Don’s Do Not Draft List: Wide Receivers

This Collie won’t be saving Timmy (or your team) from any wells in 2011
Photo Credit: sportsphotography

With draft season well underway, it’s time for your favorite physical therapist to chime in about which guys I’m leery of drafting due to injury risk and which guys should be fine going into this season. That’s right kids, it’s the official Don’s Do Not Trust List ®: Fantasy Football Draft Edition (DDNTL). I have a number of players to discuss, some of whom I will endorse and some of whom will get a spot on this dreaded list. God has granted me a wonderful combination of medical expertise and fantasy prowess, and if baseball season was any indication you should pay close attention to my words here. There are far too many injuries and players to address everyone, so I’m sticking with players found in the majority of leagues. If there’s a player in particular I didn’t address for which you’d like some advice, or if you just want to thank me profusely for being your fantasy draft guardian angel, please feel free to drop me a line in the comments section or send me an email. I’ll help a brother (or sister) out.

This edition will focus on Wide Receivers, the TE edition will follow in the coming weeks (QB can be found here, RB found here, TE here). I’ll preface this piece by saying that ALL WR are at great risk for injury. Down after down these guys explode with bursts of speed, tight cuts and leaping grabs, going from zero to full acceleration in a matter of moments. These quick bursts of activity coupled with the danger of getting jacked up going over the middle leads to a high propensity for injury. So while I endorse a number of players here, don’t blame me when your favorite WR Diva gets his bell rung by a James Harrison headshot. It happens. Don’t hate the player, hate the game. Let’s get after it!

Marques Colston: Colston underwent microfracture surgery to his right knee this off season, the fifth (!) knee surgery he’s had during his playing career and second microfracture procedure (left knee in 2009). Colston has dealt with cartilage issues in both his knees for years, so what’s the big deal with knee cartilage? Your knee joint is cushioned by cartilage (both inside the knee joint and under the kneecap). Without cartilage there is no shock absorption or barrier in the knee to prevent “bone on bone” contact. This lack of cushioning will cause a lot of pain and swelling in the knee, and while it’s often manageable in the early stages, eventually the swelling and pain will build to the point where conservative measures are no longer effective. Colston has had multiple arthroscopic “clean-up” style procedures prior to the microfracture surgery, but you can only remove so much torn cartilage and debris before you don’t have enough left to effectively cushion the knee. Since Colston is about 40 years too young for a knee replacement and still wants to play professional football for a living, microfracture surgery becomes his best (and only) option.

So what is microfracture surgery and what’s all the hoopla about? Performed arthroscopically, the surgeon will drill small holes (microfractures) into the joint surfaces of the knee where the cartilage is damaged or absent. As part of our body’s natural healing response in these areas, cells that grow more cartilage are released. In short, the surgeon is damaging the knee in a controlled manner in order to jump start the healing process and generate new cartilage. The patient will not be allowed to bear weight through the knee joint for anywhere from 6-8 weeks depending on the surgeon’s protocol. If performed on the patella (kneecap), range of motion restrictions will be put in place, meaning the patient will be placed in a knee immobilizer and restricted from bending the knee excessively. As with many reconstructive procedures in the knee, recovery time is typically 4-6 months, and maximum recovery could take 12+ months.

Colston’s surgery was to his patella and not the larger knee joint itself, which is slightly positive news in that the knee joint didn’t have substantial enough damage to require a microfracture procedure. It’s also reported that Colston is fully recovered from the procedure and in May he was able to participate in some informal workouts, both of which are good signs. Unfortunately, the cartilage generated through the microfracture technique is weaker than the original cartilage, making it easier to re-injure and generally less durable. While Colston’s knee joint didn’t require a microfracture procedure at this present time, he’s had five surgeries on his knees – there’s no doubt that significant wear and tear is present. The combination of being less than 100% recovered from microfracture surgery, having pre-existing degenerative conditions and playing on the turf in the Superdome makes the likelihood for problems this season high.

Advice: Colston lands on Don’s Do Not Trust List (DDNTL). You don’t need me to tell you that having five knee surgeries in the span of a few years is a big red flag. You’ll likely hear nothing but sunshine and rainbows during training camp regarding his knee, but I’m telling you there’s too much risk to invest heavily. Even if he doesn’t miss a bunch of games he’ll likely be a weekly headache as his name appears on injury reports. Still not convinced? How about this list of microfracture wonders: Penny Hardaway, Greg Oden, Grady Sizemore, Jamal Mashburn, Chris Webber, Darren Sharper, DeShaun Foster… Marques Colston?

