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Injury Impact: RBs

Welcome back. Hope you had a chance to update yourself on the QB injury situations last week. This week it’s the ultra-important fantasy position, the almighty running back. You know the drill by now. We’re going to take a look at injuries to major players and consider how it will affect your upcoming season. Check back with me in the coming weeks for WRs, TEs, and Ks. Alright let’s get to it…

Shaun Alexander, SEA
Injury – Broken left foot, September 2006
Progress – It was a bizarre season for Shaun Alexander last year, but you saw him on the cover of Madden so you can’t really say you weren’t warned. Alexander left a game early in the season with what seemed a minor foot injury, and he said he would be playing the next week. Then it was diagnosed as a broken foot and requiring a long-term recovering. Then Alexander suddenly proclaimed that prayer had miraculously healed his foot, but that didn’t work out either. Eventually Alexander came back for a few games and the playoffs, but was clearly never as effective in his worst season as a pro. His YPC was down to 3.6, a whopping yard and a half below the previous season. He also dropped from a record 28 TDs to just 7 in 10 regular season games. This off-season has been more of the bizarre. Some reports quietly leaked that there was still a fracture in the left foot, while other reports frantically denied it. Until Alexander actually plays a game and looks like his old self, expect the scary whispers to continue.

Fantasy Implications – The injury is not the only factor of concern for Shaun Alexander. He will turn 30 before the season starts, a troubling age where many RBs seem to go over the hill. He has been a workhorse for a long time, and he’s logged well over 2000 carries in his career counting the playoffs. It would be nice to think that last year’s injury was just a fluke, but a foot injury is nothing to mess around with. Add in the age, the terrible YPC, his lack of receiving stats, and the fact that this OL is not what it once was, and there are a lot of warning signs here. I’m not going to drop him out of the first, but I certainly wouldn’t be taking him over guys like Joseph Addai or Rudi Johnson. Be careful.

Kevin Jones, DET
Injury – Lisfranc fracture, December 2006
Progress – Even the average fantasy football fan has probably come to know the dreaded Lisfranc injury by now. It is a small fracture to the tiny bones on the arch of the foot. As you can imagine, this would be a pretty painful injury for anyone, but it’s especially difficult on a football player. It is in fact one of the worst injuries to a football player because it has a difficult track record for recovery. Some reports have shown Jones jogging and trying to get in shape for the year. Other reports suggest that Jones may never again be fully recovered. At the very least, he looks like a strong candidate to begin the year on the PUP list.

Fantasy Implications – In this case, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Something is going on in Detroit, and Kevin Jones is not well. The team went out and signed both Tatum Bell and TJ Duckett this offseason, so you know they are preparing for at least some length of time without Jones. The bottom line is that Jones has to be considered late flier status in a redraft league. He has proven valuable when playing in Martz’s system with his receiving skills, but it’s hard to showcase those skills when you’re hurt. I’d advise passing on Jones altogether in a redraft. In a keeper league, he’s worth a latter mid rounds flier for his upside, especially in a PPR league, but there’s at least a 50/50 shot that you’re drawing dead. Don’t invest the pick unless you can accept that risk.

Laurence Maroney, NE
Injury – Shoulder surgery March, 2007 … Torn rib cartilage, December 2006
Progress – It was a tumultuous rookie season for Maroney. He missed time in games due to injuries to his knee, ankle, back, and head at different points in the season. He also had a late-season rib injury, and none of that takes into account a shoulder that was apparently significantly damaged much of the year. It’s hard to know whether off-season shoulder surgery should help or hurt his stock. New England is being very cautious so far, and while Belichick has hinted that they expect Maroney to be ready for the start of the year, nothing is in place yet.

Fantasy Implications – Color me very worried. First of all, that is six different injuries to a guy who has never really carried a full load even in college, and now he moves from part-time to full-time? I am a Minnesota homer, so you gotta believe I love the talent, but those injuries are scary. The shoulder is the biggest concern. If you have any questions as to how much a shoulder injury can affect a potential stud, look no further than Clinton Portis last season. Yikes. You can’t ignore the upside here, but there is a lot of risk involved – a lot more than you would like to admit. You will be much better off passing on the risk for another option who can do just as well without the question marks.

Cedric Benson, CHI
Injury – Sprained left knee, Super Bowl
Progress – A knee sprain is not a serious injury, and with Benson having the whole off-season now, he is at 100% and ready for camp. Thomas Jones has been shipped off to New York, so Benson enters training camp this year for the first time as the full-time starter. But he is not without injury questions. He sprained his other knee as well last year, and knee problems plagued his entire rookie campaign. There was also a shoulder injury last August that probably cost him a real chance against Thomas Jones in training camp. None of these injuries are serious, but Benson runs with a bruising style, and they’re the type of injuries that can keep such a RB nicked up over time and in danger of never nailing down a starting gig.

