Some injuries are freaky; sudden accidents we can’t avoid. Others are nagging, cumulative issues that can affect on-field performance.
Distinguishing the difference between these two is difficult, yet crucial. The players below are coming off injuries of varying severity, leaving us with different degrees of risk and complications when making a projection. Many of them will have a depressed average draft position (ADP) in fantasy formats, yielding potential value.
Here are the situations to monitor as you get set to draft.
1. Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots
Injury: Torn right ACL and MCL on Dec. 8, 2013
The bad news is that Gronkowski has now had eight known surgeries in his career. The good news is that this is his first knee reconstruction (the other surgeries were on his back, forearm and ankle).
By now, we should all know that different players respond differently to ACL tears. The majority of them (Robert Griffin III, Rashard Mendenhall and Terrell Davis to name a few) struggle to return to prior form. A couple freaks (Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles) immediately bounce back the following season. I’d consider Gronk more of a beast than a mere mortal, but has he been rehabbing as hard as Peterson did, or has he been slamming Coors Light cans against his forehead while dancing shirtless?
Given that this is the Patriots, we have virtually no updates on Gronk’s status. He did not participate in any team work during the offseason program, but was spotted running sprints and doing some cutting on the side. We do know that given the extensive injury history here, he’s going to take even more time than he thinks he needs. Remember that Gronkowski (elbow) sat out the first six games of last season despite heavy pressure from the team, fans and media.
BEST CASE: Gronkowski is cleared for Week 1 and hits the ground running as the focal point of the entire Patriots offense.
WORST CASE: Gronkowski starts the year on the PUP list, debuts in the second half of the year and shows sapped explosion in the passing game.
MOST LIKELY: Gronk is held out of the first couple of games, gets eased in for a few weeks and then starts Gronking people.
2013 16-game pace: 89 catches, 1,353 yards, 9 touchdowns
2. Julio Jones, WR, Falcons
Injury: Fractured foot on Oct. 7, 2013
As Jones was going through the pre-draft process back in 2011, news broke in March that he would need a screw inserted into his left foot. It wasn’t considered a major procedure as he resumed working out within a couple months, and his draft stock wasn’t affected at all. The Falcons ended up looking like geniuses as they traded up to get Jones sixth overall, and he immediately splashed as one of the best receivers in the NFL.
Everything kept going along swimmingly until Week 5 of last season, when Jones sustained another fracture in the same spot. According to reports, the original screw broke. Famed foot specialist Dr. Robert Anderson went in and did another surgery, and Jones is not scheduled to participate in football activities until training camp.
The Falcons have expressed zero concern about Jones’ health, saying they’re playing it safe to ensure he’s truly 100 percent for camp. There’s little reason to doubt them given the 11 months between surgery and Week 1. The only concern is that repeated serious injuries in the same spot can become chronic issues. But this small risk will be mitigated with the massive reward that comes with a guy who is right there with Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant and A.J. Green for most talented receiver on the planet.
BEST CASE: Jones picks up right where he left off last season, when he was on pace to be fantasy’s No. 1 half-PPR wideout.
WORST CASE: Jones isn’t fully cleared until late in camp and then hobbles through a few games before doctors say his fracture never completely healed.
MOST LIKELY: The Falcons handle Jones with kid gloves for all of camp and then unleash him in Week 1. He has no noticeable complications from the injury.
2013 16-game pace: 131 catches, 1,856 yards, 6 touchdowns
3. Reggie Wayne, WR, Colts
Injury: Torn right ACL and meniscus on Oct. 20, 2013
I’ve talked a ton about how Adrian Peterson ruined things for everyone else coming off an ACL tear. Now players are held to the Peterson standard, which isn’t really fair because the man is not from planet earth. He’s a once in a generation kind of athlete, as proven when Dr. James Andrews opened up his knee and said it looked like a baby’s.
So as Wayne tries to come back from this injury at age 35, he’s facing very long odds. The average athlete may return within a year of his tear, but he likely won’t be the same until the following season. Wayne was already showing signs of decline in big-play ability and long speed. No matter how rosy the reports on him are come August, this is a guy I’ll be steering clear of. The Colts know a full recovery at this stage of a career is unlikely, in part leading to the additions of Hakeem Nicks and Donte Moncrief.
BEST CASE: Wayne is an every-down security blanket for Andrew Luck from Week 1.
WORST CASE: Wayne suffers complications stemming from his tear, bouncing on and off the inactive list all year.
MOST LIKELY: Wayne slowly ramps up his snaps through the first quarter of the season and then settles in as a third-down possession receiver. He’s no longer a big-play maker.
