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Fantasy football injury outlooks for wide receivers

As great as Atlanta Falcons wideout Julio Jones can be in fantasy, he always seems to be nicked up. Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Check out all of Stephania's injury outlooks by position: QB | RB | WR | TE

Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons

Jones has been described by those who know him as a "beast" and a "freak," not only for his football talent, but for his ability to play through painful ailments. His foot issues are well-known (a Jones fracture discovered at his NFL combine that required surgery and a subsequent second surgery after a refracture in 2013), but he added to his injuries with a left toe injury in 2016.

The injury caused him to miss two games, both somewhat calculated absences, given the team's position atop their division and their nondivision opponents in those two particular weeks. The rest paid off, as Jones was able to return late in the season (translation: fantasy playoffs) and play alongside his teammates all the way to their Super Bowl appearance.

He then underwent surgery in March to address the toe and has been rehabbing throughout the summer. As training camp opened, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff told reporters Jones had "healed up very well" from his surgery.

Expect the Falcons to progress the veteran's activity gradually through training camp with an eye on Jones being ready to start the season without limitation. It's worth pointing out that with the exception of 2013, when he refractured his foot and was held to just five games, Jones has otherwise missed just six games over the rest of his six-year career.

A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals

Receivers and pulled hamstrings are such a common combination that we hardly blink when it happens. But sometimes the specific nature of the hamstring injury gets our attention because it is more serious than the average hammy pull.

That was the case when Green went down with what turned out to be a Grade 2 (partial tear) of his right hamstring in Week 11 vs. Buffalo. In addition to the grade of injury indicating this was more than just a minor strain, Green's injury was also located higher up (more proximal) in the hamstring, nearer to its high attachment point, and he had to be carted to the locker room.

In 2015, running back LeSean McCoy suffered a similar injury in the preseason and quickly aggravated it upon his return, costing him more missed time. The concern of potential reinjury to their star player factored into the team's decision to not let Green return to the playing field for the remainder of the season, despite the fact he had begun practicing with his teammates.

The good news is that Green says his legs feel "refreshed" coming off of the rehabilitation and preseason training he has been doing and that he's excited about training camp. Prior to 2016, Green had missed just four games in five seasons and has played in all 16 games three times.

Like Jones, Green has managed to mostly stay on the field through a few injury scares. Scar tissue from the hamstring injury may become problematic as time progresses, but as of now, his recovery and workout regimen offer reason to be optimistic about Green's health heading into the 2017 season.

Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers

There was much skepticism about how Nelson would perform in 2016 coming off ACL surgery that had cost him the entire 2015 season. But he answered the skeptics with a 16-game season in which he tallied more than 1,000 yards receiving with 14 trips to the end zone. It's safe to say he recovered well. Nelson sustained rib fractures in the wild-card game but had the entire offseason to recover and should have no limitations heading into this year.

Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys

Bryant missed three games in 2016 due to a hairline fracture in his tibia (shin bone), then barely played in the team's Week 17 contest (rest). He remains a tricky prospect when it comes to evaluating his health.

On the one hand, he overcame durability concerns that accompanied him into the league from college to post three consecutive 16-game seasons (2012-14). But his physical style of play and his frequent appearance on the injury report suggested he was always one or two plays away from a big injury.

That big injury occurred in 2015, when Bryant suffered a Jones fracture (foot) that cost him nearly half a season. The fracture in his shin happened the following year. Now, the durability concerns have resurfaced.

So, the question becomes: Which version of Bryant will we see in 2017?

Alshon Jeffery, Philadelphia Eagles

The only games Jeffery missed in 2016 were due to a league-imposed suspension, but he was a regular fixture on the injury report -- and a regular worry for fantasy owners -- nonetheless. Closely monitored knee and hamstring issues resulted in the "questionable" designation for Jeffery heading into game day on multiple occasions.

The concern was enhanced by the fact that Jeffery had played only nine games in 2015 as a consequence of various soft-tissue injuries. With soft-tissue injuries still hovering over his weekly status throughout the bulk of 2016, it became a source of uncertainty as to whether Jeffery would take the field on any given Sunday or, more importantly, how productive he might be.

That production ranged from multiple catches with 100 yards receiving at the start of the season to one catch for 10 yards at season's end. His stats spanned across that range in the remaining games played, and while injury is certainly not entirely to blame for his lack of productivity, it is hard to separate it entirely.

Jeffery's talent is undeniable, and he has been reunited in Philadelphia with his wide receivers coach, Mike Groh (with the Bears from 2013 to 2015), who says Jeffery looks as good now as he did earlier in his career, when he had back-to-back 16-game seasons. If Jeffery can indeed stay healthy, his new environment bodes well for success, but his ability to overcome his past soft-tissue ailments won't be determined until the season plays out.

Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills

When the Bills announced last May that Watkins had undergone surgery on his left foot to repair a Jones fracture, there was concern about whether he would be ready to go full speed by the start of the season. It turns out those concerns were justified. Watkins worked his way back through training camp and played in Week 1, but it was evident that he was not quite ready for prime time. After Week 2, he was placed on short-term injured reserve and did not return until Week 12. He finished out the season but never quite reached his peak (although he did have one strong showing in Week 16).

Watkins underwent a second surgery to repair his fractured foot in January of this year. With proper time to recover and an expectation that he will gradually increase his activity through training camp, there is much more confidence that Watkins will be ready for the start of the season. That said, it's tough to be confident when it comes to Watkins' health, since it has been an issue for him for the bulk of his young career.

