It appears to be a “Welcome Back!” week for several key fantasy players who may be able to help owners bail out of some tough roster situations, given other injuries around the league and a four-team bye week.
At least one of the returning names comes as quite a surprise (we’re talking about you, Jay Cutler), given the original projection of at least a month’s absence. With perhaps the highest-profile signal caller in the league, Aaron Rodgers, going down with a broken left collarbone on Monday night, the value of a capable fantasy backup quarterback was highlighted. The return of both Cutler and EJ Manuel this week suddenly becomes even more important. They’re not the only players returning from injury, but the expectation (or at least the plan) is that the quarterbacks will play the entire game. Can the same be said of the others? Don’t count on it.
Here are a few of the names returning to game action:
Roddy White, WR, Atlanta Falcons (hamstring): It was White himself who told ESPN.com’s Vaughn McClure he expects to return to action Sunday, the most definitive declaration he’s made about game status in a while. White has been out since injuring his left hamstring in Week 5. The Falcons had a bye the following week but it wasn’t nearly enough time for White’s hamstring, superimposed atop a high ankle sprain he suffered in the preseason, to heal. In fact, White did not even return to practice until late last week and that was only on a limited basis.
This week he has practiced on back-to-back days, increasing his workload, an encouraging sign not only for the coaching staff but also for the player.
"You know, I wanted to get out there and have a full week of practice before I actually played in a game,” White said.
Does this ensure he won’t have any issues whatsoever when the Falcons take on the Seahawks? Of course not, but he finally appears to have gotten the rest his body needed to allow him to function as more than a decoy. This may be the healthiest White has been since the season officially got underway.
RBs Andre Brown (not on injury report), Brandon Jacobs (hamstring), David Wilson (neck) and Victor Cruz, WR (neck), New York Giants: Brown was assigned IR/Designated for Return status after fracturing his left fibula in the preseason. The Giants’ Week 9 bye forced an extra week of rest on him but it appears he is ready to make his season debut after being activated Thursday. Although Brown may have physically been able to beat the timetable required by IR designation, it’s hard to argue with the team’s decision to place him on the shorter-term IR given that he had fractured the same bone in the same leg just last year. That sent him to surgery and season-ending Injured Reserve. Brown has had some extra time to increase his conditioning and build up strength in his leg muscles and seems to be full of excitement as he approaches his return to the field.
"I haven't been able to sleep, because it's like Christmas," Brown said. As ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano notes, Brown may be limited to certain packages in his first outing but those are likely to come on third downs and at the goal line.
In the meantime, Jacobs is still recovering from a hamstring injury sustained in his standout appearance for the Giants in Week 6, when he rushed for over 100 yards with two scores. He has not played since however and this week only returned to limited practices. It is not clear whether he will be available Sunday but with Brown back and Peyton Hillis functioning in the place of the injured Jacobs the last few weeks (and with Hillis perhaps in line for more work than Brown to start), it appears they may not be pressed to utilize Jacobs.
The Giants also placed fellow back Wilson on season-ending Injured Reserve this week. He injured his neck in Week 5, and it was later reported to be a herniated disc. The good news for Wilson is that after consultations with various specialists it does not appear he will need surgery, at least not at this time. Unfortunately, the time frame envisioned for his recovery extends beyond the time left in the season, hence the decision to shut him down.
Cruz suffered a neck injury in the Giants’ Week 8 game, so the bye could not have come at a better time. Cruz was held out of practice Wednesday but did return Thursday on a limited basis, although the Giants required him to don a red non-contact jersey. It makes sense. Just as players coming back from certain other injuries are re-introduced to practice without contact as a starting point, it allowed Cruz to participate and get a feel for doing football activity without the extra risk of absorbing hits. Coach Tom Coughlin told reporters afterward that they would evaluate his response to the day’s activity and if all went well, there would likely be no red jersey Friday. Assuming Cruz is able to ramp it up a notch Friday without incident, it appears he will be available come Sunday.
Mario Manningham, WR, San Francisco 49ers, (knee): Manningham is not actually on the injury report but he’s been considered an injured player since last season after undergoing multi-ligament reconstructive surgery in his knee. The 49ers removed Manningham from the PUP list, indicating there is a possibility he could play as soon as this week, although the team has not fully committed to that yet. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman referred to Manningham as “day-to-day,” per ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson. Still, Manningham has been a full participant in practice and quarterback Colin Kaepernick sounded like he was excited about the prospect of his availability.
“Mario, he’s a receiver that’s easy to throw to,” Kaepernick said. “So it’s not going to take much time for him to get back up to speed.”
This may be true but, as we’ve seen with other players coming back from major knee surgeries, it often does take some adjustment to ramp up to the speed of the game. Fantasy owners should temper expectations for Manningham’s early outings, but it will be interesting to see how he factors in as a receiving option as he regains his form.
Problems for premier RBs
On a less encouraging note, it appears Texans running back Arian Foster could be in danger of missing Sunday’s game. Foster left with a back injury in the first series of the Week 9 game and has not yet practiced. Instead he has been spending time with the medical staff as they sort through the nature of his injury. Foster’s teammate and fellow back Ben Tate continues to work on a limited basis with his rib injury and is expected to play.
Meanwhile, it appears the window of opportunity for a return for Buccaneers’ running back Doug Martin is closing. Although Martin has made progress in both the pain level and range of motion of his injured shoulder, it appears the team is re-evaluating the risks versus the benefits of his trying to return this season. The risks appear to be winning.
It was never a question of whether Martin would need surgery but whether he would be able to resume play and contribute this year and undergo surgery in the offseason. The team is expected to make a decision before Monday night’s game against the Dolphins according to the Tampa Bay Times and is reportedly leaning toward a move to injured reserve. Even if his season does come to a close, Martin’s time has not been wasted. Improved range of motion and less pain heading into surgery can help him on the other side and he should have plenty of opportunity to recover prior to next year’s camp activities.
And quickly ...
Bengals’ running back Giovani Bernard (ribs) practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and Thursday. It appears he will be ready to play come Sunday ... Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant has had some recurring issues with tightness in his back but the condition does not appear worrisome for the Cowboys. While it has the potential to act up at any time, the plan is clearly for Bryant to play Sunday night in New Orleans ... When the Saints host the Cowboys, it’s possible they could be without receiver Marques Colston for a second week. Colston sat out Week 9 because of his knee and has only practiced on a limited basis so far. It’s worth noting he has done more this week than last but clearly is not past the issue which sidelined him ... Colston's teammate, tight end Jimmy Graham, returned to practice Thursday after a Wednesday off and running back Darren Sproles, who left last week’s game with a concussion, was a full participant as of Wednesday. Both are expected to play.