A preseason injury outlook on fantasy-noteworthy wide receivers. This column will be updated throughout the summer, and the latest information will appear toward the top of the column:
Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons: Another preseason game, another scare. On Aug. 15, White injured his ankle in the first quarter and did not return to play. According to NFL.com, White sustained a low ankle sprain (the more common variety), not a high ankle sprain. This is another one of those early-season incidents which would not cause a player to miss in-season time, but given that this is mid-August, it may prevent him from seeing much, if any, action the rest of the preseason. Why risk any lingering soreness or mild instability which could affect productivity? With adequate recovery time before the real games get under way, expect the Falcons to ensure White is up to speed before turning him loose.
Malcom Floyd, San Diego Chargers: On Aug. 12, Floyd went down with a right knee injury in practice and had to be carted off the field. "We were just doing one-on-ones and I just got twisted up on a play and came down on my knee," Floyd said, per the Chargers' official website. This was especially frightening for the team after they lost receiver Danario Alexander for the season to a torn ACL just the week before. It later turned out that Floyd had suffered no major structural damage in his knee -- a finding supported by consultation with an outside physician -- and he is considered day-to-day. While he likely won't play before Week 1, if all goes well, he could indeed be ready by the time the season begins.
Pierre Garcon, Washington Redskins: Garcon's injury to the ligaments which support his second toe on his right foot caused him to miss six weeks last season. He was able to return and finish out the season strong, which is encouraging news heading into this season, especially since Garcon did not undergo surgical repair. Interestingly, one of the reasons for not pursuing a surgical option was Garcon, who had never had surgery, did not want to go under the knife, especially if they could not guarantee it would be a permanent fix. However, in May OTAs coach Mike Shanahan announced that Garcon had undergone "chest" surgery. It turned out to be a labral repair in his shoulder, as Garcon clarified during an interview with ESPN's NFL Live. Apparently, this was a surgery he thought was worth having. Shanahan characterized Garcon's rehab as "unbelievable" and said he expects him to be ready for training camp. The shoulder should be fine going forward now that the problem has been addressed; the toe is not so certain. It's possible that Garcon is able to run without issue, but it's also possible that his foot will catch in the turf and his symptoms will return. To help guard against re-injury, Garcon will wear custom shoes according to NFL.com, but they should not be expected to be foolproof. At least it appears Garcon and his quarterback are both on track to take the field Week 1.
Addendum (Aug. 13): I visited Redskins camp Aug. 12 and saw Garcon fully participating in practice (it was a no-pads day). He ran well and without limitation. There was no evidence of an ailing toe, or an ailing shoulder for that matter. I wondered how the guy who had been so reluctant when it came to talk of surgery had opted to get his labrum repaired, an injury which hadn't appeared to bother him during the season. Garcon explained that the shoulder injury happened in the final game for the Redskins. He said he was comfortable getting it fixed because it was "a known" surgery, "more common" for the shoulder than what had been offered for the toe. Garcon explained that after consulting with various foot experts, no one could guarantee that surgery would absolutely solve the problem. So he chose to continue with a conservative course of rehab. As for any shoe modifications he might be utilizing to help protect his foot, Garcon said, "I'm not allowed to share that information." Although his shoewear specifics may be closely guarded, the bottom line is that my preseason assessment above stays the same.
Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants: Nicks got off to a slow start in last year's training camp -- and ultimately the season -- following surgery to repair a fractured fifth metatarsal in his right foot, a bone he broke running a route during the team's spring OTAs. (It makes one wonder if this had anything to do with Nicks skipping the 2013 OTAs, which happened during the same time period, although that is pure speculation.) Then, suddenly, the foot issue seemed to be entirely in the past by Week 2 when Nicks racked up 199 yards and a score. Unfortunately, he also racked up a knee injury during that game, one that would cause him to miss the next three weeks, not to mention portions of others. Nicks' knee clearly was never fully healthy after that moment; this observation was confirmed when he underwent arthroscopic surgery during the postseason. After staying away during OTAs, Nicks eventually joined his teammates during June minicamp and plans to be a full participant in training camp. With no full seasons yet played in his 4-year professional career, it seems illogical to project he will do so for the first time this season. Instead, fantasy owners should plan for a talented receiver who will play in 80 percent of scheduled games and could give them the performance of the week on any given Sunday. Unfortunately, there's no way to know just which Sunday(s) that will be.
Addendum (Aug. 12): The trend continues. Nicks injured his groin in the second practice of camp, per ESPN New York, and while the injury itself is considered minor, it has resulted in partial or complete missed practiced and absence from the team's first preseason game. It makes sense that the team would hold him out early as a precaution. It's also not unusual for muscle strains of any type to crop up in the early phases of camp for any player. With that in mind, it would be wise not to read too much into this minor setback. It does serve as a reinforcement however for the preseason assessment above.
Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers: The Packers announced on Aug. 6 that Nelson had undergone an arthroscopic surgical procedure on his knee and projected his timetable for return at 4-6 weeks. The team indicates they are hopeful he will be ready for the season opener. Since the Packers have offered virtually no detail on what the procedure involved, it is hard to fully evaluate their projection.
Suffice it to say that any knee surgery translates to a recovery process that depends on how quickly pain and swelling resolve, and how swiftly the athlete is able to restore strength to the muscles that protect the knee, particularly the quads and hamstrings. If one is to read anything into this, it would be that clearly Nelson and the Packers agreed his knee issue was problematic enough to require addressing it now, as opposed to trying to play through it. What is interesting about the timing is that according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, this has been a "lingering problem" for Nelson. If that is the case, then he has likely "played through it" before; surgery now suggests the condition worsened recently. On the flip side, general manager Ted Thompson told the Journal-Sentinel, "Fortunately with Jordy, his particular thing that we had to go and fix is something that we have some experience with with some other guys here." As a result, Thompson sounded comfortable with the predictability of Nelson's recovery, although he acknowledged nothing is guaranteed. His remarks would also hint at a procedure that is not highly unusual, a better indicator for Nelson.
The concerns would be the extent of the procedure performed on Nelson (Was it a fairly straightforward debridement [clean-up] or something more complex?), the extent of any tissue damage in his knee (which could be a signal for future problems if there is any substantive cartilage wear, for instance), his ability to not only recover from surgery but to get in shape to play competitive football within the time window and his prior injury history. It's worth noting that Nelson's productivity in 2012 dropped from the previous year, largely as a result of injury. He only played in 12 games last year (as opposed to all 16 games in three of the four prior seasons), suffering a hamstring injury in practice midway through the season, an ankle injury upon his return from the hamstring issue and then a subsequent aggravation of the hamstring in December (which resulted in three consecutive missed games).
With the entire season in mind, Nelson's productivity may be aided by addressing his knee ailment sooner rather than later. But it won't become clear until the season gets uncomfortably close whether he will be ready to play complete games at full speed at the start. This combined with the recent rise in soft tissue injuries for Nelson has to raise the level of concern for fantasy owners to some degree.
Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers: With all the attention focused on Cobb's teammate and fellow receiver, Jordy Nelson, when the team announced he would miss the remainder of the preseason following knee surgery, Cobb's injury in practice on the same day (Aug. 6) went virtually unnoticed. As it turns out, his issue does appear minor in comparison. He reportedly suffered an injury to his biceps but told the Green Bay Press-Gazette the very next day when he returned to the field for individual workouts that he felt "fine." The Packers did not play him in their first preseason game, perhaps exercising extra caution in light of the Nelson injury. It is worth monitoring Cobb's status but as of now this does not appear serious.
Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys: After injuries to both hamstrings resulted in six missed games in 2011, Austin then sat out much of the 2012 preseason, again because of a hamstring injury. Despite playing in all 16 games last year, inconsistencies in his productivity resulted in, at the very least, the perception that Austin's hamstrings remained an issue well into the season. Consequently, Austin enters 2013 with many wondering whether he can get through a season without a thigh muscle strain bubbling up to the surface.
It is something that everyone on the Cowboys is acutely aware of, especially Austin himself. When I visited Cowboys' training camp in early August, Austin could be seen frequently doing dynamic stretches, keeping his body loose whenever he was not directly involved in drills. He said it is all part of a conscious effort to proactively fend off injury, at least as much as he can control. He spends more time in treatment and less in practice (the coaches are forcing him to take extra plays off, even full days of practice off) to ensure he doesn't overdo it now, with an eye on building towards the season. Head coach Jason Garrett says the staff has tweaked his workout regimen by reducing his practice time but given Austin's work ethic, the biggest challenge is getting him to comply. They are monitoring his hydration levels and watching how he runs, focusing on his quickness while cautioning him against overstriding.
While there are certainly no guarantees when it comes to preventing hamstring injuries, it doesn't stop athletes, coaches and medical staffs across all sports from trying. But perhaps the knock on Austin is a bit excessive. After all, four of his six seasons in the NFL he has played in all 16 games. On the other hand, he plays at a position famous for vulnerability to soft-tissue injuries -- muscle strains in particular -- and he has been limited in some games by those injuries, despite being on the field. With all the attention his hamstrings have been getting as a result, Austin has an opportunity to change the perception that he is perpetually on the verge of injury. His teammate Dez Bryant will garner most of the looks but if Austin can stay healthy, he could present good value.
A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals: Green took a hard fall on his left knee early in training camp and there were immediate flashbacks to 2011 when he missed a game with a knee injury. In 2011 it was termed a hyperextension but it served as a reminder that the higher they leap, the harder they fall. Green is a playmaker, in part because of his leaping ability, but a random awkward landing can present a risk. It appears this preseason "bruise" as it being called (an MRI reportedly showed no major structural damage according to the Cincinnati Enquirer) will not keep him down for long but the Bengals could opt to minimize his exposure to additional contact during the preseason. If indeed he has a bone bruise, it could take several weeks to fully heal and keeping Green off the playing field until the season opener might be a wise option. As of now, there is no reason to expect it to compromise his status for the regular season.
