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Key fantasy football injury updates for Week 4

Is Jamaal Charles ready to return to game action? Stephania Bell breaks down all the major injury situations for Week 4 in fantasy football. AP

Injury concerns regarding players heading into the Sunday and Monday games can be critical. Each Saturday this entry will be dedicated to each player who appears on the official weekly NFL game status injury report and how his status may impact fantasy teams.

For those who may be new to this blog: Injury reports provide some insight into a player's status. The NFL requires teams to submit practice injury reports several times a week, identifying the body part that is involved in the injury. This year, there has been a change in the language of injury reporting, per the league office. The most notable change is the removal of the "probable" designation. For more detailed information on the changes and what they mean, click here.

Early in the week, the practice injury reports indicate whether a player did not practice, was limited in practice or was a full participant in practice. On Fridays, all teams file a game status injury report assigning one of the following designations: questionable, doubtful or out. The designations listed here reflect the injury reports filed with the league office on Friday evening. Teams playing on Monday night do not have to issue their designations until Saturday. The explanation for each designation is as follows:

Out: This is the easy one: The guy is not playing Sunday.

Questionable (Q): This remains the most dreaded player designation. By definition it means a player is “uncertain to play.” How uncertain is uncertain? There is no percentage or measurement scale, so this classification remains rather vague. Whether a player ends up active or inactive often comes down to a game-time decision based on how he feels on game-day morning or how he performs during warm-ups. Final inactives are due 90 minutes before kickoff.

Doubtful (D): The doubtful designation means a player is unlikely to play that week. Rarely does a player labeled as doubtful end up playing, unless he experiences a major turnaround before game time.

Each week in the Saturday blog, we run down a list of key fantasy players, by position, who appear in the Friday injury report, along with the injured body part as listed on the report, player status and any relevant developments or insight. The primary fantasy positions are covered (quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end).

This year, at the end of each positional section, there is a subgroup of players: “Players off game status injury report.” The probable tag no longer exists, so players who would have been listed as probable in previous years are now simply removed from the report. This means there will be players who appear in the practice injury reports during the week but will not appear on the game status report Friday, since they are presumed active for game day. They are included in this blog, so that fantasy owners can see where players who were on the practice injury report during the week have been upgraded in advance of the games.

At the end, key fantasy players listed Friday as "out" for the week's games will appear as a group.

Quarterbacks

Jacoby Brissett, right thumb, and Jimmy Garoppolo, right shoulder, New England Patriots, (Q): It’s hard to believe the Patriots could have been forced to a fourth quarterback, but between the Tom Brady suspension and the injuries to Brissett and Garoppolo, that was almost the case. Almost. Somehow, the Patriots always seem to rise above whatever wrench is thrown into their plans and it appears they will have one -- and possibly both -- of their injured quarterbacks available this Sunday. Garropolo suffered an AC sprain in his throwing shoulder in Week 2 and was in so much discomfort that he was taken to a nearby hospital for evaluation. Still, here he is just over a week later, throwing on a limited basis in practice, working his arm back towards what he would need to do to be effective in a game. Brissett, who stepped in when Garoppolo was injured, suffered an injury of his own to his right thumb, yet was able to finish out his Week 3 start. He too has done limited work in practice as he tries to rehab his way towards game readiness.

Both players have the potential to be functional enough to perform in the final week of the team being sans Brady, even if neither will be fully healthy. The decision on who actually makes the start could simply come down to who is more ready to go as gametime approaches. It seems there could even be a scenario where both quarterbacks see action depending on what happens in the course of the game. The likelihood is that Garoppolo will start, presuming he has a good warmup Sunday with no late setbacks. Between the injuries and the uncertainty, this is a situation fantasy owners may wish to avoid.

Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears, right thumb, (D): Last week Cutler was listed as doubtful and did not play; expect the same this week. Cutler did manage a limited practice Wednesday but he was held out both Thursday and Friday. As ESPN.com’s Jeff Dickerson points out, the late week absence further serve to underscore the likelihood Brian Hoyer again starts in Cutler’s place.