Blessed with size and speed, he has been seemingly cursed by injuries that linger. After undergoing hip surgery prior to the 2015 season, Watkins endured calf and ankle injuries that cost him three games. The foot became an insurmountable issue in the offseason, leading to the chain of events up to this year.

While the risk of re-injury to his foot is low, the soft-tissue injuries are another matter. Early reports from new head coach Sean McDermott are encouraging when it comes to how hard Watkins has worked in the offseason to regain -- and hopefully retain -- his health. Here's to hoping that the worst is behind him, because the limiting factor when it comes to productivity certainly won't be his talent.

Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers

Sometimes the injury gods are just unfair. There are no minor injuries when it comes to Allen's NFL experience: He suffered a broken collarbone to end his 2014 season in Week 14, a lacerated kidney to end his season at the halfway point in 2015 and, perhaps the cruelest of all, an ACL tear in Week 1(!) of 2016. If he lasts two games in 2017, Allen will have more than doubled his playing time from last year.

Both the nature and the timing of his injuries go in the really-really-bad-luck category, and it would seem he should have used that up by now. Of course, until Allen is able to complete a season with little to no injury impact, his health will remain a concern.

Still, this is the receiver, who, despite falling in the NFL draft due to some teams' concerns about his knee (he had a PCL sprain in college which carried over into his combine performance), posted over 1,000 yards receiving as a rookie (only the fifth rookie to do so in the 21st century). Can this finally be his year? He is clearly a favored target of quarterback Philip Rivers, although Rivers has been forced to switch it up weekly for the last few years, given the ongoing injuries to Chargers' pass-catchers.

As insurance, the team drafted Mike Williams this year, but spine issues have already surfaced that could threaten Williams' season. If there is a silver lining for Allen regarding the ACL injury, it's that it happened in Week 1, giving him a much more extensive rehab window prior to training camp. Expect the team to be smart about exposing him gradually to football activity, but given his participation at OTAs, there's no reason to expect him to have any limitations when the season gets underway.

Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings

Diggs played in 13 games, but he was limited in many more by the impact of a variety of injuries to his hip, knee and groin. He says he has worked on his conditioning in an effort to improve his health and performance. It's hard not to root for the player who takes a proactive approach to ensuring he stays on the field, to the extent he can control such things.

Eric Decker, Tennessee Titans

Decker has found a new home in Tennessee after an injury-shortened season with the Jets in 2016. In the interim, he underwent a hip surgery followed by a rotator cuff repair last October, then spent his time rehabbing. The Titans were clearly satisfied with his progress, and he appears to be on track to open the season on time, something that was not guaranteed at the time of his surgery.

In fact, Decker has been incredibly durable at this position, missing only two games in the five seasons preceding 2016. If he can return to that level of health, even at 30 years old, he still has plenty of value at the position, especially near the red zone.

Donte Moncrief, Indianapolis Colts

There were some unusual injuries in the NFL last year, and Moncrief's was one of them. In Week 2 he suffered a fractured scapula (broken shoulder blade), an uncommon injury requiring just the right amount of force to be delivered directly to the bone. Unfortunately, while the bone is healing, movement is restricted, so Moncrief went on the shelf for six weeks during the process. In addition to missing time early in the season, a nagging hamstring injury cost him later in the year.

Moncrief lost weight in the offseason and plans to be injury-free, which is certainly an admirable goal. Whether he can actually deliver on that promise remains to be seen. After being held to just nine games in 2016, Moncrief does not come into camp with any lingering concerns. His two prior seasons of 16 games played would suggest he is capable of improving significantly on last year's numbers.

John Brown, Arizona Cardinals

It wasn't that Brown missed many games last year, it was how drastically different he looked when compared to the prior season. It seemed as if Brown was struggling throughout the season just to get through it. Apparently, he was. In addition to a preseason concussion which resulted in missed time during training camp and the recognition of sickle cell trait as a potentially compounding variable with regards to his health, Brown had a spinal cyst that went undiscovered until the postseason.

After undergoing surgery to remove it, Brown noticed an immediate difference. According to the Cardinals' official website, Brown said he knew he was sleeping too much and he couldn't eat right, that his body was "drained out." Following the procedure, Brown said he was back to normal. If indeed the cyst was responsible for Brown's energy decline and/or his musculoskeletal complaints, then there is no reason to think he can't bounce back this season.

Unfortunately, until the season plays out, there will be no way to know for sure if Brown is entirely past the issues of 2016.

Corey Coleman, Cleveland Browns

A broken hand in a Week 3 practice session took Coleman out of the mix for six weeks while the fracture healed. When he returned in Week 9, his performance was inconsistent, perhaps due in part to his missed time. Coleman also missed valuable training camp time entering his rookie season due to a hamstring injury.

Those woes may not be behind him, as a hamstring injury cropped up during this year's OTAs. There is some concern that the missed time has hurt his development as a wide receiver and his integration into the offense. His health and his performance in training camp will be worth monitoring.

Jeremy Maclin, Baltimore Ravens

Maclin suffered a groin injury in Week 9 that led to him missing the following four weeks, but he never really did look like his former self. Not only was this the fewest number of games played in a season for Maclin, he also managed just two touchdowns, neither of which came after he returned from injury.

Maclin has dealt with soft-tissue ailments intermittently throughout his career, most notably a torn ACL that sidelined him for the entire 2013 season. Perhaps he will be rejuvenated in Baltimore with a new team, but the concerns about another soft-tissue problem cropping up aren't going away.