Shaun Alexander? Yes, he's why the Fantasy Football Injury Report is here, in a way. In 2006 I was at ESPN, and heading into that draft, there were three key running backs at the top of list: Shaun Alexander, Larry Johnson and LaDainian Tomlinson. But only one, Alexander, had his season derailed by injuries.
That's why this is here: To make sure this year's Shaun Alexander doesn't end up on your roster—or if he does, then what to do about it.
The FFIR has been around since 2005, in some form or fashion. It started when Aaron Schatz convinced me that writing about injuries in the NFL would be easy. I knew football well enough and I even had an NFL team in Indianapolis, making it even easier for me than MLB.
Little did I know.
While Under The Knife, my column about injuries in baseball, is perhaps better known, my work in football scaled. It went to ESPN in two years, on to SI for a spell and now crops up here at Bleacher Report. I'm as excited to do it here as I was day one, because the possibilities are endless.
I'll be here to make sure that your fantasy team is just like an NFL team—with the best medical staff around. I'll talk to the doctors, the athletic trainers, the physical therapists and more to help you understand whether that injury means a player should be on your bench or your waiver wire. Whether that probable means to start your RB1 or take a shot on the rookie.
Stick with me all season, and when you win your fantasy league, you won't even have to share the winnings with me.
The injuries haven't waited for the regular season and I won't either, so let's take a look around the league.
Injury: Grade II calf strain f/u with back strain
Outlook: Expected to be ready for Week 1
Value: 2 overall, 2 at RB (Eric Mack)
Arian Foster has always been talented. He's also always been injury prone, going back to high school, and it's about the only thing that's held him back along the way. His offseason hasn't helped him get rid of that tag, fighting through a significant calf strain and now a back issue that is likely related.
Foster has played in all 16 games two of the last three seasons, but during that time, Foster has seldom been fully healthy. It's a testament to the Texans medical staff and to Foster's talent, but it still makes him a very risky pick.
While the Texans and Foster insist he'll be ready well before Week 1, this latest back issue is one more reason to worry and to move him down your draft boards. If this is a cascade as a result of changes in his gait from the calf, we could see issues linger well into the season for Foster.
That takes him from being a consideration at 1-1 to somewhere lower, depending on your risk tolerance. For me, that's outside the top five, meaning I'll likely see someone else pick him up, and I'm fine with that.
Injury: strained foot
Value: 6 overall, 6 at RB (Eric Mack)
The initial reports on Jamaal Charles were positive. The Chiefs reported that his X-rays were negative and that the injury was a strain. Now, "strain" and "sprain" are very close and easy to confuse, but they are very different diagnoses.
There were conflicting reports about whether Charles' strain was in fact an early diagnosis. Adam Schefter said on ESPN's NFL Live that there were "private concerns" about the injury's severity that would likely lead to more imaging, while Ed Werder (also of ESPN—fight! fight!) tweeted almost the opposite shortly thereafter.
The worry here is that Charles has more tests that find more damage. Several have already brought up the early diagnoses on Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden, but the Chiefs have been very focused on the strain designation. Until we have evidence to the contrary, it's smart to be concerned but not panicked. A moderate strain would have Charles back just before Week 1, but it's too early to give any sort of solid timeline.
Knile Davis is the backup in Kansas City, but is hardly a solid handcuff player. If you are going to take Charles, it's key to back him up at RB2 and RB3 with solid players, as well as grabbing a late-round RB4 with some upside.
Injury: stress reaction in foot (unconfirmed)
Outlook: expected to return for Week 1
Value: 200 overall, 19 at TE (Eric Mack)
The Colts didn't lose the paranoia when they lost Bill Polian. Chuck Pagano, perhaps in response to his own illness becoming a major story last season, seems unwilling to give even the slightest details about any injury. One to a budding star like Dwayne Allen is sure to be a major story, but the Colts barely acknowledged that it was a foot injury, even with Allen visible on crutches and a walking boot.
That's fine. The NFL rules make it so teams don't have to talk about things and that's not how I roll anyway. The official injury report never gives us enough information. The early rumor is that Allen has a stress reaction in his fifth metatarsal. That's not a fracture, but a fracture waiting to happen. It's good it was caught early, but bad that it happened at all.
Assuming what we think we know is correct, Allen will be tight for Week 1, leaving us to take Pagano at his word for now. The worry is that this will linger or recur. Watch to see when Allen is able to get back on the field and make hard cuts, which is the biggest worry for this kind of foot injury.
Injury: hamstring strain
Outlook: back before Week 1
Value: 17 overall, 4 at WR (Eric Mack)
Julio Jones has had some issues with his hamstrings during his time in the NFL. It's never been serious, but it's the kind of lingering, occasional injury that holds him back from being an elite force on level with Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald. He's "wound tight" and will need to focus on flexibility to keep from having this be more than a nuisance.
That it's happening this early is problematic, even though some might say he's getting it out of the way at a time when the nuisance doesn't cost him targets. The focus should be making sure that he does get back and doesn't show any deficits. He won't need much time to "get in sync" with Matt Ryan.
Watch for Jones to be back at practice soon, but to be held back from full-go. As long as we get some indication that Jones isn't able to go full stride, even in the pre-Week 1 practices, that should be enough. He's an elite talent with further upside and a known risk. That should be pretty easy to value.
