We head into Week 5 with more questions than answers.
After a slew of injuries were added to the mix Sunday, the injury reports are starting to get more and more lengthy. This is the time of year where the list of truly healthy players is shorter than the list of guys who are hurt. But as we've seen time and time again in the NFL, many players will end up playing with some sort of ailment at some point in the season. The challenge for fantasy owners is twofold: The first hurdle is trying to figure out which injuries will keep a player from taking the field, the second is determining how effective a player can be if he does end up playing in the presence of an injury.
At the risk of stating the obvious, there is no way to know these things with any certainty. Many times a player has an injury that looks as if it will keep him out, plays anyway, and then even when not at his best, still has a productive outing. Case in point: St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson in Week 4. Jackson, who has dealt with groin injuries, expressed concern throughout the week not only about his ability to play but about the risk of encountering a setback. Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo echoed the sentiment and reiterated the greater need to have Jackson available for the majority of the season (as opposed to any one game). But Jackson did end up playing and, as expected, was visibly limited in situations where a healthy Jackson might have been able to deliver an extra burst. After the game, Jackson even referenced his awareness that he was limited and could not run full stride. (Check out ESPN NFC West blogger Mike Sando's report on the support Jackson wore and how it impacted his performance.)
That said, Jackson was still able to deliver a decent fantasy performance. Ahhhh, such are the great unknowns when it comes to fantasy football. Every week, fantasy owners are challenged with making the tough decisions as to whether to sit 'em or start 'em. And every week, we try to gain a little bit of insight as to which way a player might be leaning based on what he's doing in practice. This week is no different ... so let's get to it.
Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears: Fantasy alert: Cutler will not be starting for the Bears in Week 5. On Tuesday, we noted that Cutler, who suffered a concussion in Week 4, was at the team practice facility the next day. We also noted that Cutler would have to progress through the necessary steps in order to return. He was participating in limited practice Wednesday, which initially appeared to be an encouraging sign. But part of evaluating a player's recovery is seeing how he responds to activity. According to the Bears' website, Cutler met with team doctors and an independent consultant after practice, at which point both parties recommended that he continue with limited work and sit out the Week 5 game.
The name of the game when it comes to concussion these days is player safety first. If there is any question as to his health, the athlete will be held out of competition. Cutler is expected to be re-evaluated in the early part of next week. Todd Collins will start for the Bears at Carolina. Collins incidentally was forced out of the Week 4 contest with what was later called a stinger. After the game, ESPNChicago.com reported that Collins stated he felt OK, other than some neck stiffness. Collins was a full participant in practice Wednesday and the team has clearly determined he's capable of playing Sunday.
Clinton Portis, RB, Washington Redskins: The news on Portis' groin injury is not good as he is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with a Grade III tear. Grade III means there is a complete tear, and coach Mike Shanahan told the Washington Post that Portis' injury was "off the bone," also known as an avulsion injury. While Shanahan indicated that Portis would not need surgery, recovery involves both the necessary healing time for the tissue and the subsequent time it takes to regain the mobility, strength and power required to function at running back without the fear of re-injury. While this injury is unfortunate for Portis and the Redskins, the fact that there is some certainty with regards to the running back situation, at least for the next few weeks, is helpful for fantasy owners.
Portis will be out at least a month, probably longer, and the possibility remains that he could see an early end to his season if his recovery is prolonged. In other words, he needs to be replaced in all fantasy lineups, and the obvious choice is Ryan Torain. Last week, there were hints that Torain would see an increase in action even in the presence of Portis. After Torain's strong performance Sunday, there is every indication that he will be the starter. While Torain has an injury history of his own, perhaps this is the year he excels. He's certainly off to a solid start in that direction.
Fantasy owners should keep an eye on whether the Redskins maneuver to bring in another experienced running back or whether they keep Chad Simpson and Keiland Williams as Torain's insurance. For now, however, Torain is projected to see the majority of the carries in Washington.
Andre Johnson and Jacoby Jones, Houston Texans: Neither Johnson nor Jones practiced Wednesday, which leaves many fantasy owners feeling uneasy. Johnson continues to nurse the ankle injury that kept him out of Week 4. While he was not in practice Wednesday, he did do some running, and coach Gary Kubiak told reporters he was hopeful that Johnson would be able to do some route running Thursday. It turns out Johnson did do some work Thursday and apparently Kubiak was encouraged by what he saw. Nick Scurfield at the Texans' website reports that Johnson will remain a game-time decision. Jones did not do any work Wednesday and Kubiak indicated that he would likely rest his strained calf until Friday. The Texans' receiving prospects for Sunday may not be clear until just before game time.
Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie, Indianapolis Colts: Here's another receiving duo with injury questions. This pair resides in Indianapolis and it's possible things might look a little different for the Colts this week. Garcon, who has missed the past two weeks with a strained hamstring, was a full participant in practice Wednesday. It looks as if Garcon might be heading for a return this week, but there has to be at least some lingering concern, regardless of his status, because he spent much of the preseason nursing an undisclosed injury only to exit in Week 2 with a strained hamstring. The bottom line is that until Garcon is able to string together several strong appearances, it will be difficult to know whether the injury is truly behind him. Even if he does play, it's not clear how the Colts will use him.
