Breakthrough or Breakdown?
Photo Credit: Jeffrey Beall
With the fantasy football draft season upon us, it’s time for your favorite physical therapist to make his triumphant return to the cyber pages of Sons of Roto. That’s right kids, Don’s Do-Not-Trust List © (DDNTL) is back, and I’m ready to lay some wisdom on the masses! I don’t have a crystal ball, I’m not personally examining or treating any of these players, and I don’t have any contacts in NFL locker rooms. What I do have, however, is an enormous brain filled with knowledge gained through years of experience in rehabbing sports injuries and dominating on the fantasy playing field. For those of you unfamiliar with how this works, I’ll be discussing a bunch of players with injury concerns and whether or not I trust them. To be clear: just because a player makes my list doesn’t mean he’s not worth drafting; in fact, in some cases you can get great injury discounts if you pick your spots carefully. A spot on my list is simply a warning that I wouldn’t trust that player to live up to his draft day value due to health concerns.
Plan on using an early round pick on Trent Richardson, Darren McFadden, or Andre Johnson? Think it’s wise to take advantage of the injury discount on Ryan Mathews, Hakeem Nicks or Miles Austin? Wondering if Adrian Peterson or Jamaal Charles will be worth gambling on? Well we’re going to answer those questions and more. Pay attention kids, it’s time to educate you.
More after the jump:
Richardson has been called the best RB prospect since Adrian Peterson by a multitude of draft experts. He was drafted by a Cleveland Browns team bereft of talent on offense and slated to be one of the few true “workhorse” backs in the league. The combination of immense talent and a huge workload had the fantasy masses drooling. T-Rich’s stock had soared to the point where he was being drafted as a first rounder as a rookie. Then the hype train came to screeching halt. Richardson will undergo a second arthroscopic procedure to his left knee, the same knee he had scoped in February, and fantasy owners (and Browns fans) are understandably nervous about the young stud RB.
Richardson’s original injury was a partial tear to the anterior horn of the lateral meniscus in his left knee. That’s an ugly mouthful. Your meniscus is a cartilage-like structure that forms a “cup” between the femur (thigh) and tibia (shin) to aid in stability and shock absorption of the knee. Richardson underwent surgery in February to clean out the torn tissue, and his surgeon, the famed Dr. James Andrews, called the procedure “about as minor and routine as you can get.” FYI, Dr. Andrews knows his shit. The meniscus in our knees has poor blood supply and therefore doesn’t heal well on its own. When it’s partially torn, the “flap” of torn tissue can cause pain, swelling and even get caught or pinched in the joint when the knee is moved in certain positions. A small tear such as Richardson’s is simply trimmed away arthroscopically. Most people return to full activity within a month or two, and T-Rich was running a 4.4 40 six weeks after his surgery at the combine in March. He was drafted third overall and was subject to a battery of tests, all of which he passed without issue. Between the routine nature of the procedure, the best orthopedic surgeon on Earth performing said procedure, and the trust the Browns showed in drafting him so high, there’s little doubt in my mind that his knee should be fine.
There’s just one problem: Richardson’s knee doesn’t appear to be fine after all. The knee began swelling and hurting again, and while no major structural damage was discovered, Richardson did require additional surgery to clean out a “hangnail” piece of cartilage irritating his knee. He’s expected to need two weeks of recovery time and will likely miss most, if not all, of the preseason. The Browns expect him to be ready for Week One and are calling this a minor and “proactive” procedure, going so far as to say he could have waited until the offseason to get it done. Teams usually paint a rosy picture with this sort of thing, but I actually agree with them here. This is another routine procedure that, despite similarities to his first surgery, doesn’t necessarily relate to it. The timeline they’re anticipating is reasonable and I would expect T-Rich to suit up come Opening Day.
