2014 injury outlook: Tight ends
A preseason injury outlook on fantasy-noteworthy tight ends. This column will be updated throughout the summer, and the latest information will appear toward the top:
Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots: Just like last year, Gronkowski enters the season coming off a major surgery. At least this year, there is only one body part involved and there are no issues with infection. Despite the seriousness of an ACL reconstruction, it seems mundane compared to the drama surrounding Gronkowski's uncertain status in 2013. Last year, Gronkowski's season debut came in Week 7, following extended recovery from multiple forearm procedures (fractured ulna in 2012, then re-fractured, subsequent infection clean-out and eventual hardware replacement) and his second microdiscectomy (a procedure to address a disc herniation in his low back). He lasted just seven games before suffering a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee from a direct blow by Browns' safety T.J. Ward, similar to the one that sidelined running back Adrian Peterson. Gronkowski underwent reconstructive surgery Jan. 9 and continues to report that he is doing well, although he probably won't see much activity until training camp. It appears he is on track to start the season, but like all athletes returning from this type of surgery, the timeline is fluid, depending on how the knee responds to increasingly vigorous activity. It's worth noting that Gronkowski is just 25 years old and should have plenty of football in front of him. It's also important to note, however, that he has played just 18 games in the past two seasons due to injury. A favorite target of both his quarterback Tom Brady and the defenses who line up against him, Gronkowski, with his size and physical playing style, presents a bit of an increased injury risk compared to when he entered the league.
Addendum Aug. 8: Gronkowski was cleared for training camp and all signs point to him being ready for Week 1. The start of camp has been primarily individual drills and route running, all normal considering his recent ACL surgery. As long as there are no setbacks, Gronkowski should progressively increase his activity through the month of August leading up to the start of the season.
Addendum Aug. 28: Gronkowski has been participating in full contact drills since the final week of camp, and continues to be on track to play in the season opener. While he may not play the entire game, he is always expected to be a primary target for Brady. Gronkowski has said that he expects to play in all 16 games, confirming his anticipation of being on the field to start the season. Of course, everyone would love to see his prediction come true but his recent history suggests that might not come to pass.
Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints: Graham dealt with plantar fasciitis throughout last season, but he certainly did everything possible to make us forget it was an issue. For starters, he didn't miss any games. The aggravation of his injury in Week 6 resulted in zero fantasy points. Following the Week 7 bye, there was legitimate concern about how much playing time he might see in Week 8. Well, Graham played only 18 snaps and was targeted just three times. As it turned out two of his three receptions were for touchdowns, reminding everyone that even when seeing limited action, Graham remains an offensive threat. In four years, Graham has missed only two games, making his durability at the position indisputable.
Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens: Pitta dislocated his hip during the preseason in 2013, and it looked as if he was headed for injured reserve. Fortunately for the Ravens, the classification of "IR -- designated for return" has become available, and it proved to be useful in Pitta's case. After a surgery to remove debris associated with the dislocation, Pitta embarked on a rehab program to restore his mobility and strengthen all the muscles around the hip, core and legs. He returned in Week 14 and although the Ravens didn't have him for long, Pitta made his presence felt, scoring a touchdown in his first game back. After missing some time in 2010 due to concussions, Pitta played in all 16 games the next two seasons. This offseason has allowed Pitta to gain additional recovery time for his hip, and he reported feeling 100 percent healthy in June. With former Texans' head coach Gary Kubiak now in the offensive coordinator role for the Ravens, fantasy owners have to be excited about the prospects for Pitta.
Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins: Concussion issues are serious; this much everyone knows by now, after all the attention dedicated to them in recent years. So it's no surprise that Reed's health status would be a concern entering this season considering last year -- his rookie season -- ended prematurely due to concussion-related issues. Reed played in just nine games, but he was a regular pass target when on the field. Reed has been a full participant since minicamp, according to ESPN.com's John Keim, and should have no limitations leading up to the season. Given Reed's history, the worry will be what happens if and when he absorbs the next hit that results in a concussion. Unfortunately, only time will tell.
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