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Injury updates on key fantasy players

9/8/2012

This is it -- the final designation for injured players is on our doorstep for Week 1 of the NFL season. Each week, a blog entry will be dedicated to those players who appear on the official Friday NFL injury report and how their status may affect your fantasy teams.

For those new to the game, injury reports provide clues to a player's status for fantasy owners. The NFL requires teams to submit injury reports several times a week, identifying the body part that is involved in the injury. Early in the week, these reports will indicate whether a player who has some level of injury is not practicing, is limited in practice or is a full participant in practice. On Friday, players on the injury report are assigned one of the following designations by their teams: probable, questionable, doubtful or out. Teams playing Monday night do not have to issue their designations until Saturday. The explanation for each designation is as follows.

Probable (P): This designation indicates that a player has a greater than 50 percent chance of playing. Most players listed here are expected to play, barring a setback between the final injury report and kickoff.

Questionable (Q): This is the fantasy owner's most dreaded player designation. It means a player's status is on the fence, giving him a 50-50 chance that he is on the field come game time. Although as many fantasy owners have come to learn, many teams use the questionable designation for any player with a hint of injury. Whether a player ends up active or inactive often comes down to a game-time decision based on how he performs during warm-ups. It is important for fantasy owners to check status reports leading up to the game.

Doubtful (D): The doubtful designation means a player theoretically has less than a 25 percent chance of playing that week. Rarely does a player labeled as doubtful end up playing, unless he experiences a major turnaround before game time. Fantasy owners who need to make roster adjustments beforehand can feel fairly confident about sitting a player listed as doubtful.

Out: This is the easy one. The guy is definitely not playing. As frustrating as it might be to see this designation next to a player on your fantasy roster, at least you know in advance of the game that he is sitting out and can plan accordingly.

Each week in the Saturday blog, we will run down a list of key fantasy players, by position, who appear in the Friday injury report along with their injured body part as listed on the report, their status and any relevant developments or insight. The primary fantasy positions are covered (quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end). Key fantasy players listed Friday as "Out" for that week's games will appear as a group at the end.

Good luck in Week 1, everyone! May your players stay healthy and win for you.

Quarterbacks

Enjoy this section this week. No key fantasy quarterbacks are listed on the injury report. We might not see this again.

Running backs

Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings, knee (Q): Peterson has exceeded everyone's expectations through every phase of his recovery process since tearing the ACL and MCL in his left knee in Week 16 last season. He has steadily increased his activity throughout the preseason to the point of participating in contact drills over the past two weeks.

In Vikings' practice, defenders are not allowed to hit low and no running backs go to the ground. In competition, there will be no such restrictions on opposing defenses, making playing in a real game Peterson's true final phase of rehab. The question is whether he is ready for that next level this week.

The official decision won't come until game time, but signs point to Peterson being active. He has had no setbacks thus far and has been lobbying hard to be on the field with his teammates in Week 1. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave earlier this week said there was little doubt Peterson would play. Musgrave also said there were a set number of plays in mind for Peterson if he did.

It appears Peterson has a good chance to play, if for nothing other than to get his feet wet in a game situation. But that play is likely to be conservative, in situations that will provide minimal exposure. Teammate Toby Gerhart is expected to get the majority of the work in this one.

Arian Foster, hamstring (Q) and Ben Tate, head (P), Houston Texans: In reviewing the Saturday blog entry from Week 1 of 2011, the first name in the running back section was Arian Foster, listed as questionable and a game-time decision. The only difference is that last year the injury was a hamstring strain; this year it is a sore knee. Last year, Foster did not play that first week. He started the second week but left that game early and did not play in Week 3. He returned in Week 4 and went on to have a strong season.

So what are fantasy owners to expect this time around?

This year, Foster was healthy throughout the course of training camp and the preseason. Until Thursday, that is, when Foster left practice early because of soreness in his knee. On Friday, we learned Foster had undergone an MRI, which reportedly came back normal. The Houston Texans' Twitter feed quoted Foster as saying the problem was not in his knee but rather "around the knee area." (Note: Foster's cryptic comment suggests nothing is problematic inside his knee joint but that he is dealing with something such as a muscular or tendinous issue around the knee. Still vague.)

