Injury Analysis: Buffalo Bills DT Austin Johnson

Injury Analysis: Buffalo Bills DT Austin Johnson

On Saturday afternoon, Bills Mafia received news of a new signing from none other than recently re-signed DT DaQuan Jones. The veteran announced the signing of former collegiate and professional teammate Austin Johnson to the Bills on a one-year deal. 

Johnson comes to Buffalo with eight years of experience in the NFL with stops in Tennessee, New York, and Los Angeles after getting drafted out of Penn State. Playing in 116 games with 55 starts, Johnson has seen time at both defensive end and defensive tackle depending on the scheme. 

This signing comes after he visited the team earlier in the week before he visited with the Arizona Cardinals.

He has shown to be a durable player but has had a notable injury that cost him considerable time. 

Read about Austin Johnson’s publicly reported injury history and concerns moving forward. 

Injury History

2016 Tennessee Titans

No publicly reported injuries. 

2017 Titans

No publicly reported injuries. 

2018 Titans

No publicly reported injuries. 

2019 Titans

No publicly reported injuries. 

2020 New York Giants

No publicly reported injuries. 

2021 Giants

Foot injury, Week 14, missed 0 games.

Johnson suffered his first publicly reported injury when he appeared on the injury report with a foot designation. He was limited in practice and questionable the following three weeks but did not see a notable drop off in snaps. This injury did linger the rest of the season up until the regular season finale against the Washington Commanders. 

2022 Los Angeles Chargers

Left MCL sprain and knee fracture, Week 9, missed 10 games. 

Johnson suffered a serious knee injury in the third quarter in Week 9 against the Atlanta Falcons. While the initial thought was that he sprained his MCL, further testing revealed he also suffered a fracture in his knee, ending his season.

2023 Chargers 

No publicly reported injuries. 

Injury Analysis

Johnson has only missed 10 games over his six years in the league which is attributed to the serious knee injury suffered in 2022. The initial reports of the MCL sprain were pretty straight forward but the knee fracture didn’t have any additional information at the time. 

Further research revealed that Johnson started the 2023 season on PUP and was not activated until mid-August. This was just over 9 months removed from the injury which required surgery. Initially when I had read that he suffered a fracture, the concern was that he suffered some type of avulsion fracture at the MCL or even Segond fracture at the lateral tibia. 

However, the MCL avulsion fracture has closer to a six month return to play window. Considering he took over nine months suggests that he had a tibial plateau fracture, similar to what LB Matt Milano suffered this past season

According to the research taken from the Milano article:

A tibial plateau fracture is usually the result of high-energy trauma and direct impact on the proximal knee. 

Rehab for these types of injuries can take upwards of 6-12 months as indicated in this rehab protocol. As this is a major area for weight bearing in the body, this is not something that can be rushed greatly, and non-weight bearing is indicated for at least the first eight weeks. Aggressive timelines can be indicated if healing is going well, but even then, weight-bearing increases progress 25 percent/week. 

Tibial fractures that required surgery have a median lost days of 232 days (mean 220 +/- 97.5 days.) which equates to nearly eight months. 

This would line up with the timeline that it took for Johnson to return for the 2023 season. Once he did return, he did not miss any games and played in what appeared to be his normal complement of snaps throughout the season. This further supports the return to play without a drop off in performance originally noted in the Milano article. 

For more information on the tibial plateau fracture, be sure to click here

If Johnson did indeed fracture his tibial plateau or some other fracture, he showed the ability to consistently return to play. He should improve or at least play at a similar level nearly two years removed from the injury by the time the season begins.

Johnson has shown the ability to perform at a high level and has otherwise been incredibly durable. Looking at everything as a whole, he fits a badly needed positional need for depth and has versatility on the defensive line. 

I like the signing especially for the price and contract length. Should Johnson excel here, this could open him up for another contract that could see him extend his stay here for several years. 

I have no concerns about his injury history and I hope that he can play well with his former Penn State and Tennessee Titans teammate in 2024. 

Top Photo Credit: Michael Owens/Getty Images

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