Latest Return Dates for NFL's Injured Fantasy Stars
Mandatory minicamps are underway in the National Football League, which means that training camp is just around the corner and fantasy football draft season is ramping up in earnest.
As much as fantasy owners across the land are eager to see old faces in new places and watch the incoming crop of rookies take the field with their new teams, many are also closely monitoring the health of some stars who either saw their 2011 seasons cut short by injury or underwent surgeries in the offseason.
Here's an update of the status of these players, along with a look at how their respective bumps and bruises could potentially impact their fantasy football fortunes in 2012.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Someone may want to check Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson's garage for a spaceship, because the sixth-year pro's recovery from a serious knee injury suffered last December has been nothing short of otherworldly.
Peterson is already impressing teammates by beating them in wind sprints, and quarterback Christian Ponder recently told Judd & Phunn on 1500 ESPN in the Twin Cities that Peterson's recovery has been "unbelievable" and that "right now he looks good and I know he’s determined to get back for Week 1.”
The Vikings will all but certainly play it safe with their $100 million tailback, but Peterson appears to be better than a 50/50 shot to be in in the Minnesota backfield on opening day.
Sure, the knee is a concern, but Peterson is falling completely out of the first round in many early fantasy drafts, and for the possibility of elite RB1 production at an RB2 pricetag I'd roll the dice all day every day.
Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Much like Adrian Peterson, Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles saw his 2011 season ended by an ACL injury, although Charles' occurred much earlier in the season.
Charles sat out OTA's and minicamps, but the fifth-year pro told The Kansas City Star last week that he expects to be cleared for training camp in July, stating: "When they let that cape off me, I’m ready to go. I’m ready to put my cleats back on and punish everybody in my way.’’
There's no reason to believe that Charles won't be all systems go for Week 1, although the presence of newcomer Peyton Hillis in the Kansas City backfield could mean limited touches for Charles in the early going.
However, there's absolutely no comparing the talent levels or explosiveness of the two backs, and Charles is another player whose injury has left him undervalued in early fantasy drafts.
Beanie Wells, RB, Arizona Cardinals
From two backs who should be good to go for opening day we now move into more uncertain waters, as the supposedly "minor" knee surgery that running back Beanie Wells underwent this offseason has kept the fourth-year pro off the practice field to this point.
Wells' slow recovery is apparently beginning to wear thin with Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who told the team's website at the close of minicamps: “We’ve done the right thing with Beanie as far as the offseason and making sure he is healthy. He’s got to bust his tail the next few weeks to be ready for training camp because some guys have looked good there.”
With second-year pro Ryan Williams reportedly recovering well from the torn patellar tendon he suffered during the 2011 preseason, Wells' grip on the starting job in the desert grows more and more tenuous with each missed practice.
The Cardinals backfield has become the sort of murky fantasy situation that can give owners fits when draft day rolls around, and until training camp clarifies things somewhat, selecting either ballcarrier carries with it significant risk.
Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Of all the ballcarriers on this list, the news is least encouraging where Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall, who tore his ACL in January, is concerned.
The fifth-year pro hasn't ruled out being ready for the season opener, recently telling The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that “there’s always the possibility."
That will cost Mendenhall at least the first six games of the 2012 season, thrusting Isaac Redman into the starting role in the Pittsburgh backfield.
Redman has shown the ability to be productive when afforded the opportunity in the past, and given his modest price tag the fourth-year pro is an excellent value right now even if Redman ends up being little more than a temporary fantasy rental of sorts.
Sidney Rice, WR, Seattle Seahawks
Wide receiver Sidney Rice was supposed to be the Seattle Seahawks' prized offensive acquisition a season ago.
However, Rice's first year in the Emerald City was a huge disappointment, with the sixth-year veteran missing seven games and failing to crack 500 receiving yards.
Rice has now missed 17 games over the past two seasons and underwent a pair of surgeries in the offseason that inserted a total of 22 anchors into his shoulders to stabilize the joints.
Rice has been running sprints in minicamp but has yet to be cleared for contact. The 25-year-old recently told the The Seattle Times that he's "right on pace to be ready for the season."
Still, given the last two years and Rice's pincushion shoulders, counting on him to stay on the field falls somewhere between extreme optimism and outright delusion.
Kenny Britt, WR, Tennessee Titans
Like any number of fantasy standouts on this list, Tennessee Titans wide receiver Kenny Britt is recovering from a serious knee injury, as the third-year pro's 2011 campaign ended after three games due to a torn ACL and MCL.
Compounding Britt's recovery is an arthroscopic procedure performed on the same knee in May, and while the surgery was described as "minor", Britt only recently began running and cutting again.
Britt told The Nashville Tennessean earlier this month that he's "hoping and praying" to be ready for Week 1.
Britt possesses fantasy WR2 upside when on the field and healthy, but drafting him as such when words like "hoping and praying" are being thrown around in regards to his health probably isn't the best of ideas.
Percy Harvin, WR, Minnesota Vikings
It's fantasy double-whammy time!
Not only has Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin been absent from most of OTAs and minicamp after undergoing shoulder surgery in April, but it appears that the 24-year-old may also be displeased about his contract situation.
Harvin told reporters after Tuesday's walkthrough that he "hasn’t been real happy lately” according to the Associated Press, and while the fourth-year pro didn't specifically mention money, it's a safe bet that he's not angry about the Vikings switching Gatorade flavors (they didn't that I know of).
Harvin seemed primed for a potential breakout season as the Vikings top wideout in 2012, but fantasy owners are now left balancing the possibility of that breakout year against the risk of a disgruntled player with an iffy shoulder and history of crippling migraines.
Sounds like Percy Harvin may be set to give his fantasy owners one.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots
We'll close this slideshow with an update on the health of the first professional football player ever successfully grown in a Transylvanian laboratory, that being none other than record-setting man-monster Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots.
Gronkowski underwent ankle surgery several months ago, and while the third-year pro has been a spectator for most of OTAs and minicamp Gronkowski recently relayed to NESN that, "Everything is going well, just feeling better every single week."
If I just signed a six-year, $54 million contract, I'd be feeling better too.
Gronkowski should, by all accounts, be fine for the start of the season, but the 23-year-old is still being overvalued somewhat in fantasy drafts, if only because it's highly unlikely that "Gronk" will be able to repeat his ridiculous 17 touchdowns from last year.
Just don't tell him I said that. I prefer my legs attached to my torso.