Here are updates on more of the fantasy-relevant injury situations that I've been following ahead of Week 5 of the NFL season.
Rob Gronkowski, TE (back/forearm): It feels like a broken record when discussing the injury status of Gronkowski and Danny Amendola; both are practicing on a limited basis, and both will likely be listed as questionable heading into Sunday's game in Cincinnati. Another week of practice means another week of confidence for Gronkowski, which seems to be one of the primary issues for him in stepping back onto the playing field. From a practice perspective, he may still be limited on reps, but Gronkowski is participating in all forms of drills. Other than facing a true opponent -- which is a legitimately different experience from practicing with teammates -- there is little left for Gronkowski to test. But after nearly a full year of recovery from various surgeries, and the setbacks associated with some of those surgeries, who can blame him for wanting to feel extra confident that he is prepared to take the field again?
After sitting out last week’s game in Atlanta, it seems unlikely Gronkowski will opt to test his readiness in Cincinnati just one week later. But a Week 6 home game in New England against the New Orleans Saints just seems more likely. It has the makings of an exciting matchup, taking place in Foxborough, where Gronkowski will be surrounded by friends and family and undoubtedly welcomed with thunderous applause. More important, he will have just passed the 16-week mark since undergoing back surgery (the operation was June 18). Three months post-surgery is typically the soonest return for an athlete after this type of procedure; this is Gronkowski's second such operation (albeit at a different spinal level). Tacking on another month's worth of additional training and conditioning can have a profound impact on confidence level.
The extra time also allows the forearm more time to adapt to the workout stresses being placed on it, which in turn helps prepare it for the in-game loads it will encounter. Of course, no one can offer a foolproof guarantee that there is zero rate of reinjury, and the last time Gronkowski set foot on a playing field, he reinjured himself. Whatever hesitancy he may be experiencing is certainly justified. Look at it this way, fantasy owners: While he's out, readying himself for his NFL return, at least Gronkowski isn't adding any new injuries to the list.
Danny Amendola, WR (groin): Meanwhile, Gronkowski's teammate Amendola continues to make progress, but is no sure bet to return in Week 5 either. He remains on a limited practice schedule as he increases the level of demand on what is certainly a still-healing adductor tear. The hardest part about gauging Amendola's return is trying to determine when the risk-reward changes so the reward of him playing outweighs the risk of reinjury. If Amendola is still lacking power or mobility (particularly with hard breaks on routes or any sharp directional changes), he runs the risk of further injury. These things are always hard to measure in practice, but even more so if the athlete is not consistently working at full speed. By Amendola's account, the progress has been substantial, but the Patriots tend to be conservative with these soft tissue injuries and Amendola's history has to make them a bit more cautious than usual. If Amendola does manage to play in Week 5, it's hard to envision him playing at full speed for a full game.
Stevan Ridley (knee) and Brandon Bolden (knee), RBs: Also among the Patriots' MASH unit is running back Stevan Ridley. Ridley bruised the area above his knee in last week's game, and has not practiced. If he has been dealing with significant swelling, the rest will move him further toward the goal of being available Sunday than trying to practice. That said, Ridley should be on the field Friday to improve his chances of playing this week. Meanwhile, Brandon Bolden has been a regular on the injury report because of his knee and so far this week, he has been kept to limited practices. The fact that he has been a participant to some degree bodes well for his chances of suiting up this weekend, barring a setback.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB (neck): The news for Bradshaw is not good. He was held out of Sunday's game after suffering a neck injury in the Week 3 contest against the San Francisco 49ers, and the word from the Colts was that he was still being evaluated. The evaluative process continued into this week, as Bradshaw traveled to California for a consultation with noted spine surgeon Dr. Robert Watkins (who operated on both Peyton Manning and Rob Gronkowski). According to ESPN.com reports, Bradshaw is still undecided about surgery, but in the meantime, he has yet to practice since the injury. Last year, Bradshaw suffered a neck injury in Week 2 which caused tingling in his hands. He underwent a battery of tests and later revealed the injury to be a bulging disc.
"It's pretty much like an inflamed disc, and it's just sitting right on the spinal cord, I guess," Bradshaw told the Newark Star-Ledger at the time. After the symptoms subsided, Bradshaw was cleared to return to play but he knew then the symptoms could return at some point. The Colts have not indicated whether this current injury is related to the problem Bradshaw had last year, but it would certainly make sense, particularly given the chronic nature of disc injuries. These injuries can go through quiet phases, not provoking any symptoms, until there is an event which triggers a worsening of the injury and an inflammatory reaction. While Bradshaw considers his options, fantasy owners should consider whom they would choose to replace him for this week and, quite possibly, for the remainder of the season.
Darren McFadden (hamstring) and Marcel Reece (knee), RBs: McFadden left Sunday's game in the first half with a right hamstring injury, and only returned to the sideline as an observer for the second half. Although the Raiders did not specify the severity of the injury, McFadden's absence from practice is telling. He is no stranger to lower extremity injuries and has missed numerous games throughout his career as a result. Although McFadden entered the season healthy, it seemed only a matter of time before another soft tissue injury cropped up. One month into the season, McFadden is contending with a hamstring ailment and looks to be in danger of missing at least Week 5, if not longer. The Raiders will play in an unusually late Sunday night game (the result of sharing a stadium with the Oakland Athletics, who will host a playoff game hours before), so fantasy owners should make alternate plans in advance.
Reece also left Sunday's game early with a non-specific knee injury (sprain) that warranted an MRI, but he returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday, then followed it up with another limited practice Thursday. Apparently the injury is not as serious as it first appeared, and with McFadden likely out, Reece's availability as a complement to Rashad Jennings becomes more important.
Eddie Lacy, (concussion) and Johnathan Franklin (foot), RBs: Lacy suffered a concussion on his first carry of Week 2, and was held out of the following game. The Packers had a bye in Week 4, giving Lacy some additional down time. Coach Mike McCarthy indicated prior to the Week 3 game that Lacy had made good progress, so it came as no surprise that he was back practicing with his teammates this week. In fact, Lacy has been a full participant and barring a setback, he'll play this Sunday.
With James Starks already ruled out, Franklin would figure to be next in line behind Lacy, but he is dealing with an injury of his own, a foot ailment suffered late in the Week 3 game where he replaced the injured Starks. Franklin was able to practice fully both Wednesday and Thursday and should be available for Sunday's contest against the Lions.
Jermichael Finley, TE (concussion): Finley suffered a concussion in Week 3, then provided some insight into just how sobering an experience that can be when he posted a video describing the event on his personal website. As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky pointed out, Finley's video was the first time that the media had heard from him following the injury. In his video, Finley talks about the play where the injury occurred, and the initial symptoms he experienced after regaining consciousness, which included visual disturbances and balance issues. Finley has made great improvements since the injury, as evidenced by his clearance to return to football activity after passing numerous tests. As Demovsky reports, Finley called the testing process a "long haul," but seems to appreciate the steps that are in place, perhaps as a result of his personal encounter with a head injury. "You have to do several things to get back, and you have to respect the league for doing it," Finley said. "It's much respect from me."
Jamaal Charles, RB (toes): Charles popped up on the injury report with the body part listed as "toes," presumably because of the "extensive blisters" coach Andy Reid described after the Week 4 game. ESPN.com's Adam Teicher reports that Charles participated in the team walk-through Wednesday despite not formally practicing, a good sign for his likelihood of playing Sunday against the Titans. Charles was upgraded to limited practice Thursday, and appears to be on track for Week 5.