Sunday AM Injury Notes and Fantasy Recommendations (W15)

I don’t envy fantasy owners this week. There are difficult lineup decisions to be made in one of the most critical weeks of the season. And it’s an unusual week on the injury front. Each week, when writing this column, my recommendations are based on incomplete information given by teams, players and media. But the teams generally have a good idea of what to expect from their players and enough leaks through to help make a reasoned recommendation. This week, I think the teams themselves are working with incomplete information in many situations. That makes reading the tea leaves even more difficult for us.

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It’s not surprising that Robert Griffin III isn’t playing today. Despite mostly positive reports midweek, the Friday report from Albert Breer – saying that doctors would only clear Griffin to play if there was no chance of aggravating the injury – was telling. Griffin may have shown he could plant and throw effectively in light practice action, but even a low grade LCL sprain will not have fully healed in one week. An hit that may aggravate an injured LCL would put other nearby structures at risk – particularly those posterolateral corner (PLC) structures that could limit the long term function of Griffin’s knee if injured. Griffin should be closer to playing next week, but expect the same level of caution in practice and in the clearance to play process.

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We know very little about Roddy White’s injury. We saw him limp frequently last week, converting very few of his passing targets and struggling to gain separation at times. We’ve been told he has a knee injury that was significant enough to warrant an MRI, but the Falcons provided no information themselves other than to say the injury is “minor.” And White hasn’t practiced all week. None of that sounds promising to me. But the tone in the Falcons’ locker room strongly suggests that White will play. I think White will be active today, but I’ll be surprised if he’s not limited in snap count and effectiveness. Fantasy recommendation: I’m very leery of White today, but he’s still worth considering as a boom-bust WR3.

Dez Bryant is planning to play today. I think he’s been told by multiple specialists that he’s taking a serious risk by playing through his injury and that surgery is the most reasonable option. But they’ve also likely told him that there’s a chance he could avoid additional injury – with the help of taping and splinting – and that surgery may still be successful after the season. There were reports that Bryant’s pain and swelling were markedly improved by the end of the week and that the team has found a way to splint/tape his index finger in such a way that he can effectively catch passes. However, that’s not a guarantee that Bryant will make it through today’s game without a setback or be consistent catching the ball with his “new” hand without the benefit of practice reps. I think we’ll see Bryant fight the ball at times today, be more prone to drops and possibly miss 5-20 snaps for adjustments to the splint and pain management. Fantasy recommendation: If Bryant plays, he should be in lineups. I’d tentatively slot him as a boom-bust WR2, knowing that his floor is well outside WR3 range despite his run of huge games. There’s still too much upside to sit him.

Ray Rice has been limited all week with a hip pointer. Every indication has been that the injury is minor and Rice is expected to take his usual workload today. I’m still not 100% convinced that there’s nothing to worry about here – the extent of a hip pointer may not declare itself for 24-48 hours after the injury – and that Rice won’t be limited in effectiveness or snap count today. But there’s not enough here to sit him this week. Fantasy recommendation: Start Rice as you usually would.

As we’ve seen many times this season, players returning from high ankle sprains will experience minor in-game setbacks and tweaks in their first game (or games) back. Unlike what commonly happens with muscle strains, those tweaks are often not re-injuries to the structure. Darren McFadden struggled through those issues in Week 14, but had the benefit of a couple extra days to recover and has fully practiced this week. It’s safe to expect his usual workload today. Fantasy recommendation: With a great matchup, consider McFadden a RB1 this week.

The Patriots continue to put the questionable tag on Aaron Hernandez every week, which continues to prompt questions on whether there’s something new happening with his ankle. While we’ll never know for certain if this is the week that the questionable tag is meaningful in Belichick-land, there’s been no indication in Hernandez’s on field play in recent weeks that we should be concerned. Fantasy recommendation: Start Hernandez with confidence.

News broke this week that Jimmy Graham is fighting some kind of wrist injury, but the extent and severity of the injury isn’t known. Graham has dropped more passes than usual and his target counts are down significantly from previous seasons. But I think there’s a good argument that the wrist isn’t the primary limiting factor. It’s easier for teams to crowd the middle of the field when you don’t have a viable downfield threat outside the hash marks and can’t protect your quarterback long enough for those routes to develop for lesser receivers. Graham is still a threat for 10 targets every week and the first option inside the red zone. That’s more than enough reason to continue to consider him a top fantasy TE, whether the wrist injury may lead to a dropped pass now and then or not. Fantasy recommendation: Start Graham as you normally would.

Hakeem Nicks needed an MRI as reassurance that his most recent episode of pain and swelling was not an indication of a new or aggravated structural issue. The MRI results were reassuring enough to allow him to do his usual Thursday and Friday practice work and he’s fully expected to play today. We know what Nicks is right now – a limited receiver but talented enough to find ways to overcome his difficulties getting to top speed or separating in tight spaces. Fantasy recommendation: Nicks remains a boom-bust WR3.

Bilal Powell has a fractured toe. Without knowing which toe and which bone is injured, it’s difficult to say how much Powell will be affected. It was reported early this week that Powell would play, which suggests that the injury isn’t in a location that will greatly limit Powell. But even a minor toe injury will stress Powell’s ability to push off and change direction. Whether it’s enough to hurt his burst through a hole or at the goal line is something Powell (and the Jets) may not know until the game begins. Fantasy recommendation: Drop Powell a tier in expectation; a low level RB2 in non-PPR leagues, a flex play at best in PPR leagues.

Donnie Avery, Cecil Shorts, Sidney Rice and Danny Amendola are all expected to play this week. There is some risk with each player, but all are reasonable WR3 with upside today.

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