Foster said he expects to play Sunday. Meanwhile, coach Gary Kubiak said he was optimistic but acknowledged the team would need to see Foster work out during pregame to make its decision, according to the Houston Chronicle.

"We're going to be smart with him, but he'll have to show us he's ready to go," Kubiak said.

Then there's Tate. He is listed on the injury report but has been a full participant in practice all week. At probable, he is expected to play. He will start if Foster is inactive. It's also possible that Foster plays a limited amount and Tate steps in to round out the game.

The good news is that both backs are potentially capable of strong performances. The better news is that this is an early game, so Foster's status will be known before all games begin.

Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers, shoulder (Monday night): Mathews was given a four-to-six week timetable when he originally broke his collarbone. Four weeks, which is where Mathews is now, always seemed optimistic.

Mathews has worked diligently to recover, but the bone will heal at its own rate. He returned to limited practice this week but has not been cleared for contact. Even Mathews seems resigned to not playing Monday night, telling the San Diego Union-Tribune, "I haven't been cleared for contact, and I think we're just going to wait this week. ... I probably won't be playing in this game."

Ronnie Brown is expected to start in his place.

Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns, knee (Q): Richardson has been a hot topic, as everyone eagerly awaits his NFL debut. He has had two arthroscopic knee surgeries in 2012 and limited practice with his new team, but his progress in recent days suggests he'll be available Sunday. The Akron Beacon Journal reports Richardson said his knee is feeling good and that he is expected to play.

What is less clear is just how much he will play. It would stand to reason that Richardson would be at less than a full workload given that he returned to practice Monday for the first time since his second surgery. There has been no real indication from the Browns as to how much Richardson would handle in his first outing. It may be a situation that evolves during the game, making it a tough call for fantasy owners.

Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks, back (Q): Given that Lynch did not practice Wednesday, his return Thursday was seen as an encouraging sign. Lynch was kept to limited practice Thursday and Friday and will be a game-time decision.

It would appear that Lynch is on track to play, but if his back flares up between now and kickoff, his status could change. Last year, Lynch was active in Week 7, but after his back flared up in warm-ups, he did not play. His other performances after being listed on the injury report because of his back are documented by ESPN NFC West blogger Mike Sando.

The biggest challenge with this type of ailment is the sheer unpredictability of it, as anyone who has experienced back spasms can confirm. The more consecutive days without a flare-up, the better the short-term prognosis, but back issues tend to be recurrent. Lynch is a perfect example.

If Lynch does not play, it will be rookie Robert Turbin who starts in his place.

Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers, ankle (Q): Stewart has not formally practiced all week because of his sprained ankle, but he has not been ruled out of this game.

"There are reasons for optimism, but we'll probably wait until Sunday morning to make the call," coach Ron Rivera told reporters, "but we like his progress. That's why we're optimistic."

Rivera indicated Stewart has been planting and cutting "very nicely," and it appears, barring a setback, Stewart will be available.

It's worth noting that this is a late game Sunday, so fantasy owners should plan accordingly.

Beanie Wells, Arizona Cardinals, hamstring (Q): Nothing like a Friday addition to the injury report to inspire panic for fantasy owners. Wells was added with a hamstring injury, although there doesn't seem to be a great sense of alarm in Arizona -- maybe because this has happened before and Wells has still played? The greater concern, perhaps, is whether this will significantly limit the amount of work Wells does in this game. This is a late game against Seattle, and although Wells says he will play, this might hint at a bigger role for Ryan Williams.

Rashard Mendenhall, knee (D) and Isaac Redman, ankle (P), Pittsburgh Steelers: Although Mendenhall, returning from ACL surgery, made significant strides in practice this week -- a full participant Wednesday through Friday, working without a brace -- the team is not ready for him to be in game situations. Listed as doubtful, Mendenhall is expected to sit this one out. It will be worth watching how his activity evolves over the next week to get a better idea of when he might return. The team is encouraged by his recent progress.

Redman has been beset by hip and ankle injuries throughout the preseason. He was able to participate fully in practice this week, and it appears he will play.

Jonathan Dwyer has been impressing coaches and could see plenty of action as well. The Pittsburgh running back situation is murky at best.