Taking the whole picture into account, does T-Rich make my list? As of this writing, his current draft position per Mock Draft Central is 11, making him a late first round consideration. His stock will surely drop in the next week or two, and I think you’ll be able to land him in the third round or later with the injury news. I certainly wouldn’t touch him in the first two rounds, but at a third or fourth round asking price, I think he’s worth the gamble. You never like to hear about multiple knee surgeries in a running back, but the procedures we’re dealing with here are minor, there’s no major reconstruction and quick recovery times are the norm. Yes they could be harbingers of bad things to come down the road, particularly if we’re talking cartilage damage, but at his age and current mileage, I don’t think there will be any ill effects over the next few years. I’m actually more concerned about the lost practice time and lack of preseason game action than I am about his health. I’m also worried the Browns will ease him back in the early going, trying to protect their investment. As a rookie who needs to learn the playbook and gain the trust of his coaches, it’s a definite setback. With Richardson’s workload likely held back in the early going, Montario Hardesty could carve out a role for himself, becoming a season-long pain in the ass for T-Rich owners. Based purely on health, Richardson is safely off my list. Just temper expectations, particularly in the first few weeks of the season, and be ready to pounce if he falls all the way to the fourth round.
In a shocking turn of events, Darren McFadden finds himself being discussed in an injury article. In other news, the sky is blue. McFadden enters this season having missed significant time last year with a Lisfranc foot injury. Missing games is nothing new to DMC; he’s yet to play a full season in his entire career. So what can we expect from him this year?
First let’s discuss the latest injury, a Lisfranc sprain, because it’s a pretty big deal. A Lisfranc sprain is a disruption of the ligaments or bones of the midfoot, which is an area of the foot where we bear large amounts of weight and force during walking or running. Being an NFL running back, you need to be able to run and jump and cut, and that’s impossible to do with this injury. There are various degrees of this sprain and it often requires surgery, the recovery of which can take six months or more and is often career-threatening. Luckily for McFadden, he didn’t require surgical intervention, so we can safely assume his sprain was of the less serious variety. Unfortunately, the only way you can recover from a Lisfranc sprain is to stop bearing weight through the foot and allow the ligaments to heal, and that takes time, often months. That’s the reason McFadden didn’t make it back on the playing field. DMC has been a full participant in all OTAs and practices, and both he and the team have declared him 100% and ready to go. Since surgery wasn’t required, I’m actually cautiously optimistic about his health.
Foot injuries are notorious for being tricky to recover from and often have lingering effects, just ask Ahmad Bradshaw or Ben Roethlisberger. While McFadden didn’t require surgery, it’s unknown just how much damage was actually done. A sprain is technically a tear, the severity of which varies, but ligaments in general don’t heal well due a lack of blood supply. While he’s practicing without any issues and is in incredible shape, it’s possible that he’ll have less ligamentous stability in his midfoot long-term, which could lead to re-injury or compensatory injuries. That’s the biggest risk I see with DMC entering this season. If he’s running differently or favoring the foot even a small amount, he’ll put a lot of strain on other areas in his legs. This can lead to muscle injuries such as calf, hamstring, quad or groin strains. McFadden is no stranger to muscle injuries as he’s missed time in the past with hamstring problems. It’s also worth noting that this isn’t McFadden’s first foot injury either as he suffered from turf toe in both feet his rookie year.
So what’s the verdict here? It pains me to say this because I seem to draft this guy with confidence every year hoping he puts it all together, but until he demonstrates he can play a full season, Darren McFadden will have a perennial place on DDNTL. I love the setup for DMC from a fantasy perspective: Michael Bush is gone, the passing game looks respectable, and he’s an elite talent expected to get all the work he can handle. The million dollar question is just how much can he handle without breaking? I don’t see McFadden as dramatically more risky this year than in years past, but he’s going to cost you a first round pick. Do you want such obvious risk from your first round pick? I tend to stay away from such risk when the price is this high, and I’d advise you to do the same. If he’s there in the late first or early second round though…so tempting…I might just pull the trigger. I’m such a sucker. Don’t draft him early unless you want to join me in Suckerville.
