Fantasy fill-ins are increasingly hard to find this week between the bye and the number of players sidelined by injury (although some will be returning from their injured reserve/designated for return status in the next couple of weeks). Making matters more challenging, some teams -- like the Houston Texans and the New York Jets -- have multiple health question marks at a single position. Who will start and who will sit?
Here’s what we know as of Saturday afternoon.
Tom Brady, New England Patriots, shoulder, (P): Although there was much attention on Brady’s taped fingers on his throwing hand, the only body part of his listed on the injury report is his shoulder. Brady is going to play.
Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins, knee, (P): Griffin’s status was never really in doubt after he practiced fully each day. He will play and should not be limited in terms of his mobility.
Kellen Clemens, St. Louis Rams, shoulder, (P): Clemens took some hits in his Monday-night start, including to his shoulder. He was limited on Wednesday but was back to full work both Thursday and Friday. With Sam Bradford out for the year with a torn ACL, the Rams have turned to Clemens. At probable, he is expected to play.
Will a hamstring injury keep Arian Foster off the field in Week 9?
Arian Foster, hamstring, (Q) and Ben Tate, ribs, (P), Houston Texans: Foster benefited from a well-placed bye week to rest the hamstring he strained in Week 7. Typically resilient in his recovery from soft-tissue injuries, Foster returned to limited reps in practice Thursday and a full practice Friday. Coach Gary Kubiak labeled Foster a game-time decision, not surprising given the fickle nature of the injury.
The problem for fantasy owners is that this “game time” is 8:30 ET Sunday night, so there is some rolling of the dice involved if waiting on Foster. Beyond knowing whether he’ll be active, there’s the uncertainty of whether Foster can get through an entire game without the hamstring flaring up.
There does seem to be more certainty around the status of Tate. Despite four (4!) cracked ribs, Tate practiced every day this week, albeit on a limited basis. Given that the Texans have him listed as probable, it’s clear they expect him to play, but how will his ribs hold up?
It’s one thing to try to protect a single cracked rib from becoming increasingly painful during a game where the athlete is likely to take a direct hit over the injury; it’s quite another to protect multiple ribs from either direct or indirect contact. Tate already showed his toughness by playing through the injury in Week 7, but how much the Texans will use him -- and how much they will need to use him -- may relate to Foster’s status.
At the start of the week, the Texans signed three running backs to the active roster as insurance, which speaks to the concern of the health of their starters. As ESPN.com’s Tania Ganguli reported Friday, the team is uncertain which of the three will be behind Foster. In other words, this has all the makings of a fantasy nightmare.
Zac Stacy, foot, Daryl Richardson, foot, and Benny Cunningham, ankle, St. Louis Rams, (Q): Foot and ankle problems are the theme for Rams running backs this week. Stacy ran hard and ran often on Monday night but was on the sideline late in the game with what was originally reported to be an ankle injury (coach Jeff Fisher referred to his injury as an ankle sprain Monday night, but the official injury report lists “foot” next to Stacy’s name). After practicing fully Thursday, Stacy was scaled back to limited work Friday.
Was that a proactive (save it for Sunday) or reactive (soreness post-Thursday workout) move? The Rams did not offer an answer. With Richardson looking iffy (no practice Wednesday or Friday, with just limited work Thursday) with his chronic foot problem and Cunningham still listed as questionable despite fully practicing each day in his return from an ankle injury, the situation is somewhat murky.
C.J. Spiller, ankle, and Fred Jackson, knee, Buffalo Bills, (P): Coach Doug Marrone made the decision to rest Spiller in Week 8, and it sounds like both of them believe it helped. Spiller returned to limited practices Wednesday and Thursday after sitting out all practices last week, and upgraded to full work on Friday. Marrone acknowledged that Spiller looked “very rusty” early in the week but noted he had made “really good strides” as the week progressed.
Despite the improvements, it sounds as if Spiller is not quite out of the woods. For his part, Jackson remains on the injury report since spraining his MCL several weeks ago. He has not missed a game, however, and practiced fully both Thursday and Friday after getting Wednesday off to rest. Jackson has been shouldering the bulk of the workload with Spiller compromised, and that may very well continue this week.
Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks, knee, (P): Lynch gave fantasy owners a scare when he missed practice for two consecutive days. It’s worth noting though that the Seahawks did play a Monday night game and no doubt wanted to give Lynch and his sore knee some extra rest on this short week. He was listed as a full participant Friday and is expected to play against the Buccaneers.
DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys, knee, (P): Murray was held out of Week 8 when his knee stiffened up pregame; he later agreed that was a good decision. After spraining his MCL in Week 6, Murray has gone from doubtful the following week to questionable in Week 8 to probable now. This week he has practiced fully every day and as his activity has increased, the concerns over aggravating the injury have decreased. Murray is expected to play when the Cowboys host the Vikings on Sunday.
Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs, knee, (P): The big worry for Charles might not be his status for this week, but rather his overall health status looking forward, given how much work he is seeing (averaging more than 24 touches per game). For now, it appears that workload will continue. Charles did suffer a knee contusion (deep bruise) last Sunday and exited the game briefly but returned to finish it out. After a day off Wednesday, he increased his activity the next two days and is expected to play against the Bills.
DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers, quadriceps, (P): Williams was given Wednesday and Thursday to rest his sore quad but returned for limited work Friday. The team is confident about his status for Sunday, as evidenced by the probable designation. Williams will be joined on the field by teammate Jonathan Stewart, who will make his first start of the season. Stewart was activated off the physically unable to perform list Saturday and, according to ESPN.com’s David Newton, coach Ron Rivera expects him to get in the neighborhood of six to 10 carries Sunday.
Willis McGahee, Cleveland Browns, knee, (P): This has become a routine listing for McGahee, as he typically gets a day off from practice. Full practice on Friday and a probable tag indicate McGahee will play as usual, this time against one of his former teams, the Ravens.
Brandon Bolden, New England Patriots, knee, (Q): Bolden’s pattern of limited practices and playing on Sunday is expected to continue. It will get interesting in Week 11 when Shane Vereen looks to be back from his wrist injury. For now, it remains Bolden in the mix with Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount, but it is wise to check pregame inactives for Bolden’s official status, just in case.
Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons, hamstring/ankle, (Q): White returned to practice Friday for the first time since injuring his hamstring in Week 5. Following the Falcons’ bye, White missed his first career game in Week 7, followed by another absence in Week 8. Despite not practicing until Friday, White was doing running workouts with the rehab staff early in the week, no doubt increasing the workload on his leg and testing his readiness to return.
Let’s not forget White started the season with a high ankle sprain, and for most of his first five weeks of action looked like a shell of himself. The bye was expected to help White get over the hump with his ankle; the hamstring injury complicated the picture. There was no getting around the need for White to miss game action to minimize the risk of re-injury (or further injury).
With Julio Jones done for the season with a foot injury, the Falcons could use a healthy White. Given the caution being exercised with him since the bye, a limited single practice on a light day doesn’t seem a convincing indicator of his readiness to return to competition. On the other hand, the Falcons have been watching White run all week and may feel they have seen enough to give him the green light.
After all, no one can really say for certain when a hamstring has healed enough to return to play. Exhibit A: Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. By listing White as questionable and taking the decision to pregame warm-ups (ESPN.com’s Vaughn McClure reports White says he will test the leg with pre-game sprints), this really has a chance to go either way.
James Jones, Green Bay Packers, knee, (Q): Jones has missed the last two weeks after spraining his posterior cruciate ligament. This week he seemed headed for a third absence after missing practice Thursday (he was reported as limited, but coach Mike McCarthy said Jones worked only with the rehab staff). Jones returned to limited practice (in pads) Friday, then repeated the effort Saturday.
Although the team lists him as questionable, if Jones has no setbacks in the interim, there is a good chance he plays Monday night. Fantasy owners who have faced similar situations in the past know to have a backup plan in place if planning to pencil Jones in Monday night.
Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys, hamstring, (D): Austin continues to struggle with this latest hamstring injury. He has not practiced at all this week and there appears to be virtually no chance he plays.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, Indianapolis Colts, hamstring, (Q): Heyward-Bey injured his hamstring during Thursday’s practice, then missed Friday. Not the type of thing a fantasy owner wants to see heading into the weekend. With Reggie Wayne out for the year with a torn ACL, Heyward-Bey stands to see an uptick in productivity.
Coach Chuck Pagano told reporters Friday he still expects to have Heyward-Bey available, but it should be noted this is a Sunday-night game and things could change. Speed is a big part of his game and could be compromised by a tricky hamstring. Fantasy owners should have an alternate plan as insurance.
Julian Edelman, thigh, and Danny Amendola, groin, New England Patriots, (P): Both played last week after being listed with the same ailments (Amendola was also coming off a concussion) and with the designation of questionable. This week they both come in at probable after practicing daily (on a limited basis, likely precautionary) and are expected to play against the Steelers.