Sidney Rice: Rice has an arthritic condition in his right hip that has worn away the cartilage that cushions the joint. Rice spent the off season leading into 2010 trying to rehab the muscles around the hip as doctors told him he could avoid surgery. When symptoms continued to hamper him, Rice finally conceded to surgery and missed much of the 2010 season. While Rice kept us in the dark about exactly what kind of surgery was performed, eventually news surfaced that the reason he had such an extended layoff was because he underwent a microfracture procedure on the hip. Rice and his agent have declared the new Seahawk WR as 100% healthy entering this season, but I beg to differ.

Many of the points I brought up with Colston in terms of surgical technique apply to Rice, we can just replace “knee” with “hip”. The recovery timeline is also similar, 4-6 months for a return to activity, 12+ months for maximum recovery. Rice will be beyond the twelve month marker by the start of the regular season, so to claim he’s 100% and ready to play is reasonable from a timeline perspective. From my perspective, however, he’ll probably never be 100%. As mentioned with Colston, the cartilage developed as a result of microfracture surgery is not as strong as the cartilage you’re born with. When placed under the repeated stress necessary to be an NFL WR, the cartilage will eventually break down, and it will break down faster than the original cartilage would. I also have concerns about the rest of Rice’s body, his opposite hip in particular. Arthritis rarely occurs in one isolated area of the body, if it developed in his right there’s a good chance it’s in his left too. How long until his left hip becomes symptomatic?

Advice: Rice joins Colston on the DDNTL. While microfracture surgery in general has a roughly 70% success rate and Rice has a decent shot to finish the year without issue, there’s just too much risk here for my liking. I’m concerned his hip could flare up again at a moment’s notice or his opposite hip (or knees, ankles, etc.) could cause him problems from compensation. The change of scenery going to Seattle only hurts him also as Tarvaris Jackson’s lack of proficiency as a passer limits Rice’s ceiling. I can’t fault you for taking a late round flyer on the guy; his 2009 season demonstrated he’s got the talent and physical tools to be an elite WR, but if you draft him anywhere within the first eight rounds you’ve probably got more guts than brains.

Michael Crabtree: Michael Crabtree has an injury to his left foot and it’s reported he’ll miss the next 4-6 weeks of action, meaning he’ll, yet again, miss training camp and the entire preseason for the 49ers. This is the same foot Crabtree had surgery on to correct a stress fracture prior to his rookie season in 2009. He allegedly re-injured the foot during player-led workouts in early June. The specific nature of the injury has not been reported, but going with the information we have, there’s some legitimate concerns here.

The injury occurred in early June, and the announcement of Crabtree’s injury and the additional 4-6 week timeline for recovery was established in late July. Doing some simple math and looking at the calendar, the injury is expected to take roughly twelve weeks to heal. If it was a simple foot or ankle sprain we’d be looking at a 4-6 week timeline, so for Crabtree to require around three months to recover indicates there’s a much more serious issue here. Could he have aggravated his previous foot injury? Did he fracture something? Is it a mid-foot or dreaded Lisfranc injury? Did he have surgery? There are a lot of unknown factors here.

Advice: Welcome to the DDNTL Mr. Crabtree. Anyone who’s read my work before knows I don’t like foot injuries. I especially don’t like foot injuries where there’s an aggravation of a pre-existing condition. There are too many types of bad foot injuries requiring lengthy timelines, and I’m concerned Crabtree has one of them. San Francisco has a new coaching staff, new offense and possibly a new QB, and Crabtree won’t have much time to get acquainted when (or if) he does return. That offense will still run through Frank Gore and Vernon Davis is the top receiving option. I won’t be spending anything meaningful on draft day for a player who’s probably the third best (maybe) option on a mediocre (maybe) offense who also has major injury question marks. Unless I hear more definitive news regarding the specifics behind his injury, I do not trust him this year.

Quick Hits:

Austin Collie: Collie represents one of this year’s biggest draft day lottery tickets. As a physical therapist it’s outside my scope of practice to predict how a player will recover from a concussion (or multiple in Collie’s case) – it’s not an orthopedic injury with a fairly definitive timeline. If Collie is symptom-free he shouldn’t have any lingering issues physically and shouldn’t have any trouble picking up right where he left off as one of Peyton Manning’s favorite targets. The big concern is what will happen if Collie suffers another concussion. The NFL in 2011 is far different than the NFL our fathers grew up watching. Multiple concussions are a major health risk and have ended many careers across multiple sports. If Collie suffers any additional head or neck injuries there’s a good chance his season, or even his career, could be over. While I think there’s a great chance Collie bounces back nicely this year and could provide nice draft day value, I’m reluctantly putting him on the DDNTL because I can’t trust him to survive the season.