2013 16-game pace: 86 catches, 1,149 yards, 5 touchdowns
4. Jordan Reed, TE, Redskins
Injury: Concussion on Nov. 17, 2013
Whenever a player sustains multiple serious concussions these days, I immediately think of Jahvid Best. A great player who wants to play but just can’t gain medical clearance because of all the head injuries he sustained in his career.
The fear with Reed is that he had two concussions while at the University of Florida and then sustained one in Week 11 of his rookie year. That blow turned out to be so severe that he ended up sitting out the rest of the season. And of course, once someone has a history like this, another severe concussion can be career-threatening. The offseason, however, has been promising. Reed participated fully in the opening minicamp, and new coach Jay Gruden is talking his tight end up as a focal point.
There’s a ton of reward with Reed, so he’ll be worth accepting risk. Pop in his game tape and you’ll find a 6’2”, 236-pound freak that runs routes like Aaron Hernandez when split wide and catches fades like Jimmy Graham.
BEST CASE: Reed makes it through the season without taking any shots to the head and capitalizes on his truly special receiving ability.
WORST CASE: Reed sustains another concussion early in the season and is slapped with an “out indefinitely” label.
MOST LIKELY: Playing without fear, Reed becomes a featured red-zone asset and mismatch creator for Gruden.
2013 16-game pace: 80 catches, 887 yards, 5 touchdowns
5. David Wilson, RB, Giants
Injury: Herniated disc in neck on Oct. 6, 2013
Jeez, neck injuries are really scary. We already know how fragile NFL players’ bodies are, especially after they’re done playing (see the latest research on concussions). The fact that Wilson had a fusion of his vertebrae in January and plays the most dangerous position in the game is a bad combination. No one wants to see this kid have health issues when he’s 50. The Giants keep saying they expect Wilson will be ready to play in 2014, but it will all depend on how he heals. Remember that Peyton Manning sat out a full season following his final neck surgery.
Complicating matters is how poorly Wilson played before his injury in 2013. He lost two fumbles in the season opener, got blown up in pass protection and was averaging 3.31 YPC on 44 carries at the time of his injury. The Giants brought in Brandon Jacobs and used Da’Rel Scott way more than they wanted to. It’s safe to say that if Andre Brown were healthy early in the year, Wilson would have been benched completely.
Brown is on the Texans now, replaced by Rashad Jennings. Wilson is a question mark as the Giants expect him to participate in camp but can’t say for sure that a doctor will sign off. The coaches and front office have repeatedly said that anything they get from Wilson in 2014 will be a bonus. I still believe Wilson can be a special running back in this league, but he’s going to be a role player if he can gain that medical clearance.
BEST CASE: Wilson is cleared for the first day of camp, runs circles around Rashad Jennings and seizes the lead half of a committee by October.
WORST CASE: Wilson can’t find a doctor to clear him, and he sits out the entire season.
MOST LIKELY: Wilson gains clearance but settles in as a two-down change-of-pace back behind Jennings.
2013 16-game pace: 140 carries, 467 yards, 3 touchdowns. Six catches, 25 yards, zero touchdowns
6. Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers
Injury: Torn labrum in left shoulder on Oct. 20, 2013
Labrum tears in shoulders aren’t nearly as severe as some of the other injuries on this list. Martin wanted to play through his and then get surgery after last season, but the Bucs wisely thought better of that with their season in the toilet. Players that have this surgery are not at any more risk of another tear or separation as anyone else. Martin was active for the offseason program.
It’s also worth noting that although Martin’s pre-injury numbers look really bad, he averaged more than 4.0 YPC in all but two games. Those two games were against the Jets (finished as the No. 3 run defense) and the Cardinals (finished as No. 1 run defense).
BEST CASE: Although the new Bucs coaching regime inherited Martin, they fall in love with him, and he lowers his left shoulder without hesitation.
WORST CASE: Martin is afraid to lead with his shoulder, failing to churn out extra yards and begins losing snaps to third-round rookie Charles Sims.
MOST LIKELY: Martin is ready to rock as a two-down-plus goal-line workhorse, showing no signs of last year’s injury.
2013 16-game pace: 338 carries, 1,216 yards, 3 touchdowns. 32 catches, 176 yards, 0 touchdowns
7. Arian Foster, RB, Texans
Injury: Disc issue in back on Nov. 3, 2013
Foster came into the 2013 season as a bust candidate due to an absurd average of 371.6 touches per season between 2010-12. Those who faded him in the first round of fantasy drafts ended up winning as his touches were managed early on due to a lingering calf strain. Then Foster pulled his hamstring, and then he sustained a back injury, leading to a microscopic lumbar discectomy. He says the surgery wasn’t as major as it sounded, and he participated fully in May OTAs, adding he’s “healthy and raring to go.”
