Gameday Injury Expectations: Week 1

Breaking down the fantasy expectations of today's injured players and gametime decisions, including Andre Ellington, Cam Newton and Rob Gronkowski.

NOTE: This column is a living document and will be updated throughout the morning. Major changes to the content will be in red. Check back often for additions as gameday inactives are announced and lineup / depth chart changes are reported. I'll also be retweeting those reports with quick bits of analysis, so make sure you're following @JeneBramel and checking my timeline on Twitter.

If you missed yesterday's news, Cecil Shorts was downgraded to out after being added to the injury report on Thursday with another hamstring strain. Originally described as "tightness," it's obviously something more. I'll have more on Shorts in tomorrow's post-game injury rounds, but consider him week-to-week for now. Kenny Stills was also ruled out as he continues to recover from the latest aggravation of his preseason quad strain. Garrett Graham looks unlikely to play after not practicing all week with a back condition.

ANDRE ELLINGTON | FOOT | QUESTIONABLE

It's nearly three full days after Ellington was listed on the injury report as limited with a foot injury and we're still mostly in the dark as to what's ailing him and when he'll be able to play. That's a credit to Bruce Arians and everyone around Ellington. Various reports say Ellington's foot has been bothering for at least a week, possibly due to his footwear, and he had more swelling and pain to the outside of his foot on Thursday.

After visiting three foot specialists on Thursday and Friday for what Jay Glazer called a "muscle" condition, Mike Jurecki tweeted yesterday that Ellington was told surgery wasn't necessaryArians said after Saturday's practice that Ellington would be a game-time decision for Saturday's game. According to Kent Somers

"He practiced enough to let me see what I needed to see," Arians said Saturday.

Asked if that meant Ellington could play Monday, Arians replied: "Oh, there's no doubt."

Arians said there is no concern that Ellington's injury will be a long-term problem.

Thursday evening, two sources told me the Cardinals were concerned about Ellington's availability for Week 1. But no one had any clear information about the specifics of Ellington's foot. And there isn't much to go on with "swelling to outside of the foot" and "muscle" issue and "no surgery needed." There isn't a lot of muscle to the outside of the foot and it's rare to have a muscle condition that would require surgery. There are muscles in the area that help flex and extend the toes and a tendon from a muscle in the lower leg that inserts into the outermost mid foot bone (Jamaal Charles' tweaked that tendon in training camp last year and didn't miss any time).

However, if reports that the injury is muscle-related and location are accurate, it would mean that Ellington is not dealing with a Lisfranc issue, a Jones fracture, a cuboid bone stress reaction or plantar fascia tear. His appearance on the practice field yesterday in a helmet and cleats reassures against those conditions, too.

That's the long way of me telling you that I don't have a clear handle on Ellington's injury yet. My sense won't be out as long as the 4-6 week timetable Jurecki offered on Friday. But I also think there's more here than currently appears. I think it's unlikely that Ellington plays Monday night and I think we'll finally get some specifics on his injury in the hours just before or after Monday night's game. Stay tuned.

Fantasy recommendation: I'd avoid Ellington this week unless you have no other viable Sunday options. I don't think much of Jonathan Dwyer as a hedge. If you're convinced there's nothing to Ellington injury, you might consider Danny Woodhead as a hedge in PPR leagues. But there's not enough information to know for certain that Ellington will get 20 touches and / or not aggravate his injury shortly after the game begins.

CAM NEWTON | RIBS | QUESTIONABLE

Newton increased his practice participation all week and fully practiced on Friday. Ron Rivera implied that the Panthers were concerned about Newton's availability at one point this week, but I'll be shocked if he's inactive today.

Newton's injury will be painful to play through, but quarterbacks have successfully done so before. The medical staff has been trying different types of padding and flak jackets this week and will have the injury as protected as possible. Newton will also get a pain-killing injection, possibly including one right at the site of the injury. 

There are three issues to consider, however. First, despite the padding and injection, it's possible Newton will need to leave the game if he takes a direct hit to the injured area. Second, it's unlikely that a pain-killing injection to the site will remain effective through the second half. And third, because of those two issues, the Panthers may choose to limit their playbook today. Don't expect to see any designed runs for Newton. He's likely to scramble much less when his receivers aren't open. The Panthers may also limit the number of drive throws (deep outs, seams, and deep sideline routes) that Newton will be asked to make.

Fantasy recommendation: I think Newton starts, but there's too many issues -- including a strong Tampa Bay defense in their home opener -- to trust Newton as a QB1 today. Consider him in 2 QB leagues or if you have no other top 20 QB options on your bench.

845 ET: This from Ian Rapoport just now:


I'm not sure I buy that Newton will sit. What this tells me is that the Panthers aren't excited about the game plan they may be forced to use with Newton ailing. More to come as gametime approaches.