Johnson, once a pillar of health and widely considered the league’s best WR, has struggled with injuries over the last two seasons, missing a combined 12 games. Last season he suffered a hamstring injury in both legs, the first of which required surgical intervention to clean up scar tissue behind one of the hamstring tendons. Johnson briefly returned from the first hamstring injury only to injure his hamstring on the opposite leg. While less severe than his first injury, a WR with two balky hamstrings is not a good thing. AJ would sit out the rest of the regular season and return in time for playoff action, where he actually shined and flashed the ability we’re used to seeing from him. Johnson then underwent a precautionary knee arthroscopy, presumably a clean-up type procedure, this offseason and entered camp 100% and ready to go. Fast forward to about a week ago, Johnson felt a twinge in his groin while doing 1-on-1 drills. Uh oh. The team shut him down, MRI results showed only a mild strain, and he’s expected back in action within two weeks time. Getting nervous yet?
Hamstring injuries are notorious for being chronic issues, as any fantasy player who owned AJ or Miles Austin last season can attest. While I have no doubt that Johnson entered camp fully healthy, the issue is that when a hamstring heals, the tissue isn’t the same. Muscle tissue is contractile and springy, qualities you want when dealing with a muscle group stressed as dramatically as a hamstring is in an NFL WR. When injured, the body heals with scar tissue, and this scar tissue is far less springy and agreeable to quick bursts and stress than the original muscle tissue. This in turns put more strain not only on the injury site, but the surrounding tissue as well, making the athlete more susceptible to re-injury or compensatory injuries. Johnson showed us a perfect example of a compensatory injury last year when he injured his other hamstring. Could this early groin strain be a warning sign of things to come?
While I’m personally a big fan of Andre Johnson and always look to target him in drafts, given his age (just turned 31), recent injury history, and current draft position, I can’t recommend drafting him at his current price. If you can land him closer to the third round or later I’ll sign off on it, but he’s too risky in the first two rounds. Move over DMC, we gotta make room for AJ on the DDNTL.
Full disclosure: I’m a huge Giants fan and will likely include bias in this review. Sift through the homerism and find the medical nuggets. Nicks is coming off a fractured fifth metatarsal and required surgery to insert a screw to hold the fracture together at the end of May. The original timetable given for his return was 12 weeks (mid-to-late August) and reports are that he’s right on schedule. He’s already running in a straight line and running routes without issue. Barring any setbacks, I’m fairly confident Nicks’ injury will be healed and he will be ready for the start of the season.
Being ready for the start of the season doesn’t mean Nicks is out of the woods, however. Nicks has a history of getting…well…nicked on a regular basis. While he’s only missed a combined six games over the last three years, he’s been the type of player who is routinely on the injury report for various injuries. Last season alone he dealt with hamstring, knee and shoulder injuries. While it’s admirable that Nicks is a tough guy who usually finds a way to suit up and put up big numbers, there’s something to be said for a guy who’s always dealing with some sort of injury. His injuries have some bad luck qualities to them, but when it happens every year you have to consider that maybe it’s more than just bad luck – he might just be an injury-prone player. That’s not to knock the man’s work ethic or talent; Nicks is meticulous in his craft and one of the best WR’s in football (he’s the best!). Staying healthy, however, is a skill he has yet to fully master. With the recovery timeline of 12 weeks being so close to the start of the season, Nicks will not have as much practice time or game reps as he normally would. Nicks isn’t a rookie and his chemistry with Eli Manning is outstanding, the mental reps he’ll miss won’t be the issue. Missing a good portion of the contact drills and preseason game action football players need to get their bodies conditioned for the season is a bigger issue, particularly coming off an injury. It’s fair to say that there’s a higher than normal risk of a muscular injury due to compensation as Nicks pushes himself to get ready for Week One. For a guy that’s shown he’s prone to injury, added risk isn’t what you want to hear.
