As someone who covers NFL injuries, it's actually rewarding when I have little to say, as it means that there aren't a whole lot of important injuries. Such is the case now, as most fantasy-relevant skills players made it through the preseason without long-term injuries. Because of this, the biggest stories in terms of injuries are mostly focusing on players that might be back any day now, and trying to determine what their role might be upon return. Unfortunately, that's sometimes much more difficult than just making an educated guess as to how much time a player will miss as soon as he is injured.
Before diving into this week's injury rundown though, I should take a minute to introduce myself to any new Footballguys subscribers. If you're looking for a doctor to walk you through the details of current NFL injuries, I'm not that guy. My colleague here at Footballguys, Dr. Jene Bramel is that guy, and he's fantastic. Even before I joined the staff here, I felt Jene was one of the best in the business, and nothing about that has changed. His weekly injury rounds are a must-read.
As for myself, my background is as an NFL injury blogger with a ridiculously extensive injury database. At last count, I had logged about 4,700 individual injuries, including the amount of time missed, and any other available details. Using this background, I can often use historical comparisons to make an educated guess as to a player's expected rehab timeline. It's important to note that, "educated guess," part, as this is far from an exact science. But even with the pitfalls of comparing different player injuries, I still think it's a great place to start in regards to return-to-play estimates, and it often end up being more accurate than what you typically hear from players, coaches, and agents. In addition to this database background, I do my best to break down current injury situations and give readers an idea of what I think might be going on, and how that might affect the player's outlook for the coming week, month, or season.
Now that formal introductions have been made, let's get to the injuries already!
Carson Wentz, multiple rib fractures
Whether he's ready for it or not, Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz is going to be in the spotlight this season. The Eagles were made an offer they couldn't refuse, and sent Sam Bradford packing to Minnesota. With the depth chart cleared in front of him, Wentz is the heir apparent to take the reins this season. The only thing that might be holding Wentz back is the fact that he missed the last three games of the preseason with multiple hairline rib fractures. As of late August, ESPN reported that one rib was healed, while another rib was only about 60% healed.
From everything I can tell, this is about as minor of an injury as possible, and it shouldn't affect Wentz significantly. I feel safe downplaying this injury for three reasons. First, it was described as, "hairline," which is the best-possible scenario when dealing with fractures. Second, there have been no reports of associated damage such as a lung or other organ injury, and no reports of a slow rehab. Third, plenty of other QBs have missed zero time with minor rib fractures, notably Matt Cassel, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Tony Romo (despite Romo's injury including a punctured lung). Wentz will have had almost a full month to heal before he starts Week 1, and that should be more than enough time. As to whether Wentz is mentally prepared or physically conditioned, that's an entirely different issue. But when it comes to his rib injury, he should be fine. I'll feel a little better if he makes it through a complete game and doesn't experience soreness or pain in the ribs the following day, but otherwise, we should have heard the last of this injury.
Thomas Rawls, ankle fracture
Thomas Rawls suffered a fractured fibula at the ankle along with other associated ligament damage back in December. This injury required surgery, and trying to get an accurate idea of where Rawls is in this extensive rehab has been difficult this offseason. While head coach Pete Carroll is usually the most optimistic guy when talking about injured Seahawks, his word in regards to Rawls have mostly seemed guarded and vague. In some sense, that's fair enough, as a rehab as extensive as Rawls' isn't the easiest thing for anyone to predict or explain, even if they wanted to be honest.
Luckily for us, Rawls was able to play a few snaps in the final preseason game, so we're at least assured that he's cleared for contact and that the medical staff feels he's safe on the field. Unfortunately, it's becoming very difficult to figure out what sort of role Rawls' might be stepping back into, and how that might evolve over the season. Carroll's latest words about, "not rushing Rawls back," seemed sensible enough, but also included lines such as, "He's ready in the next couple weeks to get back in where he can start a game...", which doesn't sound like Rawls is currently ready to start or have a significant role. For at least the next few weeks, it seems like Christine Micheal will get a chance to shine. Indeed, just before going to press, Pete Carroll indicated that Rawls will basically be on a snap count, and compared Week 1 to a preseason game for Rawls. That doesn't sound like a player that will be making large contributions for a few weeks.