1130 ET: Majority of Carolina beat writers now leaning toward Newton not playing today. To flesh out my earlier comments on the game plan concern -- Why start Cam if you aren't comfortable with him as a read option threat, scrambling when necesssary, or driving throws downfield? If your playbook may be pared to handing the ball off on power runs and deep balls to Kelvin Benjamin, why take even the small risk of aggravation? There may also be a chance Newton is not comfortable with the flak jacket options. But I think this is more game plan related than injury concern.

1215 ET: More from Jay Glazer:

 


Location of Newton's rib injury may be a primary issue after all. More to come over the next 24 hours...

ROB GRONKOWSKI | KNEE | QUESTIONABLE

Gronkowski told the media he would play this week. Bill Belichick tried to throw cold water on Gronkowski's declaration after practice on Wednesday, but I think it's clear that Gronkowski will be active and on the field today.

The Patriots have been working toward Week 1 since late July. They scripted his camp work carefully after electing not to put Gronkowski on the PUP list, holding him out of contact until mid-August. Although Gronkowski never played in a preseason game, he has had enough full contact work to be in close to football condition.

I think we'll see the Patriots limit Gronkowski's snaps and packages this week, then re-evaluate his usage after seeing how he plays and how his knee responds to live action. Expect nearly all of Gronkowski's snaps to come in high leverage situations. primarily key passing downs and red zone opportunities.

Fantasy recommendation: Gronkowski's high leverage snaps make him a high variance fantasy play. But so was Jimmy Graham in his first week back from a plantar fascia tear when he converted three targets into three catches and two touchdowns. His upside is enough for me to start him over any tight end other than Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas and Jordan Cameron. I might even consider Gronkowski over Cameron. If you're conservative and prefer a higher floor option, I won't talk you out of it. But Gronkowski is safe to play today.

MICHAEL CRABTREE | CALF |  QUESTIONABLE

Crabtree was a surprise addition to the injury report Wednesday with a calf injury. It had been a hamstring injury that had limited him in the later weeks of training camp. Crabtree was back at practice, listed as limited participation, both Thursday and Friday. That strongly suggests Wednesday's missed practice was more maintenance and rest than injury concern.

Even more telling was Crabtree giving media interviews on Thursday. Teams generally don't make players available to the press late in the week if they are unlikely to play. Not only was Crabtree talking -- which he usually doesn't do anyway -- he told reporters he was excited to play against Dallas this week. Barring a setback in warmups, he'll be active today.

Fantasy recommendation: There's some risk with Crabtree today. There's no guarantee he's fully over the hamstring problem and the calf strain, which is not on the same side as his Achilles tear, is likely a cascade injury. The Cowboys' cornerback group is suspect, as is their pass rush. It's a strong matchup for Crabtree and he can be considered an upside WR3 today.

1245 ET: Jay Glazer reporting on FOX pregame show that Crabtree is a game time decision. I believe that means they want to test him out during warmups and ensure he's not feeling any tightness. I'm still optimistic we'll see Crabtree active today but watch the inactives to be certain. You may want to consider a hedge or going with an early game option if you have a player in the same WR3 tier.

ANTONIO GATES | HAMSTRING | QUESTIONABLE

Gates was added to the Chargers' injury report after Saturday's practice with a hamstring injury. There was no planned press conference after practice yesterday, so the local media was given no updates on Gates' condition and there's been nothing of note in the national media. 

While there's no specific report about the severity of Gates' strain -- Michael Gehlken called it a "tweak", but his tweet reads like his speculation rather than a sourced report -- it's always worrisome when a player is added to the injury report with a muscle strain midweek. Gates' Saturday injury is the equivalent of a having a Friday injury leading into a Sunday game.

Fantasy recommendation: If we get anything more definitive from the media leading up to the early game inactives, I'll have it here. It's highly likely, especially if the strain is minor, that we won't know anything about Gates' status until pregame warmups tomorrow night. That's enough for me to pull him from lineups today despite the killer matchup -- unless you have Lardarius Green already rostered or your backup option is no better than the only likely still available hedge, Rob Housler. 

TERRANCE WILLIAMS | BACK | QUESTIONABLE

Williams' back injury isn't spasms or disc-related, it's a bruise that occurred after a fall in practice. A bruise could lead to spasms, but there's been no indication of any late week trouble. Williams was back at practice on Friday and spoke to the media, telling them he didn't feel any stiffness or soreness on Friday. He's expected to play.

Fantasy recommendation: Williams is safe to use as a WR3/flex play in deeper leagues.

Tom Brady, Larry Fitzgerald, Tony Romo, Sammy Watkins, Jordan Reed, Emmanuel Sanders, Bernard Pierce and Tyler Eifert are all listed on the injury report but expected to play. Reed is listed questionable but fully practiced all week with a thumb injury. I think there's little chance of him being inactive today, but I'll have any updates here and on Twitter.

Best of luck in your fantasy games this weekend. I'll be back on Monday morning to review all the Week 1 injuries in the Injury Rounds column. Follow me on Twitter @JeneBramel for breaking news and analysis during the games today.