NFL Injuries to Watch Heading into 2016 Training Camps
Training camps are set to begin for NFL teams by the end of this month. There will naturally be a number of storylines to follow.
The development and performances of players will be of interest, especially where rookies and offseason acquisitions are involved. Positional competitions and battles for roster spots will also be important to follow.
Perhaps the most underappreciated aspect of training camp season, though, is its ability to provide insight into injuries around the league. Training camps give us an opportunity to see which players are dealing with injuries and where injured players stand in their respective recoveries.
This can be especially useful with injuries that could linger into the regular season.
Today, we're going to focus on players who have already been dealing with injuries this offseason and who will be worth following as camps open. These players were injured during the offseason, recently underwent surgery or are still recovering from injuries suffered during the 2015 season. We'll be paying special attention to projected starters, significant role players, rookies and high-profile acquisitions.
Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco's 2015 season ended prematurely because of a brutal ACL and MCL injury. Since the injury occurred in Week 11, there's reason to wonder about his availability for the start of the 2016 season.
Fortunately, Flacco's recovery seems to be going well. Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun reported in April that Ravens coach John Harbaugh believed Flacco was ahead of schedule and would be ready for training camp.
More recently, Flacco stated that a training camp return was on the table.
“I expect to be out there the first day,” Flacco said, per Ryan Mink of the team's official website.
Of course, there's a big difference between being there for training camp and being back to 100 percent. We should be able to gain some insight into the state of Flacco's recovery based on his mobility and ability to execute in team drills.
If Flacco is able to operate the Baltimore offense with little issue in camp, then the Ravens should feel good about his ability to bounce back this season. The real test, though, will be when and if Flacco gets onto the field in preseason and takes some hits.
Setbacks, or another injury, would force the Ravens to change their approach to the season.
Darren McFadden, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys fans probably aren't too concerned about the broken elbow suffered by 2015 starter Darren McFadden. The Cowboys selected Ohio State product Ezekiel Elliott in the first round of this year's draft and added veteran running back Alfred Morris in the offseason.
However, McFadden's injury could very well affect how the team prepares for the coming season. McFadden required surgery to repair the elbow and could realistically miss the season opener. However, the former Arkansas star appears confident he'll be on the field.
"I got a few weeks left in this brace, but other than that, my body feels good," McFadden told Pete Perkins of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "I feel great, and I'm looking forward to the season. I'm ready to go."
Even if McFadden is ready for the season opener, missed time in training camp could cost him the backup job. Elliott is expected to take the starting job, and a healthy Morris probably slides into the backup role.
If McFadden wants to avoid going from Dallas starter to No. 3 back in a single offseason, he'll need to get on the field in training camp and the preseason.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills
Buffalo Bills receiver Sammy Watkins appears to be a star in the making, but he has already battled through his fair share of injuries in his young two-year career. Fortunately, he has only missed three games because of them.
Earlier this offseason, though, it appeared that Watkins might be on track to miss more games. A broken foot and ensuing surgery yielded a recovery timeline that ran up against the start of the season. Even if Watkins is healthy when the season opens, there's no guarantee the Clemson product will be in game shape.
Watkins stated last month that he hoped to be back for camp but wasn't sure.
"You never know. Be very skeptical about it," Watkins said of the possibility the Bills would keep him out of camp, per Mike Rodak of ESPN.com. "Hopefully I'll be back [for camp]. If I'm not, then cool. Get ready for the first game."
Watkins' outlook has looked a lot brighter recently, though. Watkins posted a video of himself running on Instagram, which is a positive sign. Even if Watkins isn't yet to the point where he can participate in drills and team practices, he can at least work on his conditioning.
It's looking like Watkins will be ready when the regular season opens, barring any setbacks. Bills fans and fantasy enthusiasts alike should follow the remainder of his recovery in training camp.
Josh Doctson, WR, Washington Redskins
Washington Redskins rookie receiver Josh Doctson was severely hampered by foot and Achilles issues during the offseason. He missed a big chunk of on-field work during organized team activities and minicamp, and the Redskins are still waiting to get a good look at him in the offense.
Hopefully, Doctson will be able to put his foot issues behind him at the start of training camp, because the on-field work will be critical for his preparation. No matter how talented Doctson might be—and he is very talented—he's still a rookie receiver entering his first NFL season and facing an uphill battle thanks to injury.
The good news for Washington is that the team doesn't have to depend on the rookie in order to have success in 2016. The Redskins have a cadre of talented pass-catchers such as DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder and tight end Jordan Reed. If the team has to work Doctson into the offense slowly, it can.
Still, we're pretty sure that the Redskins and quarterback Kirk Cousins would love to have the additional firepower Doctson can provide. Whether or not they do—and the definition of Doctson's rookie role—could largely be decided by his availability during training camp.
Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati Bengals
A 13-touchdown season in 2015 helped turn Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert into a fantasy darling and earned him a spot in the Pro Bowl. However, while being named to the all-star game was probably an honor, actually playing in it proved to be a disaster.
Eifert suffered an ankle injury during the Pro Bowl, one that eventually led to offseason surgery.
Since Eifert waited until late May to undergo the procedure, there's a real chance that he could miss the start of the 2016 season. This would be a significant blow for the Bengals—and fantasy enthusiasts.
Whether Eifert actually misses time in the regular season could depend on whether he can get onto the practice field at some point during camp and the preseason. NFL Media's Ian Rapoport expects the Notre Dame product to open camp on the physically unable to perform list, and it's hard to predict when he'll come off it.
