Commentary

Position-by-position injury outlook

Updated: September 2, 2010, 4:25 PM ET
By Stephania Bell | ESPN.com

This is the place where you can track the injury status of players all summer long while you continue to prepare for your fantasy drafts. So come back often and we'll keep you posted on the latest injury news.

Last updated: Sept. 2

Quarterbacks

Brett Favre, Minnesota Vikings: This time last year it was a shoulder surgery that served as the indicator that Favre might return; now it's the ankle that speaks for him. Once we learned Favre had undergone a procedure in late May with the noted Dr. James Andrews, we knew it was time to start planning for him to play in 2010. While his left ankle won't be perfect (this was his third surgery on it), it will no longer feel, as Favre described it, like "glass in [my] shoes." He's already defied all medical logic, so there's certainly no reason to count him out now.

Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts: Manning underwent neck surgery in March to alleviate pressure on a nerve that was caused by a bone spur. While it's true that the effects did not manifest themselves in his on-field performance, Manning expressed relief afterward saying, "I no longer have to get the treatment that I was having to get for the past four years." Manning has alleviated any post-surgery concerns by participating fully in minicamps, even spending extra time throwing with his receivers in April. As if there were any doubt the surgery would interfere with his 2010 campaign.

Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons: Luckily, last year's turf toe injury did not require surgery. Ryan began watching film in February while resting his toe but was back running without limitation by March.

Mark Sanchez, New York Jets: The left knee injury Sanchez suffered in college hampered his debut season as a pro. He underwent surgery in February to stabilize the ligament that helps anchor the kneecap (patella) to prevent the types of setbacks he endured in 2009. Sanchez was back in full team drills by mid-June and said he feels comfortable in the pocket, not even "thinking twice" about his knee, a sure sign of recovery. Now, if he could only learn how to slide.

Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions: Stafford missed six games his rookie year because of right knee (patellar subluxation) and left shoulder (AC separation on his non-throwing arm) injuries. He underwent knee surgery in the offseason and has been running and throwing without issue this spring, bonding with big target Calvin Johnson and new additions Nate Burleson and Tony Scheffler along the way.

Running Backs

Marion Barber, Dallas Cowboys: Barber was never quite himself after suffering a quadriceps injury in Week 2, along with a bruised knee and a broken thumb later in the season. A lighter Barber (he shed 10 pounds in the offseason) hopes to increase his quickness, but Felix Jones may be in line for more touches.

Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants: His ankle is "like new" since surgery to remove spurs, but his feet (yes, both) are still adapting to the hardware implanted to stabilize the cracks he played through last year. How he responds as his activity increases in camp will be telling.

(Aug. 11 update: After the first full practice in pads, the New York Daily News reported Bradshaw looked "terrific," making sharp cuts and maneuvers suggestive of a fully recovered player. Positive news so far; let's see if he maintains it through preseason.)

Andre Brown, New York Giants: A ruptured Achilles in training camp last year ended his rookie season before it ever got started. By March, though, he was running full speed, and he declared himself 95 percent healthy during spring organized team activities. Training camp will be his proving grounds this year to show that he hasn't lost a step, and he could compete for playing time as the No. 3 back.

(Aug. 11 update: The New York Daily News says he's running full speed in practice. Still appears to be in competition for No. 3 RB spot.)

Ronnie Brown, Miami Dolphins: While there is no guarantee of an on-time start to the season for Brown after Lisfranc surgery on his foot in November, the signs are certainly pointing in that direction. His participation at May OTAs and an offseason running program were encouraging benchmarks. On June 2, Brown had a screw removed (typical after this procedure), and he said he feels good and expects to be medically cleared by training camp.

(Aug. 11 update: I'm very pleasantly surprised by what I'm hearing out of camp so far for Brown. Brown has been a full participant in all phases of camp after receiving medical clearance, indicating his foot has healed well. AFC East blogger Tim Graham was at camp and said Brown "looks like a monster." We will want to see how he holds up through August, but as of now he appears ready to start the season on schedule.)

