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Injury Analysis: Players on the Mend

Jeff Stotts

Jeff Stotts works as a Certified Athletic Trainer (MAT, ATC, PES, CES). He won the 2011 Best Fantasy Football Article in Print from the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

With the NFL lockout nearing an end, fantasy owners can diligently begin preparing for their approaching drafts. When doing so, be prepared to do more work and research than before as the ramifications of the work stoppage will effect a variety of areas, most notably players returning from injury. During the 126 days of the lockout thus far, NFL players were not allowed to rehab or receive treatment from team-associated athletic trainers, physical therapists, or personal trainers. They were also unable to use team facilities. That means team medical staff will be entering the coming days nearly blind, needing extra time to properly evaluate recovering or injured individuals.

It starts in Indianapolis where Peyton Manning has admitted not having team therapists by his side has delayed his recovery from offseason neck surgery. In May, Manning underwent surgery to remove a piece of bulging disk for the second time in 15 months. The disk was impinging on a nerve causing the 11-time Pro-Bowler discomfort and pain. The initial timetable for recovery was six-to-eight weeks but his progress has been slow. He elected to sit out several charity events and did not take part in throwing during his recent football camp in Louisiana. However Manning has been an ironman throughout his career and should be able to get back on track in rehab as soon as the lockout lifts. Expect the Colts to rest the veteran more during the upcoming training camp and preseason so Manning can continue his streak of 208 consecutive regular season starts.

Manning's longtime rival, Tom Brady also underwent surgery - to repair a stress fracture in his right foot. In the procedure, a screw was inserted into his navicular bone, a small bone in the midfoot. The screw helps create a productive healing environment and provides stability to the injured area. The navicular is a key component in weight transfer, making it vital that the bone completely heals. The fracture occurred in Brady's plant foot, and any kind of nonunion or incomplete union would cause the reigning MVP significant pain and instability.

Athletes often attempt to return too soon after surgery and suffer setbacks in their recoveries. Without the Patriots medical staff keeping a close eye on his progression, the responsibility of remaining patient fell squarely on Brady. Not surprisingly it appears he handled it well, and Brady has been spotted throwing a football without the need of a walking boot. He enters the season with a slight increase in his injury risk, but seems poised to defend his MVP title.

In Dallas, another upper echelon quarterback is prepared for a bounce back season as Tony Romo has declared himself 100 percent recovered from his broken clavicle. A fractured collarbone in his non-throwing side limited the quarterback to six games last year as the Cowboys stumbled through a 6-10 season. While the lockout has limited his football activities, the collarbone did not stop Romo from swinging a golf club, making it clear the bone has healed. However a shaky offensive line still makes him vulnerable to taking big hits and re-injury. Dallas must shore up its line to insure their quarterback's health.

A healthy Romo could mean big things for Dez Bryant, assuming he's healthy as well. A sprained right ankle suffered early in training camp slowed Bryant initially, before a Week 7 eruption signaled his arrival. From Weeks 7 to 12 the rookie would catch 26 passes for 336 yards while scoring six touchdowns. However he suffered a broken ankle in Week 13 against the Colts and was sidelined for the remainder of the year. Surgery was required to fix the break in his fibula, the smaller of the two lower leg bones. The break occurred in the same ankle he sprained earlier in the season and could be attributed to the previous injury. A high ankle sprain effects the distal tibiofibular joint, and any lingering instability may have played a role in his subsequent fracture.

In an attempt to shed the injury prone label, Bryant has committed himself to staying in shape and participated in several player-led workouts. He recently stated he has not been cleared, but that's likely only because the lockout has not allowed him to communicate with Dallas' medical staff. If Bryant can have a healthy, productive preseason, he could prove to be a deadly fantasy weapon.

Despite tearing his meniscus during last year's preseason, Maurice Jones-Drew put together another fantasy-friendly year. However by season's end his knee was bone-to-bone as the fibrocartilage disk, designed to act as a shock absorber, wore down. Offseason arthroscopic surgery was required, and MJD has returned to running and cutting. However this could be the first sign that his aggressive style of play and heavy workload are starting to take their toll. Jones-Drew has finished in the top 10 in rushing attempts in back-to-back to seasons as well as the top eight in total touches. He has also earned a reputation for breaking tackles, finishing in the top five in that department. These statistics are great for fantasy owners that utilized his services in previous seasons, but it should make future owners a tad hesitant. Like Brady, Jones-Drew remains a top-tier fantasy option, but keep in mind he has an elevated risk of injury. If you do nab him in the early rounds of your draft, play it safe and draft Rashad Jennings as insurance.

San Francisco's Frank Gore spent the final weeks of the 2010 season on the injured reserve after suffering a fractured right hip. The break was a clean, hairline fracture that fortunately did not require surgery. Gore elected to not participate in workouts organized by his teammates, wanting instead to focus on improving his hip. Playing it safe was a wise decision, and I would anticipate Gore getting cleared for contact after visiting with the San Francisco medical team. The Niners and new head coach Jim Harbaugh plan on utilizing a run-friendly offense that could result in more touches for their workhorse.