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Key fantasy injuries for Week 4

9/27/2014
Brad Mills/USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Week 4! This marks the first of the bye weeks, and six teams are getting some rest. Off this week are the Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, St. Louis Rams and the Seattle Seahawks. With so many teams on bye, coupled with the significant number of injuries, replacements for fantasy lineups can be tricky. The sooner fantasy owners have an idea of who will be in and who will be out for teams that are taking the field this week, the better, especially with alternatives being in short supply. There are still some game-time decisions for Week 4, but the final injury reports offer some insight as to how rosters are shaping up.

As a reminder, each week in the Saturday blog, we run down a list of key fantasy players, by position, who appear in the Friday injury report along with the injured body part as listed on the report, player status, and any relevant developments or insight. The primary fantasy positions are covered (quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end). At the end, key fantasy players listed Friday as "Out" for that week's games will appear as a group. Teams playing Monday night do not have to issue their designations until Saturday. The explanation for each designation is as follows.

Out: This is the easy one; the guy's definitely not playing Sunday. As painful 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's sitting out, and you can plan accordingly.

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, yet it manages to be the one most frequently utilized by teams (often to keep everyone guessing). It means a player's status is on the fence; there is a 50-50 chance that he's on the field come game time, although as many fantasy owners have come to learn, many teams utilize 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 has theoretically 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.

Good luck in Week 4, everyone! May your players stay healthy and win for you.

Quarterbacks

Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys, back, (P): Last week, Romo took his first day off since the start of the regular season. He used Wednesday as a recovery day then returned to full practices Thursday and Friday. Apparently it worked out well for Romo and the Cowboys, certainly the results on Sunday -- a 34-31 victory over the St. Louis Rams -- seemed to indicate that was the case. Romo followed the same pattern this week, sitting out practice Wednesday but returning to full participation for the remainder of the week. At probable, Romo is expected to start against the Saints on Sunday night.

Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans, wrist, (Q): Locker injured his right wrist last week and was held out of practice until Friday when he did only limited work. Although Locker’s improvement over the week is encouraging, it was Charlie Whitehurst who got the bulk of the first team reps. ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky expects Whitehurst to get the start against the Colts, as well. The combination of any lingering pain and swelling in the wrist of a quarterback could spell problems not only for throwing but also for basic ballhandling, increasing the risk for turnovers (not to mention further injury). Coach Ken Whisenhunt originally indicated the decision would not be made until Saturday, so fantasy owners are advised to verify status before kickoff.

Josh McCown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, thumb, (D): There isn’t really any doubt that Mike Glennon will get the start this week, as McCown is dealing with a thumb sprain sustained in Week 3. That said, McCown believes he is progressing well and will not need surgery. His status remains uncertain.

EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills, abdomen, (P): Manuel may appear on the injury report, but his full participation in practice each day, and his listing at probable, indicate the team expects him to play.

Running Backs

Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs, ankle, (no designation yet): Despite the fact there is no official designation for Charles at the time of this writing since the Chiefs don’t suit up until Monday night, there is reason to be encouraged. Charles was a limited participant in practice throughout the week, which is not surprising given his recent injury. Keep in mind, however, that Charles surprised everyone by returning to practice last Thursday, just days after suffering a reported left high ankle sprain. He was allowed to test the ankle prior to last Sunday’s game. Although he ultimately remained on the sidelines in Week 3, his rate of progress would certainly hint at his availability eight days later for "Monday Night Football." It appears Charles is likely to play, barring a setback, but it will be interesting to see how the Chiefs list his status late Saturday.

Arian Foster, Houston Texans, hamstring, (Q): Foster is expected to be a game-time decision yet again this week after putting in limited practices daily, just like last week. The advantage coming into this Sunday is that Foster has had another week to recover from the league-leading workload he amassed during the first two weeks of the season. Still, there are no guarantees when it comes to hamstrings, and the Texans do not want to see Foster suffer a setback. At least this game gets underway at 1 p.m. ET, so the decision will come early.

Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, knee, (P): Martin missed the last two games with a knee injury he suffered in Week 1 when another player rolled up on his leg. Not only has he been a full participant in practices throughout the week, according to ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas, Martin is also eager to prove he’s still got what everyone saw in 2012 when he lit up the field his rookie season. "I just want to go out there and prove that I'm that same 'back I was my rookie year,” Martin said. Fantasy owners would welcome that type of performance. Expect Martin to be on the field Sunday.

Bernard Pierce, Baltimore Ravens, thigh, (P): Pierce made improvement late last week from his injury, but the Ravens opted to hold him out. This week he has practiced fully each day, and at probable, he is expected to play.

Maurice Jones-Drew, Oakland Raiders, hand, (P): After missing the last two games with a hand injury, Jones-Drew will return to action this weekend in London as the Raiders face the Miami Dolphins. He was able to practice each day, including two full practices back-to-back Thursday and Friday. Even the normally guarded coach Dennis Allen said signs are pointing to Jones-Drew’s return. The Raiders are hoping he can help them to their first win.

Joique Bell, Detroit Lions, knee, (P): Bell was listed as probable last week with the same condition and played. It is expected he will do the same again after practicing fully late in the week.

Jonathan Stewart, knee, (Q) and DeAngelo Williams, thigh, (P), Carolina Panthers: It was surprising, to say the least, to see Stewart listed as even a possibility to play Sunday. Last week, Stewart exited the game with what was later referred to as a “severely sprained knee,” suggesting a multiweek injury. No specifics were offered as to what specific ligament(s) were sprained, but Stewart, no stranger to lower extremity injuries, sounded as if he might be sidelined for a while. Yet there he was Friday, participating in practice on a limited basis. Given his history and his very limited participation this week, it appears unlikely Stewart will play.

The Panthers have already demonstrated patience with another of their running backs dealing with injury. DeAngelo Williams was not on the field in Week 3, despite making improvements late in the week that suggested he might be available. That decision is looking good this week after the loss of Mike Tolbert to a fracture (now on IR/designated for return) and Stewart. Expect Williams to return to the playing field this Sunday against the Ravens after putting in full practices each day, and expect Stewart to stay sidelined to get a little bit healthier.

C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills, chest, (P): Spiller was added to the team’s injury report Thursday but was still listed as a full participant. Coach Doug Marrone offered an explanation to reporters. "It didn't happen in practice. I think it's more like the EJ [Manuel] situation, where he came in and said, 'Hey, I'm a little tight,' or whatever," Marrone said. As ESPN.com’s Mike Rodak reported, Marrone had no concerns about Spiller’s availability for Sunday.

Toby Gerhart, Jacksonville Jaguars, ankle, (P): Gerhart hasn’t missed a game since injuring his ankle in the season opener; unfortunately, his time on the field hasn’t been particularly productive. The good news is Gerhart is not limited at all in practice. While he is not 100 percent recovered from the injury, he is not letting it get in the way of his preparation or his Sunday availability. Until it translates to some bigger ground gains, however, it’s hard to get excited about having Gerhart in your lineup.

Chris Johnson, New York Jets, ankle, (P): Despite the short week, Johnson was able to practice fully each day with his sore ankle. He is expected to play Sunday as the Jets host the Lions.

Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers, back, (P): Gore turned up on the team’s injury report this week with back soreness, but he didn’t skip a beat in practice, going full bore each day. Gore is expected to play Sunday when the Niners host the Eagles.

Wide Receivers

Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions, ankle, (Q): Johnson’s return to practice Friday laid the groundwork for his availability Sunday, presuming his ankle did not take a turn for the worse as a result. Johnson has said he plans to play against the Jets this week, but fantasy owners are advised to double-check his status before kickoff.

Roddy White, hamstring, (P); Devin Hester, ankle, (P); Harry Douglas, foot, (Q); Atlanta Falcons: White’s increased activity in practice this week (daily work, including a full practice Friday), along with the probable tag, indicates the Falcons expect him to play after sitting out Week 3. Falcons coach Mike Smith didn’t leave a doubt, declaring that White would indeed be available Sunday. His teammate Hester had a record-breaking performance in Week 3 but was limited at times by cramps. He was then listed on the injury report with an ankle ailment, but it never appeared serious given his full participation in practice throughout the week.