While this absolutely breaks my heart, Hakeem Nicks has enough risk factors that I’m putting him on DDNTL. He’s a beast who puts up elite numbers when he’s on the field, but at his current ADP (41 per MDC) there are safer options such as Roddy White, Wes Welker, Percy Harvin and Julio Jones going around the same time. Why take the risk? I hope to God I’m wrong and I still want him on my team if the price is right, but that’s because I’m a Giants fan and a sucker (as previously mentioned).
Miles Austin was a disappointment in 2011 as he dealt with hamstring issues for much of the season. He admittedly entered camp out of shape and strained his left hammy during the preseason. He then aggravated the injury in Week Two of the regular season and missed two games. Later in the year, Austin injured his right hamstring in a more severe fashion and missed an additional four games. Austin spent the offseason rededicating himself to his conditioning and entered camp in phenomenal shape in hopes of avoiding a repeat of last season’s injury woes. He was having a great camp by all accounts… until he again pulled a hammy. Deemed “minor” and “not a big deal” by Dallas’ brass, Austin will sit out the team’s first preseason game and is expected back in one-to-two weeks.
In a vacuum this doesn’t look like that big a deal. Players have minor muscle strains and ailments all the time in the preseason – that’s why there’s a preseason, to get the kinks out. For a guy who spent all of last preseason and a good chunk of the regular season nursing hamstring strains, it’s definitely a big deal to have yet another hamstring injury. All the stuff I said about hamstring healing in regards to Andre Johnson apply here. The repeated strain of the same muscle group can often lead to continued re-injury. It’s almost as if history is repeating itself.
This one is a little more obvious, but Miles Austin lands firmly on DDNTL. His current ADP of 44 puts him in the same company as Roddy White, Hakeem Nicks, Wes Welker, Percy Harvin and Marques Colston, all of whom aren’t without warts, but I’d happily take ahead of Austin. It’s a shame really, because had he made it through the preseason unscathed I’d be all over Austin this draft season. Laurent Robinson is gone, Dez Bryant could psychologically implode at any time, and the running game looks strong enough to keep defenses honest. There’s a good chance for Austin’s star to shine again if he can stay on the field. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him deal with similar issues this year as he did last year, and because of that I just can’t trust him entering drafts this season.
The one constant at the top of drafts the last few seasons has been Adrian Peterson. Dude is a beast, a freak of nature. Unfortunately, he’s also human (barely) and he destroyed his knee during Week 16, December 24th, last season. Peterson damaged his ACL, MCL and both menisci in his left knee and required surgery to repair them all. Merry Christmas Purple Jesus. It’s a devastating injury for any athlete let alone an NFL RB. Recovery time from this injury typically takes in excess of 12 months. Peterson has vowed throughout his recovery that he’d be ready go by the start of the regular season, a mere nine months post-op, and he appears on track to potentially do just that.
You can do a Google search and find the data on RBs (or football players in general) in the first year post-ACL surgery. In almost every case there is a drop-off in performance and workload, and it’s to be expected. The athlete not only has to be fully recovered physically, but they have to learn to trust that they can make a cut or barrel into a pile of defenders and not have the knee give out on them. This is a process and it typically takes time. At nine months post-op it’s simply not possible for Adrian Peterson to run the football like he’s capable of when fully healthy. I expect the Vikings to take every precaution with their franchise player, lightening his workload substantially until he’s able to show vintage ability on the field. Is it possible for AP to suit up Week One? Yes, but I wouldn’t expect a full workload until mid-season depending on how he looks.