Fantasy Implications – The injuries themselves don’t leave you any concern from the past, but the history of continued nagging problems should. With a weak passing game, teams will be keying on stopping the Chicago run offense, and Benson will need to be healthy. If you draft him, be prepared to use your backup for a few games while Benson sits some out recovering now and then.

Ronnie Brown, MIA
Injury – Broken left hand, November 2006
Progress – Mostly everyone seems to think of Brown as one of those guys who will never play a season healthy as a full-time ball carrier, sort of like Brian Westbrook…in my opinion a nice, glorified third down back in many ways. But Brown is not as injury-prone as it first seems. He did break his hand last year, but it was a broken bone caused by his hand being caught in on opponent’s facemask, a freak injury that could have happened to anyone. These are not the sort of things that make someone injury prone, just plain bad luck is all.

Fantasy Implications – Ronnie Brown is slipping under the radar quite a bit, falling to the middle or late 2nd round usually. Don’t let him slide too far. He is not an injury prone guy. He is the full-time carrier now with good all-around skills, especially as a receiver. He’s averaged 4.3 YPC in his career, and this year he adds a great blocking fullback Cory Schlesinger and an offensive-minded head coach Cam Cameron who turned LaDainian Tomlinson into the best fantasy footballer in history. Ronnie Brown looks like a guy who could be on the verge of a breakout year. Everything is in place but the TD opportunities, and they will come in time. Make him a strong consideration as your second pick.

DeShaun Foster, CAR
Injury – Hyperextended left elbow, November 2006
Progress – It’s always something with DeShaun Foster. Last year was his healthiest year, but he still had the elbow injury that cost him a pair of games. It’s nothing serious and should be healed by now, so there are no long-term effects. But rather than giving you further analysis here, let’s just revel in the list of injuries so far in Foster’s NFL career. During the 2005 season Foster had knee, shoulder, collarbone, and toe injuries before breaking his right fibula and missing the rest of the season. In 2004 it was a shoulder injury and then a broken collarbone. 2003 was a milder year on the injury front, just thumb and hand injuries, but that was following 2002’s torn knee cartilage. The guy is a walking injury.

Fantasy Implications – There’s something wrong with your team if you are still seriously counting on Foster at this point. For some reason, Carolina still claims he is the #1 back going into the season even with talented DeAngelo Williams waiting in the wrings. But put it another way; Foster had 897 yards and 3 rushing TDs last season… and both of them were career highs. All Foster is at this point is a big speed bump on DeAngelo’s path to fantasy stardom.

Ahman Green, HOU
Injury – Knee injury, October 2006
Progress – Ahman’s injury could probably have just as easily been listed as “age.” There’s not a lot more to it other than that Ahman is an older veteran (he turned 30 this off-season) with a lot of mileage underneath his belt, and he is just plain wearing down. Rumors of Green’s “degenerative” knees have swirled for years and they are obviously off kilter, but Green is slowing down nonetheless. That said, he is reported to be re-energized and healthier than ever, but any new team is going to say that and be excited about their guy.

Fantasy Implications – Green just isn’t the guy you should count on anymore. His knees are slowly breaking down, and there’s no way he makes it through the season behind that awful OL without missing a few games and playing injured in many more. He still has decent RB2 potential with his receiving ability, but you better have a pretty good team around him if you’re headed that direction.

Travis Henry, DEN
Injury – None
Progress – Come again? Well, Henry is a guy who has had a rough go the last three years. As the 2003 season neared its close, Henry was a young fantasy football star. He had back-to-back seasons with 1300+ rushing yards and double-digit TDs and looked like a long-term keeper. But late in that season, he fractured his right leg, played through the injury for a handful of games, and eventually went into off-season recovery mode. But the following two seasons were filled with ankle and foot injuries on the same leg, and I believe they may all have been related to the original injury that was initially treated poorly.

Fantasy Implications -- So why is he listed here? Well Henry showed late last season that the injuries are behind him. He ran for a 4.5 YPC and 7 TDs on a mediocre Tennessee offense and got stronger as the year went on. Now he moves to fantasy RB heaven in Denver. Some of you have blinders on and only remember the recent couple years with Shanahan’s RB roulette. Apparently you have forgotten Terrell Davis and Mike Anderson and Olandis Gary and Clinton Portis. Henry is healthy, and Mike Bell is nothing compared to a healthy Travis Henry. Don’t make the mistake of passing on him when he’s there late in the first unless you believe the questions about the Broncos offensive line are valid.

