Fantasy Football Week 1: Latest Injury Roundup & Analysis
It might not be here just yet, but I'm writing about regular-season football now. You should be making decisions about your fantasy team—or at least last-minute, well-informed decisions about who to draft. With just days to go before games and with rosters more or less set, we know a lot more about the teams and players and how they should perform.
Then again, did we really learn much from the preseason? If NFL writer Mike Tanier can predict perfectly how Tim Tebow's preseason would go and several players didn't even bother suiting up for exhibitions, maybe we're better off just looking into crystal balls and magazines printed in May. Owners lined their pockets with four games, sold tickets to practice and generally acted exactly like you think a monopolistic cabal would if it wasn't entirely evil.
Injuries remain one of the biggest stories in the NFL and one of the most underreported. We have referees in the studio explaining rules, but no doctor or trainer giving insight into something that unfortunately changes more games and seasons than any replay. I can't cover every injury here, but I'll get to the biggest, and if you put your question down in the comments, I'll do my best to get to many of them.
Remember, I'll have your updates on Thursday (plus the upgrades and downgrades for Thursday night's game), and then we'll have the big party here on Sunday mornings, with both written and video updates heading into fantasy lineup time. For now, let's get to the injuries...
Robert Griffin, QB, WAS
INJURY: post-surgical ACL reconstruction
OUTLOOK: will start Week 1
The brouhaha about Dr. James Andrews and his "concerns" about Robert Griffin's usage belie one of the great careers in sports medicine. Person after person I spoke with this week, in multiple sports and at multiple levels, reminded me that not once in their dealings with Andrews did he ever tell a team what to do with a player on a strategic level.
I think what happened here is that the medical terminology overheard or repeated got put into a different context. The concern for whether Griffin takes hits, how the brace will hold up or affect his running and other associated medical concerns could sound like football issues.
For his part, Dr. Andrews has been very specific about being focused on only medical issues.
Griffin is cleared to play and has been named the Week 1 starter. While I haven't seen those last two things I want from Griffin before saying he's "all the way back"—instinctive cuts and taking contact—there's no reason to think they'll be problematic. I do think the usage of Griffin will change, but in common sense ways designed to keep Griffin from taking as many hits as he did last season.
Griffin is not going to suddenly develop into a pocket passer. He loses value if you take away any of his skills, and his running is disruptive. I fully expect him to be a valuable QB in both real and fantasy contexts, with the only question remaining being whether he (or any mobile QB) can stay healthy in the NFL.
Brandon Marshall, WR, CHI
INJURY: inflamed hip
OUTLOOK: will start Week 1
Brandon Marshall is having trouble with his hip. It's not going to keep him out and may not hold him back at all, if what we've seen in practice and his limited preseason action holds. The question is whether he's just getting used to a hip that is a bit painful even after cleanup surgery.
The timing of Marshall's issues and final checkup amplified the discussion, but at this stage, it appears that these are nothing more than adjustment and maintenance issues. If Marshall believes that the team isn't "taking it seriously," that speaks more to his perception than any reality. I have a hard time thinking the team that has dealt with Brian Urlacher and Matt Forte over the past few years has an issue with maintenance and rehab.
There's been some suggestions that Marshall had some sort of injection, either a lubricant or PRP, but there's no confirmation of that with any credible source. (The Bears would not comment.) Instead, it's come out that Marshall is working with a chiropractor who does some sort of injury testing that reads a lot like a functional movement screen.
Contrast all this with Phil Emery's comments to ESPN Chicago's Michael C. Wright that Marshall looks stronger and "more dynamic." He's back at practice and is going to start in Week 1. We'll have to see whether he can put up the same kind of numbers as he did last year in a dominant fantasy season or whether the hip will be a lingering concern.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, IND
INJURY: post-surgical foot fixation
OUTLOOK: expected to start Week 1
One of the great fantasy mysteries heading into the season is how the Colts will use Ahmad Bradshaw. Whether Bradshaw can be kept healthy enough to put up solid numbers could decide whether he can carry the Colts back to the playoffs. He showed almost nothing in the preseason, just joining in for walk-throughs and playing in no preseason games.
