Second Opinion: Inside the Injury Report - Week 16
by Jene Bramel
December 19th, 2012

Welcome back to another season of the Second Opinion feature. If you're new to the column, I'll be combining my thoughts and speculations on injuries with analysis on how those injuries will affect fantasy production and the team's likely gameday depth chart. Though this detailed column and fantasy-specific commentary will be reserved for FBG Insiders, I'll be posting a Monday morning injury review and late-week update on the FBG Second Opinion blog. I'll also be commenting on injuries on Twitter and providing quick bulletin-style posts on the blog for critical, breaking news during the week. Make sure you're watching those spaces for the latest developments.

This is championship week for many, and hopefully all, of you. Thankfully, it appears that there will be very few game-time decisions but there are two critical situations Robert Griffin III and Rob Gronkowski to follow through Sunday.

Mike Shanahan continues to say that he won't play his Robert Griffin III until team doctors say Griffin's knee ligament has fully healed. I doubt that his LCL will be in pre-injury condition by Sunday, but I think he can still be cleared to play. Two things need to happen for Griffin to get clearance from the medical staff. First, his followup knee exams need to show no looseness in Griffin's joint. Second, Griffin has to prove to the medical team that he doesn't feel any residual looseness in his knee. It's a very good sign that the team cleared him to "fully" practice on Wednesday. That suggests that Griffin's exams are reassuring and they'd like to see him make football-related moves under stress and without limitation to see how his knee responds. If Griffin has no swelling, pain, changes to his knee examination and feels his knee is stable, they'll be comfortable clearing him to play. Based on Griffin's positive post-practice comments on Wednesday, I think he's much closer to probable then doubtful to play in Week 16. Given the conservative rehab and return to play plan, I think the entire playbook will be open for Griffin if he's active. If they don't trust him to be mobile in the pocket and be available for a reasonable number of zone-read running plays, they won't clear him. Though there's a risk of an in-game aggravation, if Griffin is active, it's safe to consider him an elite fantasy option this week.

Rob Gronkowski practiced last week and reportedly was close to returning to the active roster against San Francisco Sunday night. I think the Patriots were likely working on Gronkowski's conditioning in pads and preparing him for a more extensive week of practice this week. Unfortunately, Gronkowski's practice participation isn't likely to tell us anything about his status this week. The Patriots listed 40% of their roster as limited and questionable to play last week and are likely to do the same this week. We're not likely to know what the Patriots' plans are until game time. But I think Gronkowski returns to play Sunday. There has been no indication that Gronkowski's injury, surgery or rehab has been unusual and there are multiple examples of players returning after five weeks of recovery and rehab. The more difficult question is how many snaps Gronkowski will take and how effective he can be. I think the most likely outcome is that Gronkowski is used in pass-catching situations only (avoiding the stress of pass-blocking on his injured arm). It's possible that many of those snaps will have him as a decoy, but I think Brady will use Gronkowski if he proves he can catch the ball in whatever wrap the training staff fashions for him. That's enough upside for me to risk starting him as a low level TE1 in Week 16 if he's active.

As expected, Dez Bryant struggled a little while trying to play through an injured index finger with an unfamiliar and limiting combination of tape and a splint. He reportedly had no setbacks and despite the discussion about the nature of his post-season surgery should be more comfortable catching the ball after a week of getting used to the splint he'll again wear this week. With Tony Romo unlikely to be shy about feeding him the ball through a couple of drops here and there, Bryant should again have a WR2 floor with WR1 upside.

I thought Roddy White looked limited throughout the Week 14 game against Carolina, but a kind reader sent me a message pointing out a late fourth quarter play that was likely the mechanism for White's knee injury. While the television angle wasn't clear enough to tell whether White suffered a low grade MCL sprain, meniscus injury or something else, it's still instructive and helps to narrow down the possibilities. White was more mobile than I expected to see last week, but still clearly limited. He reportedly had no in-game setbacks and another week of rehab and limited practice should get him nearer full strength for Week 16. A favorable matchup makes him a relatively safe WR3++ play this week.

LeSean McCoy has been cleared for contact and will play in Week 16. It's unlikely that he'll be given anything close to his pre-injury workload after missing multiple games and the emergence of Bryce Brown. Consider him a flex play at best in Week 16.

Jordy Nelson is just the latest example of a player who took a risk and tried to play through a minor hamstring injury, only to aggravate it and miss multiple weeks with a higher grade injury. We're now two and a half weeks since his most recent aggravation and Nelson doesn't appear close to practicing. Though we saw Nelson return to play in similar circumstances earlier in the year, this strain feels like a 3-4 week injury at minimum. We may not see Nelson return until the NFL playoffs, if the Packers qualify.

The Giants still haven't revealed specifics on Ahmad Bradshaw's injury, nor are they talking about how close he is to returning to the field this week. His practice participation may provide more information before game time, but expect Bradshaw to be limited on Sunday even if he's active. The type of knee injuries that prevent a player from practicing for a full week would also make it unlikely that the player could return to a full workload the following week.

The Jaguars will allow Maurice Jones-Drew to run full speed this week, but have yet to say whether he's been cleared for football-related activity. It's possible he could progress through this final stage of rehab quickly, but it's much more likely that he'll be inactive than get 15+ touches this week. I think Jones-Drew has avoided injured reserve only because the Jacksonville depth chart is so thin at running back and possibly his insistence that he be given a chance to return and show that he's healthy before hitting free agency. Those with Week 17 championship games can hold out some small hope of meaningful snaps in Week 17, but it's a long shot at best.

I have no specific information on the symptoms and status of Torrey Smith, who left last week with a concussion. Many, many players have been given a two week recovery period this season, so it would not be surprising if the Ravens held Smith out in Week 16. Smith won't be a game-time decision, as we'll know his status on Friday. If he's not practicing and hasn't been sent to the independent neurologist, he'll be declared out.

Ryan Mathews suffered another fractured clavicle last week on the opposite side of the fracture he had in the preseason Mathews will drive lots of discussion about injury prone players this offseason, but expect him to be fully healed for 2013 OTAs.

Though this will be the most extensive and detailed Second Opinion feature each week, I'll also be writing a Monday morning injury review and a Sunday morning update on the FBG Second Opinion blog and doing segments on the Tuesday waiver wire and Thursday Live Audible podcasts. We welcome all suggestions and feedback to bramel@footballguys.com. You can also follow me on Twitter @JeneBramel. Thanks for reading.

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