Week 14 is upon us and now begins the stretch run of fantasy football playoffs for many leagues. Injuries, as usual, play a critical factor in determining fantasy lineups. With some players returning to the fold after long injury layoffs, some whose return has yet to be determined and some who need to be replaced given the extent of their injuries, there are many key decisions to be made.
Concussions have been prevalent this season, and this week’s watch list is filled with players recovering from or returning from such injuries. The credo is essentially the same across the board: Watch their activity across the week to evaluate how they are progressing, but be sure to have a backup plan because as some folks were reminded this past Sunday (see Jordan Reed entry below), late setbacks are always a possibility.
Here are a handful of players to keep an eye on in Week 14.
Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers: Bell’s collision near the goal line Thursday night was a scary one, a hit so violent his helmet popped off. It’s hardly surprising that Bell said he does not remember the hit or that he is engaged in the now-standard concussion protocol. What may surprise some is that Bell said he is feeling quite a bit better and hopes to play this week, according to ESPN.com’s Scott Brown. The fact Bell was running on Monday indicates he has been cleared for cardiovascular work; the amount he progresses will be dependent upon how he responds to each phase. He appears to understand the seriousness of the injury as well as its unpredictable nature, especially this early in the week. "The goal is obviously to play, but if [I'm] not able to, I'm not able to,” Bell said. The Steelers do have the benefit of a 10-day window between games in Bell’s case, but the question is whether that will be enough time to allow for a return to play.
Rashad Jennings, RB, Oakland Raiders: Jennings also has a 10-day window between games to see how he responds after suffering a concussion on Thanksgiving Day. After scoring two touchdowns in the Raiders’ loss to the Cowboys, Jennings took a knee to the back of the head late in the game, putting an end to his day. Several observers noted Jennings appeared disoriented in the team’s locker room after the game, but coach Dennis Allen saw improvement by the following day. “He was doing a lot better today when he came in,” Allen said, according to CSN Bay Area. The standard rules apply as far as the hurdles Jennings will have to clear. If he does sit out, the team will have to lean more heavily on Darren McFadden, who returned Thursday for the first time in four weeks after aggravating a pre-existing hamstring injury. McFadden carried the ball only five times Thursday so it is hard to gauge just how healthy he is at this point.
Christian Ponder, QB, Minnesota Vikings: Quarterbacks are most likely to suffer shoulder injuries or concussions based on how they hit the ground. Ponder is now two-for-two. Earlier this year he dislocated his non-throwing shoulder while attempting to dive for the end zone. This past Sunday, he suffered a concussion in the second quarter against the Chicago Bears. It is too early to determine his Sunday status, but if he can’t go, it again will be Matt Cassel under center.
Delanie Walker, TE, Tennessee Titans: There have been numerous injuries to playmaking tight ends and Walker is just the latest on the list. After finding the end zone in two of his previous three games, Walker had only one catch for 5 yards before exiting Sunday’s game against the Colts with a concussion. His status for Sunday remains uncertain.
Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins: Reed was listed as questionable heading into Sunday night’s game after missing Week 12 due to a concussion. He said he expected to play, and the team indicated it expected to have him available. However, the caveat with concussions is that any type of injury readiness tag associated with it can quickly change with a pregame setback. Reed experienced a headache in the hours before the game and that was enough to downgrade him to “out” status. Any recurrence of concussion symptoms will be cause for a player to sit out the game, no matter if those symptoms return hours or even minutes before kickoff. There is evidence to suggest it is far easier to suffer a secondary -- and potentially more severe -- head injury when an individual has not fully recovered from a concussion. Understandably, then, any hint of returning symptoms is taken seriously by medical staffs and the safe choice (not playing) is the only choice. Let this serve as a reminder to all fantasy owners that these situations can and do occur, providing another reason to always have a backup plan for any player scheduled to return to play following a concussion.