A ruptured Achilles tendon. In the NFL in recent years, doctors who have treated such injuries League-wide report that although the incidence of Achilles rupture is low (at 0.93% per NFL game), nearly 36% of affected players never return to playing at the NFL level. As in: NEVER AGAIN. For the New Orleans Saints and 6th year veteran right defensive end / EDGE pass rusher Alex Okafor, they're hoping to beat those odds as the start of the upcoming 2018 NFL season draws closer every day.
According to well-respected Sports Medicine doctors Khalid Shirzad, MD; John D. Hewitt, MD; Carter Kiesau, MD; and Selene G. Parekh, MD: the length of time to allow full activity after Achilles tendon repair is generally thought to be four to six months.
But they also note: the 11 months that's usually needed to return to play as a professional football player seems considerably longer. However, there is a major difference between allowing full activity and returning to play in the NFL.
Even when the typical patient recovering from a ruptured Achilles is allowed to participate in full activity, it does not mean that he (or she) is adequately rehabilitated to perform at maximal efforts.
For Okafor, it's been exactly 7 months since he ruptured his Achilles last season, in a November 19th (Week #11) contest at home in the Superdome vs. the Washington Redskins.
And he told New Orleans Advocate beat writer Joel A. Erickson recently that he's been actively seeking out the advice and opinions of other players / former players who have experienced an injury similar to his, to get an accurate assessment on how long it will be until he feels "up to speed" once again.
"Everything I've heard has been consistent," Okafor said. "All of them tell me it's going to be scary during the rehab process, which it is right now, but all of them say they came back as the same player."
Though most Sports Medicine doctors give that 11 month-to-a year prognosis for full recovery, Okafor says that Saints team doctors gave him an approximated recovery time of 8 to 10 months, a timetable that gave Okafor an accomplishment to hit.
"The ultimate goal is to come back during training camp," Okafor said, "and nothing has taken me off that path."
As noted by Erickson: when Okafor sat down with Saints doctors to build a plan for recovery, the team laid out a detailed calendar, outlining what steps the defensive end had to take on a week-to-week basis.
"It's a long and slow recovery," Okafor said. "Whenever you can bump one of those weeks up, that's when you know you're on track, and you're really doing well, and I've been able to do that."
Never was that more evident then at last week's abbreviated Mini-Camp (the 3rd and final day was cancelled) , where Okafor got to play his usual spot at the weak side / right defensive end position for several snaps with the 1st team defense, and generated some nice pressure on the QB.
If that is an indication or a true sign of where Okafor's recovery is at the moment, then it means that Okafor is nearing ever so closer to being deemed "healthy" enough to see significant action in the upcoming 2018 NFL season; and if that does indeed turn out to be the case: it could spell T-R-O-U-B-L-E for opponents on this year's schedule.
Prior to the injury, Okafor was well on the way to becoming a sound Free Agent investment for the Saints; with his 43 tackles and 4.5 sacks before the injury.
But team brass has made it a point that despite the unfortunate circumstances that led to the injury, the 27-year old Dallas, Texas native still remains a key piece of the Saints' plans on the defensive line this coming season, even with the addition of highly-regarded rookie and top draft pick Marcus Davenport.
Okafor signed a two-year, $10 million deal back in late March to remain in New Orleans, and it's fairly obvious that the club has high hopes that a healthy and fully-recovered Okafor will give their improved pass rush an even bigger boost, than the one that's expected to come from players such as Cam Jordan, Sheldon Rankins, David Onyemata, and the afore-mentioned Davenport.
"We feel real good with where he's going and his schedule," coach Sean Payton said to reporters regarding Okafor's prognosis.
As noted by Erickson: if Okafor is able to return by the start of Training Camp late next month, he will be back on the field in just eight months — which would be on the early end of the recovery time doctors told him after the injury.
"The next two months are going to be critical," Okafor said to Erickson. "I'm excited to push myself."
Based on everything we've seen from Okafor since that day at the Superdome last November, he's done everything the right way and is on pace to pick up exactly where he left off; along with a healthy outlook heading into the start of the season.
And if there aren't any significant setbacks between now and then, it means Okafor should be "up to speed" for the season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on September 9th at the Superdome.