Players Off Game Status Injury Report:

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts, right shoulder: At least this week Luck is not listed as questionable, although he does appear on the practice injury report again because of his shoulder. His only day of full practice was Thursday; Wednesday and Friday were classified as limited participation. The fact remains that Luck’s shoulder is being protected during the week and he continues to make his Sunday starts. The Colts have traveled to London and will face the Jaguars in a 9:30 a.m. ET kickoff. Set your lineups early!

Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons, thumb: Ryan banged his left (non-throwing) thumb but returned to the game, sporting a black glove in the process. Despite being listed on the injury report during the week, Ryan was a full participant daily and there was never really any doubt as to his status. His removal from the game status injury report only confirms he will play.

Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks, knee/ankle: Despite a scary looking bend that resulted in an MCL sprain, Wilson has again been rehabbing non-stop and, again, is removed from the injury report prior to Sunday’s game. He is expected to wear a brace on his left knee and his right ankle will likely remain wrapped for support but Wilson, even if limited in his mobility, will play Sunday.

Running Backs

Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs, knee, (Q): Charles has upgraded to questionable this week after being listed as doubtful the last three weeks. He remains a limited participant in practice with some of that work still coming with the scout team, but, the Chiefs apparently think he is ready to step onto the playing field. Given that this will be his first time in a live game since tearing his ACL a year ago, it would not be surprising if his outing is limited. After all, Spencer Ware has been performing ably in both the rushing and receiving categories and they can afford to utilize both backs. The Chiefs also have a bye upcoming in Week 5 which will give Charles a two-week respite after returning to action.

Ka’Deem Carey, hamstring, and Jeremy Langford, ankle, Chicago Bears, (D): The doubtful tag doesn’t leave much room for a player to suit up but, nevertheless, these two running backs have not yet been officially ruled out. Carey is dealing with a hamstring injury sustained in Week 2 which kept him out of last week’s game. Langford has an ankle sprain that is expected to sideline him for multiple weeks. Neither back practiced all week. Perhaps they were not officially ruled out yet since the Bears play at home, but neither is expected to be active. It will be the Jordan Howard show in Chicago.

Kenneth Dixon, Baltimore Ravens, knee, (D): Despite the doubtful tag, there is reason to be encouraged when it comes to Dixon’s status. After all, for the first three weeks of the season he has been officially ruled out prior to game day with an MCL sprain suffered late in the preseason. While he is not expected to play, it’s worth noting that Dixon rejoined team practices, even upgrading to full participation last Friday. He could make his season debut in Week 5.

Rashad Jennings, New York Giants, thumb, (Q): Jennings was a surprise inactive in Week 3 after practicing all week with a cast and wrap supporting his injured left thumb. The notion of him being reduced to a one-handed pass blocker, receiver and ball carrier caused enough concern that he was scratched in favor of other options. Injuries are taking a toll however and ESPN.com’s Jordan Ranaan reports Jennings -- who practiced on a limited basis again this week -- could dress as an emergency option Monday night.

For fantasy owners it is important to note that if he is active, it appears to be only as a backup, should he be needed. In other words, make alternate plans.

Players Off Game Status Injury Report:

Devonta Freeman, illness, and Tevin Coleman, ankle, Atlanta Falcons: Freeman missed practice Thursday because of illness but returned to a full workout Friday. Coleman injured his ankle in the Monday night game and exited briefly but was able to return. It comes as no surprise then that he would receive treatment during the week and be limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday. Coleman also returned to a full practice on Friday. Both backs are expected to be available Sunday when the Falcons host the Panthers.

Chris Ivory, Jacksonville Jaguars, ankle/knee: Ivory came into last week’s game with the questionable designation after missing time due to an undisclosed medical condition. He was able to play but ends up back on the practice injury report with orthopedic conditions this week. The good news is that Ivory was listed as a full participant both Thursday and Friday, leading to his removal from the game status injury report. He is expected to play.

Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns, knee: Crowell appeared on the injury report because of his knee and was held to limited reps in Wednesday’s practice. He returned to full practice Thursday and followed it up with a full practice Friday. His removal from the game status injury report is reassurance that he is expected to play.

Matt Forte, New York Jets, knee: Forte has been playing through this knee issue and will continue to do so again this week. After limited work on Wednesday, Forte returned to full practice Thursday and Friday. His removal from the game status injury report confirms his readiness to play.

Jerick McKinnon, Minnesota Vikings, toe: McKinnon has already played through this injury so his removal from the game status injury report comes as no surprise. He was able to practice fully each day and is expected to play again Monday night.

Wide Receivers

Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys, knee, (Q): Bryant injured his right knee early in the Week 3 game when his knee was forced inward as he was brought to the ground from the right side by Bears linebacker Christian Jones.

The direction of force puts stress on the soft tissue on the inner side of the knee (where the MCL is located) but it can also cause the two bones that form the knee joint to abruptly bump each other on the opposite (lateral) side, resulting in an injury to the bone itself. Once Bryant underwent imaging studies, the bone injury was confirmed. ESPN.com’s Todd Archer, citing a source, reported Bryant had suffered a tibial plateau fracture. The tibial plateau is the relatively flat shelf on top of the tibia, or shinbone, and is precisely the location where the femur (thighbone) would impact in this type of injury. Trauma such as this can result in a range of outcomes from bone bruising to an actual crack, or fracture.

Cowboys’ coach Jason Garrett described the injury as a “hairline crack” but a crack is nonetheless a break. Had the fracture been unstable, surgery would have been required. The fact the Cowboys have maintained the door remains open for Bryant to potentially play as evidenced by the questionable designation -- even if it appears unlikely he will -- suggests the injury is on the less severe end of the spectrum. Still, there can be concern with these fractures for risk of progression or failure to heal, hence the open timetable allowing for Bryant to potentially miss up to several weeks.

The pain associated with the injury and the resolution of it as the body heals is one of the primary means of assessing improvement. Perhaps that is why this situation has been referred to by some as one of pain tolerance for Bryant, implying the decision to play is simply a matter of will. That would be unfair to Bryant, given the injury. The phrase “pain tolerance” doesn’t wholly represent this situation medically but persistent pain following an injury of this nature certainly weighs in favor of resting the athlete to offer more healing time. As is often the case, the semantics of a medical situation are delicate and nuanced, making it easy to find what may appear to be conflicting statements about a player’s injury.

As far as his game status, multiple reports suggest Bryant will indeed sit out this Sunday’s game against the 49ers (including Bryant’s own comment that the team will “play it safe” with respect to his injury) yet he did travel with the team to San Francisco. Garrett’s early comments about a timetable for Bryant however still hold true going forward. “We’re going to take his situation day by day,” Garrett said after the injury was announced. “We’ll evaluate his status…as the week goes on.”

Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears, hamstring, (Q): Jeffery’s presence on the injury report doesn’t come as a surprise anymore. The interesting note this week is that the body part listed next to his name changed on Friday from knee to hamstring. Last week Jeffery was listed as questionable due to knee soreness. His practice reps were limited but there was little doubt he would play. This week, Jeffery was limited Wednesday and Thursday because of the knee but Friday the word “hamstring” popped up. It is more concerning because Jeffery was plagued by soft tissue injuries -- primarily to the calf and hamstring -- in 2015 and also dealt with hamstring soreness in the preseason. The Bears need him on the field and it appears Jeffery will play, but fantasy owners have to be a little bit nervous. Double check pregame inactives to be sure there are no pregame setbacks.

