeased with. While Winston still can play erratically at times, he also gives you a healthy dose of big plays.

In terms of available free agents, Carson Wentz, Colt McCoy and Philip Rivers — though a bit of a stretch — are options. Rivers was reportedly open to signing with the San Francisco 49ers during last year’s postseason if they were able to advance from the NFC Championship game, following injuries to Brock Purdy, Josh Johnson and Jimmy Garoppolo, though Garoppolo may have pushed to play as he was close to his return window.

McCoy was released by the Arizona Cardinals despite being in line to start Week 1 with Kyler Murray still out with his injury, and the Cardinals instead elected to trade for Josh Dobbs and give him the start two weeks after his acquisition. McCoy earned a 66.9 passing grade in 2022 with five big-time throws to two turnover-worthy plays, completing 68.2% of his passes and averaging 5.9 yards per attempt.

Wentz has reportedly been training all offseason as he waits for the right opportunity to present itself, and a better shot may not come around than joining this Jets roster. Wentz earned a career-low 58.9 passing grade in 2022 with the Washington Commanders and was benched for Taylor Heinicke after six starts. Wentz had 13 big-time throws and 14 turnover-worthy plays and took 26 sacks with a very poor 24.8% pressure-to-sack rate. Nonetheless, Wentz is younger with more upside than any of the other free agent options.

Another name that may come to mind for many is Matt Ryan, who struggled mightily in 2022 but also played behind a porous offensive line. Ryan may not have a desire to return for financial reasons. Any money Matt Ryan earns would offset the $12 million in guarantees he is still owed from Indianapolis, so he may be content jumpstarting his broadcasting debut and collecting checks without getting hit by defensive linemen, because odds are he’d effectively be playing for free.

RT Jack Conklin, Cleveland Browns

This is a really unfortunate situation for Conklin, who has dealt with serious knee injuries in the past and will now miss another season following a tear of his ACL and MCL in Week 1. Conklin signed a four-year, $60 million extension last offseason, which was well deserved, and he went on to earn a 78.8 pass-blocking grade in 2022, allowing a pressure rate of just 2.7%.

Rookie fourth-round pick Dawand Jones already looked like a phenomenal selection for the Browns based on his preseason performance, but now he’ll be thrust into starting action in a matchup against Pittsburgh Steelers game-wrecker T.J. Watt in Week 2. Jones more than held his own on 20 pass-blocking snaps against a stout Cincinnati Bengals front once Conklin went down in Week 1, allowing zero quarterback pressures and losing just one rep en route to a 77.8 pass-blocking grade.

Replacement or reinforcement? Replacement

Cleveland should let the talented rookie out of Ohio State, a mountainous 6-foot-8, 375-pound human with great athleticism and nimble feet for his size, play it out for now. The Browns are all in on 2023 and should certainly get the emergency call list ready, but Jones looks the part so far in his NFL career, with an 84.9 pass-blocking grade and just three pressures allowed over 134 preseason pass-blocking snaps.

RB J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens

This is a crushing blow to an extremely promising prospect who always dazzled when healthy but, unfortunately, has consistently struggled to stay healthy for extended periods of time. An Achilles injury is tough to come back from, especially after Dobbins rehabbed his way back from a complex knee tear sustained in 2021.

Baltimore now has Gus Edwards, Justice Hill and injured rookie Keaton Mitchell in the fold, with Justice Hill scoring two touchdowns in Week 1, but they need to add more talent from the outside. Hill also totaled just nine yards on eight carries, so it’s not as if he broke off great scoring plays. Veteran Melvin Gordon was called up from the practice squad, as well.

Replacement or reinforcement? Reinforcement

Free agent Leonard Fournette was far from the most efficient back in 2022, averaging just 3.5 yards per carry with a season-long of just 23 yards. However, he was operating behind an injury-riddled offensive line and also added 73 receptions while earning a 78.8 receiving grade. Baltimore should at least reach out to Lombardi Lenny as they figure out where to go from here.

WR Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers

Johnson left the Week 1 blowout loss to the San Francisco 49ers with what appeared to be a somewhat serious hamstring strain. He looked to be in major pain and was quickly ruled out. Johnson made a cut upfield and knew immediately something was wrong, as he fell to the turf gingerly while still trying to advance the football.

Up to that point in the game, Johnson had three receptions for 48 yards, with 26 of those yards coming after the catch. He is the best separator on the team by a wide margin, routinely getting open early in his route for Kenny Pickett, which is particularly important when the offensive line has a 44.2% pressure rate allowed — the fourth-worst mark in Week 1. Things won’t get any easier in a Week 2 matchup with the Cleveland Browns new-look pass rush unit.

Replacement or reinforcement? Replacement

2022 fourth-round pick wide receiver Calvin Austin III didn’t see any action as a rookie while he dealt with injuries, but the shifty speedster out of Memphis is a nightmare to bring down in the open field for opposing defenses. Austin finished Week 1 with six receptions on six targets for 37 yards, with two contested catches and four missed tackles forced. Perhaps most importantly, Austin lined up out wide on 86.2% of his reps in the game, so he is clearly not confined to the slot. Pittsburgh likes offseason trade acquisition Allen Robinson II as a big slot, where he lined up for 83.3% of reps in Week 1.

Losing Diontae Johnson for any period of time is a major loss, but the Steelers should let the young buck run with the job for a bit.


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