RotoWire Injury Report
RotoWire Injury Expert
This column tries to deal in facts. Sure, my facts often come in the journalistic dark alleys of anonymous tips, secondary sources, and such, but it still has to match up with the medical information. Today, I'm going to stray from facts. One of the things I do is recognize patterns and, having watched injuries so closely, I begin to get hunches. Remember, this is pure speculation, but with a couple weeks left to go and draft season in full swing, maybe one of these hunches will help you. I ran into one of these situations where with the sixth pick, I had a tough decision between Brian Westbrook and Steven Jackson. I like both, and think they'll put up similar numbers overall, though with very different shapes. It came down to my feeling that the Rams line won't hold up, and that the Eagles will surprise people, so now Westbrook is on my team. Four months from now, I may be kicking myself ... or not. So here are a few more of my hunches:
I spent much of last season listening to the Colts, well, lie. Marvin Harrison's situation was never addressed in a straightforward manner, and while I understand the gamesmanship, it's precisely the kind of thing that makes the Official Injury Report nearly worthless. Now we have Peyton Manning showing up at a charity event with a big brace on his right knee. As a reminder, he had surgery on his LEFT knee to remove an infected bursa sac. A bursa isn't structural, and so even after surgery, a large protective brace meant to immobilize the knee shouldn't be necessary. Manning wasn't on crutches, walked normally, and didn't appear to be in any discomfort, though he wasn't bowling or doing anything other than walking and standing. In MMQB, Peter King got some details from Bill Polian, including that Manning had been immobilized for two weeks. Ok, but that still doesn't tell us anything about why Manning had the right knee braced. My gut says it will take an amputation to keep Manning from opening up the new stadium, but this could end up as the Harrison Saga, Part II. If Manning's not practicing next week, as Tony Dungy is indicating he will, get very worried.
We all know about running back workload. For Tomlinson, that's never been that big an issue, but we've started to see some chinks in the armor over the last season. He never participates in preseason games, something I think is a big reason he's maintained his effectiveness for longer than most, but he ended last season with a knee injury and had some leg issues during the season. Rotowire's outlook on him stunned me, reminding me that he has a season's worth of touches over Shaun Alexander, and we all know where Alexander is now and why. Having slowly returned from his first major injury, a sprained MCL, there's some indication that Tomlinson doesn't heal well at this stage of his career. If you're spending a top pick on Tomlinson, don't think it's automatic, because it never is in this league.
Peterson's talented, no doubt, but always seems to have one ailment or another. Sure, he made it through a season without having a collarbone issue, but he's had knee issues, ankle issues, hand issues and shoulder issues as well. His first season ended with a sprained LCL, which is actually a tough injury to get. He plays on turf, has a bad QB handing him the ball and wasn't that much better on a per-carry basis than Chester Taylor, who could still get his share of looks. I think Peterson will miss his projections due to small injuries, the nicks and bumps he's never proven he can avoid in college or his rookie season.
The image I carry of Reggie Bush isn't those high school highlights that look more like Tecmo Bowl. It isn't the great diving run at USC. It's him taking a big hit on a flare pass and literally crawling off the field. Bush can't take the big hits the NFL dishes out regularly, and people are starting to realize that the two steps he had on everyone in college is only a step on some of the people in the NFL. Bush was exposed last year when he was forced into the feature back role, but even in his lesser "slash" role, I think the hits he takes will wear him down quickly. One scout I spoke with pointed to his fumbles. "He takes a hit and drops the ball," he told me, "so he can't take the hit." Add in swelling to his knees and more than half his games on turf, and it's a recipe for further disappointment - or worse.
Jon Gruden collects QBs, but there's a reason. He knows that these guys get hurt, and Garcia seems to be in line for that this year. Garcia's elusiveness has kept him healthy, but he's 38 and has a questionable running game supporting him. He missed a couple games last year after taking a big hit and has spent much of training camp hobbled with a calf strain. The Bucs line is young, improving, and already pretty good, so I'm a bit reluctant to include Garcia here, but I'm reminded that Garcia doesn't stay behind that line often enough to let it work for him.
Brett Favre is gone, and Aaron Rodgers is now the man, but while the Packers braintrust thinks that Rodgers can lead this young team back to the playoffs, I'm not sure why they think he can stay healthy. Even in limited action over the past two seasons, he hasn't made it through unscathed with a foot injury in 2006 and the hamstring last season. Rodgers has shown flashes of solid play when he's had an opportunity, and Green Bay has plenty of weapons, but remember to factor in the injury risk on draft day.
Let's see - speed guy, knee injury, 'nuff said, right? Ok, Johnson is coming back after a minor cleanup procedure was necessitated in May, but the groin injury he suffered early in camp has me thinking that his gait might still be a bit off. I'm not so much worried about the missed time from last year as I am these injuries being the start of a cascade. It all makes me think of another WR with similar talent, speed and size not to mention a very similar stat line: Javon Walker. Walker's problems have come after ACL surgery (and too much champagne), but there are parallels here that make me uncomfortable, especially if you believe Matt Schaub and an improved running game are going to make Johnson worth a top pick.
I started writing this column over the weekend, before Johnson injured his shoulder, but it's that sort of thing that worried me. Johnson's a bit crazy, a bit disgruntled and is as likely to try and overextend himself as he is to set up Operation Shutdown. That sort of thing never ends well, and injury is one of the common paths.
Burress is the perfect example of how a player's skills have to be taken in context to truly understand the effect of an injury. His height made him a prime red-zone target even when he was hobbled, and the Giants used him that way. He could put up one of those funny stat lines like 2 catches, 20 yards, 2 TD and be worth starting. Except for one thing: he didn't put up those lines. Check the gamelogs, especially in the second half of the season. Burress is a red-zone target, but he was far better in those few weeks where his ankle was healthy enough to actually get some targets and add on some yards after catch. With the ankle already acting up in training camp, I won't take Burress off my board, but I'm not looking to draft him either.
I like the Steelers, but one guy has me worried: left tackle Marvel Smith. Worse, there's no real backup here, and without Smith last season, Ben Roethlisberger took more hits, Willie Parker ended up with a broken leg and the Steelers generally looked out of synch. You can replace RBs with Fed Ex guys, you can find a random fat guy to play OG, but a left tackle? That's like finding a starting QB. (Which reminds me - go read Michael Lewis' "The Blind Side".) Smith's legs and back have been problematic, and according to one source I trust, the thing that gives him the most problem is power rushes that stand him up. Now look at the first couple weeks of the Steelers schedule and tell me exactly what's going to happen to Smith.
Article first appeared 8/19/08