Marvin Jones, Detroit Lions, hamstring, (Q): Things are looking up as of Friday for Jones and his fantasy owners after a Thursday afternoon scare. Jones popped up on the Thursday injury report after being limited in practice due to a hamstring ailment. The most encouraging sign possible was his return to full participation status on Friday. Better yet, Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press reported Jones looked like his normal self when running routes and catching passes during the portion of practice that is open to the media. The questionable tag indicates fantasy owners should check back Sunday morning to ensure that he is active but it appears he is trending in the right direction.

Phillip Dorsett, Indianapolis Colts, ankle, (Q): Dorsett appeared on the injury report for the first time on Friday of this week. The Colts had already traveled to London at that point and it is unclear what caused him to be added as a listed participant for Friday’s workout. The questionable designation reflects uncertainty about his status. This game kicks off early (9:30 a.m. ET) so fantasy owners considering using Dorsett will want to check the early morning inactives reported on ESPN.com (approximately 90 minutes prior to kickoff).

Willie Snead, New Orleans Saints, toe, (Q): Last week, Snead’s status presented a dilemma for fantasy owners given that he was questionable heading into a Monday night game. Well, this week he is questionable heading into a late Sunday game. There has been some encouraging progress for Snead, including his participation in three consecutive practices, albeit on a limited basis. Although his designation remains the same, there is more optimism that Snead will be available for the Saints this week. Unfortunately, there is just no way to know how well his toe will respond to the workload of a full-speed game as opposed to a controlled practice environment with limited reps. The Saints travel to San Diego to face the Chargers and Snead, who appeared much more positive about his outlook for this week, could be a valuable asset for Brees. Still, fantasy owners will want to be sure to double check late game inactives and have a backup plan in place.

Kamar Aiken, Baltimore Ravens, thigh, (Q): Aiken did not practice on Wednesday but was upgraded to full participation Thursday and repeated the effort Friday. While the questionable tag leaves room for a wide range of possibilities, Aiken appears to be on track to play Sunday. Fantasy owners may not be inclined to expect much, given that he has just three receptions on the season.

Tavon Austin, shoulder, and Kenny Britt, thigh, Los Angeles Rams, (Q): Despite being limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday, Austin upgraded to full practice Friday, increasing the likelihood he is able to play Sunday against the Cardinals. Austin leads the team in targets over his teammate Kenny Britt, who popped up on the injury report late in the week. Britt is no stranger to the injury report and the Friday addition is never appealing. Fantasy owners considering either of these two receivers should keep in mind that this is a late afternoon game with a kickoff at 4:25 p.m. ET.

Players Off Game Status Injury Report:

Julio Jones, calf, and Mohamed Sanu, shoulder, Atlanta Falcons: After a calf strain was added next to Jones’ name in last week’s injury report, he was still able to play Monday night. In fact, he said the calf was not an issue for him and he had no setbacks. Still, the team opted to limit him in practice Wednesday and Thursday but he was listed as a full participant Friday.

Sanu, previously on the injury report because of his ankle, injured his shoulder in the Monday night contest on a stiff-arm move and was absent from Wednesday’s practice as a result. He returned Thursday to limited participation and turned in a full workout Friday but, as ESPN.com’s Vaughn McClure noted, Sanu wore a non-contact jersey Friday. It’s a smart move, saving the contact for when it counts.

The Falcons are clearly confident enough in the health of both receivers that neither appears on the final game status injury report.

Brandon Marshall, New York Jets, foot/knee: Marshall’s status was very questionable last week after he suffered an injury to his left knee and foot in Week 2. He did play and was on the field virtually the entire game with the offense but he was not moving as he normally would and his productivity was certainly down. The entire Jets offense struggled, but Marshall has a chance to improve his contribution this week. Although he remained on the practice injury report, Marshall was a full participant daily and his removal from the game status injury report indicates he will play Sunday.

Larry Fitzgerald, knee, and Michael Floyd, concussion, Arizona Cardinals: Fitzgerald continues to receive treatment, but he practiced in full every day this week (an improvement over last week where he was limited on Wednesday). He is off the game status injury report as he has been on past Fridays and is ready for game day.