(Sept. 1 update: After seeing him for myself at camp, he appears to be fully recovered from surgery and on track to start the season.)

Michael Bush, Oakland Raiders (Added Sept. 1): Just when it looked like Bush might edge out the top spot from Darren McFadden, he suffered a left thumb fracture in the Raiders' third preseason game. While early indications were that Bush was expected to undergo a surgical procedure Monday, coach Tom Cable would neither confirm nor deny on Monday whether that had taken place. According to the San Jose Mercury News, "We are going to adhere to the in-season injury policy," Cable said, "and we're not going to talk about injuries, or where anyone's at, or what's going on with them."

Bush decided to tweet about it Tuesday, however. So we now know he underwent surgery to stabilize a Bennett's fracture. A Bennett's fracture is a break at the base of the first metacarpal, the bone that connects the wrist to the thumb. The break is located where the metacarpal meets the carpal or wrist bones (the carpometacarpal joint). This joint is significant because it has a great deal of mobility which is needed for pinch and grip.

When treated promptly, this type of injury can have a very good outcome. Surgery to pin the fracture helps ensure proper alignment and allows for earlier range of motion exercise. Bone typically takes six weeks to heal, although it can be less in a small bone of the finger or hand. Once Bush's thumb demonstrates good bony healing, he likely will be allowed to return to play, but with some form of protection for the thumb. How cumbersome the protective device is may dictate how well he is able to carry and catch the ball. While there is no official timetable for Bush's return, there are many variables that could influence it including the extent of the fracture, how quickly his bone heals and how well the thumb can be protected while still allowing him to function. At this point, he should not be viewed as a lock to start the season.

Matt Forte, Chicago Bears: Forte said he feels "a lot faster" this year after an offseason knee scope and a healthy spring. The addition of veteran Chester Taylor in the backfield, however, may decrease his opportunities, even if Forte stays healthy.

Brandon Jacobs, New York Giants: This big bruiser regrets last season's decision to play through a right knee injury suffered in Week 1. Offseason meniscus surgery, along with the desire to prove he can again be a scoring threat, makes him an intriguing fantasy option.

(Aug. 11 update: According to the Newark Star-Ledger, Giants coach Tom Coughlin says Jacobs looks "fast" in camp this summer. The Star-Ledger also noted that beyond having the knee addressed, Jacobs worked hard on a program to address hip flexibility. This is paramount for a back of Jacobs' size and strength, not only for improving his stats but for staying on the field.)

Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills (Added Sept. 1): Jackson broke the fourth metacarpal in his left hand in Week 1 of the preseason, which, while certainly a setback, isn't all gloom and doom. The fourth metacarpal, the long bone in the hand that connects the base of the fourth (ring) finger to the wrist, is not in a place that requires regaining significant range of motion or muscular strength. Once the bone has shown adequate healing, the injury should be behind him; there are no lingering effects or risk of recurrence that you would see in the case of, say, a hamstring or knee injury.

The typical timetable for bone healing is roughly six weeks, sometimes less in a smaller bone of the hand. Jackson's initial timetable was projected at four to six weeks, depending on how the healing progressed, which allows the possibility for a Week 1 return, although he would likely require some sort of protection, such as a heavy splint, for competition. Jackson has returned to practice, and according to the Bills' official website, coach Chan Gailey indicated he could be available in Week 1, but would likely be limited. With Marshawn Lynch back in practice and C.J. Spiller performing well, expect Jackson's involvement to build over the first few weeks. The good news is that once the bone fully heals, Jackson's injury should be in the rearview mirror.

Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams: In 2009, Jackson's legs stayed strong, but he struggled with a herniated disc down the stretch, which ultimately led to surgery in April. Disc problems are always at risk for recurrence, and a history of soft tissue injuries does not inspire confidence. While many teams have shifted to two complementary backs to maximize their health, Jackson is poised once again to shoulder the load. The question is, can he?

(Aug. 11 update: Jackson has been doing most drills so far in camp but hasn't scrimmaged as of yet. The plan is to gradually increase his activity, but so far, he hasn't experienced any pain or setbacks. Concerns remain about his workload.)