The Bengals aren't likely to rush Eifert onto the field in Week 1 if he doesn't have an adequate opportunity to prepare. His situation will be worth following throughout training camp.
Tyrann Mathieu, DB, Arizona Cardinals
When the Arizona Cardinals lost defensive back Tyrann Mathieu to a torn ACL late last season, it left the team without one of its top defenders for the postseason push. Despite the injury occurring in Week 15, though, there's a chance Mathieu could be back on the field when the season opens.
Mathieu seems to have attacked his rehabilitation much like he attacks opposing receivers and ball-carriers—aggressively.
“They’re having to hold him back,” Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald said back in April, per Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic. “He heals like Wolverine. He’s so passionate and we love him dearly. And we’re so happy to see he’s going to be ready to go for us by training camp, and he can pick up right where he left off.”
However, Mathieu knows there's a big difference between rehabbing hard and rushing back to the field too early.
“If I’m 90 percent, then I don’t necessarily want to go out there,” Mathieu said, per Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic. “But if I’m 100 percent, I definitely want to be out there. I’ve already shown who I am and what I am, so my objective is to come back that same person. And if I can’t come back that same person, maybe I should wait until I am that person again.”
How Mathieu performs in camp and what he is able to do on the practice field will go a long way toward determining where he is at the start of the season. If either he or the team (or both) feels that Mathieu isn't completely recovered from last year's injury, then it would probably be in everyone's interest to delay his return.
After all, the Cardinals have a chance to repeat as NFC West champions and will want to make sure they can have Mathieu in the postseason this year.
Danny Amendola, WR, New England Patriots
Wide receiver Danny Amendola racked up 65 receptions and 648 yards in 14 games for the New England Patriots last season, but he could be looking at a reduced role in 2016.
The Patriots made a push this offseason for former Bills receiver Chris Hogan by signing him to a restricted free-agent offer sheet. Buffalo declined to match the offer, so Hogan is now a Patriot and looking to steal someone's job in the offense.
Amendola could be the guy to lose out, and offseason surgeries could play a role in that. Amendola underwent ankle and knee surgeries earlier in the offseason and has been away from the practice field since. However, the receiver seems to believe that the procedures will help him in the long run.
"I feel really good. I had a couple minor procedures done after the season. Everybody knows how long the season can be. I wanted to go into next season feeling as fresh and ready as I can," Amendola said, per Mike Reiss of ESPN.com.
Amendola's health and availability in camp will be important because Hogan has already been earning positive attention in the offseason. If Amendola isn't back to 100 percent early in training camp, Hogan will have even more opportunities to ride his momentum into a starting job.
Kelvin Beachum, OT, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars made a number of potentially significant free-agent acquisitions this offseason, including offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum.
The former starting left tackle of the Pittsburgh Steelers was inked to a five-year, $45 million deal and is expected to compete with incumbent Luke Joeckel for the starting job, if healthy. The problem is that Beachum is coming off a season shortened by a torn ACL. There's no guarantee that he will be at 100 percent health when camp opens.
According to Ryan O'Halloran of the Florida Times-Union, the Jaguars expect Beachum to be available and unrestricted when camp opens. This is a positive sign, but still, nothing is guaranteed.
If Beachum is healthy and can win the starting job, he should significantly upgrade the quality of the offensive line. When fully healthy in 2014, Beachum was rated fifth overall among offensive tackles by Pro Football Focus.
Pro Football Focus rated Joeckel 118th overall among tackles last season.
Beachum's health, and his ability to participate in training camp, could have a sizable impact on the Jaguars' 2016 season.
Breshad Perriman, WR, Baltimore Ravens
Knee issues cost Baltimore Ravens receiver Breshad Perriman his entire rookie campaign last year. Unfortunately, the Central Florida product suffered another knee injury this offseason.
The good news is that this injury ended up not being an ACL tear, as originally feared. Perriman is expected to be back on the practice field at some point before the start of the regular season.
"He should be back at some point in time during training camp [and] certainly will be ready for the regular season," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said of Perriman, per Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com. "But, again, that's always unpredictable. I think we've been down this road before."
Getting back on the field will be a good start for Perriman, but he's going to be staring up at a fairly crowded depth chart. He'll be fighting for playing time with the likes of Steve Smith Sr., Kamar Aiken and Mike Wallace.
Perriman is going to have a much harder time getting on the field if knee issues hamper him during training camp.
Jalen Ramsey, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Last offseason, the Jacksonville Jaguars lost rookie pass-rusher and third overall pick Dante Fowler Jr. to a torn ACL. He didn't make it on the field in his inaugural season. The Jaguars likely had some upsetting flashbacks when this year's top pick, Jalen Ramsey, suffered a torn meniscus shortly after being drafted.
Fortunately, the tear wasn't serious, and the surgery to repair it was about as minor as one could hope. Less than two months after the procedure, it's looking like the former Florida State star will be back on the field soon.
“I’m not answering any questions about my injury because I’m 100 percent healthy right now, and I’m ready to go in training camp,” Ramsey said late last month, per Safid Deen of the Tallahassee Democrat. “So it doesn’t really matter. ... It’s a non-factor now.”
While Ramsey doesn't lack for confidence, the Jaguars will want to be cautious with him early in camp. Aggravating the repaired knee could cause major setbacks and lead to Ramsey missing time this season.
Being overly cautious might mean Ramsey is looking at a reduced role early in the season. It will be more important to have the rookie defensive back on the field late in the season and for the foreseeable future.
We should get a better idea of which direction Ramsey is headed once training camp gets underway.