Of note, his teammate Michael Floyd had been in the concussion protocol but has cleared all aspects and is also off the injury report. Floyd was able to take part in limited practice Wednesday but upgraded to full for the final two days of the week. Barring a setback, Floyd will be available for Sunday’s game against the Rams.

T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts, knee: Hilton remains on the practice injury report because of his knee. He did not practice Wednesday but turned in full practices Thursday and Friday. His removal from the game status injury report indicates he is expected to play Sunday in an early (9:30 a.m. ET) game in London against the Jaguars.

DeSean Jackson, Washington Redskins, knee/ankle: Jackson’s practice pattern -- no practice Wednesday, limited Thursday, full Friday -- is identical to that of last week. His removal from the game status injury report also preceded last week’s game. Expect Jackson to be ready to play Sunday when the Browns visit Washington.

Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings, groin: Diggs played through the groin injury last week and suffered no apparent setbacks. He remained on the practice injury report this week but after full participation Saturday he was removed from the game status injury report. He will be ready to go on Monday night when the Vikings host the Giants.

Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks, knee: Lockett injured his knee in Week 2 but was able to play last week. This week he was limited in practice early in the week but was upgraded to full practice Friday. His removal from the injury report indicates he will be active against the Jets.

Kendall Wright, hamstring, and Tajae Sharpe, hamstring, Tennessee Titans: Wright missed the first three games of the season because of his hamstring injury but is expected to be available this Sunday as his removal from the game status injury report suggests. Wright was able to practice fully all week for the first time since suffering the injury.

Teammate Tajae Sharpe has also been navigating through a hamstring ailment, but only for the past few days. After limited workouts Wednesday and Thursday, Sharpe practiced fully on Friday. He is ready to go.

Torrey Smith, San Francisco 49ers, foot: Smith’s injury never appeared particularly serious and he was a full participant throughout the week. He is expected to play when the 49ers host the Cowboys.

Tight Ends

Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots, hamstring, (Q): Gronkowski saw his first game action of the season in Week 3, but that action was controlled. Perhaps the most important result from that game was that Gronkowski suffered no setbacks with his hamstring. With 10 days between games, he has had more time to rest and rehab the hamstring and he remains a limited participant in practice. He has not been released to a full practice suggesting there is still an element of concern about the potential for the hamstring to flare up. It’s possible he may still be under some restrictions for this week, but he has room to bump up his activity from Week 3, something fantasy owners would love to see. An increased workload will naturally be dependent upon his hamstring responding positively to the work in-game but, if all goes well, this could be the first week Gronkowski gets on the board.

Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans, hamstring, (Q): Walker did not play last week after being listed as questionable, but he is hoping for a different outcome this week. He returned to limited practices both Thursday and Friday and said he has “an opportunity” to play. Walker is expected to test his leg in pregame warmups at which point a decision will be made. Fantasy owners will want to have a backup plan in place, but thankfully this is a 1:00 p.m. ET start.

Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers, hamstring, (D): Gates is again listed as doubtful this week because of a hamstring injury. He did not practice throughout the week and is again expected to be sidelined. Two words: Hunter Henry.

Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks, knee/back, (Q): Graham was off the injury report heading into last week’s game but he returns with a questionable designation, not so much because of his knee but instead due to a back issue that cropped up late in the week. Graham did not practice Thursday due to back spasms. The good news is that he was back in practice as a full participant Friday. He has no restrictions heading into Sunday’s game according to head coach Pete Carroll but fantasy owners will want to check that there are no pregame setbacks. Fortunately, the Seahawks play an early game Sunday (against the Jets) so inactives will be announced prior to the 1:00 p.m. ET start.

Julius Thomas, Jacksonville Jaguars, elbow, (Q): Thomas took a hit to his elbow in Week 3 and the injury forced him out of practice Wednesday and Thursday. Although he was listed as a limited participant Friday, it appears Thomas is in jeopardy of missing this game. The Jaguars are in London and this game tips at 9:30 a.m. ET so fantasy owners will want to check early pregame inactives.