(Sept. 1 update: Another running back whose value went up in my book after seeing him at camp, Jackson has added bulk to his frame as a result of increased attention to strengthening. The Rams have also been careful not to have him overdo it too early. He says he feels better heading into the season (fresher, less fatigued) than he has in years. Now that he has seen some preseason game action there can be plenty of optimism about his readiness for Week 1. While his workload as a feature back may remain a concern, the fact that his entire starting offensive line is healthy is an improvement over years past.)

Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars (Added Sept. 1): It's tough to evaluate what you can't see, especially in the absence of any meaningful information, like a diagnosis. When Jones-Drew hadn't practiced for several consecutive days because of an issue with his knee, it raised red flags. After it was reported that Jones-Drew had knee surgery, Jones-Drew's agent issued a statement calling the story "absolutely false." What we do know is that the team is holding him out of practice during the final week of the preseason so that he can rest his knee and continue with rehab. According to the Florida Times-Union, coach Jack del Rio said surgery is "not necessary."

So what to make of this situation? The Times-Union reported that Jones-Drew indicated on his radio show that he is "as healthy as I'll be." Those words suggest that his knee might not be perfect, but that he and the team think it is serviceable. How Jones-Drew's knee holds up under the demands of a season of football, especially for a stalwart running back, remains to be seen. Without knowing the specifics of the injury, the likelihood of his condition worsening is virtually impossible to project.

While it's understandable the team wants to protect its most valuable ground asset from further injury, the mere fact that he is being so carefully guarded for the remainder of the preseason is cause for pause. At worst, this ailment turns into something bigger that causes Jones-Drew to miss significant time. At best, Jones-Drew is entering the season under a shroud of mystery and the possibility that an underlying condition exists that could become exacerbated at any time. For fantasy owners, it becomes a matter of deciding whether you can live with the uncertainty.

Marshawn Lynch, Buffalo Bills (Added Sept. 1): Lynch sprained his right ankle on Friday, Aug. 13 (the same day teammate Fred Jackson broke a bone in his hand -- superstitious Bills fans take note), but the Bills are optimistic that he will return by Week 1. In fact, Lynch was cleared Tuesday to return to practice and participate in the preseason finale. Thursday should provide an opportunity to see if Lynch's injury is behind him.

Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos: (Added Aug. 11) Alarm bells sounded all over Fantasyland when early reports suggested that Moreno had suffered a torn hamstring near the start of training camp. The Denver Post later reported that MRI results showed "no significant tear," but that Moreno was projected to miss three weeks. Most recently, the Post suggested Moreno might miss the entire preseason but the bigger concern might be his injury risk upon return. Hamstring strains are easily aggravated and there is no way to "ease" into the start of an NFL season. The signing of Justin Fargas hints at the Broncos' concern.

(Sept. 1 update: Moreno is not expected to appear during preseason competition and there is some question as to his availability for Week 1. The Broncos' main goal has to be to keep him healthy once he does return, even if that means a delayed start.

Moreno did return to practice Tuesday, telling reporters he is "about 80 percent," according to Lindsay Jones of the Denver Post. It's worth noting that he is acknowledging that he has not yet fully recovered and therefore cannot yet be running at full speed. The biggest concern with hamstring injuries is doing too much too soon and suffering a setback. Until Moreno tests it by working at full speed -- and perhaps more importantly, wakes up the next day feeling fine -- it will be impossible to say he's past the injury. Stay tuned in Denver.)

Clinton Portis, Washington Redskins: After a scary concussion ended his 2009 campaign in Week 9, Portis -- newly outfitted with corrective lenses -- has been cleared to return. The addition of veteran backs Willie Parker and Larry Johnson, along with a coach who prefers a rotating backfield in Mike Shanahan, may prolong Portis' career but may also limit his fantasy productivity.

