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Injury Analysis: Tracking Offseason Recoveries

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.

The NFL regular season doesn't start for another 64 days, but that doesn't mean fantasy owners should ignore the dog days of summer. Teams have already begun to host organized team practices and minicamps, and the official training camp for most squads is less than a month away. For injury purposes it's time to see if players have recovered or are making good progress in their offseason rehabs. Here are the names to keep in eye on as camps start.

Julio Jones
The first five weeks of the 2013 season were amazing for Jones as he amassed 41 receptions for 580 yards. However a fractured foot ended his season in early October, and he's spent the last eight months recovering from surgery. The procedure marked Jones' second foot surgery since leaving Alabama - he previously broke his 5th metatarsal at the NFL combine. Foot injuries can be problematic for receivers, and that this has happened more than once gives Atlanta every reason to treat Jones' return conservatively. Still he has returned to running routes, and all signs point to Jones participating in training camp and the preseason.

Tony Romo
With a plethora of offensive weapons around him and a beefed up offensive line, Romo could once again be a solid option at quarterback. However, his troublesome back remains a concern. Romo underwent surgery in December to treat a herniated disc in the lumbar region of his spine. The former Pro Bowler underwent a discectomy, a procedure in which the bulging portion of the intravertebral disc was removed. By removing the problem irritating any neighboring muscles or nerves, Romo would ideally feel a decrease in pain and be allowed to begin a rehab process focused on strengthening the musculature in the area.

The Cowboys remain confident Romo will ready for the start of the regular season - they passed on Johnny Manziel in the 2014 Draft, opting instead for offensive lineman Zack Martin. However there are still multiple reasons for fantasy owners to tread carefully.

Romo's surgery marked his second back operation in less than a year after he had a cyst removed from the spine in May of 2013. Recurring back injuries for a player who turned 34 in the offseason are never a positive sign. Furthermore there were reports that the herniation of the disc was so significant it had begun impeding on the spinal canal. If the nearby nerve roots were at all irritated, an affected player will often experience pain and a decrease in motor function. Given that nerve tissue repairs itself very slowly, the initial recovery timeline would likely be extended. Furthermore a loss of strength in the area would require additional time to resolve.

Romo's activity level during OTAs was minimal but a good sign that he is in fact progressing. If he is back participating in team drills by July, the cause for concern should drop. As Cowboy fans can attest, Romo will never be risk-free but at least he's in line to be an attractive option on draft day.

Robert Griffin III
Griffin may not be coming off surgery in the most recent offseason, but this summer was important for his development and his continued recovery from 2013 ACL surgery. Griffin took a step back after a sensational rookie season, struggling with his mobility and throwing accuracy. However, Griffin has reportedly shed his cumbersome knee brace and shown an improvement in his overall mechanics.

The lack of a brace should not be an area of concern this far out of surgery. Studies show that ligamentization, the point in which the biochemical properties of the surgical graft mirrors the original ligament, is completed within a year of the surgery. Basically Griffin's surgically repaired knee should be just strong as his "good" knee.

The precedent set by Griffin and other NFL players is another positive sign for RGIII's 2014 campaign. Former Eagles and Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb struggled in his first year following a torn ACL. However in 2008, two years after the injury, McNabb displayed a remarkable improvement throwing for a career-best 3,916 yards and 23 touchdowns. Furthermore, Griffin's amazing 2011 run to the Heisman came in his second year following ACL surgery for an injury sustained during his sophomore season at Baylor.

Cam Newton
Newton's surgery to tighten up the ligaments on the outside of his ankle came as a bit of a surprise, though the team's proactive approach was refreshing. Instead of waiting for a serious injury to occur, Newton and the Panthers opted to address the instability in his ankle directly. After multiple sprains and failed attempts at rehab, the lateral ligaments of Newton's ankle had crossed their yield point and were not adequately supporting the joint. By tightening the ligaments surgically, the ankle should be able to withstand any potential injuries that occur with excessive movement of the foot inward. Furthermore, the rehab for the surgery will likely improve the mobility in the ankle and strengthen the surrounding musculature, further reducing the chances of a sprain. The timing of the surgery was precise and should allow Newton to be near full clearance for training camp. He's already begun participating in specific team drills and remains an explosive fantasy option.

Reggie Wayne
At 35, Wayne is entering the phase of his career where receivers are in steep decline. Coming back from a torn ACL complicates things, but the hard-working veteran has already received clearance to return to football-related activities. Wayne's familiarity with the procedure may have made things easier as he previously tore his ACL in high school and college. However, let Wayne get back into the swing of things and prove he can run with speed and precision before you invest a valuable pick in the six–time Pro Bowler.