Westbrook's health a concern

Is Brian Westbrook worth the risk?

From an injury perspective (and as the resident injury analyst, that would be my angle), there is reason to be both concerned and encouraged about Philadelphia Eagles star Brian Westbrook. The question for the fantasy owner is whether the potential risks outweigh the rewards, and that's where draft value comes into play.

There's no denying Westbrook's massive skill set, and he can earn you points by both running and catching the ball. He's been the feature back in the Eagles' offense for years, and has consistently been one of the top 10 players drafted in fantasy leagues. The knock on Westbrook was that he could not manage to play 16 games in a season. The counter-argument was that when he did play, Westbrook's scoring prowess was so outstanding he could single-handedly bring home a victory to your fantasy team each week. In the past, I challenged the naysayers and argued that his toughness, along with the Eagles' ability to manage his symptoms extremely well, made him worth that first-round pick.

This year my stance is changing somewhat. Westbrook is coming off an arthroscopic procedure on his long-ailing left knee. That procedure, as expected, was performed at the end of last season, allowing him plenty of recovery time before the beginning of training camp. More importantly, he is also coming off an ankle surgery in June, which came as surprise to many. The procedure to remove spurs and scar tissue from Westbrook's right ankle required a period of restricted weight-bearing, and that, coming so near to training camp, translated into decreased conditioning and a delayed return to football activities. Though Westbrook has progressed nicely and is even expected to see some preseason action, it is the way in which the Eagles are likely to use him going forward that impacts his potential fantasy value.

The Eagles have to be of the mindset that Westbrook, who will turn 30 in September and enters his eighth year in the league, can no longer endure the physical strain of being an every-down back. Although the ankle and knee surgeries have likely prolonged his playing time, they certainly cannot restore the joints to their original state. To that end, protecting those joints is the best plan for keeping Westbrook in the "active" column each week.

Minimizing practice reps and balancing his workload could go a long way toward maintaining Westbrook's health. Enter rookie running back LeSean McCoy, who by all accounts has been very impressive in camp. And then there's that other versatile player the Eagles recently signed, Michael Vick, who could just as easily catch a pass in the backfield or run with the ball as throw it in the end zone for a score.

In the end, Westbrook is a tough, hard-working and talented player, so he will be a factor in the Eagles' offense and he will earn you fantasy points. But in the interest of keeping him available over the long term, it's likely the team will utilize him differently, and in a way that will probably translate to decreased fantasy production overall. Sure, there will be some big weeks. They'll just be fewer and farther between. He's worth a pick at the right time. Currently he's being taken as the 22nd pick on average in ESPN drafts, which is a good spot for him, given that some weeks he could average top-10 production and other weeks he could be out of the top 25.