The Colts went in with this plan, hoping that Bradshaw's foot would heal up and he'd be ready by Week 1. That's where things look now, with no reported concern about Bradshaw's inaction. Chuck Pagano kept singing from the "we know who he is" hymnal from the signing right up to the final preseason game. We do know who Bradshaw is and what he can do, but part of that is his tendency toward injury.
The foot should—and I key on the "should"—be fine. The surgery timing was specific, and he was able to be productive even through the problems with the fixation last year. Corrected, it should last a while. There are still some concerns about turf play and just how to best divide carries the Colts backfield.
Pep Hamilton and Pagano have both discussed being run first or at least more balanced, but the preseason stats don't show it. Some of that may just be that Bradshaw, on talent, is head and shoulders above everyone else and they need him healthy to get that balance.
Bradshaw is a Week 1 fantasy wild card. He has a good matchup, but he's a speculative play. He could have a huge day or spend time watching Vick Ballard or Andrew Luck. At the ADPs he's going at, Bradshaw has upside, but I'm not sure I'll be starting him this week.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, NEP
INJURY: post-microdiscectomy, lower back; post-fixation, fractured forearm
OUTLOOK: unlikely to play Week 1; estimated return in Week 4
Rob Gronkowski progressed to the latter phases of his rehab from microdiscectomy this week, shifting from purely rehab-oriented activities to more football-related activities, per Jeff Howe of Boston Herald. It's all basically a euphemism for putting on the pads and doing things that are more like playing football without any of the contact. It's the contact that is the biggest test left for Gronkowski, and that won't come for at least another week.
All the external signs of matching Gronkowski's activity level to the normal rehab schedule appear to be in line with my prediction that he would be back in closer to 10 weeks than the overly optimistic six. That's not to say he's "behind." He's just on a normal track, which should be satisfactory. It's still possible he could be back earlier, but he's going to need at least a week of full practice for the team to have confidence in his back holding up.
Many are also ignoring the recurrence risk with Gronkowski's forearm. The infection was very problematic, but even before that, the issue of the quick refracture is very unusual. Gronkowski certainly isn't over on the spectrum with Elijah Price, so it could be a simple fluke occurrence, but it bears watching especially given the infection and repeated fixations.
Gronkowski's safety net at the position is now gone. The Pats may well survive without him, but there's little question that there's a bigger step down to the other TEs. The patience the Pats have shown is admirable, but the simple fact is Gronkowski isn't ready.
Victor Cruz, WR, NYG
INJURY: bruised heel
OUTLOOK: expected to start Week 1
The Giants never got too concerned about Victor Cruz. It's looking like they were right, as the Associated Press (via USA Today) reports he was going full speed on Monday. Despite a bruised heel keeping him out for much of the preseason, Cruz was never in much danger of missing time. It's the same offense and same quarterback, so I have a hard time thinking the missed time will cost him much.
Cruz's heel will need to be watched, but a simple shoe insert is likely all this is going to take, or maybe a new shoe if he wants to get high-tech about it. Either way, it's a very easy fix and one that won't tax the medical staff with time-consuming maintenance. It's a bit more difficult than heading down to Walgreens for a Dr. Scholl's, but not much.
With Hakeem Nicks in a similar situation coming off a mild groin strain and Rueben Randle showing himself to be properly cast as a WR3 so far, Cruz should get the same targets and stay in the same role. The injury to Andre Brown could end up putting a couple more targets into play, if only to take the stress off David Wilson. A player coming off even a minor injury has some risk, but with Cruz, it's not very much.
Mark Sanchez, QB, NYJ
INJURY: separated shoulder
OUTLOOK: unlikely to start Week 1; availability in question
It hasn't been a good start for Mark Sanchez. He was challenged when the Jets drafted Geno Smith, but that didn't really work well for either of them. Then Rex Ryan brought Sanchez in late behind a group of guys that just got cut, costing him a shoulder injury.
