Injuries to key NFL players are piling up, making depth even more important

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The NFL’s injured reserve is starting to look like an All-Pro or Pro Bowl roster.

Vikings superstar wide receiver Justin Jefferson and Bills linebacker Matt Milano along with Dolphins breakout rookie De’Von Achane, Colts rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson, Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, Cardinals running back James Conner and Jets tackle Alijah Vera-Tucker joined a growing list this week that includes Aaron Rodgers and many others.

Dolphins cornerback Jalen Ramsey and left tackle Terron Armstead, Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward, Cardinals safety Budda Baker, Browns running back Nick Chubb, Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari and Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs are among the star players already on IR.

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Chubb, Bakhtiari and Diggs are out until 2024. Ramsey was injured in training camp and hopes to return this season. Armstead, Heyward and Baker also should be back.

The list doesn’t count Giants Pro Bowl running back Saquon Barkley, Bengals franchise quarterback Joe Burrow or Browns QB Deshaun Watson. Barkley wasn’t placed on IR but has missed three games with an ankle injury. Burrow hasn’t sat out any games but he was severely limited by a calf injury in the first month. Watson is expected to miss his second straight games with a bruised throwing shoulder.

The NFL is a tough, physical sport. Injuries are common. Sometimes the worst injuries even occur without any contact. Going deep in the playoffs isn’t just about having the most talent but staying healthy.

It’s only Week 6 and injuries are piling up for key players around the league.

Jefferson’s hamstring injury is a big blow for Minnesota (1-4). The Vikings have already matched their loss total from last season and need to get back on the winning track with no margin for error. They’ve got to find a way without the 2022 AP Offensive Player of the Year for at least four weeks.

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“Knowing we might not have him for a stretch here, we’ve got to change the way we look at it and we’ve got to get back to making sure that we have sound plays versus the looks we think we’re going to get,” Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell said on SiriusXM radio.

“Give our guys, our playmakers, which we feel like we have plenty even losing the best receiver in football, we still are really excited about Jordan Addison. K.J. Osborn’s been ultra consistent, T.J. Hockenson, there’s a reason why he’s here, and we’ll continue to build things on all downs to keep him involved, and then how does C.J. Ham or Josh Oliver, Johnny Mundt or Brandon Powell, how do those guys fit in their complementary roles, where they can really, really see some premier opportunities?”

Buffalo (3-2) is reeling from losing Milano, defensive tackle DaQuan Jones and cornerback Tre’Davious White in the past two weeks. Milano, coming off his best season, and Jones, who was off to an excellent start, both were hurt in a loss to the Jaguars last week in London.

The Bills say Milano (lower right leg) and Jones (torn pectoral muscle) are out indefinitely. White is done for the season with a torn right Achilles tendon.

“You never ‘replace’ a player,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “And I don’t want to get into comparing players, I don’t think that’s healthy. Overall, it’s the responsibility of the person stepping in to do the job, and we have full confidence in that player — whoever that player is.”

Miami (4-1) loses Achane to a knee injury for several weeks just as Jeff Wilson gets ready to return from injured reserve to help fill his spot along with Raheem Mostert. Achane leads the NFL with an average of 12.1 yards per carry, and he’s second in yards rushing with 460.

“I never really look at the run game in general as one player,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said. “He’s been making a ton of plays and has been obviously doing an outstanding job with every single one of his opportunities. …. We’re in a fortunate situation in that regard, that I think we have multiple players at the running back position that can start in this league and can do very well within their job parameters here with the Dolphins.”

Vander Esch’s neck injury may impact the way Dallas (3-2) plays its defense. All-Pro edge rusher Micah Parsons could play more off the ball to help fill the void.

Conner will miss several weeks for the Cardinals (1-4) with a knee injury. The Colts (3-2) won’t have Richardson, the dynamic No. 4 overall pick, for a while and perhaps longer if he has surgery.

The Ravens (3-2) lost running back J.K. Dobbins (Achilles) for the season in Week 1. The Jets (2-3) lost Vera-Tucker to the same injury last week. The Patriots (1-4) won’t have rookie cornerback Christian Gonzalez (shoulder) for several weeks.

Other key players on IR include Browns tackle Jack Conklin (ACL), Lions safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson (pectoral), Eagles cornerback Avonte Maddox (pectoral), Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson (leg) and cornerback Jaycee Horn (hamstring).

“You have guys going in and out and that’s just the nature of this league, injuries, and you have guys that have to come in and step up,” Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said. “And they have to end up playing to the ability of the guy that’s been playing at that spot. And our guys have been doing a pretty good job with that.”

Teams with the most depth have the best chance to overcome injuries.

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