Jamaal Charles, ACL
I'll just come right out and say it, I have no idea what's going on with Jamaal Charles and his ACL recovery. Up until the end of August, there was little news on Charles, and I figured it was a case of, "no news is good news." It would've been reassuring to hear that Charles was absolutely tearing up camp the way Adrian Peterson did after his 2011 ACL reconstruction, but no news was still better than hearing about rumors of setbacks or new, related injuries popping up, a la Victor Cruz. Right at the end of August, beat writers begin talking about how Charles wouldn't immediately return to his workhorse-back role. Within a few days, a more ominous picture became visible, as we learned through the Kansas City Star that Charles hadn't even been cleared for contact as of September 2nd. On September 5th, Andy Reid himself admitted that Charles is unlikely to play in Week 1. Charles was only able to put in a limited practice on Wednesday.
The obvious question that everyone wants answered here is, "how much longer could Charles remain out?" The only true answer right now is that I don't know. As of the time this piece was published, September 7th, nobody knows. No specific details about Charles' health have been reported, much less confirmed, so we simply have nothing to go on. Perhaps Charles is just taking a little longer with his rehab, which is now nearing the 11-month mark. Perhaps he has had a setback with his knee. Perhaps he has suffered some compensatory injury. Or maybe any combination of those possibilities. But for now, there's nothing that can be gleaned from this situation, and we simply have to wait. I know that's not a satisfying answer, but it's the most honest one you'll get.
Carlos Hyde, concussion
Carlos Hyde suffered a concussion in the 49ers third preseason game, but it appears he's close to a return. CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco reported that Hyde returned to practice on Wednesday, which is a great sign. Maiocco also reported however that Hyde was wearing a non-contact jersey, meaning that he likely hasn't progressed all the way through the NFL's concussion protocol. While concussion rehabs are difficult to predict, Hyde is at least showing the progression that you'd like to see, even if he's not fully cleared yet. The 49ers don't play until Monday night, so Hyde has an extra day to get healthy. Be sure to check back on his progress closer to the weekend to get a better idea of whether he'll suit up.
Matt Jones, AC sprain
Washington running back Matt Jones suffered an AC sprain in his shoulder on August 19th, but it appears he'll be ready to start in Week 1. AC sprain rehabs vary based on the severity of the injury, but it's not uncommon for skills players to miss just a week or two, sometimes even less. Jones has returned to practice, and as of Wednesday, is no longer wearing his non-contact jersey. This indicates that he's been fully cleared by the medical staff and is ready to play. Washington doesn't play until Monday night, so the earliest official practice report won't be out until Thursday. Look for Jones to get at least one full practice in this week, but I'd go ahead and guess he's starting Week 1. One important note here is that AC sprains can leave the shoulder with an increased risk of future AC sprains. This risk is likely compounded by the physical stresses at the running back position, as running backs will often need to lower a shoulder and initiate contact. This battering ram approach increases the likelihood that Jones might suffer another AC sprain, and if he does, that future AC sprain will often be more severe than the original injury. In essence, what I'm saying here is that Jones is fine, but owners need to be aware that a future similar injury could be costly.
Jordy Nelson, knee
After battling back from an ACL reconstruction, Jordy Nelson was sidelined for the preseason with knee tendinitis, though not in his surgically-repaired knee. The Packers downplayed the injury as just a, "hiccup," in his rehab. This is obviously not an ideal situation, and it reminds me of similar compensatory injuries that we've seen from players like Victor Cruz or Alshon Jeffery recently. But, on its own, knee tendinitis is not a serious injury that would be a long-term concern for Nelson. I'm a little concerned by Nelson's lack of practice, as it means there could be a conditioning issue here. Also, Nelson himself said that he has discussed a snap count for his Week 1 return, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. But in the larger sense of, "Will Jordy Nelson start Week 1?" the answer is almost certainly yes, and he could still be highly effective even in a limited role.
DeVante Parker, hamstring strain
DeVante Parker is way too young to be given the highly-dubious label of, "injury prone," but he's also not helping his case much these days, and the Miami staff is starting to get vocal about it. Parker has enormous talent, but lost a lot of valuable time during both the preseason and the regular season of his rookie year due to complications from a foot fracture. This year, he has missed two preseason games with hamstring strains to both legs, and the Miami Herald reports there are, "real questions about when he will return." Add in the fact that Parker did not practice on Wednesday, and it's pretty clear he won't be playing in Week 1. Beyond that is anyone's guess, but I'd add the usual caveat that he won't likely play until after he's returned to full practices, so the practice reports will be our best indicator of future availability.