Steve Slaton, Houston Texans (Added Sept. 1): Slaton was already in a position of having to prove himself, needing to erase the memories of multiple fumbles last season. Those fumbles were due, at least in part, to Slaton's inability to feel or grip the ball adequately, the result of a pinched nerve in his neck. Slaton's season ended prematurely due to the condition and he underwent offseason neck surgery when the symptoms lingered even after extensive rest. Slaton entered training camp reporting significant improvement in how he felt and was cleared for all elements of football.

With the loss of Ben Tate for the season to an ankle injury, the competition seemed to be between Slaton and Arian Foster. Slaton was given more kick return assignments in camp, however, and Foster appeared to have the edge for the starting job. In the Week 3 preseason contest, Slaton suffered a turf toe injury and is now virtually certain to take a back seat to Foster. While the extent of the toe injury does not sound especially serious (the Texans' website suggests he could be ready for the season opener), Slaton did not need to add an injury. Coach Gary Kubiak is known to rotate his running backs based on performance, but it would appear that Slaton's value has taken a hit.

Kevin Smith, Detroit Lions: A late December ACL injury may keep Smith sidelined early in the season. That was no doubt in the Lions' thoughts when they drafted Jahvid Best in the first round this April. Expect Smith to be in a supporting role.

(Aug. 11 update: Smith has been cleared for practices in camp and so far has been impressive. It appears that he could be on track to start the season (maybe the presence of Best has been a strong motivator), although it remains to be seen how much playing time he gets and how productive he can be.)

(Sept. 1 update: Smith has now participated in some preseason game action, the biggest signal yet that he could be available when the season begins. That said, his performance has not been spectacular with limited yardage and a fumble in Week 3. It's worth remembering that it often takes two years for running backs to return to form following ACL surgery. It still appears that Best is the Lions' best prospect at running back.)

Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers: Stewart represents the power half of perhaps the best one-two running back punch in the league. He's played -- and played well -- through toe and Achilles injuries the past two seasons without missing a single game. Minor surgery to address the lingering Achilles issue in the offseason promises an even brighter outlook for Stewart in this run-first offense.

(Sept. 1 update: Stewart's already starting this year off ahead of the last two, as he was able to participate to some degree in training camp. Now it is just a matter of building up his reps with a target of Week 1, and so far he appears to be on track via practice. He has not played in the preseason, which should not necessarily be viewed as a concern, but rather as evidence of a measured return to play.

Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons: Although Turner rated himself as 90 percent recovered from last year's high-ankle sprain during June OTAs, it's no secret that the Falcons plan to decrease his workload. Meanwhile, he has improved his physical conditioning in the hopes of staying healthier. Fewer carries and better fitness are likely to help Turner's durability, but how that impacts his fantasy numbers may be a concern.

(Aug. 11 update: It's certainly a good sign when a coach is praising a player early in camp, which is exactly what Mike Smith is doing with Turner. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Smith said, "Michael is committed to bounce back from the season last year that was shortened by injuries." Reports of his speed and fitness abound and his ankle appears to be a non-factor thus far, but how the Falcons distribute the workload remains an issue.)

Leon Washington, Seattle Seahawks: This injury might have officially been dubbed the "most difficult to watch" in 2009. Washington's gruesome compound fracture -- both leg bones (tibia and fibula) snapping and poking through the skin -- took surgically implanting a steel rod to straighten it all out. But he is one tough dude who's expected to be ready to mix it up again this fall in Seattle.

(Sept. 1 update: While the injury might have been difficult to watch, the Seahawks have been thrilled to watch Washington's progression through training camp. In Week 2 of the preseason, Washington saw his first game action since the injury, and even managed an 11-yard touchdown run. It appears that Justin Forsett will start in Seattle, but Washington could gradually see more playing time if he continues to impress. And if your fantasy league rewards points for kick returns, he could be an interesting late-rounder.)

Brian Westbrook, San Francisco 49ers: Westbrook entered last season with knee and ankle concerns but left it with concerns about his entire future. Two concussions within a few weeks caused him to miss significant time, although he did return briefly near the end of the season. Currently without a home after being released by the Eagles, he'll likely be seeing backup duty wherever he lands.

