McGahee could miss rest of preseason

August, 11, 2008

Willis McGahee will undergo an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee as soon as today, and will be out between two and four weeks. While new Ravens coach John Harbaugh told the Baltimore Sun that he expects his starting running back to return in time for Week 1 against the Bengals, there are reasons to be slightly concerned about McGahee.

First of all, this procedure -- termed a "cleanup" by Harbaugh -- is on the same knee that suffered catastrophic damage in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, when McGahee was rushing for the University of Miami and caught a shoulder square against the joint. Second, McGahee had already come under a bit of criticism for skipping offseason workouts with the team as Cam Cameron's new offense was being installed, for showing up to training camp a bit overweight and out of shape, and for not being completely familiar with Cameron's playbook. Third, there have been puff pieces galore in the Baltimore media about rookie Ray Rice, and how much the team absolutely adores him. And finally, in both '06 and '07, McGahee battled several minor injuries that kept him out of games and caused him to underachieve in games which he did play, leaving the question about how fast a healer he really is unanswered.

Now, Harbaugh told the media in no uncertain terms Monday that McGahee was still his starter, and that Rice's role as a supplemental back hasn't changed one iota as a result of this surgery. But I've got enough concerns that I've dropped McGahee below Ryan Grant and Jamal Lewis to 13th on my running back list. I don't think he can be considered a first-round fantasy pick in any but the very deepest of leagues, despite how well he came on late in '07 -- scoring a touchdown in seven consecutive games and catching a career-high 43 passes. In addition, it's clearer than ever that Rice has become one of the more ironclad handcuffs around: if you do wind up selecting McGahee, make sure you get the Rutgers rookie. He isn't big and he isn't a burner, but he's a tough tackle-breaker and finds holes with deceptive quickness that could help him be a legit rusher on first and second downs if McGahee can't stay healthy.



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