LaMont Jordan, OAK
Injury – Torn MCL, November 2006
Progress – Don’t confuse the “M” with an “A” here. The MCL tear is a far less devastating injury, and it does not take a year or more to recover fully like the ACL. Jordan’s knee should be fine as the season starts up, once he can get his legs under him again. He hasn’t proven to be the most durable back in his career, so there may be a few speed bumps along the way, but he should be ready to go.

Fantasy Implications – You probably have heard by now that Dominic Rhodes has been suspended for the first four games of the season, and Michael Bush certainly isn’t healthy, so the job is basically being handed to Jordan on a silver platter. Remember this guy was a top 10 RB two years ago with a ton of catches, and you have to think new head coach Lane Kiffin will find ways to utilize his talents. Be cautious here, but take Jordan for the upside. He makes a fantastic RB3 or even a usable RB2 in a pinch any time from the fifth round and beyond.

Deuce McAllister, NO
Injury – Torn ACL, October 2005
Progress – This is nothing new, but rather an important reminder. Most top-notch athletes can play ball again after a year of ACL recovery but they hit their full stride again by year two. Deuce is healthy and ready now.

Fantasy Implications – With all the Bush hype, it can be easy to forget about this guy who used to be a top 10 RB stalwart each season. You’d be wise to keep him in mind though. He’s only 29 with a year or two of prime left, he plays in a wide open offense, he scores a lot of TDs, and he’s playing for a big free agent contract this year. Never underestimate a RB in their free agency year.

Willis McGahee, BUF
Injury – Various injuries to ribs, ankle, and stomach, December 2006
Progress – McGahee is another of those guys who always seems to be at least a little bit nicked up. He is yet to start a full season in the NFL, and he has failed to even come close to the expectations that were once made of him as a star at Miami half a decade ago. Folks, remember that this is not McGahee from the U any longer. This is the one who tore every ligament in his knee five years ago, an injury pro athlete has ever fully recovered from. Take a look at Daunte Culpepper – his career is basically over at this point. It’s time for fantasy players to quit pretending that McGahee is something he is not anymore.

Fantasy Implications – Okay so the injuries last year may not have been the issue as much as my bias against drafting McGahee this year. I just can’t believe he is routinely moving into the latter part of the 1st round in drafts! This guy can’t stay healthy and he has never fully recovered from the knee injury. He has just a 3.9 YPC in his career, and now he moves to a team with an aging OL whose RBs averaged second to last in the league in YPC? Quit deluding yourself – this is neither the McGahee nor the Baltimore OL of old. You would be very wise to look elsewhere in your draft.

Clinton Portis, WAS
Injury – Dislocated shoulder, August 2006 … Broken left hand, November 2006
Progress – It was a season to forget for usual fantasy stud Clinton Portis. It wasn’t even three minutes into the first preseason game when Portis dislocated his shoulder, and this injury clearly plagued him all season long. He later injured the other shoulder, had a badly sprained ankle, and was finally (mercifully) placed on the IR with a broken hand in November. The shoulder injury really hindered Portis’s production all last year. That being said, he still finished with a solid 4.1 YPC and 7 rushing TDs in less than half a season of injury-plagued ball. All reports this year point to Portis being healthy and ready to go. Of course Ladell Betts looks ready too after shining last year, so Portis will have to fight for his touches this season.

Fantasy Implications – People seem to be writing off Portis as a bad gamble in the second round. But all the reports look good in his return, and this is a guy who has consistently been a top-5 fantasy RB when healthy. He has always had a great YPC and maintained an above average YPC last year even with all the injuries, and he’s also a near lock for double-digit TDs unless he misses serious time again. Many owners may worry about Betts stealing looks. Don’t kid yourselves. If anything, a few extra Betts touches may keep Portis fresher, but a healthy Portis blows Betts’ talent level out of the water. If you can get this guy and his huge upside in the second round, that’s a gamble you should take every time. There is no reason to believe the injury is not fully behind him, and he’s still just 26 and in the prime of his career in a high-powered offense. Take him and don’t look back. Grab Betts in the 8th if you need to feel safe.

Brian Westbrook, PHI
Injury – Various everything, 200x
Progress – If you have had Westbrook on your fantasy team, you have learned two things by now. First, he is a walking, permanent day-to-day injury question. And second, he is an absolute stud when he plays, especially a monster in PPR leagues. He is always nicked up, and he’ll be sure to miss a couple games due to something whether its his ribs, ankles, knees, or whatever else. But he plays through a lot of the injuries and is the focal point of the Eagles’ offense when he’s out there.