Meanwhile, Collie, who has filled in superbly in Garcon's absence, did not practice Wednesday because of a foot injury and was in a protective boot. Collie missed a day of practice last week with a reported heel injury but practiced fully Friday and played well again Sunday. It's unclear whether this week's ailment is a continuation of last week's, although it stands to reason that is the case. It's also unclear whether resting Collie early in the week is proactive to ensure his Sunday availability or whether his playing status is truly in jeopardy. Reggie Wayne also missed Wednesday practice to rest his knee, but there has been no outward concern voiced in Indianapolis.
The lineup for the Colts' receivers should also become clearer after Friday's practice.
• Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy has not practiced since suffering a broken rib Sunday. While not yet officially ruled out, it would not be a surprise if McCoy doesn't play Sunday night.
• New Orleans Saints running back Pierre Thomas, who sat out Week 4 because of an ankle injury sustained in the Week 3 contest, did not practice Wednesday. Nonetheless, coach Sean Payton said that Thomas is improving, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and he is optimistic about his availability for Sunday's matchup against the Arizona Cardinals. It would be more comforting for fantasy owners to see Thomas return to some form of practice during the week as evidence that he will be able to play. It's worth remembering, however, that last week Payton noted Thomas' football intelligence, citing it as a reason Thomas could play Sunday even if he only sees limited practice.
• As noted above, the Rams' Jackson was able to run despite not being at his best. Jackson was limited in Wednesday's practice but based on last week's performance, expect him to go Sunday, barring a setback.
• The Baltimore Ravens expressed confidence in Ray Rice and his recovery from his knee contusion, yet proceeded to limit his action in Week 4. At least Rice emerged from last Sunday unscathed and has returned to full practice this week. It sounds as if he will start when the Ravens face the Denver Broncos this week.
• Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden is looking iffy for this week's contest against the San Diego Chargers. The hamstring he injured Sunday has kept him from practice. While McFadden has not been ruled out, it remains to be seen whether he will be able to run by this weekend. Fantasy owners should expect Michael Bush to step up as the primary running back this week.
• New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees is listed on this week's injury report because of his knee. While that might initially have seemed like a cause for concern to fantasy owners, it shouldn't be. The Times-Picayune reports that Payton was making an attempt to be "more thorough" by listing everyone with an ailment on the report. Some may recall that Brees did not appear on the list last week despite the brace on his knee and a mild MCL sprain. Brees, of course, started and played the entire game and is expected to do the same this week.
• Running back Ahmad Bradshaw gave the New York Giants a scare when he came up limping after injuring his ankle Sunday night. Bradshaw did not practice Wednesday but was able to do some drills. For his part, Bradshaw says his ankle feels "100 percent" and he expects to play this weekend, according to the New York Daily News. Let's see if he's able to get back into practice this week before getting totally comfortable with his assessment. The Daily News noted Thursday that he was in full pads walking toward the field just as the session was closing to the media. Stay tuned.
• The Cleveland Browns could have Jake Delhomme running the offense in Week 5, as he returned to practice this week after suffering a high ankle sprain in the season opener. Although Delhomme is still limited in his work, signs would certainly point toward coach Eric Mangini starting him this week if he continues to progress. Mangini officially remains non-committal but that is consistent with his approach when talking (or not talking) about injury issues at all positions.
• Detroit Lions running back Jahvid Best was a limited participant in practice Wednesday. He played last week, so there's no reason to think he won't be available this week. But it is worth noting that Lions coach told the Detroit News that he plans to use Kevin Smith (back in action last week following ACL surgery) more to keep Best fresh. It's hard to imagine if Best is playing well that he won't continue to dominate the starting role. That said, it's also hard to believe he is past the turf toe issue, even if he is feeling better. The Lions play at home on turf this week, so it will be interesting to see how he responds.
• Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno did not practice Thursday after doing limited work Wednesday. According to coach Josh McDaniels, this was not due to a setback but rather a means of trying to manage a player returning from this type of injury As McDaniels told reporters Thursday, "Unfortunately, we can't have him out there every day until he's totally healthy." Fantasy owners need to see more from Moreno before counting on him in their lineups, too. McDaniels rates Moreno's Sunday status as "questionable," but given his back-to-back hamstring injuries and still tentative health, it would be risky to count on him for Week 5.
• Colts running back Joseph Addai remains on the injury report because of his knee but has been able to play so far. It appears that this will be an ongoing situation for Addai. Teammate Donald Brown remains out of practice with a hamstring ailment.
See you at the injury chats (Tuesday and Friday 3-4 p.m.) and we'll have the latest injury updates affecting Week 5 in the Saturday morning blog!