Thursday night injury update: Gronkowski, Garoppolo

Is it finally time for fantasy owners to see a Gronk spike? The tight end is listed as questionable for Thursday's tilt with the Texans. David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Texans enter Thursday night’s game remarkably healthy, with no notable players at risk of sitting out, but the New England Patriots have game-status questions for two key players.

In the olden days, the Patriots would likely have listed everyone as questionable. As it is, they already have used the questionable tag on more players this season than any other team. However, they did designate one significant player as doubtful. Is it possible the new injury reporting structure is adding clarity? It’s too soon to definitively make the case for or against, but this week, it appears to be helping when it comes to preparation for fantasy owners.

For questions about the new injury reporting language, click here.

New England Patriots

Jimmy Garoppolo (right shoulder; doubtful), quarterback

Garoppolo was clearly in pain when he landed hard on his right arm in last Sunday’s contest, driven to the ground by linebacker Kiko Alonso. The usual injury in such a situation is to the clavicle or to the AC (acromioclavicular) joint, and the latter was the result in Garoppolo’s case. Diagnosed with an AC sprain (the severity or grade of injury was not reported), it seemed highly unlikely Garoppolo would be able to elevate his arm to the point of being able to throw repeatedly in a game just four days later.

That assessment appears to be consistent with how the Patriots have designated Garoppolo. Listed as doubtful -- i.e, unlikely to play -- Garoppolo is not expected to make the start. The player the Patriots then turn to at quarterback is third-stringer Jacoby Brissett, a rookie. When Garoppolo turned in limited practices on both Tuesday and Wednesday, it suggested the Patriots might consider having him available in the event Brissett should get hurt in the game. But if Garoppolo were forced to step in, he would need to be serviceable, at a minimum, in order to be effective. If he is still having trouble raising his arm to the side, much less making a throwing motion, it would be virtually impossible for him to function in a game situation. Even if the game plan tried to accommodate his physical limitations, it would not be a recipe for success. Any additional contact he would absorb during the game would hinder an already compromised performance and could easily set him back in terms of healing. Keeping Garoppolo entirely out of the mix makes sense from both a competitive standpoint and, more important, from a recovery standpoint for him.

The doubtful tag suggests Garoppolo will sit this one out; a report from ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss on Thursday morning indicating Garoppolo is not expected to be in uniform tonight supports that notion.

Rob Gronkowski (hamstring; questionable), tight end

Garoppolo may be doubtful, but Gronkowski is listed as questionable -- and it appears he has a chance to make his season debut. One of the concerns in bringing any player back to competition from a hamstring injury is the risk of what happens in game, when the adrenaline is flowing and the player is going all out, no holds barred, trying to make plays. The risk of a setback that could potentially result in far greater time lost is the primary concern.

Unfortunately, the only way to really test the hamstring for competition is to see how it responds to actual game demands. Gronkowski, who originally injured his hamstring in mid-August, has remained a limited participant in practice throughout this week but there have been some modifications. On Tuesday, he donned full pads for the first time, saying he wanted to get "a feel" for them. He also expressed satisfaction with his progress, a very different take from Week 1, when he clearly declared himself to be less than 100 percent. Between the nuances of the steps he has taken to be game-ready and the uptick in his tone when discussing his injury, there are definite hints of his personal readiness to test that hamstring and rejoin his teammates on the field.

The situation of a Thursday night game sets up well for that test too. If Gronkowski’s exposure is controlled, for example, by a limited snap count and situational play, he then has 10 days until the Patriots' next contest. In other words, he could dip his toe into the football pool without diving in headfirst, then follow that with a slightly longer-than-normal recovery period. If all goes well, it could lead to an increase in activity the following week.

The questionable designation for Gronkowski appears legitimate, as there is likely some real uncertainty with regards to his status. It would not be surprising to see him go through warm-ups to test the hamstring and, assuming the results are positive, suit up for his debut. It also would stand to reason that no matter how good he looks and feels in warm-ups, there will be watchful eyes upon him, ready to rein him in if need be. That said, Gronkowski is always a threat to score whenever he takes the field. If he is active, the volume of work may be less than normal, but the opportunities may still present fantasy upside.