With the preseason all but over and teams beginning to focus on Week 1 it's time to look at what we've learned during the exhibitions and training camp. For some players, like Adrian Peterson, the answer is not much. We know he is eight months removed from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL). What we don't know is how he is going to look when he faces live competition. Minnesota elected not to play Peterson in the preseason so our first glance at the former Pro Bowler will come in Week 1 against Jacksonville. I think taking Peterson in the first two rounds is a risky move, especially since an injury of this magnitude often requires a full year of recovery. Couple that with the presence of Toby Gerhart and a high chance of a split workload, I'm not taking Peterson as my primary running back.
Here is how I view things for several guys with Week 1 right around the corner.
Guys I'm Avoiding Like the Plague
Just two seasons ago Austin made the cover of Sports Illustrated twice in a six month stretch and some were touting him as the next big thing. Unfortunately he hasn't been able to live up to the hype as nagging hamstring strains have limited his time on the field. He missed six games last season with strains to BOTH hamstrings and did not take part in a majority of Dallas' training camp and missed all four preseason games. The hamstring muscles are extremely important for wide receivers. They help control the explosive movement in the lower extremity that is required to run routes with speed and precision while also aiding in decelerating in and out of cuts. The report on Austin is that his body is naturally tight, meaning the muscle group is already on tension and more susceptible to injury. Austin may be an elite talent in a fantasy friendly offense but he remains a risky player even if he does find his way back on to the field.
Mendenhall is one of several big name players trying to comeback from a torn ACL. Unfortunately his injury was sustained in Week 17 of last season, meaning he is way behind those that suffered their injuries earlier in the year. The Steelers may have activated him from the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list but they maintain he will still miss the first month of the season. Mendenhall 's productivity dipped before the injury and I'm not confident he will be able to shoulder a heavy load when he is cleared to play. He may be worth a look midseason but I'm not spending a draft pick on him.
Not including the thumb and rib contusions sustained in two preseason outings this year here is a list of why I'm not drafting the explosive, yet injury prone Vick. A concussion, broken ribs, a bone contusion in his hand, a quadriceps contusion, separated rib cartilage, knee sprain, strains to his groin and hamstring, a left shoulder sprain, and finally a fractured right fibula.
Guys I'm Drafting but Only at a Discount
Charles is different than Peterson, Mendenhall, and Tim Hightower because his injury occurred early in the season. He suffered his torn ACL in Week 2 and was able to get a jumpstart on rehab. He has looked good in limited work showing he still has the explosiveness that made him a dangerous fantasy weapon. He has proven he can be effective, even with the presence of another back in the backfield, so the addition of Peyton Hillis doesn't concern me much. While Hillis may cost him a few goal-line carries, adding the bruising back may prove to be beneficial for Charles. The Chiefs can save Charles some wear-and-tear as the season progresses, allowing him to be more effective toward to end of the year.
I'm a bit torn on Richardson. Two minor arthroscopic procedures on a knee before ever playing a single down in the pros doesn't exactly scream durable and dependable but it may be premature to label him injury prone. He's progressed well through the rehab process and the Browns fully expect him to play in Week 1. Furthermore he's getting placed into the perfect situation for a rookie running back and the offense will be designed for him to succeed. After Richardson, the drop off at running back is considerable with Montario Hardesty and Brandon Jackson next on the depth chart. Both of these guys have injury questions of their own suggesting it's in Cleveland's best interest to protect Richardson during the preseason. I like him late in Round 2 or somewhere in Round 3.
Guys I'm Drafting With Confidence
Nicks has done a great job of regaining my trust during the preseason. I hate when injuries occur in the offseason because there's limited time to prep for the season. I hate foot injuries in the offseason even more. Needless to say, surgery to repair a Jones fracture in his foot had me worried. However Nicks' rehab and recovery have gone on without a hitch. He's wisely listened to the New York medical staff and patiently waited to make his return. He will briefly take the field for the first time in the Giants' preseason finale, playing limited snaps to shake some of the rust off. I fully expect him in uniform against the rival Cowboys and anticipate another big year.
I have to preface this by saying, a lacerated spleen is a serious injury. However it's beginning to look more and more like Witten will not need surgery to repair the damaged organ and he could be back as early as Week 1. A Week 2 return seems more plausible and I'll swallow one or two missed weeks to grab Witten at a discounted rate. He's proven to be consistent with his productivity and remains Romo's favorite target. With Austin hobbled and the third Cowboys wide receiver still a mystery, I think Witten will become a bigger redzone factor than he was last season. All bets are off if he has to go under the knife but I'd gladly steal Witten late if Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham, and Rob Gronkowski are all off the board.
Jeff Stotts is a Certified Athletic Trainer, MAT, PES and the Injury Analyst for Rotowire.com. You can follow him on twitter @RotoWireATC.