With the exception of the Thursday night opening game between the Giants and the Redskins, no team has played a regular-season down yet. One look at the injury report would have you thinking otherwise, though, as it already appears to be in midseason form. What is a fantasy owner to do?
Injuries always play a major part in fantasy football. They can take a team that looked like a winner on draft day and turn it into a cellar dweller. But smart management of injured players can be the difference in taking a team to the league championship. To that end, I will be talking NFL injuries every week right here at ESPN Fantasy. Saturday's report will provide the latest updates on key players whose status might be in jeopardy for that week's game, Monday's report will have quick updates on the injuries sustained during the previous day's games and Wednesday's file will have more detailed injury information to help you make those valuable waiver-wire pickups.
The players in the Saturday blogs will be listed with the official NFL injury report status -- Probable (P), Questionable (Q) or Doubtful (D) -- next to their names.
Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers (P): It appears Gates will indeed take the field Sunday when the Chargers face the Panthers. How much time he will see and how effective he can be are the big unknowns. Despite full participation in practice this week, Gates himself referred to his surgically repaired toe as "tricky," according to The San Diego Union-Tribune, and essentially said it will be a matter of seeing what the toe allows him to do Sunday.
Gates has been recovering from offseason toe surgery to repair a torn plantar plate (fibrous tissue underneath the ball of the foot) after dislocating his toe in a wild-card playoff game in January. He gamely toughed it out and played in the Chargers' subsequent playoff games, but the toe clearly was a problem. It's just a toe, right? Well, imagine how challenging it was for Gates to push off, pivot and jump. When healthy, the big toe has significant mobility to allow the foot to move up and forward when running and jumping. This movement stresses the soft tissue (ligaments in particular) that protects the joint at the ball of the foot.
Regaining that mobility and a tolerance for pushing his full body weight off such a small surface area have been the main challenges for Gates after this surgery. It is a long, slow recovery, and Gates' frustration with the up-and-down nature of how he feels has been apparent at times. The key for Gates to have a full recovery is not to overdo it too soon and to rest the toe when necessary. Consequently, his appearance on the field Sunday might be restricted to protect him for the long haul.
Willis McGahee, RB, Ravens (P): McGahee is expected to play Sunday when the Ravens host the Bengals, but fantasy owners beware: He might not start. ESPN's John Clayton is reporting that the decision on whether to start McGahee will be made at game time and might depend on how McGahee is feeling that morning.
McGahee underwent an arthroscopic procedure in August on his left knee, the same knee in which he tore three of the four primary stabilizing ligaments (ACL, MCL, PCL) in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. It is not uncommon to have a subsequent procedure on a previously reconstructed knee, and the scope itself is not a major injury concern. But amidst reports that McGahee did not show up to camp in the best physical condition and the challenges of learning a new Cam Cameron offense with only limited reps in practice, it is not surprising that McGahee's overall readiness is in question. Rookie Ray Rice has looked strong in camp, and the Ravens will not hesitate to use him. From an injury perspective, McGahee does not present a long-term concern, but his productivity this week might suffer a bit as a result of the combination of the above factors.
Jamal Lewis, RB, Browns (Q): Lewis has been hampered by a hamstring strain suffered just two and a half weeks ago, hence the "questionable" designation, but Clayton says Lewis expects to play. Watch for updates just before game time, as his status might also depend on how he feels warming up.
Lewis sat out practice for a week following the injury. He returned in the middle of this week but only on a limited basis. The worry with muscle strains, hamstrings in particular, is always the same: If the athlete comes back too soon, the injury can worsen and end up more debilitating than it otherwise would have been. There always is a delicate balance between getting back to full speed in a game and protecting the area long enough to prevent reinjury. Unfortunately, there is no magic way to ensure the injury is fully healed before a player returns, and much of the decision is based on how the athlete feels. If Lewis is able to perform Sunday without incident, he might be out of the woods. It would not be a surprise, however, if his power, and perhaps his playing time, were limited this time out.
Ryan Grant, RB, Packers (P): Speaking of hamstring injuries, Grant has been sidelined with one for the majority of the preseason. The Packers have indicated they expect him to play and believe he can carry a full load if necessary.
The concern for Grant's injury is similar to the concern for Lewis'. Grant's problematic hamstring lingered throughout camp, limiting him to just one preseason snap. He was able to fully practice Thursday, which is a good sign, but he did not practice Friday, a decision the Packers are calling precautionary. With a less-than-healthy offensive line in Green Bay and a strong Minnesota run defense, Grant might have a tough time getting going Monday night.
Reggie Brown, WR, Eagles (D): The "doubtful" tag says it all. Brown is not expected to play in the Eagles' season opener as a result of, you guessed it, a problematic hamstring. Brown missed most of training camp and the preseason between this hamstring injury and a prior Achilles tendon strain. Is there a reason to be concerned about his overall durability? Perhaps. When an athlete suffers a series of soft tissue injuries, it raises the specter of potential physical endurance issues. The Eagles already are without the services of wide receiver Kevin Curtis, who underwent sports hernia surgery and likely won't return before October. Now Brown is out, at least for this week. Expect rookie DeSean Jackson to see more action than initially planned, but he will get help from Philly's many other receiving threats, including a now-healthy L.J. Smith.
