Deshaun Watson's ACL recovery: How other QBs have fared after surgery

HOUSTON -- Deshaun Watson’s season was cut short by a torn ACL in his right knee in early November, but the Houston Texans quarterback is ahead of schedule, according to coach Bill O’Brien, and could be back on the field during the team's organized team activities this spring.

Houston has high hopes for Watson after he tore up the NFL during his seven games as a rookie, completing 61.8 percent of his passes for 1,699 yards with 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

The Texans and Watson don’t know how his game will be affected by the torn ACL, especially because perhaps his most impressive attribute is his mobility and ability to extend plays. Watson already went through one ACL injury while he was at Clemson, tearing the ACL in his left knee.

While no two players are the same, here is a look at how other quarterbacks have done the season following a torn ACL:

Donovan McNabb (2006 season)

McNabb tore his ACL in Week 11 but returned for the Philadelphia Eagles the next season. In 2007, McNabb played in 14 games and completed 61.5 percent of his passes for 3,324 yards, 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions. While McNabb’s passing numbers were slightly down from 2006, there was a noticeable difference on the ground. In 2006, the mobile McNabb averaged 6.6 yards per carry in 10 games; the year following his torn ACL, he was down to 4.7.

Carson Palmer (2005 and 2014 seasons)

Palmer’s first ACL tear, which came during his time with the Cincinnati Bengals, was thought to be career-threatening because he also tore his MCL and had cartilage and meniscus damage in his left leg. Palmer was back on the field for the preseason in 2006 and played in all 16 games that season. He threw for 4,035 yards and 28 touchdowns with 13 interceptions. Palmer tore his left ACL for the second time in November 2014, just days after signing a three-year contract with the Cardinals. In 2015, Palmer had perhaps his best NFL season, completing 63.7 percent of his passes for 4,671 yards and 35 touchdowns. He threw 11 interceptions and finished with a career-high passer rating of 104.6.

Tom Brady (2008 season)

Brady tore his left ACL in the first quarter of the New England Patriots’ season opener in 2008 and missed the rest of the season. The then-three-time Super Bowl champion returned for the season opener -- when he threw for 378 yards, two touchdowns and an interception -- and played in all 16 games during the 2009 season. That year, Brady completed 65.7 percent of his passes for 4,398 yards with 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and was unfazed by the knee injury.

Robert Griffin III (2012 season)

Griffin tore his right ACL in his rookie season, which was the best year of his NFL career, when he set a record for highest passer rating by a rookie quarterback (102.4). Griffin did not play in the preseason in 2013, but he returned for the season opener. He could not replicate the success in the first half he had as a rookie in 2012 and was replaced for the final three games of the season by Kirk Cousins. Griffin finished the 2013 season with a completion percentage of 60.1, throwing for 3,203 yards, 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Griffin has played in only 14 games since the 2013 season and was not with an NFL team in 2015 or 2017.

Sam Bradford (2013 and 2014 seasons)

Bradford first tore his ACL in his left leg during Week 7 of the 2013 season. He returned to the field for the preseason in 2014 but tore the same ACL when he was sacked. He missed the entire 2014 season. Bradford played in 14 games for the Eagles the following season, and while he struggled early on, he finished with 3,725 passing yards and 19 touchdowns with 14 interceptions. Bradford’s 2015 numbers were similar to his 2013 numbers. In 2016, after being traded to the Minnesota Vikings, Bradford had his best NFL season, throwing for 3,877 yards with 20 touchdowns and five interceptions.

Teddy Bridgewater (2016 season)

Bridgewater tore the ACL and did other damage to his left knee during an August practice in 2016. Because of the additional damage, Bridgewater’s recovery took longer than typical returns from ACL tears. Bridgewater was activated off the physically unable to perform list and added to the active roster in early November. He came in for Case Keenum in the fourth quarter of the Minnesota Vikings’ Week 15 game against the Bengals and attempted two passes, one of which was intercepted.