Sanchez was expected to be back at practice soon, according to Seth Walder of the NY Daily News, but the shoulder injury is lingering a bit. Sanchez doesn't have arm strength to spare, so losing any as his shoulder continues to heal from the separation and underlying soft tissue damage is going to cost him even more.
Don't expect much guidance from the Jets until the Official Injury Report comes out later this week. The talk of the IR seems hyperbolic, even for the New York press. While there's the chance this lingers for much longer than expected, injuries of this sort seldom cause IR moves at the start of the season.
The move to bring in Brady Quinn doesn't mean much for Sanchez. Sanchez's battle is with Smith and the fanbase. If Sanchez is sitting as I expect in Week 1, Smith's success or lack thereof may determine whether Sanchez ever gets back on an NFL field. That Fu Manchu might just give him a chance at a championship of a different sort in the future.
EJ Manuel, QB, BUF
INJURY: post-knee surgery
OUTLOOK: likely available for Week 1
We're still not sure exactly what EJ Manuel did, but we do know that he's back out on the practice field. Manuel has a chance to start this week, and while the New England Patriots are a terrible matchup for the Bills, these kind of games can act as a bit of a trap or even feature a Cam Newton-style scoring spree as the latter part of the game is spent trying to score quickly.
The Bills aren't going to tip their hands on who'll start until much later in the week, but what we've seen from Manuel so far gives every indication that he could start. He's moving well, showing no limp and seems on or even slightly ahead of schedule, in line with my expectations. It could well end up a football decision for head coach Doug Marrone.
Manuel's mobility is a strength, but he's not a run-first QB. Add in Marrone's quick-tempo offense and Manuel could get a few more plays than most. Having Manuel would also take some of the pressure off C.J. Spiller, who continues to emerge as a real fantasy star. Manuel's availability would also be a huge boost for Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods.
Le'Veon Bell: Bell told the media he's aiming for a Week 2 return. That would be unprecedented, just four weeks after his Lisfranc injury. The normal time frame for even a mild Lisfranc is six to eight weeks, and even then, we've seen player after player go to the long side of that and beyond.
Bell is out of his walking boot and doing a light jog, which is ahead of schedule. While Bell is clearly a needed player in Pittsburgh, letting him come back too quickly could be even more problematic. I think Bell is a bit over his skis with his prediction. You want an optimistic player and a realistic doctor.
Rashard Mendenhall: You have to wonder if the Steelers will miss him more than they thought. Mendenhall looks to be ready to take a normal load in Week 1 for his new team, which should hopefully give Carson Palmer the running game the Cards have lacked the past few seasons. Without a solid RB2, there's a chance Mendenhall could be a bit overworked and overexposed, but more likely, Bruce Arians will just pass more.
Andre Brown: Andre Brown fractured his fibula, the smaller bone of the lower leg. He can come back from this and should. We've seen similar injuries to similar players, such as Reggie Bush, who came back in just seven weeks and showed no limitations. The Giants are thin at RB, so they could use Brown back as soon as he's ready. They have to hope David Wilson isn't too exposed in the meantime.
Roddy White: White is expected to be able to play in Week 1, but there's some question about how close to 100 percent he'll be. The mild ankle sprain is lingering, and while he's not as reliant on pure athleticism as Julio Jones, it's likely that Ryan will shift some of the targets away from White if he's not full-go. Thinking of him like the WR2 rather than the WR1 when you project out is the smart play.
Stephon Gilmore: The Pats don't need any more help against the new-look Bills, but if Stephon Gilmore isn't ready to go (reportedly out six to eight weeks as of Aug. 26), Tom Brady might be looking that way. This could open up deeper routes and teach everyone who Kenbrell Thompkins is in a hurry.
Darrelle Revis: Signs are looking positive for Darrelle Revis. He's ready to play in Week 1 and has an easy matchup. If you like the Bucs D/ST to begin with, it's worth starting it with or without Revis on the field. The Jets don't have any WRs that should expose Tampa Bay's new-look secondary, and assuming Revis plays, we'll get a good look on how well Revis Island has been rebuilt.
Will Carroll has been writing about sports injuries for 12 years. His work has appeared at SI.com, ESPN.com and Football Outsiders.