Steve Johnson, Buffalo Bills, hip, (P): It appears Johnson will play Sunday after he practiced in full on Friday. Johnson missed Wednesday’s practice and worked on a limited basis Thursday. It’s worth noting Johnson has a history over the years of playing through various injuries and performing quite well, despite whatever is ailing him. The concern this time is the flare-ups of seemingly different structures in the same region (back/hip/groin), which hints at an injury that isn’t going away anytime soon.
DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles, ankle, (P): Jackson didn’t miss any time after injuring his ankle in practice Wednesday, so there is little doubt he will play Sunday. The doubt may lie in how well he and quarterback Nick Foles will connect against the Raiders.
Pierre Garcon, Washington Redskins, calf, (P): This injury hasn’t limited Garcon much other than one day (Wednesday) in practice. He is expected to play and the hope is that it won’t turn into a bigger issue during the game.
Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs, groin, (P): At least Bowe comes in as probable this week so fantasy owners at least know he is expected to play, even if they do not know what to expect. Bowe practiced fully Friday after taking fewer reps on Thursday and will play in Buffalo, barring a setback.
Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints, knee, (Q): Colston did not practice Friday after doing limited work Thursday, making him appear to be a legitimate question mark for Sunday’s game. Colston battled an offseason foot injury but it has not been enough of a problem to keep him out of any games so far this year.
While the details of his knee injury are unknown, what is known is that his targets are down compared to recent years and his touchdowns are virtually nonexistent (only one this season). Fortunately, the Saints play early on Sunday so fantasy owners will want to check pregame inactives.
Eddie Royal, San Diego Chargers, toe, (Q): Royal injured his toe in the Chargers’ Monday night game in Week 6. The following week he wore a protective boot and did not practice, yet still suited up for Sunday’s game. He was more than a decoy (four catches plus a touchdown) but his toe, two weeks later, is still a problem.
The Chargers had a bye last week but Royal remained out of practice all of this week. Given that he played in Week 7, one suspects he might do the same in Week 9, although coach Mike McCoy is calling him a game-time decision. Thankfully, the Chargers have a rare 1 p.m. ET start.
Jeremy Kerley, illness, and Stephen Hill, foot, New York Jets, (P): Kerley has been dealing with a hamstring strain recently, but this week it was an illness which had him on the injury report. After practicing fully Thursday and Friday, he appears on track to play.
Hill injured his foot in the Week 8 game but always maintained he would play. He returned to limited practice Thursday and Friday and, with the probable tag, seems to be shaping up to take the field Sunday.
Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots, back/forearm/hamstring, (P): Gronkowski would still likely be listed on the injury report even after returning from his back and forearm surgeries. He did manage, however, to add a hamstring ailment to the list. Gronkowski still practiced on a limited basis each day and is expected to play again this week.
Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints, foot, (Q): We saw what Graham could do on a limited snap count last week and he says he wants more snaps in Week 9, according to ESPN.com’s Mike Triplett. The injury is not gone by any means, hence the questionable status, but as long as Graham’s pain is manageable he should continue to contribute.
Jeff Cumberland, New York Jets, concussion, (Q): Last week it was a hamstring issue for Cumberland; this week it’s a concussion. He did not practice until Friday, when he was listed as limited. As ESPN New York’s Jane McManus noted, Cumberland was in a non-contact jersey Friday.
He would still need medical clearance to return to play, but coach Rex Ryan indicated that door was still open. The Jets play in an early game against the Saints, so fantasy owners will want to be sure to check the inactives and plan ahead for a backup.
Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles, hamstring: Vick was a limited practice participant Wednesday and Thursday, upgrading to full practice on Friday. After he aggravated his hamstring injury last week, the Eagles aren’t about to rush him back. Foles, listed as probable (concussion), is expected to start after practicing fully all week.
EJ Manuel, QB, Buffalo Bills, knee: Manuel is making progress from the LCL sprain he suffered in Week 5, returning to limited practices every day this week. He is not game-ready yet, however, and remains out this week.
Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears, groin: Cutler is still recovering from his groin injury and has not yet resumed practicing.
Santonio Holmes, WR, New York Jets, hamstring: Holmes said he expected to be out through the team’s Week 10 bye and it appears he was accurate in his prediction. The question will be whether he’ll be ready to return in Week 11.
Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, shoulder: Both Martin and the team indicate he is making progress with his shoulder rehab. Whether he will make enough progress to allow him to return this season is still unclear. Mike James gets another start this week.
Jermichael Finley, TE, Green Bay Packers, neck: Finley suffered a spinal-cord contusion in Week 7 and he remains out indefinitely.