Of all common football injuries, the patellar tendon rupture has long offered the lowest rate of recovery to pre-injury effectiveness.
The patellar tendon anchors the thigh's quadriceps muscle to the shin, allowing the knee to flex and extend. Because it's so integral to running and cutting, it's not usual for strength and explosiveness to return at a reduced level.
The injury has claimed the careers of shooting stars such as ex-Buccaneers running back Cadillac Williams, 2011 Cardinals second-round draft pick Ryan Williams and former Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo. As Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz knows all too well, overcompensating for the injured knee can often lead to an assortment of leg injuries in the ensuing years.
Players have overcome torn ACLs to earn All-Pro selections and even MVP awards. Over the past decade, advanced surgical techniques and accelerated rehab schedules have enabled stars such as Demaryius Thomas, Terrell Suggs, Brent Grimes and Jason Peters to recapture Pro Bowl form following ruptured Achilles tendons -- an injury that had been a death knell for skill-position players earlier this century.
Less than 10 months removed from surgery to repair his patellar tendon, Graham is coming off of consecutive 100-yard performances for the first time in three years.
Although Cruz went more than 700 days without a catch following his own injury, he has returned to contribute big plays in each of the season's first three games.
"He's got a lot of confidence. You see the interceptions and pass deflections," defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said this week. "But it's the tackling. His tackling has been outstanding. He has tackles for losses. He is a very sure tackler and he is really bringing a physical presence to our secondary."
As well as the trio has played, they aren't out of the woods just yet. Graham has yet to recapture the explosive leaping ability he used to exhibit on celebratory goal-post dunks. Cruz no longer possesses the sharp cutting ability that served him well as the game's most explosive slot receiver in 2011 and 2012. Claiborne will have to prove the past month hasn't been a fluke.
Prior to this season, though, we saw no evidence that would lead us to believe a player could contribute at a high level upon returning from a torn patellar tendon. The performances of Graham, Cruz and Claiborne offer hope that the injury is no longer a career killer.