Hooray! Week 1 gets under way in earnest on Sunday and fantasy football will be in full force. Perhaps the biggest stories for this week surround who is not on the injury report. Leading the charge is New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker, who has been ultra-impressive in his recovery from season-ending MCL/ACL tears. Welker has gradually increased his workload and will start Sunday and says he feels like this is his first NFL game all over again. Congratulations, Wes. You have worked incredibly hard to be able to get to this point. Fantasy owners should consider the fact that the Patriots may limit Welker's exposure in the first week, but he still should put up fantasy points; after all, he is a favorite target of Tom Brady.
Also not appearing on any injury report are Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant and Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson. Jones-Drew insists he has no injury, but his absence from more than a week of practice late in the preseason suggests that his knee is not perfect. Only time will tell, but for now the expectation is that he will play a full complement of snaps Sunday. Bryant had a high ankle sprain that forced him to miss all preseason games but he has been a full participant in practice this week. The Cowboys will no doubt want to showcase their talented young receiver, so he will see some action, but it's hard to say just how much. In Buffalo, the broken bone in Jackson's hand was expected to sideline him for the first week, maybe even the second. But he too has made an impressive recovery and no longer appears on the injury report. With a healthy Marshawn Lynch, however (he had an ankle sprain early in the preseason), and a young star in C.J. Spiller, the Bills will not likely force Jackson into much action as his hand is still healing.
So now we turn to those who are on injury reports this week. A primer for those new to the game: Injury reports help provide clues to a player's status for eager fantasy owners. The NFL requires teams to submit injury reports several times a week, identifying the body part that is involved in the injury. Early in the week, these reports will indicate whether a player who has some level of injury is not practicing, is limited in practice or is a full participant in practice. On Fridays, all players on the injury report are assigned one of the following designations by their teams: probable, questionable, doubtful or out. The explanation for each designation is as follows.
Out: This is the easy one; the guy's definitely not playing Sunday. As painful as it might be to see this designation next to a player on your fantasy roster, at least you know in advance of the game that he's sitting out, and you can plan accordingly.
Probable (P): This designation indicates that a player has a greater than 50 percent chance of playing. Most players listed here are expected to play, barring a setback between the Friday injury report and kickoff.
Questionable (Q): This is the fantasy owner's most dreaded player designation. It means a player's status is on the fence; there is a 50-50 chance that he's on the field come game time. Whether a player ends up active or not often comes down to a game-time decision based on how he performs during warm-ups, so it is important for fantasy owners to check status reports leading up to the game.
Doubtful (D): The doubtful designation means a player has less than a 25 percent chance of playing that week. Rarely does a guy labeled as doubtful end up playing, unless he experiences a major turnaround before game time. Fantasy owners who need to make roster adjustments before game time can feel fairly confident about sitting a player listed as doubtful.
Each week in the Saturday blog, we will run down a list of key fantasy players, by position, who appear in the Friday injury report, along with their status and any relevant developments or insight. At the end of the blog, key fantasy players listed Friday as "Out" for that week's games will appear as a group. Good luck in Week 1, everyone! May your players stay healthy and win for you.
Tom Brady, New England Patriots, (P): Tell the truth. When was the last time you saw an injury report that did not include Brady? Now think back to the last time (not including the year of his knee blowout) that he was on the injury report and did not play. Exactly. Brady was already on the report because of his throwing shoulder, as is typical, but there was some real concern about his status after he was in a motor vehicle accident Thursday morning. Fortunately, Brady did not suffer any major injury and he will suit up, as expected, to face the Cincinnati Bengals.
Donovan McNabb, Washington Redskins, (Q): Don't let the questionable tag fool you. McNabb is going to play. While he says his left ankle is not fully recovered from the sprain he suffered a few weeks ago, he also says that at this point, it doesn't matter. As he told The Washington Post, "This is the regular season. This is what it's all about. It's time to play football." Now does that sound like someone who is going to be sidelined? I think not. While McNabb -- who does depend on his scrambling ability to get him out of difficult situations -- may feel a little compromised, the ankle will not keep him from facing the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night. If he gets landed on or tackled awkwardly, however, this could become a bigger issue, so the Redskins' pass protection will be key.
Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, (P): After fracturing the tip of his right thumb during the second preseason game, Freeman was a bit of a question mark for the start of the season. The primary issue was how his grip and ball control would be affected. Apparently it's not an issue after all, as Freeman has been throwing the ball all week and is expected to start. Now if only he can avoid whacking that thumb against an opponent's helmet.
Beanie Wells, Arizona Cardinals (Q): Read very questionable. Wells bruised his knee in the final preseason game and while he downplayed the injury, saying he could have remained in the game if necessary, it seems to be more of a concern to his coach. Wells did not participate in practice the entire week and coach Ken Whisenhunt certainly sounded as if he were leaning toward resting his projected starter. "What concerns me is I don't want this to be something in Week 12 or Week 13 or Week 14 that you're having issues with," Whisenhunt said Thursday. Fantasy owners share that concern, especially if they spent a fairly high draft pick on Wells. Deep bruises can have a way of lingering, even more so if aggravated by pounding and contact. Rest is the best medicine.
All indications thus far are that Wells will sit, as Whisenhunt has great confidence in Tim Hightower and backup LaRod Stephens-Howling. Even if Wells does make an appearance, it is likely to be very limited. For those who drafted Hightower, expect him to get the bulk of the work Sunday.
Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos, (P): Last season, Moreno sprained his MCL in the preseason and was questionable for Week 1. This year Moreno suffered a significant hamstring strain which forced him to miss all preseason competition. After a solid week of practice, however, Moreno is listed as probable and is expected to start. As always, hamstring injuries are a concern as there is no way to test how they will respond in a game except to, well, play in a game. In order to show he is really past the injury, Moreno will need to have several successful outings without incident. Teammate Correll Buckhalter, who was also dealing with a preseason injury, is off the injury report and may see some increased action to help balance Moreno's workload.
Laurence Maroney, New England Patriots, (Q): Maroney did not practice Wednesday and remained limited the rest of the week due to what the team is calling a thigh injury. Other reports suggest Maroney is dealing with a groin strain, but the nature of the injury is perhaps not as important as the fact that he continues to miss practice. The oft-injured Maroney falls out of favor when he cannot practice, and this week will be no different. ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss thinks Maroney might have trouble making the game-day roster given his limited practice. Reiss speculates that Fred Taylor will get the start with Sammy Morris as the No.2 and Kevin Faulk as the third-down back. Whether Maroney or BenJarvus Green-Ellis gets that spot remains to be seen. No matter how you slice it, it does not appear that Maroney will have much fantasy value Sunday, which is reflected in our experts' overall ranking him 50th of all running backs this week. It will be interesting to see if his health improves (and his value) as the season progresses.
Michael Bush, Oakland Raiders, (Q): Coach Tom Cable has already indicated that Bush will be a game-time decision for Sunday. The Raiders face the Tennessee Titans in an early matchup, so fantasy owners will have plenty of notice, but it's worth considering that even if Bush does play, his action will likely be limited. Bush is still recovering from surgery to repair a thumb fracture. His presence in practice has been impressive considering he is just a few weeks out from surgery, but he still must wear a splint to protect the thumb, which could impact his carrying and pass-catching ability. Soreness in the thumb kept him out of Thursday practice entirely, and while he did return Friday for limited work, he's not yet 100 percent. The most important thing for fantasy owners to keep in mind is that he is ahead of where many thought he would be, so he's worth keeping an eye on for next week.
Steve Slaton, Houston Texans, (P): After recovering from offseason neck surgery, it did not take long for Slaton to end up with another injury, this time to his toe. Slaton missed the latter part of the preseason as a result, but has been back as a full participant in practice all of this week and is expected to play. That said, the Texans have made it apparent that Arian Foster will be their starter, and Slaton's role is unclear. He has seen kick-returning action in the preseason and will likely continue to be utilized there. One thing fantasy owners know is that coach Gary Kubiak is not afraid to rotate his running backs depending on productivity, so this situation will be worth watching as the season progresses.
Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals, (P): It was a scary sight for everyone in the first preseason game when Fitzgerald took a hit to the knee that resulted in a sprained medial collateral ligament (MCL). As a result, he was kept out the remainder of the preseason to not only allow the knee to heal but to ensure that there were no setbacks. So far, so good. Fitzgerald has been a full participant in practice and will be out there to make Derek Anderson's job just a little bit easier.
Julian Edelman, New England Patriots, (Q): Often regarded as the junior version of Wes Welker, surprisingly it is Edelman, not Welker, who appears on the Patriots' injury report this week. Edelman has a foot ailment that kept him out of practice Wednesday. He returned on a limited basis Thursday and Friday but is still a question mark for Sunday. With Welker set to start, the Patriots will not need to rely on Edelman, although if he's able, he may dress for the game to rotate in.
Anthony Gonzalez, Indianapolis Colts, (Q): Gonzalez surfaced on the injury report with a back ailment Thursday. After he missed the majority of last season with a knee sprain that ultimately led to surgery, he was finally back and healthy ... or so it seemed. This latest setback does not sound serious and Gonzalez will likely play, but fantasy owners should not expect him to have a significant role in the offense this week.
Brandon Marshall, Miami Dolphins, (P): Usually it's a red flag when a player is a late addition to the injury report as Marshall was this week because of an ankle issue. That said, Marshall missed no practice time, is listed as probable and is fully expected to play. As far as fantasy owners are concerned this should not impact his role for Sunday.
Owen Daniels, Houston Texans, (P): Daniels is returning from offseason ACL reconstruction, and the good news is that he will be ready to play in Week 1. However, fantasy owners who are looking for Daniels to pick up where he left off may have to wait a bit. Daniels is expected to see a limited number of snaps this week (anywhere from 15 to 25 has been reported) as he works his way back into football shape and gains confidence in his knee. How he fares this week will likely impact his workload next week.
This space is intended for a list of key fantasy players, not including those who have been moved to injured reserve status, who are officially listed as "Out" for the upcoming game.
Chaz Schilens, WR, Oakland Raiders: Last year it was a broken foot; this year it's a recent knee scope that will force Schilens out for at least the first week of the season. Look for Oakland's tight end, Zach Miller, to provide a big receiving option.
Byron Leftwich, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers: This is not a surprise, as the Steelers announced earlier that Dennis Dixon would get the start after Leftwich was out of contention with a sprained MCL. But he's worth keeping an eye on. Coach Mike Tomlin has indicated that the best available quarterback will start, and this sprain may sideline Leftwich for only a couple of weeks. Ben Roethlisberger remains out for the first four weeks due to suspension.
See you at the injury chats (Tuesdays and Fridays from 3-4 p.m. ET). Be sure to check out Fantasy Football Now, Sundays on ESPN2 from 11:30 a.m. ET, and Fantasy Surround on ESPN.com starting at 10 a.m. ET Sunday for last-minute inactives, rankings, injury impact and more!