Don’s Do Not Trust List: Tight Ends

Weekly flareups of GTD are no laughing matter, practice safe drafting
Photo Credit: Scott Gould

With draft season well underway, it’s time for your favorite physical therapist to chime in on which players I’m leery of drafting due to the risk of injury and which players should be fine heading into this season. That’s right kids, it’s the official Don’s Do Not Trust List ®: Fantasy Football Draft Edition (DDNTL). I’ve got a number of players to discuss, some of whom I will endorse and some of whom will earn 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 most leagues. If there’s a player in particular I didn’t address that you’d like some advice on, 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 final edition will focus on Tight Ends (QB can be found here, RB here, WR here). I’ll preface this piece by saying that ALL TE are at great risk for injury. They battle in the trenches blocking with the big boys yet also run routes and catch passes (often over the middle), where their large frames make them perfect targets to get lit up by a defenders. So while I endorse a number of guys here, don’t blame me when you’re breakout TE has a king-sized lineman roll onto his leg, shredding his knee. It happens. Don’t hate the player, hate the game. Let’s get after it!

Antonio Gates: Let’s get this started with fantasy’s undisputed top TE, the man who’s finished in the top four at the position for seven consecutive seasons and the one guy you’ve probably clicked on this article to read about. Gates dealt with injuries to both his feet last season and eventually had his season cut short because of these injuries. He suffered a tear to the plantar fascia of his right foot as well as turf toe and an ankle sprain in the left. These foot injuries suck (sorry for the complex medical terminology), both for Gates and for your fantasy team. To make matters worse, Gates has arrived at camp with his foot symptoms not fully resolved despite having the entire off-season to rest.

Let’s start with his left foot since those injuries are less concerning. The ankle sprain is a common injury; it will heal and shouldn’t be an issue long term unless it’s of the severe variety or chronically occurring, neither of which I’ve seen reported anywhere. Turf toe, on the other hand, can be very debilitating. Typically turf toe occurs when the big toe is hyper-extended (just imagine pulling your big toe straight back past its comfort point). This hyperextension can sprain or tear the ligaments supporting the toe. Every time you take a step, your weight is transferred through the foot, starting with the heel and rocking to the balls of your feet and toes as you progress through a step. With turf toe, you can’t put weight down through the balls of your feet or toes, making running (or even walking normally) next to impossible. You’re typically looking at a 4-6 week (minimum) timeline for recovery. If rushed back setbacks are common and could cause even more damage and/or missed time. Having the entire off-season to rest, I’m fairly confident that Gates’ left foot is fully recovered. He might be more prone to injuring it again because of his past foot problems, but I don’t think he will enter the season with any lingering issues here.

The right foot, on the other hand, is going to be a problem. Gates was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis initially, and eventually it deteriorated into a tear of the plantar fascia. Your plantar fascia is a band of tissue along the sole of your foot that aids with supporting the arch of your foot as well as the many bones and joints in the foot and ankle complex. It also helps maintain the elastic energy requirements your foot has in response to running and jumping. Want to find your plantar fascia? Take your left hand and grab your foot near the balls of your feet and pull your toes backward. With your right hand, feel the guitar-like string of tissue coming off the heel and along the arch of your left foot. That’s your plantar fascia. Sexy isn’t it? It’s an integral part of the foot and hugely important for anyone, athlete or otherwise.

Plantar fasciitis, like any word with “-itis” after it, refers to inflammation of the plantar fascia. With enough force and repeated stress the tissue can tear, which is what happened to Gates. Recovery time for both conditions varies from person to person. I’ve treated patients with plantar fasciitis whose symptoms resolved in two weeks. I’ve also treated patients who’ve had chronic symptoms for over ten years. It’s not an area that heals well and there’s really nothing that can be done to permanently “fix” the problem. All you can do is rest the area, hit it with anti-inflammatory treatments, stretch it out to make it more accepting of the pressures of walking or running and strengthen the surrounding foot and ankle. Orthotics and specialized footwear can also help alleviate the symptoms as well as improve the cushioning and support of the foot.