Peterson is currently being drafted as the 15th overall PLAYER in drafts, the 11th RB taken. I’m sorry, but that’s a ridiculous leap of faith, even for a freak of nature like AP. The Vikings offense isn’t exactly a powerhouse and it’s unlikely they will be competing for a playoff berth this year. There’s really not a lot of incentive for the Vikings to rush him back on the field. By the time he’s back to full strength the team could be out of contention, so what’s the sense in pushing your best player? I see the best case scenario as 8-10 games of full workload at 85-90% effectiveness. 85% of AP is still better than most RB’s, but you’re not getting that for a full season and it’s far from guaranteed. People are actually spending an early second round pick for a RB less than a year removed from major knee reconstruction? It’s crazy. I respect the man, I respect the work ethic, but I don’t respect the draft day price tag. AP, you’re on DDNTL, and if you draft Purple Jesus in the second round then maybe you’ve been hitting the Purple Drank a little too hard.
This was going to be his year…seriously…this was going to be his year! The stars were aligned for Mathews to have a monster season entering 2012. Mathews showed flashes of his potential in the second half of last season. Mike Tolbert is no longer around to steal touches and TDs and the current backups are a hodgepodge of sucktitude. The offense is tailor-made for his skill set, utilizing his rushing and receiving skills. All Mathews had to do was stay healthy… and that’s the problem. In an almost comically tragic turn of events, Mathews fractured his clavicle (collarbone) on his FIRST carry of the Chargers’ FIRST preseason game. He required surgery to fixate the fracture and is expected to miss four-to-six weeks. The Chargers are saying there’s a chance he will be ready for the start of the regular season… but that’s some Grade A Bullshit. Healing time from this injury is typically around four-to-six weeks, but it can vary. That’s healing time, not “ready to get pounded into the ground by freakishly large men” time. This is the same injury Tony Romo dealt with in 2010 and he missed the last eleven games of the season (in fairness Romo opted for non-operative management, which can take longer in some cases). In contrast, Marques Colston had a similar injury, opted for surgery and was back in three weeks. That’s the variability in recovery times I’m referring to. I’m not saying Mathews will be out for ten games and I certainly don’t expect him back in three, I’m just merely pointing out that four weeks is probably an overly optimistic estimate.
On the plus side, the rest of his shoulder appears to be fine, which means once the fracture site heals he shouldn’t have any long-term effects. He’ll need to restore range of motion and strength in his shoulder and progress gradually back to activity, all of which should move fairly swiftly once he’s cleared to do so. Remember, this was the first game of the preseason. Mathews hasn’t had a lot of game reps or heavy contact. He’ll have to overcome the injury itself and get the rest of his body game-ready. Given Mathews’ reputation when it comes to injuries this might seem optimistic, but I would expect closer to a six-to-eight week timeline for a return to the field barring setbacks.
Ryan Mathews was a decent candidate for DDNTL before this injury, but now he’s solidified his spot. I do expect to see a very productive and healthy Ryan Mathews at some point this season, but exactly when and for how long is the tricky part to asses. Looking at the calendar, he’ll likely miss between two and four regular season contests, and we can expect a lighter workload in his first game or two back. There’s also the concern that one of the backup RB’s performs well enough in Mathew’s absence to carve out a role even when the incumbent returns. I know Ronnie Brown and Jackie Battle don’t appear to be legitimate threats, but we said the same thing about Mike Bell a couple years back when Pierre Thomas missed early action and Bell never went away. So realistically we could be looking at the Week Four-to-Week Six range before we see a fully operational Ryan Mathews. You be the judge of just how valuable that makes him. I think he could be a difference maker down the stretch and is worth gambling on if you get a nice discount (late second round or later), but don’t hold your breath. While he may come back from this will no ill effects, he’s still Ryan Mathews, and chances are he’ll wind up hurt again soon. Proceed with caution.