Brandon Jacobs, San Francisco 49ers, knee (Q): Jacobs sprained his left knee in mid-August, and while he has made good progress in his recovery, he has not yet returned to practice. The 49ers still have him listed as questionable, but it would be hard to count on him, especially given the depth the team has at running back behind Frank Gore.

Wide receivers

Steve Johnson, Buffalo Bills, groin (Q): On Thursday, I shared my thoughts on the soreness Johnson has intermittently experienced since undergoing surgery in the offseason. After sitting out Thursday, Johnson returned to limited practice Friday, and the Bills expect him to play Sunday. Johnson played through the injury last year when the muscle was torn; he should be able to go this week.

Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints, foot (Q): Colston did not practice Wednesday, and afterward Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported interim coach Aaron Kromer said Colston's foot was sore but that he should practice Thursday and play Sunday. Indeed, Colston returned to limited practices Thursday and Friday, which would suggest he is on track to play. This is an early game, so fantasy owners should have a definitive answer sooner rather than later.

Austin Collie, Indianapolis Colts, head (Q): Collie suffered another concussion during the preseason, which has led to many opinions as to whether he should continue to play. Collie has made it clear that he plans to continue playing as long as he is medically cleared to do so. To that end, he returned to practice this week and participated daily, although on a limited basis Thursday and Friday. Coach Chuck Pagano has said this will be a medical decision, which could come down to game time. The Colts face the Bears in an early matchup.

Santonio Holmes, New York Jets, ribs (P): Holmes has been dealing with sore ribs throughout the preseason. He practiced fully every day this week and is expected to play.

Justin Blackmon, Jacksonville Jaguars, ankle (P): Blackmon tweaked his ankle in practice Wednesday, resulting in a limited session. He returned to full practice Thursday and Friday and is expected to play.

Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers, foot (P): Smith was fighting a foot infection late in the preseason but practiced in full every day this week. He is expected to be on the field Sunday against the Buccaneers.

Jacoby Ford, foot and Denarius Moore, hamstring, Oakland Raiders (Monday night): Ford has not practiced since injuring his left foot three weeks ago and is not expected to be in the mix Monday night, although according to the Oakland Tribune, coach Dennis Allen is leaving the door open.

"We're going to hold out and wait until we get closer to game time to go ahead and make that decision," Allen said.

Moore had also been absent for several weeks after injuring his hamstring but returned to practice Thursday on a limited basis. On Friday, Moore impressed Steve Corkran with his practice performance, and it appears Moore has a good chance of suiting up to face the Chargers for the season opener. There is still some uncertainty as to his status, so fantasy owners should have a backup plan in place. Until he runs at game speed, there is no telling if he is completely past the injury.

Tight ends

Dustin Keller, New York Jets, hamstring (Q): Keller, who injured his hamstring in the Jets' final preseason game, did not practice Wednesday but returned to limited practices Thursday and Friday. According to ESPN New York, coach Rex Ryan is optimistic Keller will play based on how he looked in Friday's practice session. "[Dustin] looked good," Ryan said. "I think he's ready to roll."

Jermaine Gresham, Cincinnati Bengals, knee (P): Gresham sprained his right knee in the team's first preseason game and did not appear in any of the remaining games. The team suggested he would be ready for the Monday night season opener against the Baltimore Ravens. Gresham's full participation in practice Thursday and Friday would seem to confirm his readiness.

Out

This space is intended for a list of key players, not including those who have been moved to injured reserve status, who are officially listed as "Out" for the upcoming game.

Shane Vereen, New England Patriots, foot: Vereen's foot injury has kept him out of practice, so there was little expectation he would play in Week 1. Stevan Ridley starts in New England.

James Starks, RB, Green Bay Packers, toe: Starks has been dealing with a case of turf toe throughout the preseason. No surprise that Cedric Benson will get the start in Green Bay.

Ryan Clark, S, Pittsburgh Steelers, not injury related: The Steelers announced earlier this week that Clark would travel with the team to Denver but would not play in the game due to the health risks for him caused by Denver's high altitude.

Be sure to check out "Fantasy Football Now," Sundays on ESPN2 at 11 a.m. ET, for last-minute inactives, rankings, injury impact and more!