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The injury reports have been filed and player availability for Week 1 has become more clear. We take a look at player designations and practice participation levels to get the best idea of who’s playing this week and who isn’t. Updates will still filter in as Saturday goes on, especially for the GTD (Game Time Decision) folks. So let’s take a look at the guys who have all of us racking our brains as we head into Week 1.
Keep in mind, if a guy isn’t listed here, he’s already been ruled out or I’m not concerned enough about the injury to discuss. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at z_dahdul for breaking news and up to the minute analysis as news breaks this weekend.
(injury and designation in parentheses)
EJ Manuel (knee surgery, Probable): There’s not doubt about it, Manuel will be the starter in Week 1 against New England. How limited he’ll actually be is a whole other question. He’s been put through a battery of tests over the course of the week and it appears his knee has handled things well. We’re still not sure exactly what procedure he had done, but we do know it was minor and really hasn’t limited him too much. If you’re in need of a second QB this week, he appears to be a safe bet in terms of playing time, just don’t expect him to light the world on fire as a rookie in his first game against a playoff contender.
Blaine Gabbert (thumb, Questionable): This is a bit of a tricky situation, because Gabbert has been taking all of the first team reps in practice, sometimes looking great and other times looking like someone dealing with thumb issue on his throwing hand. Sprained thumbs are tough because we are reliant on our thumbs for grip, especially when throwing a football, so Gabbert being limited will have a definite effect on his accuracy and velocity. Coach Gus Bradley even insinuated that this decision may not be made until game time Sunday morning after they see Gabbert warm up. Fact of the matter is if you’re relying on Gabbert to play this week, you have a lot more wrong with your team than this. But this may be a dicey situation leading up to kickoff, so you may want to steer clear for this week.
Arian Foster (calf strain, Probable): Funny how the Texans listed Foster, with a calf issue and not mentioning the back injury that’s been on fantasy owners’ minds all off-season. But it appears that Foster will be ready to go Monday night when the Texans’ season kicks off against the Chargers. Foster practiced all week and was reportedly impressive out there, which bodes well for that back of his holding up. Foster’s lumbar spine radiculopathy (refers to a condition where a nerve is “pinched” in the low back and causes symptoms into the person’s leg, usually numbness/tingling, pain, and/or weakness) is going to be managed by the Texans’s training staff all season, but it doesn’t mean it’ll ever cause him to miss time. I’ve been on record over the last few weeks saying that Foster is going to have a Top 5 RB season, and nothing I’ve seen this week leads me to think otherwise. Get him in your lineup this week and moving forward.
Ahmad Bradshaw (foot surgery, Probable): Bradshaw was a full participant in practice all of this week and appears on track to play a “normal” amount of time this week. I highlighted normal because we kind of don’t know what normal is yet for Bradshaw on a new team and in a new offense, so we’ll get some good information this week on how the rest of the season could potentially go, as the incumbent Vick Ballard is still around and will get some carries as well. From an injury standpoint, there’s no reason to believe the offseason surgery to replace a screw in Bradshaw’s foot will limit him at this point, as he and the Colts have been very cautious with him and he’s had a ton of time to rehab and condition. Nevertheless, he looks to be a fantastic RB2 this week against a very poor Raiders defense. Use him as you normally would this week.
Rashard Mendenhall (knee, Probable): Mendenhall was a full participant in practice on Friday after being limited on Thursday and appears ready to roll on Sunday. Remember, this is the guy who had ACL reconstruction on his right knee two seasons ago and sprained said knee in the preseason this year. There’s always the worry of re-injury after someone suffers such a brutal injury in the first place, and Mendenhall really hasn’t been the same guy since he came back. The fact that he was a full participant in practice leads me to believe that he can handle first team reps on Sunday, but I can’t imagine that head coach Bruce Arians is going to let Mendenhall get 30 carries in week 1, so expect his workload to be monitored as the game goes on. Mendenhall isn’t what I would call a risky play, but there’s enough ambiguity (new team, new offensive line, injury history) that makes me want to take a wait-and-see approach. But if you absolutely need him in week 1, he looks to be ready to roll.
Mike Tolbert (hamstring, Probable) and Kenjon Barner (ankle, Out): The Panthers’ running back situation cleared up pretty nicely heading into the weekend, as Barner has already been declared out with a sprained ankle and Tolbert looks ready to go after suffering a minor hamstring strain. With Jonathan Stewart already guaranteed to miss 6 weeks, it looks like DeAngelo Williams will be the featured back and get the lionshare of carries. Tolbert could vulture some goal line carries, but Williams is the back you want to own on this team. However, this may not be the week to play either guy, as the Panthers are playing a tough Seattle Seahawks defense that doesn’t give up much of anything on the ground. You may want to look elsewhere this week.
Danny Amendola (groin, Probable): After being limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday, Amendola was a full participant on Friday and looks ready to suit up on Sunday in Buffalo. No details have been given in terms of the extent of the injury, but based on his return to practice and the timeline of his injury, it appears to be nothing more than a grade 1 (lowest grade, means only overstretching of muscle fibers) strain of the “groin”. Expect Amendola to be just fine this week and moving forward, especially if he plays full snaps this week and comes out of it feeling great. Soft tissue injuries in the lower half of the body can always be tricky, but his appears to be minor enough that it shouldn’t be a concern.
Victor Cruz (heel bruise, Probable): Cruz practiced all week and deemed himself ready to go this week against Dallas. Heel bruises can be tough because it’s basically all about pain management at this point and whether he can run/cut/jump without favoring it, which could lead to compensations and injuries in other regions of the body. All reports say he looked good out at practice as he cut and ran full speed without discomfort, so he should be fine moving forward. But do keep an eye on how he does on the FieldTurf in Dallas, as the fake stuff can be much less forgiving on foot/toe/ankle injuries than real grass.
Jordy Nelson (knee surgery, not on injury report): Nelson looks like he will be a full go this week as he is not listed on the injury report and was a full participant in practice Friday. If you recall, Nelson had arthroscopic knee surgery on August 5th and was back in practice 20 days later. The surgery itself was very minor in nature, done to clean up scar tissue around an irritated nerve, which was causing some issues in calf strength. The concern for Nelson wouldn’t be cutting/route running or any other sharp motions, it’s more about whether he had enough time to get himself into football shape in terms of strength and conditioning. All signs point to him being just fine as the best sign is that there have not been any setbacks along the way. Nelson remains a strong WR2 option this week, albeit against a really good San Francisco defense. Nelson should continue to work on his conditioning and strength into the season, so he’s by no means a finished product yet.
Randall Cobb (biceps, not on injury report): Another Packer who looks like he’s been given a clean bill of health, Cobb has been a full participant in practice this week and doesn’t look limited by the biceps injury suffered in early August. He has been wearing a compression sleeve around the injured bicep, which is commonly thought to keep the muscle “warm” and protected during competition. Cobb appears to have no issues with reaching over head to extend for a pass or blocking, which could be two areas of concern with a biceps injury. Looks to me like Cobb is pain-free and at full strength heading into the season.
Roddy White (sprained ankle, Questionable): This seems like an interesting designation for me, as White himself has stated he’ll be ready to go Sunday in New Orleans and he’s never missed a game in his career. He sprained his ankle 3 weeks ago and the sprain was considered only minor at the time, probably a grade 1 sprain. Expect White to be ready to roll on Sunday with little to no limitation.
Rob Gronkowski (back surgery/forearm, Doubtful): Don’t let the designation fool you, he’s not playing this week. He appears to be making headway for Week 3/4, but look to Zach Sudfeld to be the guy until Gronk returns to the field.