The 2013 NFL season was an abnormal year in terms of both the types of injuries that were occurring and how many big-time names went down. We saw key offensive studs go down throughout the season that had a major effect on fantasy squads across the world, which makes for an interesting offseason when determining who’s going to bounce back and who should be avoided at all costs.
So, as we prepare for our 2014 fantasy drafts, let’s take a look at some major fantasy players from teams around the NFL and I’ll give you my prediction on what you can expect from each of these fantasy cogs.
Julio Jones, WR, ATL: Jones is coming off a season-ending fracture to the 5th metatarsal of the right foot, which required surgery and the insertion of a pin into the bone to increase stability. Jones also suffered a similar fracture that was discovered at the 2011 NFL Draft combine, but didn’t show any ill effects from that fracture. With a history of similar fractures, you always have to wonder about whether this is something we’re going to have to just expect with Jones. But the medical staff and team are confident they took all the right steps to ensure health and stability of the fractured toe, so there’s no reason to believe this will be a recurring issue. Training camp will be important to watch to see if his activity level is restricted or if any reports surface regarding lingering soreness or a loss of explosiveness.
Prediction: Barring any setbacks or signs of regression, Jones appears on track to be 100% by the start of the season, which means he’ll be back to terrorizing secondaries around the league. Draft him as you would.
Cam Newton, QB, CAR: Newton had surgery in March on his chronically sprained ankle to clean out the ankle joint and “tighten the ligaments” surrounding the ankle. The typical recovery time is 12-16 weeks and with news that Newton’s already participating in 7 on 7 drills, it looks like he’s well ahead of schedule.
The main concerns coming off this surgery is regaining the mobility of the ankle while sustaining the overall stability of the joint, as any decrease in ankle mobility could lead to recurrent stress being placed on the repaired ligaments and other joints of the lower extremities compensating to make up for it. This is a surgery that can lead to a huge improvement in his ankle mobility and strength while also providing pain and swelling relief assuming everything goes according to plan. The hope is that his recurrent ankle instability is a thing of the past, and his being back on the field point to him moving in that direction. Although he’s not back to doing all the things he needs to do to be a dynamic, mobile quarterback, there’s no reason to think he won’t be back and better than ever.
Prediction: Newton should be 100% by training camp, which should give him plenty of time to develop rapport with his brand spanking new WR corp. Expect there to be a bit of rust and some growing pains early on, but Newton should be back to being a top 5 fantasy QB in no time.
Ben Tate, RB, CLE: Finally, Tate gets the “unquestioned” lead back job he’s been waiting for. Or, so he thought. With Browns’ brass being enamored with rookie Terrance West, Tate might be in more of a timeshare that he originally thought. But that actually may work in his favor, as he’s had a history of nagging injuries that could be in direct relation to the wear and tear of being an everyday NFL back.
Tate dealt with multiple broken ribs all of last season, limiting his flexibility and enduring a significant amount of pain every time he took a shot to that area. Heading into this season, that injury should be a thing of the past. Fractured ribs usually only require 6 weeks or so of rest time in order for them to fully heal, and Tate has had much more time than that to recover. Don’t expect the rib issue he dealt with last season to limit him at all heading into next season.
Prediction: Tate’s ribs don’t concern me, but the fact that his workload is scheduled to get an uptick is both a good thing and a bad thing. I think he can be a great value pick if he falls just a tad, but I wouldn’t go into next season expecting him to be my #1 fantasy back. Tread lightly, but don’t be surprised if his carries are limited a little bit to save his health and to give West a look.
Tony Romo, QB, DAL: As we’re all aware of by now, Romo was hurt at the end of last season after suffering a herniated disc in his lumbar spine. He had surgery in the off-season shortly thereafter, a procedure called a microdiscectomy, which essentially removes the part of the disc that is pinching one of the nerves in his back. The recovery from this type of surgery is typically 5-6 months, but can be variable depending on the demands that are placed on the body, what position the player plays, etc.
Based on Romo’s availability in OTAs and team-organized workouts, there’s no reason to think that he won’t be ready for the start of training camp. Expect him to have no restrictions or limitations expect for the standard red jersey designation that doesn’t allow contact for QBs.