Joey Galloway, WR, Buccaneers (Q): He had offseason shoulder surgery, but his shoulder is fine. It's the groin injury Galloway suffered prior to camp that limited him throughout the preseason. Although his status is questionable, he is expected to play, according to Clayton. All signs on the Bucs' Web Site point to him playing, and Galloway himself has indicated he will be ready to go. Yes, he was limited in practice all week, but he is turning 37 in November, and the way to protect a "maturing" receiver is to limit his reps. Galloway might get nicked up intermittently, but he is a tough athlete who has shown the willingness to play through injuries. Plus, he has a stellar history against the Saints. Barring a surprise pregame setback, expect Galloway to be on the field and productive Sunday.
D.J. Hackett, WR, Panthers (P): A high-ankle sprain kept him off the field for 10 games last in 2007 while he was with the Seahawks, and a toe injury kept him out of practice most of the preseason with his new team. Consequently, Hackett might be under the proverbial fantasy radar. But he has been practicing fully since midweek, and his toe appears to be much improved. With Steve Smith out due to suspension, Hackett is expected to line up opposite Muhsin Muhammad as a starting receiver for the Panthers on Sunday. Yes, they are playing the Chargers, but Hackett is a playmaker, and quarterback Jake Delhomme, returning nicely from Tommy John surgery, might be looking for that deep threat to surprise the Chargers. Hackett is no doubt eager to overcome the reputation of being injury prone, which developed over his four years with the Seahawks. This will be his first chance to showcase his talent in Carolina, and I expect him to make the most of it.
Editor's note: The text below was added Saturday evening.
Benjamin Watson, TE, Patriots (D): Watson's designation of doubtful is probably the most meaningful information we will get from the notoriously secretive Patriots. They are required to list the affected body part on the NFL injury report, so we know it is Watson's knee that is ailing him, but we don't know much else. Expect him to sit and David Thomas to start in his place.
Watson is a talented tight end, but injuries have forced him to miss games in the past. Last year he was troubled by an ankle problem and played only 12 games. Watson underwent ankle surgery in March and indicated that it felt good during training camp, and now this. He is productive when he plays, but fantasy owners will have to put up with intermittent missed time and limited information about his status.
Javon Walker, WR, Raiders (Q): Despite the "questionable" designation, it appears Walker will play Monday night for his new team. Walker, who strained his left hamstring Monday and was limited in practice early in the week, was able to go full speed Saturday, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Per the Chronicle, coach Lane Kiffin called Walker's practice performance "impressive."
Walker has had his share of challenges in the past year. He had knee surgery last October on his previously repaired right knee and was never quite able to get it going in 2007. Then, in June, Walker was assaulted in Las Vegas and suffered a concussion and facial injuries. His recent health history made him a big question mark coming into the season, and the recent hamstring strain didn't help. From the sounds of it, though, Walker has impressed his new coach recently, and barring any last-minute setbacks Monday, Walker will start against his former team. This is his chance to show that he is past the injuries, and he has the talent to warrant being a regular starter for the Raiders.
This is a list of key fantasy players, not including those who have been moved to the Injured Reserve list, who are officially listed as "Out" for Week 1.
Jerry Porter, WR, Jaguars: Porter is still recovering from surgery in July to repair a torn hamstring tendon. The good news is that he was a full participant in practice for the early part of this week. But as the Florida Times-Union reports, coach Jack Del Rio would like Porter to get two weeks of practice under his belt prior to game action. That said, no definitive timetable has been set for his return. We will definitely keep an eye on his practice activity next week.
Deion Branch, WR, Seahawks: Branch tore his ACL at the very end of the 2007 season -- he had the surgery in late January -- placing his timetable to return a little past this point in the season. The Seattle Times reports that he is still not participating in 11-on-11 drills in practice. Given his limited practice status, it would be surprising for him to face contact anytime soon. We will update his status when it looks like he is nearing a return.
Bobby Engram, WR, Seahawks: Engram fractured a bone in his shoulder in the preseason, opening the door for Nate Burleson to be a scoring machine. Engram is hopeful to return in late September or early October, depending on how he heals. Stay tuned.
Kevin Curtis, WR, Eagles: Curtis had surgery August 21 to repair a sports hernia, which normally requires at least six to eight weeks to return to form. Phillyburbs.com is reporting that Eagles general manager Tom Heckert says Curtis feels "great" and is "ahead of schedule," already doing some light running. While that is encouraging news, Curtis still has a ways to go to be in game shape. Do not count on Curtis before October, but we will be monitoring his progress.
Ryan Torain, RB, Broncos: If you haven't heard of him and he's still available in your league, make a note to yourself now to get him later when no one is looking. Coach Mike Shanahan sang his praises in Broncos camp, and he looked to be challenging Selvin Young and Andre Hall on the Broncos' depth chart. Unfortunately, Torain suffered a dislocated elbow and some ligament damage in August, and the injury required surgery that will cause him to be sidelined for approximately three months. But keep an eye on his status; he could sneak his way into the lineup when he returns.
Be sure to check our site Sunday morning for all kinds of pre-game information. I will be chatting from 10-11 am ET, and our fantasy experts will continue to chat with you up until kickoff. We also will post the inactives -- and injured players who are active, for that matter -- as they are reported. For the latest lineup advice, be sure to come to ESPN.com Sunday from noon-1 pm ET and tune in to Fantasy Football Now. We will discuss the latest player rankings, the weather, injury updates and answer your questions live up until kickoff. Good luck in Week 1 and may your roster stay healthy!