Dez Bryant: The immature but immensely talented Bryant fractured his right fibula on a kick return in December of 2010. He missed the remainder of the season after undergoing surgery to repair the injury. Bryant also dealt with a high ankle sprain and a number of nagging injuries throughout his rookie year, causing some to label him as injury prone. I’m here to tell you that one injury shortened season does not make you prone to injury. Bryant was reportedly tireless in his rehab efforts and has been practicing with teammates since May without issues. Bryant has also reported to camp in great shape, having lost 10 lbs. and showing a renewed focus. I know what you’re thinking, typical pre-season hype not worth reading into, but I think it’s a great sign to see a talented player with maturity issues like Bryant demonstrate a little discipline. I’m not worried about Dez Bryant come draft day and neither should you. He’s a much bigger risk of missing time due to extracurricular activities than he is physical issues.

Kenny Britt: I could write a 20 page dissertation about Kenny Britt’s off-the-field issues and why you’d be taking a risk to draft him this year. He’s got million dollar talent and a ten cent brain. It’s Britt’s physical issues that concern me. Britt missed five games last season due to a right hamstring pull, and now he’s missing time in training camp with hamstring issues again. Hamstring injuries can become chronic problems, just ask anybody who’s owned Nelson Cruz or Jose Reyes the last few years. Every time you strain a hamstring it’s technically a tear, and scar tissue is formed to heal the area. This scar tissue is not as springy and does not have the tensile strength of the original muscle tissue, leaving the hamstring more susceptible to recurring injury. With rest and rehab it’s entirely possible Britt will be fine, but I’m leery. To see a re-aggravation of a hamstring injury that was serious enough to require five weeks off is no laughing matter. As a WR, Britt will stress his hamstrings every time he’s on the field. I don’t care how much time he spent with a Yoga instructor this off-season. I see the potential for lots of questionable tags and missed playing time. Factor in the likely suspension he’ll face due to his off-the-field transgressions and I’m firmly putting Britt on the DDNTL.

Jacoby Ford: One of this year’s more popular late round sleeper picks broke his left hand in practice last week and the estimated timeline for recovery is two weeks. The specifics of what was broken in the hand have not been reported, and recently Ford was seen with a hard cast on the hand with whispers of surgery in the air. The two week timeline is not likely, he’s not Albert Pujols. The average person’s bones don’t heal that fast. If he had surgery to fixate any fractures, the timeline wouldn’t change too much so long as it was a bone injury exclusively and no soft tissue damage occurred. I’d expect closer to a four week timetable for Ford. Since this isn’t European football and WR’s catch the ball with their hands, Ford will miss a few weeks of catching passes. He will, however, be able to participate in just about everything else, so the injury should have little if any long term ramifications. Barring a more serious injury than the Raiders are letting on, it’s safe to draft Ford this year.

Mike Sims-Walker: MSW missed his entire rookie year with a knee injury and has missed games every year of his professional career due to various knee problems. Last year he dealt with not only sprained ligaments in his knee but also a staph infection that required him to be hospitalized. This demonstrates that not only does MSW have glass knees but he also has terrible hygiene. He even managed a high ankle sprain last year for good measure. His brittle body, declining skill set and diva antics led to MSW becoming the third option in the mediocre, at best, Jacksonville passing attack last year. So even when healthy he wasn’t an impact player. I’ve seen a few sites deem MSW a potential sleeper this year, with a maturing Sam Bradford and no top tier talent to compete with at WR in St. Louis. Let’s get one thing straight here, MSW is no sleeper – he’s one of the easiest picks for a spot on the DDNTL. His balky knees and poor play have put a million dollar sleeper-hold on his career.

Don’s Do Not Trust List: Fantasy Football Draft Edition
Quarterbacks Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger
Runningbacks MJD, A.Bradshaw, P.Hillis, K.Moreno, P.Thomas
Wide Receivers M.Colston, S.Rice, M.Crabtree, A.Collie, K.Britt, MSW
Tight Ends Antonio Gates, Chris Cooley, Kellen Winslow

Don Brown is the resident Physical Therapist here at SoR. He takes care of all our knife wounds and shares his expertise on the injuries of the sporting world. For any further questions or comments, he can be reached at