2014 injury outlook: Wide receiver
A preseason injury outlook on fantasy-noteworthy receivers. This column will be updated throughout the summer, and the latest information will appear toward the top:
Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons: Jones was a standout for five weeks. Then, almost as quickly as it started, his season was over. Jones sustained another injury to his right foot, the same foot in which a fifth metatarsal fracture was discovered at the NFL combine prior to his rookie season. He had it surgically repaired shortly after the combine, and it certainly didn't seem to hinder him in his rookie campaign. Since this is his second surgery to the same foot, the team is taking precautions by controlling his activity entering this season. As of June, he has started running routes, and by training camp Jones should be participating in the bulk of the work. The expectation is that he will be ready to start the season. One could make the case that after playing in only five games last season, Jones' legs should be more than ready to run.
Addendum Aug. 8: The healing in Jones' foot has progressed satisfactorily, as he was cleared to participate in training camp. ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure reported Jones looked explosive and said he was stopping "on a dime." If the positive reports keep up, that will be even more encouraging heading into the season.
Addendum Aug. 15: When I spoke with him after a Falcons-Texans joint practice (Jones did not practice on the day of my visit as it was a scheduled off day), Jones expressed confidence in the progress of his foot. He acknowledged that his legs were more rested than usual, given his limited playing time last season but he added that he dedicated extra workout time to his "quads, hamstrings and glutes" this offseason since he couldn't run. Now he says it's just a matter of getting more football reps and he hopes to see some game action in the team's second preseason game against the Texans, Saturday.
Addendum Aug. 28: Jones has looked solid in his preseason performance. In the Falcons' third preseason game (Jones' second outing), he broke a tackle and made a spin move, a good test of his mobility and reactionary movement. He passed that test with flying colors as he found the end zone. All appears on track for Jones heading into the season opener.
Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts: If it was anyone else trying to return from an ACL reconstruction to play wide receiver in the NFL at age 35, there would be good reason for skepticism. But this is the ageless Wayne, and he demands a different narrative. Last season, prior to the injury to his right knee, Wayne was quarterback Andrew Luck's favorite target. Rumor has it Wayne's incredible work ethic is alive and well in the rehab arena, and he has met or exceeded each target since surgery. Wayne was cleared to progress to football activities in April, and coach Chuck Pagano has indicated he has every expectation Wayne will be ready for training camp. Expect him to be eased back into progressively rigorous drills as camp progresses, but he is currently on track to start the season with the rest of the team.
Addendum Aug. 8: Wayne was cleared to participate in training camp and has been impressive in practice. Watching him running routes during my camp visit, it was hard to tell which knee had been surgically repaired. As long as there are no setbacks over the next month, Wayne should be ready to go when the season begins.
Addendum Aug. 28: Wayne saw his first game action in the third week of the preseason. Although he had limited targets, he had a chance to test his surgical knee in a game situation. He remains on schedule for Week 1.
Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville Jaguars: Shorts dealt with what was referred to as a nagging groin injury late last season and ultimately required surgery to repair it in December. By April, Shorts said he was running pain-free and simply was building strength and confidence. Shorts is not short on toughness, as he has played in the presence of pain on multiple occasions. But there is no denying he has missed a fair share of games as well. Limited to 14 games in 2012 due to concussion issues and 13 games in 2013, Shorts, who already has spent part of the team's OTAs on the sideline with a calf ailment, will need to prove he can stay healthy for an entire season.
Addendum Aug. 8: Shorts left practice early on the Jaguars' first day of camp with a hamstring injury, now being called a Grade 2 strain. A grade 2 (moderate) strain has a range of recovery time depending on the location and the size of the injury, but will likely sideline Shorts at least a couple of weeks. Knowing his history of soft-tissue ailments and with the season approaching, the team will not likely want to risk returning him too soon. Ultimately that may translate to very little of Shorts in the preseason, leaving us to wonder (and perhaps with a little less confidence) whether a) he will truly be at full health when the season begins, and b) whether he can last for 16 games (which depends in part on the answer to a).
Addendum Aug. 28: Shorts returned to practice midway through training camp, and it appears he will be ready to play by Week 1. While his apparent availability to start the season is good news, the above concerns remain.