Perhaps sitting out the final two months of last season will help get some freshness back in Foster, but he’ll turn 28 in August and now carries a laundry list of injury red flags. It’s a high-risk, high-reward situation. The Texans don’t seem concerned, downgrading on departed Ben Tate with Andre Brown.
BEST CASE: Buoyed by the extended time off, Foster finds his 2010-12 form and is able to sustain health. The Texans hide their quarterback woes by leaning on defense and the run game.
WORST CASE: Compensation issues wear down Foster’s effectiveness - his back affects his calf which affects his hamstrings.
MOST LIKELY: Foster can’t quite find the form that made him fantasy’s No. 1 overall player but remains a plus running back in all three phases while racking up another hefty workload.
2013 16-game pace: 242 carries, 1,084 yards, 2 touchdowns. 44 catches, 366 yards, 2 touchdowns
8. Shonn Greene, RB, Titans
Injury: Right knee scope in early May
The Titans’ decision to sign Greene to a $10 million contract in March of 2013 was predictably a disaster. He had his right knee operated on in September, missed six weeks and then lumbered to an ineffective 3.83 YPC. Then he showed up to a three-day, non-contract, pre-draft minicamp and couldn’t finish it due to pain and swelling in the same knee. He got it scoped again.
The Titans got the hint, making Bishop Sankey the first running back off the board at No. 54 overall. New coach Ken Whisenhunt has been talking up a committee approach, something that’s necessary with Greene’s condition appearing chronic.
BEST CASE: Greene’s knee holds up through 16 games, allowing him to effectively play the short-yardage and goal-line role behind Sankey.
WORST CASE: Greene can’t even make it through camp without experiencing more swelling in his knee, leading to his third surgery in 12 months.
MOST LIKELY: Greene guts it out through pain, but is largely ineffective outside of a few goal-line plunges.
2013 16-game pace: 112 carries, 429 yards, 6 touchdowns
9. Malcom Floyd, WR, Chargers
Injury: Hyperextension of neck/spine on Sept. 15, 2013
Floyd’s 2013 season ended in Week 2 when he ran a deep slant and scarily got sandwiched between two Eagles defenders. It was a scary scene, one that left Floyd openly questioning whether he’d ever play again. But after plenty of rehab and meetings with specialists, he’s gained full clearance to play this season. Floyd says he’s at no more risk of further neck/spine damage than anyone else on the football field. It’s the kind of injury that would not affect physical performance in any way once completely healed.
Floyd's status took another leap during the offseason program, as he was reportedly the MVP of Chargers workouts and looked like his old self. Expect him to start as the deep-threat complement to Keenan Allen.
BEST CASE: Floyd indeed gets doctors to sign off, and he immediately steps back to the vast hole opposite Keenan Allen, posting another 40-catch, 800-yard, 5-TD season.
WORST CASE: Floyd either can’t gain final clearance for contact or has an unexpected setback in camp and sits out the year.
MOST LIKELY: Doctors give Floyd the green light, but at age 33 he’s merely a situational deep threat in a run-heavy scheme.
2013 16-game pace: N/A
10. Jake Locker, QB, Titans
Injury: Lisfranc surgery on Nov. 20, 2013
Locker appeared to be turning the corner as something of a quality game manager last season, leading the Titans to a 4-2 start while throwing eight touchdowns against three interceptions. Then disaster struck again, this time in the form of a Lisfranc injury. It’s one of the most severe injuries an athlete can have, especially when it requires surgery. Maurice Jones-Drew and Santonio Holmes have not been the same since their procedures.
So now Locker’s best asset, his athleticism, is threatened. We already knew that accuracy and pocket presence were issues. He was a limited participant in the offseason program.
BEST CASE: Locker’s foot is a non-issue and the light bulb finally turns on, securing his spot as the long-term face of the Titans’ franchise.
WORST CASE: Locker can’t move in the pocket due to lingering Lisfranc issues, crushing the last shot he has to be an NFL starter.
MOST LIKELY: Locker’s foot gets back to 90 percent, but his progress as an NFL passer remains flat. He maxes out as a game manager.
2013 16-game pace: 2,870 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, 9 interceptions
Other injuries worth watching:
* Adrian Peterson, groin surgery
* Tony Romo, back surgery
* Sam Bradford, ACL tear
* Dwayne Allen, hip surgery
* Jermichael Finley, spinal fusion surgery
* Cecil Shorts, sports hernia surgery
* Sidney Rice, ACL tear
* Leonard Hankerson, ACL and LCL tear
* Bernard Pierce, shoulder surgery
* Cam Newton, ankle surgery
* Aaron Dobson, foot surgery