A preseason injury outlook on fantasy-noteworthy tight ends. This column will be updated throughout the summer, and the latest information will appear toward the top of the column:
Fred Davis, Washington Redskins: A torn Achilles ended Davis' season in Week 7 of the 2012 season, and he is still on the mend following his October surgical repair. The standard time for athletes returning from this injury is now projected at six to nine months (several years ago, it used to be nine to 12 months), which would hint at Davis possibly being ready to resume football activities in minicamp. The Redskins have opted to hold him out until training camp, however, a wise move considering there is no reason to rush. All reports of his rehab have been positive, but most athletes will acknowledge they do not feel the same burst or explosiveness until they have been back in their sport for a year. Since Davis signed only a one-year contract with the Redskins, his motivation to succeed this season has to be high. Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas returned to play at eight months post-Achilles repair and performed well, even though he later admitted it wasn't until the following season that he truly felt like his former self.
Addendum (Aug. 13): Davis has been a full participant throughout training camp and is under no restrictions for his Achilles. He says he no longer feels anything in the leg nor does he even think about it when he's out on the field. His first game action came against the Tennessee Titans in early August and Davis scored a touchdown. A sign of things to come? Perhaps, but he still needs to prove that he can consistently get separation and play a full complement of snaps at game speed, things which may be determined only once the season gets underway.
Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots: By now, all are aware of Gronkowski's multiple forearm surgeries. In June, he added back surgery to the list. The series of medical events that led Gronkowski to this point are outlined in more detail here. The bottom line for fantasy owners is that they should not count on Gronkowski's availability for Week 1. There are still numerous hurdles he has yet to cross, the most significant of which (at the time of this writing) is the bone healing of his forearm. In addition to healing, he needs to regain his football conditioning following back surgery. There is a decent chance he starts the season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, so fantasy owners should proceed accordingly.
Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers: After missing nine games the prior two seasons due to plantar fascia injuries, Gates played in all but one game in 2012. The good news is his touchdown numbers hovered right around his average. The better news is that his foot held up for him throughout the season. Unfortunately, the bad news is that his total receiving yardage took a big hit, perhaps a reflection of how his foot issues in recent years have affected his quickness and overall mobility. Perhaps another year out from the extreme pain of torn tissue in his arch will allow Gates some resurgence of his former self. But, at age 33 with his well-documented foot injury history, there has to be some concern as to whether the older Gates can replicate the Gates of old.
Jared Cook, St. Louis Rams: Prior to 2012, Cook had missed only two games in three professional seasons. Last year, an injury to his left AC joint cost Cook some playing time early and a rotator cuff tear in his right shoulder ended his season prematurely. He underwent subsequent surgery on his right shoulder and also found a new home with the Rams. It certainly looks as if his recovery has gone well, since Cook has already been a presence at Rams OTAs and minicamp. And he hasn't been shy about expressing how he thinks the Rams are a better fit for his style. With Cook engaged and enthusiastic this early in the preseason, his shoulder is clearly not a concern and there's no reason to think he's off to anything but a great start in St. Louis.
Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers:
Miller suffered a brutal multi-ligament right knee injury in Week 16, tearing the ACL, MCL and PCL. He underwent reconstructive surgery in early January and has made solid progress since that time, but unsurprisingly entered training camp on the PUP list. Miller has been doing some running and cutting and is continuing on a rehab progression, but has no definitive timetable for a return. The recovery is complex and the key is not overdoing it too early, so as not to risk the overall stability of the knee. It's unclear whether Miller will actually begin the regular season on the PUP list, despite his progress thus far. Even if he is moved to the active roster, he may not be on the playing field at the start of the season; the move would allow him to practice with the team, however. Once he does return, it will be important to see how his knee responds to game conditions. Fantasy owners will want to take a wait-and-see approach here.