Hester is also expected to play. The status of Douglas, however, is a bit more in question. Douglas left the Week 3 contest early with a left foot injury. After full practices Wednesday and Thursday, he was limited Friday and is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. “He didn't practice at the level that he practiced on Thursday, so he'll be listed as questionable," coach Smith said. Fantasy owners should be sure to have an alternate plan in place for Douglas. Note this is a late kickoff (4:25 p.m. ET).

Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears, ankle, (Q): Entering the Bears’ Monday night game in Week 3, it appeared there was more reason to be encouraged about Marshall’s ankle. After all, he played in Week 2, and while he couldn’t run full speed, Marshall was able to outmuscle the 49ers in the red zone to the tune of three touchdowns. But he took an inadvertent kick to the ankle in the first half of Monday night’s game, clearly aggravating the injury and forcing a brief exit for evaluation. Marshall did return to the game, but the setback clearly affected him. With the short week leading up to this Sunday’s game against the Packers, Marshall has not practiced at all. He is expected to be a game-time decision.

Sammy Watkins, ribs and Robert Woods, ankle, Buffalo Bills, (P): Both players were listed on the injury report last week and played. Watkins has steadily been improving with the rib injury, and Woods appeared no worse for the wear with regards to his ankle. Both receivers practiced fully every day this week and are expected to play against the Texans.

Andre Johnson, Houston Texans, ankle, (P): Johnson remains on the injury report, but he also shows up on the field each week. After a limited day Wednesday, Johnson had full practices Thursday and Friday. He is again expected to play this week.

Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, wrist, (P): Jackson suffered a hairline fracture in his wrist in Week 3, but it’s not going to keep him from taking the field Sunday. Jackson will need to wear a protective brace, but he has done enough in three full practices this week to show that he can indeed play through this injury.

Mike Wallace, Miami Dolphins, hamstring, (P): Wallace put in full practices each day, and there is no real concern as far as his status for Sunday’s game. He is expected to play in London against the Raiders.

Michael Crabtree, San Francisco 49ers, quadriceps, (P): Crabtree tends to pop up on the injury reports with various soft tissue ailments, but unlike the hamstring earlier this season that threatened his game-day status, this appears far less concerning. Crabtree practiced fully both Thursday and Friday, and at probable, he is expected to play.

Eric Decker, New York Jets, hamstring, (Q): Anyone who watched Decker’s performance Monday night could tell he was not himself. The sore hamstring forced an early exit after just 12 snaps. Decker later said while he didn’t believe it was a setback, he could not get the muscle to loosen up and did not want the injury to worsen. What then is a fantasy owner to expect if Decker plays on a short week? Not much, given the pattern. The problem is there is no way to effectively predict just how freely Decker will be able to run should he play.

According to ESPN.com’s Jane McManus, Decker offered his assessment and claims there is a vast improvement in the last few days. "Got out there, finally got to practice, definitely night and day from last week,” Decker said. “Happy with the way I’ve progressed and looking forward to getting out there Sunday." That sounds nice, but Decker only practiced on a limited basis Friday and presumably was not running at game speed. Even coach Rex Ryan indicated he expects Decker to play, although he could be limited. It appears the questionable tag then is not so much about whether Decker will take the field against the Lions, but more about whether he’ll get through four quarters when he does.

T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts, ankle, (P): Hilton was able to play last week after appearing on the injury report with a groin injury. This week it’s an ankle ailment that has him on the report, but Hilton returned to full practice Thursday and Friday. The probable tag indicates the team expects to have him Sunday when they host the Titans.

Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys, shoulder, (P): Bryant insisted he would play last week and did. There is no reason to suspect anything different this week. Although he remained limited in practice each day, the probable tag is an upgrade from last week. Expect Bryant to suit up Sunday night against the Saints.

Jerricho Cotchery, Carolina Panthers, thigh, (P): After being listed as questionable heading into last week’s game and sitting that one out, Cotchery upgrades to probable this week. He did practice fully last week and is expected to be available.

