Fantasy Football Week 9: Latest Injury Review and Analysis
Week 7 was bad. Injuries seemed to be everywhere as big-name players dropped all over, some for the season. Week 8 looks better superficially, but there's just as many injuries, if not quite as many big names. Like I always say, there's no bye week for injuries.
The bye week doesn't apply for the medical staffs of teams, either. Teams are on bye in bunches in Weeks 8 and 9, but by Week 10, the last of them will get their "week off." It just doesn't happen. The players get a couple days, but the medical staff is in early, making sure that rehabs are on schedule and that the week of rest is really rest. I spoke with one assistant trainer for a team off this week who planted himself in front of the weight room door so that players wouldn't spend hours in there when they were supposed to be resting.
I often jokingly say that it would be easier if NFL players were considered a different species. They look like the rest of us, but they're not really like us at all. Things like this, where rest becomes only four hours in the weight room instead of six, makes me remember that I'm not really joking. You might watch a lot of football, but Peyton Manning is in the film room more than you. (Eli, too.)
The NFL requires an inhuman commitment, one that excludes almost everything else. Family? Vacation? Common sense? All pushed aside in season in search of one goal. They all want to push themselves further, to play three or four more games than everyone else and hold together just long enough to get a ring. Everything else is secondary, and I do mean everything.
When it comes to injuries and injury management, that attitude is the underlying bedrock. It's never going to go to zero because of the structure of the game and the attitude that's built up on top of that. No one, no rule, no fine is going to change that, but there's plenty of room for improvement. For now, let's look around the league.
INJURY: strained hamstring
OUTLOOK: out for Week 9
The fact that Michael Vick "heard something pop" isn't good, but let's not read too much into it. He's a quarterback, not a physician. The pop is real; Vick felt something and it's not good, but it's not instructive, either. That said, there's no real chance he actually heard something pop—a hamstring violently ruptured makes no discernible sound. Gross anatomy taught me that much.
I can tell you that when I do Pilates, movements that extend my left leg cause a tendon to pop over in my hip. It's normal and you probably have a similar motion somewhere on your body. What Vick had is likely a significant strain, but the fact that he walked off the field is a positive indication. A severe hamstring strain or rupture usually involves more pain and lack of function.
But even a rupture isn't that bad, depending on where the problem is. The hamstring tendon is often used in transplants, such as Tommy John surgery, because the hamstring is redundant. Vick has a hamstring strain enough to keep him out in Week 9 and enough to make us wonder about his ability to get healthy and stay healthy, especially on a team that's going in the wrong direction.
Nick Foles has been cleared for practice, but the Eagles are otherwise left with Matt Barkley or whatever they can find on the QB scrapheap. That's likely to mean that even if it takes Vick a month, he's likely to be the best option in Chip Kelly's offense.
Robert Griffin III
INJURY: sprained knee
OUTLOOK: expected to play Week 9
Robert Griffin III doesn't need more knee problems, but here's the interesting thing: Doesn't the fact that he's had at least four diagnosed knee sprains indicate there's an issue with the durability of his knee ligaments? If so, was this not something that the Colts and Washington would have looked at during the draft combine (the Rams as well, since they traded away the pick). Was Griffin's knee risk a reasonable one given his talent and his comeback from ACL surgery while at Baylor?
That's an answer we might never know outside—the Colts haven't even acknowledged that Reggie Wayne had his knee surgery yet (he did, last week). Griffin's sprain Sunday was quickly seen and checked on the sideline by doctors and trainers, including Dr. James Andrews, who traveled to Denver. (Incidentally, Andrews might have made the trip in part by the chance to check on another patient there. I'll leave you to think about that one.)
Griffin's knees are a concern, but the sprain appears to be minor. It's on the left side, not the thrice-repaired right. Washington expects Griffin to play and be at full capacity next week. It wouldn't surprise me at all if Griffin wasn't even on the OIR come Thursday. Whether you call them, haters or realists, there's some real issues with keeping Griffin healthy. It's one the Redskins offense needs to adjust to, or else there needs to be a new offense. In this case, the health of one player might lead to wholesale changes in the staff and scheme.
INJURY: strained hamstring
OUTLOOK: unclear for Week 9
It's not just Arian Foster that's injured—the Texans have a whole host of questions, including whether this era of their short history is over. Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson are fading, but is Arian Foster joining them? Ben Tate was the one that was supposed to take over...or was it Steve Slaton? Tate's been more injured than Foster, though Foster is injury-prone, to be sure.
The Texans head into a game with the Colts with all those questions, and for the running game, the questions won't be answered until much later in the week. The bye was fortuitous, but as we've seen with other situations, it's not always enough to get a couple of chained weeks. Foster's status will be determined by function, which we won't know until he runs in practice and recovers. That's the key.
Foster and Tate are both question marks, so even with a handcuff, there's questions about whether Case Keenum will be handing off to Deji Karim or even Dennis Johnson, signed off practice squads. It's a mess beyond the top couple, and the top couple are a mess. Gary Kubiak survived this far, but the road doesn't get better until the health does.