(Sept. 1 update: Westbrook had a question mark by his name in our original draft kit entry, but that is no longer the case as he has joined Frank Gore in San Francisco. Westbrook has landed in a role that should fit him well, in which he will not be counted on for -- nor would he physically likely be able to sustain -- every-down play. At his introductory news conference in mid-August, Westbrook told reporters that he feels "fully healthy." He indicated that last year he was rehabbing -- remember the late ankle surgery? -- right up to the start of the season, which took away from his ability to otherwise physically prepare. Coming into this season, he reports feeling much more ready to compete.

Still, in his first preseason action in Week 3, Westbrook was forced to exit early with what the team called a "hamstring cramp." While head coach Mike Singletary referred to Westbrook as "fine" this week, it does remind everyone that Westbrook does have knee and ankle injuries in his past that could contribute to missed time here and there. This may be tempered somewhat, however, by his removal from a feature-back workload.)

DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers: Williams had ankle injury late in the season that forced him to sit out three games. After what he called "maintenance" surgery on the ankle to clean up the joint, Williams dismissed any health concerns. His participation at OTAs confirms he's ready and should again split the work with teammate Jonathan Stewart.

Wide Receivers

Deion Branch, Seattle Seahawks: It was a bit of a surprise to learn that Branch recently underwent yet another arthroscopic surgery on his reconstructed knee. The Seahawks stress it was minor and that he will be ready for camp, but it does warrant keeping an eye on.

(Sept. 2 update: So far Branch has been the starting receiver during the Seahawks' training camp. More importantly, he's been playing well and the knee does not appear to be an issue.)

Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys (Added Sept. 2): Much was made of the size of Bryant's hands and his ability to make spectacular catches during rookie minicamp in May. On the final day, however, he turned his ankle. During June OTAs, Bryant came early and stayed late to work on fielding punts. But halfway through the scheduled sessions, Bryant developed hamstring tightness and missed several days of practice. In July, Bryant was the first Cowboy to step on the field for training camp, trying to set a tone for his readiness to play. Within days, Bryant had suffered a high right ankle sprain, the most serious injury for him thus far, which caused him to not only miss the remainder of training camp practices but also put the start of his season in jeopardy.

Notice a pattern? On the positive side, since joining the Cowboys, Bryant has impressed everyone with his punctuality (something he was not known for in college, which raised concerns at draft time), his eagerness and, above all, his raw talent at the wide receiver position. On the down side, one cannot help but notice that every session of workouts has been interrupted by injury. In fact, Bryant did not work out at the NFL combine because of a hamstring injury he was nursing at the time.

While Bryant has made significant progress in his recovery from the recent high ankle sprain, and the Cowboys' medical staff has been properly cautious in not allowing him to return too quickly, the injury concerns going forward cannot be overlooked. The hope is that Bryant will be ready for the season opener (he has returned to practice, but according to The Dallas Morning News, his conditioning needs work) but he will not have played in a single preseason contest. There are already indications that it is unlikely Bryant will muster a full season without some type of injury setback. Fantasy owners have to evaluate the upside of Bryant's talent alongside the potential risk of an absence due to injury.

Anthony Gonzalez, Indianapolis Colts: He couldn't get back on the gridiron last year after a PCL sprain in the season opener. Surgery had him back in May OTAs, but a "muscular" issue held him out in June. Minicamp will be the proving ground to see where Gonzalez fits in a deep receiving corps.

(Sept. 2 update: The most important update on Gonzalez is that he has played in the Colts' first three preseason games and his knee does not appear to be a concern. While it's unclear just where Gonzalez will factor in the Colts' deep receiving corps, he certainly makes a case for being a factor. He may be overlooked by many after disappearing off the radar due to injury last year.)

Percy Harvin, Minnesota Vikings: The headaches were unpredictable and exhausting for him last year, yet he managed to play in all but one game. Migraines will continue to pose an intermittent threat, but Harvin is such a talent that fantasy owners should be willing to look past it.