Much like the above mentioned Peterson, Charles is coming off a devastating ACL reconstruction and looks to regain the electrifying form that made him a fantasy darling. I’m more optimistic about Charles than I am AP for one simple reason: Time. Charles was injured way back in September of last year, meaning he’ll be a full year post-op by the time the regular season begins. That’s three months of additional recovery time he’ll have compared to AP. Despite this, Charles is actually going LATER in drafts than Peterson (AP 15, Charles 17). The addition of Peyton Hillis complicates things a bit from a workload perspective, particularly at the goal line, but Charles has thrived in a tandem situation before. While I think the second round is probably a bit too early given the uncertainty of his workload and the presence of a capable backup in Hillis, I’m bullish on Charles from a health perspective. He’s been cleared to play in preseason games, and as long as he makes it out of the preseason unscathed, I think he’s a much safer option than AP. Jamaal Charles avoids my list, but I’m not reaching for him either.
Johnson battled groin issues all last season and still finished with over 1,000 yards receiving for a terrible Buffalo Bills squad. Stevie had surgery this offseason to fix the problem and had been a full participant in all of the Bills preseason activities… until last weekend. Johnson was held out of a couple practices as a precaution after feeling discomfort in his groin, scaring Bills fans shitless. He was able to return to the practice field a few days later, however, and he made it through the first preseason game without any issues. Honestly I’m a little nervous about Stevie, groin injuries are often lingering problems. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt here though. It’s not uncommon to have a little soreness in the surgical area after performing a high level activity such as football, particularly early in the preseason when guys are still getting in game shape. The fact that the soreness subsided and he made it through game action no worse for wear indicates to me he’s probably dodged a bullet. This guy put up pretty solid numbers playing gimpy last year, he looks like a nice value pick this year with a (presumably) better Bills team behind him and better legs under him.
What would an injury article be without Big Ben? Roethlisberger has been hampered by injuries for the last couple of years but always manages to suit up and play. He’s got chronic foot problems and dealt with an ankle injury last season. This spring Big Ben divulged to the media that he suffered a “little torn rotator cuff” in his throwing arm last season but that it’s a non-issue and he can make all the throws without difficulty. Since Ben didn’t require surgery to fix his shoulder, we can probably assume that the “little” rotator cuff tear was just that: more of a fraying of the muscle that is fairly common as a wear-and-tear type of injury. If this is the case and what Ben and the team are saying is true, then I agree that it’s probably a non-issue. Big Ben is still risky because of his aforementioned chronic foot and ankle issues, but I don’t think his injury risk is significantly higher than it already was because of the shoulder news. In other words, if you liked him before you heard about his shoulder, you have my permission to continue liking him. Of course with Ben it doesn’t really matter if you like him or not, he just may force you to like him… in a men’s room stall. Ben makes it to DDNTL due to his injury history and general douchebaggery.
Additional Injury Risk Candidates (AKA, Buyer Beware On Draft Day)
QB: Michael Vick, Robert Griffin III, Matt Schaub
RB: Maurice Jones-Drew, Jahvid Best, Michael Turner, Ahmad Bradshaw, Beanie Wells, Knowshon Moreno, Felix Jones, James Starks
WR: Percy Harvin, Jeremy Maclin, Sidney Rice, Marques Colston, Austin Collie, Kenny Britt
TE: Antonio Gates, Kellen Winslow
Don’s Do Not Trust List©: 2012 Football Draft Edition
QB: Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Vick, Robert Griffin III, Matt Schaub
RB: Darren McFadden, Adrian Peterson, Ryan Mathews, Jahvid Best, Michael Turner, Ahmad Bradshaw, Beanie Wells, Maurice Jones-Drew, Knowshon Moreno, Felix Jones
WR: Andre Johnson, Hakeem Nicks, Miles Austin, Percy Harvin, Jeremy Maclin, Sidney Rice, Marques Colston, Austin Collie, Kenny Britt
TE: Antonio Gates, Kellen Winslow
There you have it kids, I hope you paid attention. Be sure to bookmark this page and/or commit it to memory. As always, if you have any questions feel free to drop a question in the comments section, we can extend this conversation further there. Good luck this year!