Jordan Matthews, knee
Philadelphia's Jordan Matthews has missed all of the preseason with a knee bruise that he sustained on August 8th. The initial timeline for the injury was 2-4 weeks, which meshes well with the expected rehab I find in my database. If anything, that 2-4 weeks is a bit on the long side, but that can easily be explained by the fact that it occurred during the meaningless preseason when teams can be extra cautious. When it come down to Week 1, I have no doubt that Matthews will play, as is evidenced by his full practice participation on Wednesday.
Josh Doctson, Achilles
Washington's first round draft pick, Josh Doctson, is a curious case in my opinion. Aside from a few recent practices, Doctson has been sidelined since May with an undisclosed Achilles injury. The team has always spoken about his injury as though he's day-to-day, and downplayed the severity of the injury every chance they've had. The known timeline that we've seen here (about three months) simply doesn't match up with how trivial the team has made the injury appear. Due to this history, I'm hesitant to believe that Doctson is anywhere close to returning. This is a situation where I tend to ignore empty words and focus on practice participation. With that in mind, it stood out to me on Wednesday when the Washington Post's extraordinary beat reporter Mike Jones noted that Doctson only participated in individual drills rather than team or 1-on-1 work. As is the case with teammate Matt Jones, Washington doesn't have to file official practice reports until later in the week due to the fact that they don't play until Monday. I'll be curious to see how Doctson's participation is listed. Due to his lengthy rehab, I can't imagine that he will play Week 1 unless he puts in at least one full, unrestricted practice.
Julio Jones, ankle
Julio Jones suffered what appeared to be a, "garden variety," low ankle sprain in the Falcons third preseason game back on August 25th. Even had he not been injured, he likely wouldn't have played in Atlanta's preseason finale, so that absence isn't notable. What is notable though is that head coach Dan Quinn said earlier this week that Jones would be a full participant in Wednesday's practice, yet Jones ended up being limited in practice. This is likely nothing, but Jones owners might want to check Atlanta's practice reports to confirm at least one full practice by Jones before this weekend. Jones is a veteran that doesn't need the practice reps, and a conservative rehab approach is reasonable, but one full practice at some point would go a long ways towards erasing the last bit of doubt as to his Week 1 status.
Larry Fitzgerald, MCL sprain
Larry Fitzgerald missed a lot of the preseason with what was called, "a slight MCL sprain." It appears that any effects are long gone now, as Fitzgerald was not listed on the team's practice injury report on Wednesday. Fitzgerald has never been the sort of player that needed to practice in order to play, so there should be no doubts or limitations with him for Week 1.
Jimmy Graham, patellar tendon
Remember what I said above in regards to Thomas Rawls about Pete Carroll and his overly-optimistic outlook on injured Seahawks? Without knowing too many details about Jimmy Graham's recovery from a torn pattelar tendon, it's notable that Carroll has at times been backing off of the optimism he expressed earlier this year with Graham. As recently as early August, Carroll made it sound like Graham was doing great and could be back at any second. Now, a full month later, Carroll's quotes in regard to Graham seem to be all over the board. At times, it sounds like Graham will be a game-time-decision at best, while at other times (most recently Wednesday) it sounds like Graham has a great chance to play Week 1. Graham was able to practice in full on Wednesday, so it appears that he is physically able to play. In a situation like this, however, I usually expect the player to come back to a very limited role for at least the first week that they are active, meaning I suspect that we're still weeks away from Graham having a productive game. This has been noted plenty of times, but patellar tendon tears can be devastating in sapping the explosion from offensive players, so I tend to be pretty pessimistic that Graham will have fantasy-significant numbers any time soon. Perhaps Jimmy Graham will be the first player to truly return to pre-injury form after a patellar tendon rupture, in which case I'd be happy to eat my words.
Eric ebron, high ankle sprain
Detroit tight end Eric Ebron suffered what appears to be a fairly significant high ankle sprain back on August 6th. From my database, I could tell you that players could miss anywhere from zero weeks to entire seasons, but that the typical range is missing two to four weeks, with the greatest concentration of players missing exactly three weeks. Those numbers would suggest that Ebron is right on the cusp of returning, and that he has a good chance of starting Week 1. But in Ebron's case, that data is largely academic, as we have at least a bit of clarity due to his practice participation. Ebron was able to practice on Monday, and on Wednesday he practiced in full. Ebron appears on track to start Week 1, but be sure to check later practice reports to ensure he hasn't suffered any setbacks in his recovery.
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