Percy Harvin, Seattle Seahawks: Harvin played in just three games last season ... and one was the Super Bowl. He certainly knew how to make his moments count, leaving a lasting impression even though he was not on the field for very long. During his regular-season debut in Week 11, Harvin's first game after undergoing hip labral surgery, he returned a kick for more than 50 yards to set up a touchdown, but he could not take the field for the rest of the regular season. In his first playoff appearance, he showed his hip had healed to the point where it was no longer an issue, but he was forced out with a concussion. He returned for the Super Bowl and returned a kickoff for a score.
Harvin isn't entirely out of the woods when it comes to injury concerns; he has played in all 16 games just once in his five-year career. But some of his prior lower-extremity injury concerns might be linked to the issue with his hip. Now that the hip has been resolved structurally and Harvin has spent such dedicated time retraining the muscle groups in the area, he might see a more global benefit when it comes to keeping his legs healthy.
Aaron Dobson, New England Patriots: Dobson underwent surgery on his left foot in March to repair a stress fracture, something Dobson had been hoping to avoid by letting the foot try to heal on its own. It's not uncommon to require surgical stabilization with these injuries, so there is nothing alarming about him ultimately requiring a procedure. Likewise, there shouldn't be a huge concern about the timing. Dobson should be ready to participate in training camp if all goes well, even if it means easing into a full workload there. More importantly, he should be ready to start the season, and given that the foot was responsible for several missed games late last year, the overall result from surgery should be a positive for Dobson.
Addendum Aug. 28: Dobson has made steady progress since being taken off the PUP list, and is expected to make his preseason game debut on Thursday night.
Danny Amendola, Patriots: So much talent, so much health risk. The injury concerns surrounding Amendola are familiar to fantasy owners. Last year, his first with the Patriots, Amendola continued his pattern of soft-tissue injuries with a groin ailment that resulted in three missed games and limitations in others. (He also missed one week because of a concussion.) His odds don't improve with time. Amendola has played in all 16 games just once in five years, and in 2011 he saw the field for only one week before succumbing to injury. It bears repeating: So much talent, so much health risk.
Wes Welker, Denver Broncos: Welker dealt with two concussion episodes during the 2013 season; now he is faced with his third such injury in ten months. Welker was hit by Houston Texans S D.J. Swearinger in the Broncos' third preseason game and was slow to get up, but ultimately left the field under his own power. Swearinger made what by all video accounts appeared to be a clean play, leading with his shoulder, but as Welker tucked the ball and lowered his head, the contact was unavoidable.
Perhaps more concerning than even the number of concussion injuries Welker has had is the proximity of the three in less than a year's span. While there is no publicly documented prior concussion history for Welker, one only need revisit video of his pre-Broncos career to appreciate his exposure to numerous hits to the head. Although Welker is reportedly improving following this latest injury, there has to be concern based on this recent pattern that he may be at greater risk of suffering another such injury in the future.
Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles: Maclin missed all of the 2013 season after tearing the ACL in his right knee in training camp. Although prior to 2013 he had not missed an extensive number of games, Maclin has always seemed a bit vulnerable to various strains and sprains, something here and there. It's been enough to limit him in games, and certainly enough to make fantasy owners nervous. During training camp, Maclin -- who had declared himself 100 percent recovered -- looked strong. In a joint practice with the Patriots, he was uninhibited when engaging in contact with defenders, he made sharp double moves when getting off the line of scrimmage and he strode out on deeper routes without hesitation.
When athletes return from ACL surgery, these are some of the skills that take a bit longer to regain; seeing Maclin display them this early was very encouraging. Then, he strained a hamstring. While that is not uncommon when returning from a major knee injury -- and the strain was mild -- it was perhaps more worrisome for Maclin's overall outlook given his prior history of similar issues. Then came the Eagles' third preseason game where Maclin, looking sharp and appearing as if the hamstring issue was behind him, suddenly appeared to hyper-extend his surgically reconstructed knee, and went to the ground clutching it. Thankfully he was able to get up and walk off the field on his own and after a sideline examination he even returned to the game.
Without DeSean Jackson in Philadelphia this year, Maclin is in line for increased targets, but his recent ACL surgery coupled with his two preseason scares are enough to raise a small caution flag.
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