Off the crutches and back on the field
By Chris Bahr - SportingNews
Nothing ruins a great fantasy season like an injury to one of your most productive players. Several big names were bitten by the injury bug last season (and even this offseason), and it is time to check in on them as training camps approach.
Tim Rattay, QB, *****. It starts out just like that Disney commercial. "Congratulations, Mr. Rattay, you've just been named the starting QB in San Francisco. What are you going to do next?" But it ends in a way that makes everyone cringe. "I'm going to have surgery to repair a torn muscle in my groin." Rattay won't be 100 percent at the start of training camp, he has serious question marks in his receiving corps and he never has been the clear-cut starter in his NFL career. That all adds up to a bench spot at best in fantasy terms.
Mark Brunell, QB, Redskins. An elbow injury (and subsequent surgery) limited him to three starts last season. When Brunell returned, he languished on the Jaguars' bench late in the season -- often as the No. 3 QB -- even though he eventually was healthy enough to play. He is a middle-tier fantasy QB, though he does have some nice weapons in Laveranues Coles and Clinton Portis.
Rich Gannon, QB, Raiders. Offseason rehabilitation on Gannon's surgically repaired shoulder has gone according to plan, but the bigger question is whether he still is Oakland's top option. Gannon's performance in the seven games he did play last season (two 200-yard games, six TDs) was subpar for the former MVP. Kerry Collins, a cheaper option for this season, will push Gannon in training camp and could push Gannon out the door.
Warrick Dunn, RB, Falcons. Dunn went from the fantasy waiver wire to starting lineups in a flash last season when he averaged 168 total yards from Weeks 10-12. But then a torn ligament in his left foot ended his season before Week 13 arrived. Dunn didn't begin his rehab until mid-March and that puts him at a disadvantage in the battle with T.J. Duckett for the No. 1 spot. Duckett should open the season as Atlanta's top back, but draft Dunn for your bench since he eventually will share carries -- and maybe take over as the starter.
Brian Westbrook, RB, Eagles. Ankle and hip injuries slowed him last season, but it was a torn triceps that put him on the sideline for good. Now that Duce Staley is gone, Westbrook's main competition is Correll Buckhalter. Westbrook is the more valuable fantasy option given his team-leading 13 TDs (seven rushing, four receiving, two special teams), but his health will be an issue. Draft him as a No. 2 back, but feel confident that you could be getting a No. 1.
Eddie George, RB, Titans. George had a busy offseason in the operating room. Ankle surgery followed arthroscopic knee surgery, and he also had a banged-up shoulder last season. (Hey, he can't let Steve McNair hog all of the injury headlines.) George is 30, in decline and a serious injury risk. And with Chris Brown ready to play a bigger role, George's value is sinking. And did we mention that he needs to actually sign a contract before he can test his surgically repaired body parts in training camp?
Mike Alstott/Charlie Garner, RBs, Buccaneers. This is a position the Bucs haven't been satisfied with in recent seasons. Alstott's neck injury led to surgery and still could end his career, though he has been cleared to play. With the arrival of Garner, Alstott should serve as the blocking back but still should get goal-line carries. Garner had knee surgery in March and will be fully recovered by training camp. He is a decent No. 2 fantasy running back because of his rushing/receiving capabilities.
Joe Horn, WR, Saints. The flamboyant receiver played with an injured knee all season, though he still managed to collect 10 TDs, 983 receiving yards and one expensive cell phone fine. A separated shoulder kept him out of Week 17 -- and out of the 1,000-yard club. He had knee surgery in March and should regain the speed and burst he lacked in the 2003-04 season. That makes him a top 10 receiver.
Charles Rogers, WR, Lions. A promising rookie season (three TDs in the first five weeks) came to an abrupt halt when he broke his collarbone in practice. He will be 100 percent for training camp but will need to re-establish his on-field chemistry with QB Joey Harrington. The good news is that help has arrived. Opposing defenses, which doubled Rogers without concern last season, now must also contend with Roy Williams, Tai Streets and a healthy Az-Zahir Hakim. An improved running game also will help boost Rogers' value.
Jeremy Shockey, TE, Giants. The Giants had plenty of injuries on offense last season (not to mention poor line play), but no loss disrupted things as much as Shockey's. Though he had only two TDs when his season ended in Week 10, he had 535 receiving yards and was a reliable target. Shockey had knee surgery in February and followed that up with foot surgery in late June. He will miss at least the first couple of weeks of training camp, though it is too soon to bump him down in your rankings.
Rosevelt Colvin, LB, Patriots. Colvin provided more proof that the Patriots have the depth to plug most any hole. Last season's prized free-agent pickup didn't make it past Week 2 because of a fractured hip that required surgery in September. Because of his 10.5 sacks in 2001 and 2002 for the Bears -- outstanding totals for a linebacker -- Colvin's progress is worth tracking in training camp. We'll know more once he participates in full-contact drills.