Advice: Ben Roethlisberger, Ahmad Bradshaw, Michael Crabtree and now Antonio Gates: all have chronic foot injuries and all have a spot on the DDNTL. Much like the last seven seasons, when Gates is on the field he’ll be arguably the best TE in our fantasy world. The problem is that the “when he’s on the field” part might not be often enough, and he could be a weekly headache. You’ll spend every Sunday glued to your computer trying to figure out if he’s active or not. In order to keep his symptoms tolerable enough to play he’ll have to rest the area as often as possible, meaning minimal practice time and lots of game time decisions (GTD, it’s like an STD but less embarrassing). Playing for the Chargers means lots of late afternoon start times as well. Your backup TE options become thinner when that GTD becomes a game day inactive and all the players from the early games are locked. Despite his numerous injuries over the years, Gates has been as dependable as they come for high end TE production seven years running. That’s nothing to scoff at, and it might even justify taking a chance on him if the price is right. Unfortunately he’s the top TE off the board, and in my opinion that’s far too steep a price to pay for a guy I’m almost certain will have problems at some point this season. Draft him at your own risk kids, enjoy him while he lasts and back him up with somebody serviceable. His feet inevitably fall apart.

Quick Hits:

Chris Cooley: Cooley enters this season after suffering significant leg injuries the past two years. In 2009 he suffered a broken ankle, and last season he played with a torn meniscus in his knee that required surgery in January (much like MJD). News reports so far in camp have not been encouraging as Cooley is still dealing with pain and swelling in his knee. His surgery was eight months ago and while it’s not uncommon to have issues out to twelve months following this sort of procedure it’s discouraging to see his knee acting up so soon. If the knee is flaring up already, what’s going to happen when he’s actually playing in games and getting hit? I foresee lots of missed practices and questionable tags for Cooley this year, and just like MJD, Cooley finds himself on the DDNTL.

Jermichael Finley: The new-age Antonio Gates is yet another guy coming off a meniscus repair, this one occurring in October of last year. Finley was a beast before a torn lateral meniscus cost him the season, and upside-chasing fantasy drafters are all over him again this year. I know what you’re thinking: just like MJD and Cooley, Finley is a big risk following that knee surgery right? Well, yes… but not so fast. Finley’s injury occurred nearly ten months ago, meaning by the start of the regular season he’ll be close to a full year out from the procedure, which is the typical timeline for a full recovery. Just 24 years old, Finley has dedicated himself to his body this off-season, trimming 15 pounds to reduce the stress on his knees. While Finley has dealt with knee problems for two straight years, he enters this season in the best shape of his life and should be fully recovered from knee surgery. His youth and post-surgical timeline set him apart from the likes of MJD and Cooley. He’s certainly not without risk, but I think Finley is a gamble worth taking on draft day.

Dallas Clark: Clark suffered a rare “displaced ligament” in his right wrist that required reconstructive surgery and a lengthy rehab process, which Clark himself reports will take a year to fully recover. I have not read anywhere exactly what the procedure was, but I know Clark spent three months in a cast and that alone speaks to the severity of the surgery. Spending that much time immobilized can wreak havoc on the soft tissue and joint mobility of the wrist, hand and forearm, and it’s not surprising that Clark’s recovery has been lengthy. Clark will wear a brace to protect his wrist for the 2011 season but has otherwise been cleared for full activity. While you always want to err on the side of caution with reconstructive procedures, I think Clark is far enough out from surgery and taking the appropriate preventative measures (wrist brace) that I’m not overly concerned about his wrist becoming an issue this season. It was a fluke injury and shouldn’t have any long term ramifications so long as he’s still able to catch and grip the football. Frankly I’m more concerned about waiver wire extraordinaire Jacob Tamme stealing looks from Clark than I am about Clark’s health heading into this season.

Kellen Winslow: This guy has had SEVEN knee surgeries and he’s 28 years old. This past off-season was the first in many that he didn’t have his “annual” knee cleanup surgery. He’s suffered a fractured fibula, torn ACL, microfracture surgery and a staph infection among his numerous injuries over his career. With Josh Freeman’s continued development, the emergence of Mike Williams as a vertical threat and an improved running game, there should be room to work underneath for Winslow and he shouldn’t cost you much on draft day. Despite the lengthy injury history, Winslow is a “soldier” and has managed to play all 16 games the last two years. Unfortunately his production has diminished during this time span as well, possibly an indication that his injuries are catching up to him and he’s lost a step. I’m also concerned about his knees flaring up over the course of the season. Winslow himself admits that “there’s nothing they can do” in regards to additional surgery for his knees. With a history of microfracture surgery and the considerable wear and tear his legs have endured, it’s not a question of if Winslow misses games but when, so welcome to the DDNTL Kellen. I think he’s worth drafting if you can get him cheap/late, but if you draft him and expect him to play all 16 games again you’re crazier than Brandon Marshall.

Don’s Do Not Trust List: Fantasy Football Draft Edition

Quarterbacks Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger
Running Backs MJD, A.Bradshaw, P.Hills, 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