Fantasy Implications – Westbrook is a high first round pick in PPR leagues and a low one in regular formats. He’s slightly overrated in this year’s drafts based off last year’s career number, but he should be a solid starter anyway. He can be a bit of a drag to rely on, with his hot and cold weeks combined with the constant injury worry, so don’t draft him if you can’t handle that. It’ll make your lineup choice interesting just about every week.

LenDale White, TEN
Injury – Hamstring tear, Spring 2006
Progress – White had a rookie season to forget. He fell further than hoped in the draft due to the hamstring problems, and they plagued him all season. He also dealt with ankle and hip problems for much of the season. Reports are mixed about his return so far. Some have him looking ready and like the probably starter while others aren’t so sure.

Fantasy Implications – Count me among the skeptical. You have to read between the lines a little on this one. White checked into camp fat and out of shape, and he’s always had motivational problems. In the meantime, the Titans went out and used a 2nd round draft pick on Chris Henry and as if that wasn’t enough, they signed Chris Brown a few weeks ago as well. It doesn’t look like they have much confidence in White if you ask me. I think you can find better, healthier, safer options elsewhere.

Cadillac Williams, TB
Injury – Injured foot, December 2006
Progress – Fewer injury cases were stranger and quieter than Cadillac Williams’ woes last season. He didn’t officially miss injury time until the last two weeks of the season, but that was after struggling all year long with a terrible 3.5 YPC. It’s hard to say what happened. Did Cadillac just start stinking last season after a pretty successful rookie year? The guess here is that it was a combination of poor OL play and, more so, a nagging foot injury all year. The burst was not there for Cadillac, and he was as big a disappointment as any in fantasy football last year because of it.

Fantasy Implications – It’s tough to know what to expect here because of the strange way that Cadillac’s season unfolded last year. It really all comes down to value here. If you have to take Cadillac in the second over several other better RB options or the stud WR group, then he is a very bad pick and a poor risk to take. But if you can wait until the end of the third or later so that you’ve got two stars already, now you have a guy who comes with risks and question marks but good upside as well. Especially in a dynasty, that’s a risk you’re going to need to take.

DeAngelo Williams, CAR
Injury – Right ankle injury, October 2006
Progress – The ankle injury was not serious, and DeAngelo is healthy and ready going into the 2007 season. The injury should not be as much of a concern as the rest of the backfield. DeShaun Foster is still the de facto starter for some reason, and bigger back Eric Shelton is healthy this year and could be a goal line vulture. Williams looks ready, but will there be enough touches for him to be a significant fantasy player?

Fantasy Implications – Williams seems to be slipping to the 4th or 5th in most drafts, and that’s a good place to take a gamble on him. He’s the sort of guy who could really break out as an all-around talent on a good team if Foster would ever get hurt or benched and give him the opportunity. He’s not quite yet a guy you’d want to have to count on a lot, and the TD numbers will be tough to come by, but he’s got great potential.

Michael Bennett, KC
Injury – Hamstring injury, October 2006 … Ankle injury, December 2006
Progress – Bennett has never exactly been a model of injury-free play. He always seems to be nicked up with leg injuries of some sort whether it is his knees, ankles, hammies, or anything in between – and last year was no exception. Fortunately there were no serious injuries last year, so Bennett should be healthy and ready to go again in 2007.

Fantasy Implications – Yeah well who cares, right? It’s just Michael Bennett. Well, you ought to care because there are warning signs all over the place about Larry Johnson, and Bennett is the obvious beneficiary if Johnson ends up holding out or gets injured for any length of time. And a starting RB is a starting RB no matter how you slice it.

Michael Bush, OAK
Injury – Badly broken right leg, September 2006
Progress – Bush’s right leg was absolutely shattered in the first game of the season for Louisville last year and the injury took down the Cardinals’ title hopes with the senior tailback. The bad break, literally, caused him to plummet to day two of the draft before the Raiders scooped him up. The leg is still far from healthy. He underwent surgery in March and had a steel rod inserted, and he is still on a slow recovery plan. At this point it looks like Bush may realistically miss the entire 2007 season.

Fantasy Implications – If you are in a redraft, then the bottom line here is that Bush simply shouldn’t be on your draft list this year. He’s got Lamont Jordan and Dominic Rhodes to contend with, plus the horrible OL, and it will be awhile before he even sees the field. If you’re in a dynasty, chances are that this guy will go top 6 in your rookie draft. I’m just not entirely sure why. No one has seen what he can do since the terrible leg injury, and there are better options out there. Look, there’s a reason the guy dropped to the fourth round of the draft. If he were healthy and risk-free, he would’ve gone in the first. NFL scouts had their concerns, and you should too.