(Sept. 2 update: Fantasy owners might have all but forgotten about Harvin's ongoing battle with migraines were it not for a particularly scary incident during training camp. Harvin, who had been absent for two weeks early in camp following the death of his grandmother and a migraine flare, collapsed on the practice field in mid-August and was taken by ambulance to a local hospital. The episode reminded everyone -- including teammates who directly observed it -- just how serious the condition is for Harvin.

Harvin was able to gradually return to activity and even made an appearance in the team's third preseason game, catching two passes in the Vikings' win. Afterward Harvin indicated that additional medical tests led doctors to believe they have figured out a primary cause for his migraines. According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Harvin said, "We're feeling really confident. I know we said that a couple times, but I think this time we found what the main cause was." Harvin added, "I'm not saying I'll never get a headache again, but hopefully we can slow it down a little bit. … It's not life-threatening, but it's something we need to work on and I will."

It's certainly encouraging that Harvin has been able to resume practicing, conditioning and even competitive play. It's perhaps more encouraging that he is so upbeat about the outlook for managing his migraines. Nonetheless, it remains a chronic condition that needs to be managed; it is not cured, at least not yet. That leaves fantasy owners with an element of uncertainty but if Harvin continues to produce as he did last year, it might well be worth the trade-off.)

T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Seattle Seahawks: Houshmandzadeh did not participate in the team's April minicamp as he recovered from sports hernia surgery, a procedure that has an excellent success rate. New coach Pete Carroll said the team's top receiver should be ready for full participation when training camp opens.

(Sept. 2 update: Houshmandzadeh has been physically fine in camp but it's unclear just how much of a role he'll play in the offense.)

Brandon Marshall, Miami Dolphins: Despite surprise surgery on his other (right) hip this spring, Marshall has already done something he hadn't at this time last year … show up to practice with his new coach. Although Marshall was still restricted while the hip heals, he expects to be fully ready at some point during training camp.

Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants: If he could make plays on a broken toe last year, imagine what he'll do now that it's been surgically repaired. Full participation in June minicamp suggests Nicks will be ready to pose a big threat this fall.

Chaz Schilens, Oakland Raiders: Schilens missed the first eight games last year because of a broken foot and was never quite right even after his return. Surgery to put a screw in has him feeling much better and back sooner than expected in June minicamp. The addition of Jason Campbell to throw him the ball can't hurt, either.

(Sept. 2 update: The tune has changed with Schilens. Lingering soreness in the foot this summer was a concern but the bigger problem became his knee. Schilens underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in late August and is not expected back for three to six weeks. Until fantasy owners can see that Schilens is truly past his injuries, it's best to pass.)

Wes Welker, New England Patriots: Welker impressed everyone at June OTAs with his amazing progress following a late-season ACL/MCL injury. But the demands of his position, his slash-and-cut style of play and the speed of the game may require additional recovery time. Signs still point to a delayed start for Welker, with Julian Edelman seeing extra action early.

(Sept. 2 update: What a difference a few weeks make. Welker continued to make strong gains right into training camp and demonstrated increased confidence in his knee when he saw some preseason game action. While his activity is likely to continue to be increased gradually, he is certainly on track to start the season.)

Tight Ends

Chris Cooley, Washington Redskins: Last fall, Cooley's lackluster season ended when he had three screws inserted to stabilize his broken right ankle. He was back on the field for May minicamp, though, showing he's ready for a fresh start.

Owen Daniels, Houston Texans: Scoring five touchdowns by November had Daniels on his way to his best statistical season … until he tore his ACL. While he's expected to be ready to start the season, rarely does a player return to form right away.

Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions: A torn ACL on Thanksgiving followed by December surgery likely means the PUP list for Pettigrew to start the season. The Lions can lean on veteran acquisition Scheffler early on, though.

Kellen Winslow, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: He's coming off a sixth surgery on that troublesome right knee and won't be field-ready until training camp. Still, he played in all 16 games last year and continues to impress with his toughness and physical conditioning.

Stephania Bell is a injury analyst for ESPN Fantasy Games. She is a physical therapist who is a board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist and a certified strength and conditioning specialist.