INJURY: high ankle sprain
OUTLOOK: expected to play Week 9
The Bills followed a pattern that we've seen other teams try. After a couple weeks of subpar outings, the medical staff decided to shut down C.J. Spiller for a week and hope that Fred Jackson and Tashard Choice could handle things. It's a smart move that worked for Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson, so it's reasonable to expect that even with a high ankle sprain, Spiller will be more effective after rest.
The high ankle sprain was keeping Spiller from his lateral hops, hard stops and quick burst, which turned him into a shell of himself. Worse, he was holding back any improvement by trying to play. A week's rest should get most of the back, or at least that's the theory.
Spiller will have the extra rest on top of a week of practice. Look for any sign that Spiller has taken a step forward in practice. Just being at practice on Wednesday and Thursday is a good step, but any mention by the beat writer of quick acceleration, lateral motion and such is a bigger positive. We'll all be watching, and I expect Spiller to be a game-time decision officially on Sunday.
INJURY: plantar fasciitis
OUTLOOK: expected to play Week 9
Jimmy Graham may have a case of plantar fasciitis that is painful and requires multiple painkillers to play through, but he's productive. While I still stand by the idea of wait-and-watch with situations like Graham's, his red-zone results make that very difficult.
There's no reason to expect that things will change. While the pain management and inflammation issues will decide how long Graham can play and play well, there's no reason to think that there's a descending line on Graham's production. He did it once, and until he shows he can't do it again, some luck aside, we have to assume he can play similarly.
Antonio Gates played through a similar injury for the better part of two seasons. While it limited his targets and yardage in the Chargers offense, his red-zone looks kept him valuable. That's exactly what's in play here, so Graham retains his value as one of the top TEs in the NFL and in fantasy.
INJURY: sprained knee (MCL)
OUTLOOK: expected back in Week 9
DeMarco Murray was a surprise inactive as the Cowboys elected to go with the backups for another week against the Lions. Joe Randle and Lance Dunbar were disappointments, going for less than 50 yards combined in the offensive struggle. A running game might not have been effective with Murray, but it would have chewed up seconds that Matthew Stafford needed.
Still, the medical staff made the call that Randle was more ready to contribute at 100 percent than Murray was at whatever percentage he was in pregame. This is surprising since Murray was running well, at least north and south. It's even more surprising since Jerry Jones told the Dallas Morning News that Murray could have gone. Jones is no doctor, so it's unclear what information he's basing this on, though he should have a pretty good read.
That certainly indicates that Murray will go in Week 9 against the Vikings. Of course, we had those indications in Week 8, as well, so have Plan B in place. Look for Murray to do more lateral cuts this week in practice for the best sign that he'll be back in the Cowboys backfield this weekend.
INJURY: sprained ankle
Julius Thomas has emerged as another weapon for Peyton Manning, freed by Wes Welker in many of their routes and in some ways replicating the role that Dallas Clark and Marcus Pollard played for Manning back in the day. Thomas has been an emerging star, but an ankle sprain looked to derail him much more than Manning was by a similar injury.
Thomas' ankle injury was thought to be a problem, but the early MRI results have come back negative—a positive for Thomas' production and ability to come back in Week 9. We just have to wait and see how he practices for an early look, though the Broncos will be willing to give him right up to game time.
The worry was that Thomas had a high ankle sprain. MRI showed that's not the case, so Thomas has the chance to take the bye week and come back healthy.
Peyton Manning: Manning played very well despite a high ankle sprain and an anatomic ankle sprain on the other side. He made adjustments to his footwork and to his throwing to accommodate the issue, but with the bye, he should be pretty close to 100 percent by Week 10.
Matt Schaub: Matt Schaub isn't going to get his job back yet, despite being healthy. Schaub had a multi-structure foot and ankle injury suffered a couple weeks ago. Even with the Colts coming to town, the Texans are going to go with Case Keenum in Week 9.
Percy Harvin: CBS Sports' Jason LaCanfora is reporting that Harvin is on track to play in Week 9. That's a bit early based on the normal timeline for his kind of hip surgery, but that's a very small sample, so variation isn't unusual. LaCanfora says he will be eased into the lineup over the next three weeks against weaker opponents and then has a Week 12 bye, which should have him at or near 100 percent for the fantasy playoffs.
Roddy White: White is expected to be back at practice this week. It's unclear yet whether the ankle and leg issues that have held him out the last couple weeks have just cleared enough to get back to practice or whether the Falcons think they'll have him back for the game this weekend against Carolina. Watch for mid-week practices to give us more clues on that. Drew Davis is a sneaky sleeper if White is out again.
James Jones: Jones remains a day-to-day player with his PCL sprain, meaning Jarrett Boykin remains a solid fantasy play for the time being. Jones should be making progress, but there's been no outward sign of it just yet. Myles White got the looks at WR3 and Andrew Quarless filled in for Jermichael Finley, but Aaron Rodgers is keeping the Packers on track.