Week 8 is in the books! The season is approaching the halfway mark, the point where some fantasy teams attempting to reach the playoffs must decide whether to fish or cut bait when it comes to players with injury concerns. Unfortunately, there are still a number of question marks out there with players whose return status is unclear.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings was impacted by Hurricane Sandy in an unusual way. Jennings was scheduled to undergo abdominal surgery in Philadelphia on Tuesday, but due to travel difficulties associated with the storm, surgery has been postponed. No word as of yet as to how long until Jennings' operation is rescheduled. While a delay of a few days is not likely to significantly impact his overall recovery, every week counts. It would not be a surprise if he doesn't return until December.
Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew (foot) has already been ruled out for Week 9, according to coach Mike Mularkey, but there is no definitive word on when to expect him back. (I still expect him to return this season, but whether it's in the next two or three weeks or more than a month away is unclear.).
San Diego Chargers wide receiver Vincent Brown was an exciting prospect in the preseason, then a fractured ankle sent him to IR/designated for return. The question now is when he will return, as he has yet to practice and hasn't even begun running. Head coach Norv Turner acknowledged Monday, "I don't expect him back real soon." Brown was always projected to miss at least eight weeks and the Chargers indicated he was on track throughout his recovery process. Once he became eligible to join the team in practice, though, his absence became more noteworthy. It's not a huge surprise given the challenges of regaining functional strength and mobility in an ankle after a fracture, even if the bone has healed. Still, given the notion that Brown is still multiple weeks away from a return, fantasy owners should consider looking elsewhere for midseason help.
There are some other players whose status is worth tracking. Here's who we're keeping an eye on heading into Week 9:
Peyton Manning, QB Denver Broncos, (thumb): The Broncos have to be breathing a sigh of relief that Manning did not suffer a more serious injury when he hit his thumb on a helmet. Manning said afterward he was "lucky" that the impact was on the nail (as opposed to further down on the bone itself) and coach John Fox told reporters Monday that Manning's thumb was fine. Whew.
Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles), Jonathan Dwyer (quad) and Isaac Redman (ankle), RBs, Pittsburgh Steelers: The three lead running backs for the Steelers are all on the injury report and there is some uncertainty around the status of each. Mendenhall strained his Achilles in Week 6 and has not practiced since. Although the indications are that the injury was not serious, the Steelers would prefer it not become serious, and Mendenhall is still early in his return from ACL surgery. Last week, head coach Mike Tomlin indicated Mendenhall was making progress and he will begin individual drills Wednesday. It would not be surprising if he is able to return this week, although much depends on how he responds to increased work.
Redman is still recovering from an ankle injury also sustained in Week 6. He did make it back to limited practice late last week and, if he gets through a week of practice, he should be available by Sunday. Dwyer got the start last Sunday with both Mendenhall and Redman sidelined, but he was reported to have a strained right quad after the game, leaving the question as to who will be available (and starting) this week. On Monday, Tomlin announced that Dwyer would not practice Wednesday but could be back in the mix Thursday. In other words, this situation will not likely shake out until late in the week.
DeMarco Murray (foot) and Felix Jones (knee), RBs, Dallas Cowboys: Murray has been out since suffering a foot sprain in Week 6 but it sounds as if he is making some progress. According to the Dallas Morning News, head coach Jason Garrett said, "It seems like he's moving around a little bit better." Garrett also cautioned that it is the type of injury that warrants caution and that Murray is day-to-day. Foot injuries are very tricky, even those that don't require surgery, as we have seen in the past (Exhibit A: Raiders running back Darren McFadden, who was unable to return after his midseason injury last year). Murray moving better is a far cry from hard running and making sharp cuts in practice. Consider me skeptical until we see evidence that he can do these things without limitation before declaring him ready to return. In the meantime, Jones entered the Week 8 game with a bone bruise in his knee and managed to escape without further injury. Jones would likely get the start again if Murray remains out.
Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys (hip): Anyone watching the Cowboys this weekend probably saw the spectacular catch that Bryant made in the end zone late in the game, the one that was just fingertips shy of a touchdown. While many were watching the multiple replays of the catch, some may have noticed that Bryant seemed a bit shaken up on the play and even appeared to be limping as he left the field. He did return to finish the game but there were still questions about his hip. On Monday, coach Jason Garrett told reporters the Cowboys did not think the injury was "that severe." It appears Bryant should be fine to play in Week 9.
Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers (hamstring): Nelson was out in Week 8 because of a hamstring strain suffered in last Wednesday's practice. Nelson should get back to practice this week. How he responds should offer further clues about his availability for Sunday.
Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions (knee): Johnson is on the playing field weekly despite being a regular on the injury report, so it hardly merits a mention. Most of the time. This week, however, Johnson made some postgame comments suggesting his knee is more of a problem than he has let on. When referencing a dropped pass, Johnson told reporters, "It's tough to stick my foot in the ground with my knee hurting, but that's not [an] excuse." Johnson is not typically one to make excuses, nor is he one to complain about physical ailments, but his words suggest that the pain is literally impacting his performance. Will that alter his status heading into Week 9? Don't count on it. Coach Jim Schwartz said of Johnson Monday that he is "plowing through," suggesting that he will continue to do so until or unless it becomes physically impossible. Expect Johnson to get a big break in practice this week to help preserve him for Sunday.
Ben Tate, RB, Houston Texans (hamstring): Tate was dealing with a toe injury recently, and now he's got a strained hamstring. As Texans head coach Gary Kubiak told reporters Monday, "It seems like it's been one thing after another." The Houston Chronicle reports that Tate maintained a regular rehab schedule during the Texans' bye week in the hopes of being ready for Monday practice, yet he still could not participate. The cumulative injuries have prompted Kubiak to suggest that Tate will miss some time to try to get his health right. No indication whether that time is the span of a few days or more than a week, but it hints at an absence for Week 9. Justin Forsett suddenly becomes more interesting.
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Miami Dolphins (knee): Tannehill suffered a bone bruise in his left knee along with a quadriceps contusion (deep bruise) early in Week 8 and Matt Moore came in to finish the game. According to ESPN news reports, an MRI did not reveal any more specific structural damage, but Tannehill's status for Sunday remains uncertain.
Wes Welker, WR, New England Patriots, (ankle): Welker sprained his left ankle in the fourth quarter of the Patriots' London game against the St. Louis Rams and did not return. As reported by ESPN Boston, Welker said his foot got "stuck in the turf" and he remained walking the sidelines following the injury. There doesn't seem to be much concern about Welker's chances for Week 10, as he will have the benefit of a bye week to recover.
Aaron Hernandez, TE, New England Patriots (ankle): Hernandez, who did not travel with the team to London, should also benefit from the bye week. Although Hernandez has returned to play since injuring his ankle in Week 2, he was still experiencing some limitations with mobility and agility. Eliminating a long road trip combined with two weeks of relative rest and focused treatment should have Hernandez in better shape by Week 10.