Prediction: The only major thing to worry about following this type of surgery is getting hit repeatedly and excessive twisting/bending. With the improvements in the offensive line and how infrequently Romo actually leaves the pocket now, expect him to be 100% for the start of the 2014 season.
Arian Foster, RB, HOU: Speaking of back surgery, Foster is coming off his own lumbar microdiscectomy, which cut his 2013 season prematurely short. He also dealt with a nagging hamstring strain that, in my opinion, is not independent of his back issue, although there isn’t necessarily a cause and effect relationship between the two. Foster has been labeled “injury prone” by many out there, but that appears to be an unfair label as he had only missed a combined 3 games in the three seasons prior to 2013.
Since Foster had his surgery in the middle of the 2013 season, all signs point to him being fully healed by the time Week 1 of the 2014 season rolls around. How he absorbs contact at the line of scrimmage will be well-documented and something to watch out for, but just as important will be to see what his conditioning and mobility look like, as nearly ten months off the football field will make anyone rusty.
Prediction: Foster will reportedly have a full training camp available to him, which will be a huge help in his ability to be 100% come Week 1. And with Ben Tate being in Cleveland now, the backfield appears to be Foster’s for the taking. Expect him to have some ups and downs, especially with their offense in a bit of a transition at the QB position, but from a health standpoint, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be able to stay on the field for a full season (or close to it).
Rob Gronkowski, TE, NE: Here’s a guy who’s been a staple on our weekly Injury Report podcast (shameless plug, every Wednesday at 8:00pm PT) for the last two years. Gronk is coming off a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee, of which the ACL was surgically reconstructed in January earlier this year. After dealing with four forearm surgeries and one back surgery last offseason, it’s easy to see why a lot of doubt surrounds Gronk heading into the 2014 season.
So what do we make of a nine month window for Gronk to get himself close to 100% and back on the field? It’s been done before (Adrian Peterson comes to mind two seasons ago) and there’s nothing in his recovery that has led me to believe he won’t be ready come Week 1. However, with his extensive injury history and the fact that he’s played only 18 games in the last two seasons, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Patriots take it slow with their star tight end.
Prediction: From a physical standpoint, there’s a lot to worry about after coming off a back surgery and forearm infections and a torn ACL/MCL, all in an 18 month time frame. The one positive of this ACL surgery is that it’s allowed his back more than enough time to get 100% right and he showed no signs of back issues at all last season once he was back on the field. The forearm issues appear to be a thing of the past at this point, so everything will boil down to how well and how quickly he can regain the strength and stability of his knee heading into a new season. I’ll go out on a limb again this season and say that Gronk will play at least 14 games and take back his spot as the best tight end in fantasy football in the 2014 season.
Sam Bradford, QB, STL: Another devastating injury for a guy that just can’t seem to catch a break ended his 2013 season, as Bradford tore the ACL in his L knee. He is now coming off reconstructive surgery that typically takes anywhere from 8-12 months for a player to return to the field. Because Bradford tore the ACL in October of last season, he stands a pretty good chance of being ready for the start of the 2014 season.
When QBs come back from ACL reconstruction, there’s typically a level of skittishness and lack of comfort in the pocket, especially when it starts to collapse around him and bodies are flying around at their feet. And with the tear occurring in his L knee, which is his plant leg, you have to wonder how long it’ll take for him to get that doubt out of his mind when he has to step forward to make throws. There will absolutely be an adjustment period for him, but QBs come back from this injury all the time, especially when they are pocket passers that don’t have to run too often.
Prediction: He’ll more than likely have an up and down start to the season, but this injury won’t be why he’s not a top flight fantasy QB. Pending how active he is in training camp, expect Bradford to be healthy when it comes to his knee, but don’t expect him to become a QB1 any time soon, as he wasn’t that even when fully healthy. He carries a ton of injury risk, but he’ll more than likely remain nothing more than a fantasy QB2 unless there’s a ton of growth across the board for the Rams young skill position guys.