Percy Harvin, Seattle Seahawks: Harvin played in only nine games in 2012 due to a significant ankle sprain, which ultimately landed him on IR. He later underwent surgery, but not for his ankle. Harvin had an appendectomy, but has had plenty of time to recover. The hope is that his ankle also recovered during the offseason, especially since his new team, the Seahawks, will likely be calling his number plenty in the upcoming season. Harvin creates injury "worry;" he is one of those players who has enough injury concerns in his past to make fantasy owners nervous, but if he is on the field -- even banged-up -- he can usually be counted on to produce. The migraines he has dealt with his entire career did not seem to cause him much trouble last season, but there's always the possibility of recurrence. Harvin is a classic risk/reward player, but his upside does make him exciting.
Addendum (Aug. 2): On Aug. 1, Harvin underwent hip surgery which is expected to sideline him for at least 16 weeks, or, until sometime around Week 12. He faces a lengthy rehab and recovery process, and the timeline will remain fluid based on how he is able to progress. Even if he is able to return this season, he is likely to be eased back into the game gradually. Fantasy owners should not be counting on Harvin for the 2013 season. For more detail about the injury and recovery, click here.
Andre Johnson, Houston Texans: In 2011, Johnson had injuries to both hamstrings which caused him to miss nine games. In that offseason, he underwent surgery on his left knee, as it continued to nag at him with persistent swelling. After sitting out minicamp, Johnson entered the 2012 season healthy and fared significantly better. Not only did he play in all 16 games, Johnson totaled 1,598 receiving yards on the season, meeting the goal he set in the preseason of being "that 1,500-yard Andre" again. The only real disappointment from a fantasy perspective was the low number of touchdowns (four), most likely attributable to a big drop in red zone targets (translation: Arian Foster). It's hard to knock Johnson's value despite his age (31), since he just completed his "healthiest" season of the past three years. But it's also hard to ensure that his scoring opportunities will rise significantly. There's also no denying that age makes an athlete more susceptible to the wear-and-tear type injuries Johnson has been plagued by in recent years. The question fantasy owners have to try to answer is whether last season's health was a fluke or whether Johnson could be in line for another string of consistency.
Kenny Britt, Tennessee Titans: Britt was never solid in 2012 coming off ACL/MCL surgery in his right knee (and a follow-up scope eight months later) and an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee. It translated to an underwhelming year for Britt, who has also dealt with serious hamstring injuries in the past. He heads into 2013 after a quiet (read: no surgery) offseason and told The Tennessean he wants to get back to being the receiver he was two years ago. We can only assume Britt is referring to the receiver he was two years ago prior to sustaining his knee injury in Week 3. For their part, the Titans plan to control his activity in the preseason, increasing Britt's work gradually. If he can stay distraction-free off the field and injury-free on it, Britt and his repaired knees could be in line for a big year.
Michael Crabtree, San Francisco 49ers: Crabtree tore his Achilles just as the 49ers' OTAs were getting underway. He immediately had surgery to repair the tendon in the hope that a portion of his season can be salvaged. The projected timetable stands at six to nine months, which means Crabtree could conceivably be placed on the PUP list to start the season and then rejoin the team, if ready. The 49ers may be able to benefit from his presence as they enter the postseason. Fantasy owners, however, should not count on Crabtree's availability, as he will be challenged to get back to competition in-season; he almost certainly will be lacking in explosiveness and power initially, as well.
Danny Amendola, New England Patriots: So long Wes, hello Danny. Amendola has been given the challenging task of making Patriots fans forget they lost receiver Wes Welker to the Denver Broncos. Amendola certainly has the talent to earn the love of fans and fantasy owners, but does he have the health? In just a few seasons, he has had concerning injuries, in that they have been both unusual in nature and have required extended absences. Dislocations (elbow) and subluxations (sternoclavicular [SC] joint, in the rare posterior direction) have caused Amendola to end one season early and miss multiple weeks the next. (To be fair, three seasons ago he played in all 16 games.) Now with the departure of Welker and the questionable health status of the Patriots' receiving tight ends, the expectations are high for Amendola. According to ESPN Boston, his rapport with quarterback Tom Brady is coming along nicely. Hopefully his resistance to injury is, too.
Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears: Marshall underwent yet another hip surgery in January (his third), but he appears on track to start the season. He was cleared to resume practice in June and says he has no pain whatsoever. Despite the prior hip issues, Marshall has a strong attendance record on gameday. In seven seasons, he has missed only six games, and in three of those years he played in all 16 games. He seems upbeat about his health, his quarterback and his new offense, a good sign for fantasy owners.