Injury: nerve decompression surgery in knee
Outlook: expected back for Week 1
Value: 52 overall, 21 at WR (Eric Mack)
Jordy Nelson's knee injury is a very strange one, and I'll admit I don't have a great handle on it, even after talking with my normal doctors and trainers, including some with real expertise in knee injuries. Nelson had a nerve decompression done inside his knee, and while this is relatively minor surgery, the question is how quickly the nerve will "regenerate." In this way, there's a parallel to Peyton Manning after his neck surgery.
Nerve regeneration is a misnomer, as it is not creation of new nerve. It's more that the nerve is reactivated after being released. If you think of your leg falling asleep because you were sitting awkwardly, it's along those lines. It takes a bit for the leg to regain normalcy. It's not a common situation, though it's oddly more common in Australian Rules Football than any other major sport.
If Nelson gets back and has his speed, he has the chance to regain his upside. It's unlikely he'll be the WR1 many believed he would become, but he should share targets with Randall Cobb as a solid WR2 with TD upside. Nelson is less a speed player and more a quickness and precision receiver, so those are what you'll be looking for once he gets back on the field.
Injury: bilateral ankle surgery
Outlook: expected back for Week 1
Value: 83 overall, 33 at RB (Eric Mack)
Jonathan Stewart had surgery on both ankles in hopes that having them stabilized and cleaned would get him through a season healthy. Having both Stewart and DeAngelo Williams was supposed to work better on a lot of levels, including health, but it really hasn't. It is good for depth, I guess.
Stewart isn't back to practicing and appears to be a bit behind where he and the Panthers had hoped he'd be. There doesn't seem to be a rush given the presence of Williams and Cam Newton, who functions as an RB when necessary. If Stewart can return to practice in the next 10 days, he could still make it back for Week 1 as planned, but I'm going to want to see a lot of lateral motion and sharp cutting from him before I take him, even at the tail end of the second wave of RBs.
Given the limited upside, Stewart, even if healthy, is likely to start slow. You can stash him at the end of the draft if enough guys know about his status, and get some upside by midseason.
Injury: dislocated shoulder
Outlook: should be back for Week 1
Value: not draftable
Sometimes the players who affect your fantasy team aren't on your fantasy team. While none of us play in leagues with offensive linemen scoring points, they are the ones keeping your QB upright and making the way for your RB to run. You'd better know about them and the guys they're trying to block. Injuries there can affect you in big ways.
The Rams understand this, and an injury to Rodger Saffold this early in the season isn't a good sign in what could be a make-or-break season for Sam Bradford. It's also a big year for Daryl Richardson as he tries to establish himself as a real RB1. (Having Isaiah Pead continually hurt behind him helps, though it does nothing for the depth the Rams have there.)
Saffold's dislocated shoulder is a problem, especially in pass blocking. The upside is that bringing in Jake Long shifted Saffold to the right, off Bradford's blind side. While any dislocation is tough to read—being that the underlying damage to soft tissue is what causes lingering problems beyond the initial pain—once you see Saffold back in contact drills using the arm, he should be relatively fine.
If this turns into something extended, where the backups have to be used and the O-line reconfigured, we might have to drop the Rams offense down a notch until he's back. Yes, linemen are that important. Saffold's scary injury from last season and the dollars that the Rams spent on Long prove that.
Plaxico Burress: B/R's Dr. Dave Siebert, MD did a nice article on Burress, saving me from having to do it. The summary? The shoulder injury is bad and ends his season, if not his career, given his age.
Malcom Floyd: Floyd went down late Monday with a knee injury. The initial reports seemed negative, though there was no solid information by publication. If Floyd is out for any extended period, it makes the loss of Danario Alexander even tougher. Philip Rivers will have Antonio Gates (who has his own injury issues) and no one else. Keenan Allen will be a trendy sleeper, but remember why he fell to the Chargers in the first place—that's right, injury concerns.
Eddie Lacy: Lots of concerns about Eddie Lacy and his sore hamstring. The fact that it's lingering from combine season is worrisome, but it seems more are discussing his work ethic than his injury status. Lacy's injury is hurting him more in terms of reps and confidence than actually keeping him out of the Packers offense.
Robert Griffin: His practice issues are a tempest in a teapot. The team is being overly cautious, and every player wants to play. The only downside here is that Griffin seems to be off message discipline, but it's not like Kirk Cousins is actually going to take his job. Griffin will be ready for Week 1, though I might pair him with a late QB who has a good Week 1 and 2 matchup if you're worried about rust. The downside is that the top Week 1 projections are the top QBs you can't stash late.
Rob Gronkowski: There's no change in his status. He's not yet running, at least in public, though there are whispers that the Pats are keeping him out of media's eye for a reason. I don't know if this is giving Bill Belichick too much credit or if Gronkowski is behind where he was expected to be. I know if he's not running and taking hits in the next two weeks, he's not likely to start in Week 1.
Added Fantasy Bonus: If you've read this far, you deserve a bonus, so here's my current top-10 list in standard (non-PPR) leagues: Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice, Alfred Morris, Doug Martin, Marshawn Lynch, Calvin Johnson, Arian Foster, C.J. Spiller and Trent Richardson.