How Much Should We Trust Next Man Up for Key NFL Injuries?
Injuries are an unfortunate fact of life in the National Football League.
Many teams are finding this out the hard way. The first game of the 2013 preseason hasn't even been played yet and already a number of squads are dealing with significant injuries.
For some, the injuries happened in camp. Others still are the result of offseason surgery.
The circumstances of these injuries may differ, but they all share one thing in common. In each case someone is going to have to step in and pick up the slack.
For the fortunate few, reserves are in place that go a long way towards softening the blow. Others aren't so lucky, and enter the season facing many more question marks.
With that in mind, here's a look at some of the more significant injuries around the NFL, the next man up, and how much confidence that player should inspire in fans.
Golden Tate, WR, Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks were hopeful that the addition of wide receiver Percy Harvin would add a new dimension to the offense.
However, things haven't gotten off to the best of starts. Harvin injured his hip in workouts, and now surgery will sideline the fifth-year pro well into the season.
With fellow starter Sidney Rice already battling soreness in his knee, the Seattle passing game is suddenly reeling, and that means a much larger role for Golden Tate.
The fourth-year veteran, who is best known for being on the receiving end of the infamous "Fail Mary" pass against the Green Bay Packers a year ago, started 15 games for Seattle last year, catching 45 passes for 688 yards and seven scores.
Tate, for his part, thinks that the Seahawks will be just fine without Harvin according to ESPN's Josina Anderson:
As a professional football player injuries are part of the game. So when a team signs a guy they know they're taking a risk that could happen. Obviously we would be more dangerous with Percy (Harvin), but with or without him I still feel like we have enough playmakers to succeed this year.
Jayson Jenks of The Seattle Times reports that Tate, who is essentially a poor man's Harvin, has looked good in camp so far, and he's shown the ability to be productive for the team in the past.
Yes, losing Harvin hurts, but it's worth keeping in mind that the Seahawks weren't exactly struggling to score points in the second half of last year.
Confidence Level: High
D.J. Swearinger, FS, Houston Texans
The Houston Texans were hopeful that safety Ed Reed might be the last piece in their Super Bowl puzzle, a veteran playmaker who would solidify the back end of the secondary.
However, Reed was forced undergo surgery on his hip shortly after arriving in Houston. As Marc Sessler of NFL.com reports, Reed says his rehab is progressing well, but the 34-year-old refused to commit to being ready for the season opener, stating "I can tell you that it is close, but I can't say that it is the first game because I don't know."
If Reed isn't ready to go, then the Texans will be going from grizzled to green.
Rookie D.J. Swearinger, who the Texans drafted in the second round of April's draft, could be next in line, assuming that Swearinger usurps Shiloh Keo as Reed's backup during camp.
That's a safe assumption to make with Swearinger, who NFL.com called a "high-motor, downhill run and pass defender who throws his body around."
Granted, Reed's veteran savvy and nose for big plays would be missed. However, the fact is that Ed Reed isn't the player he once was. Age spares no man in the NFL.
In fact, if Swearinger takes to the pro game quickly, this whole thing could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the Texans.
Confidence Level: High
Riley Cooper, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
It's been a wild few days for Philadelphia Eagles wideout Riley Cooper.
First, starter Jeremy Maclin tore his ACL over the weekend, a season-ending injury that thrusts the fourth-year pro into a much larger role after catching 23 passes in 2012.
However, things quickly took a turn for the worse when a video surfaced of Cooper using a racial slur at a concert.
Cooper quickly apologized, and as Jim Corbett of USA Today reports the team has already fined Cooper and sent him for sensitivity training.
However, this sort of huge distraction is the last thing the team needed in the wake of Maclin's injury.
It's unknown what sort of fallout this could have on the field. Teammates, including quarterback Michael Vick, have already stated that they forgive Cooper, but it's far from out of the realm of reason that on-field chemistry could be affected.
The Eagles have other options such as Jason Avant and Arrelious Benn, but Cooper appeared to be the leading candidate to replace Maclin.
Whether that remains the case is unknown, and that just adds more uncertainty to an already iffy situation.
Confidence Level: Moderate
Ed Dickson, TE, Baltimore Ravens
After trading wide receiver Anquan Boldin, it was hoped that tight end Dennis Pitta would emerge as quarterback Joe Flacco's underneath target with the Baltimore Ravens.
Those hopes were dashed when Pitta suffered a season-ending hip injury in training camp, an injury that moves Ed Dickson to the top of the depth chart at tight end for the defending champs.
Dickson told Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun that he's ready to step his game in Pitta's absence:
It's tough, it's tough. You lose a brother like that, we're a 1-2 punch. He had a great season last year. Him and Joe's chemistry, I have to try to get to that level of him and Joe where they are. I will pick him up on my back. Everything I do in practice and anything I do in a game, I got to pick him up.
On one hand, Dickson has given the Ravens some reason for optimism. Two years ago the 6'4", 255-pounder topped 50 catches and scored five touchdowns, so the 26-year-old has shown that he can get it done.
On the other hand, however, Dickson is a better blocker than receiver, a player who fits better as the "in-line" tight end than the "move" option. Stretching the middle of the field isn't exactly his forte.
The team also added veteran Visanthe Shiancoe, but of all the players on this list Dickson may be facing the most pressure to perform.
His ability to replace Pitta's production is going to have a huge impact on whether the Ravens get a chance to defend their title.
Confidence Level: Moderate
Bilal Powell, RB, New York Jets
The New York Jets just can't catch a break.
After Shonn Greene departed in free agency, the Jets were left with a hole atop the depth chart at running back.
Gang Green thought they had remedied the problem. After signing Mike Goodson, the team traded for Chris Ivory. All was right with the world.
Goodson was arrested on drug and weapons charges and still hasn't reported to camp. As Marc Sessler of NFL.com reports, Ivory has been nursing a hamstring injury and even head coach Rex Ryan admitted that he "thought it would be progressing a little bit better than it has."
It doesn't appear right now that either player can be counted on to be ready for Week 1, which would shift lead-back duties to Bilal Powell, who averaged four yards a carry and scored four touchdowns in 2012.
Powell is a serviceable NFL back, but he's much more suited for a change-of-pace or third down role than banging away 20 times a game between the tackles.
For team with question marks and holes all over the offense, a team that desperately needs a ground game to lean on, this is bad news.
Really, really bad.
Confidence Level: Low (did I mention it was bad?)
A.J. Jenkins, WR, San Francisco 49ers
The torn Achilles suffered by San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree is the "oldest" injury on this list, but the hole it left in the 49ers passing game is just as gaping as ever.
That's because no one has stepped into the breach.
According to Kevin Lynch of The San Francisco Chronicle, second-year pro A.J. Jenkins, who was San Francisco's first round pick in 2012, has been inconsistent in camp and is now nursing a bad hamstring.
Kyle Williams has a hamstring injury of his own. Ditto for rookie wideout Quinton Patton's finger. Veteran Mario Manningham is working his way back from an ACL tear.
In short, the starting spot across from Anquan Boldin is a hot mess right now.
As of today Jenkins is the nominal starter. However, given that Jenkins has done next to nothing to this point in his NFL career that could easily change before Week 1, and it's awfully hard to get excited about whoever the 49ers roll out there.
Confidence Level: Low