Keenan Allen, San Diego Chargers, groin, (P): Allen was a late addition to the injury report last week but did manage to play. He was held to just two catches, however, and the groin ailment may have played a role. The good news this week is that Allen’s practice activity increased this week, and his designation as probable inspires more confidence in his health. Allen is expected to play when the Chargers host the Jaguars on Sunday.

Allen Hurns, Jacksonville Jaguars, ankle, (P): Hurns injured his ankle in the second week of the season but played in Week 3 (with 63 yards receiving and a touchdown) and had no apparent setbacks. After a light practice Wednesday, Hurns returned to full practices both Thursday and Friday, and at probable, he is expected to play Sunday.

Tight Ends

Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers, ankle/knee, (Q): The 49ers made it sound last week as if Davis’ status came down to game time, but there were hints earlier in the week that he wasn’t close. He was on crutches the first half of the week and continued to limp toward the weekend. One week later he has made significant improvements -- including daily limited practices -- but the question remains whether he is healthy enough to risk taking the field.

Throughout the week, coach Jim Harbaugh has expressed optimism about the potential availability of Davis for Sunday’s contest against the Eagles, something he reiterated Friday when speaking to reporters. Despite being encouraged by his progress, Harbaugh was unable to commit to Davis playing. “I think we’re still going to have to be closer to game time to know for sure,” Harbaugh said. This, of course, presents a challenge for fantasy owners since the game is a late afternoon (4:25 pm ET) start. It appears things are leaning in the direction of Davis taking the field, but backup plans are a must, especially given the late kickoff.

Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots, knee, (no designation yet): It’s hard to imagine Gronkowski will get listed at anything less than probable, the designation he has held every week of the season thus far. If anything, Gronkowski has given hints that he expects his activity in games to increase as he continues to progress following ACL/MCL surgery. He will take the field as usual Monday night against the Chiefs.

Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans, shoulder, (Q): Walker was able to participate on a limited basis both Thursday and Friday and looks as if he will be able to take the field Sunday, barring a setback.

Charles Clay, Miami Dolphins, knee, (Q): Probable to questionable to probable again. That has been Clay’s journey on the injury report. Clay hasn’t missed a game yet, and he’s expected to play again this Sunday in London. His contributions have been limited thus far. If his knee is a contributing factor, the team’s upcoming bye in Week 5 should help.

Antonio Gates, hamstring, (P) and Ladarius Green, hamstring, (Q), San Diego Chargers: Gates has been on the injury report since the first week of the season, but he has also been one of the most productive tight ends in the league each week. He continues to practice fully and is again expected to play Sunday.

When the season began, it appeared Green might become a bigger factor, especially when Gates was ailing. So far that has not been the case and his late addition to the injury report this week makes a breakout performance even less likely. Green was limited Thursday with a hamstring injury and did not practice at all Friday. His status for Sunday’s game is in question.

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.

Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers, knee: Mathews sprained the MCL in his right knee in Week 2 and is projected to miss four to five games.

Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints, hand: Ingram remains out with a broken hand sustained in Week 2.

Knowshon Moreno, RB, Miami Dolphins, elbow: Moreno remains out with an elbow injury he suffered in Week 2. He has yet to return to practice.

Marqise Lee, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars, hamstring: Lee missed the Week 3 contest with his hamstring ailment and will again sit on the sidelines after not practicing all week.

Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota Vikings, abdomen/groin: Rudolph sustained the injury in Week 3 and is expected to miss more than a month.

Rod Streater, WR, Oakland Raiders, foot: Streater fractured his foot in Week 3 and is expected to miss more than a month.

Joseph Fauria, TE, Detroit Lions, ankle: Fauria injured his ankle in Week 3 and was not able to practice this week.

Off the Injury Report

Cecil Shorts III, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars, hamstring: After injuries to both hamstrings delayed Shorts’ season, his debut in Week 3 was successful, not because he found the end zone, but because he came out of the game healthy! Shorts does not appear on the Jaguars’ injury report this week, a refreshing change for him and his fantasy owners.

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.