Vance McDonald, San Francisco 49ers, hip, (Q): McDonald did not practice Wednesday due to his hip injury but was back on a limited basis both Thursday and Friday. Coach Chip Kelly said this is not a long-term issue for McDonald and seemed hopeful he would be available by the end of the week. Fantasy owners should be aware that this is a late afternoon game (4:25 p.m. ET start) and plan accordingly.

Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions, ankle, (Q): Ebron remains on the injury report this week but has returned to being listed because of his ankle; his back no longer appears to be an issue. Ebron did not practice Wednesday but was a limited participant Thursday and upgraded to full on Friday. It appears he will again take the field despite the questionable tag. Fantasy owners will want to check pregame inactives to be sure.

Players ruled out

This space is intended for a list of key players, not including those who have been moved to injured reserve status, who are officially listed as "Out" for the upcoming game.

Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills, foot: Not long after he was declared out for Week 4, Watkins was moved to IR. The move actually takes the pressure off Watkins on a week-to-week basis and he can now focus on the health of his foot. Despite starting in Week 1, Watkins was never truly 100 percent recovered from his offseason surgery and appeared to be going in reverse, especially after his foot was reportedly stepped on during a walkthrough last week. He did not appear on the practice field this week. With the move to IR, the soonest Watkins could return to action is in eight weeks, should he eventually be designated for return. In the meantime, the Bills have signed veteran wide receiver Justin Hunter to add depth.

Eric Decker, WR, New York Jets, shoulder: Decker was listed on the injury report last week but expressed confidence all along that he would play. He did indeed play in Week 3, although his presence barely showed up in the stat line. On Wednesday there were reports Decker had aggravated his shoulder condition and he was held out of practice. On Friday the team announced Decker had a partial rotator cuff tear that would keep him out this week; his status going forward is unknown. For his part, Decker said he hopes to overcome this injury with rest and rehabilitation but the team left open the possibility of eventual surgery if the symptoms and the swelling persist.

Thomas Rawls, Seattle Seahawks, fibula: Rawls went from a shin contusion diagnosis to a fractured fibula. He is expected to miss multiple weeks with the injury.

Charcandrick West, Kansas City Chiefs, ankle: West missed practice the entire week with an ankle injury and will not play in the Week 4 contest.

Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, hamstring: Martin remains out as he recovers from a hamstring strain. Charles Sims remains the starter in Tampa.

Donte Moncrief, WR, Indianapolis Colts, shoulder: Moncrief suffered a fractured scapula (shoulderblade) and is expected to miss at least a month.

Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina Panthers, hamstring: Stewart is still recovering from his hamstring injury and coach Ron Rivera indicated his rejoining the team is likely to take a bit longer… actually, a few weeks longer. Stewart is not yet practicing and is clearly not ready to return. Cameron Artis-Payne is expected to get the start.

Josh Doctson, WR, Washington Redskins, Achilles: After being limited in the preseason with an Achilles injury, Doctson appeared to have turned a corner and was active, albeit sparingly in both the Week 1 and Week 2 games. He was a scratch for Week 3 however when his Achilles symptoms flared up and will be out again this week. In fact, Doctson may miss extended time as he tries to manage the condition and he acknowledges he may need a full offseason to truly move past it.

Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys, back: Romo remains out with a compression fracture in his low back. He is not yet practicing.

Corey Coleman, WR, Cleveland Browns, hand: Coleman remains out with a broken hand.

Josh McCown, QB, Cleveland Browns, left shoulder: McCown remains out with a clavicle fracture and is not yet practicing.

Virgil Green, TE, Denver Broncos, calf: Green has still not returned to practice as he rehabs from a calf injury. He is out again this week.

Be sure to check out Fantasy Football Now, Sundays on ESPN2 at 11:00 a.m. ET for last-minute inactives, rankings, injury impact and more!