Commentary

MJD ready for the season

Updated: August 26, 2011, 2:29 PM ET
By Stephania Bell | ESPN.com

Is MJD a health risk this season?

32 Questions

If I told you I could guarantee your premier fantasy running back would accumulate more than 1,600 yards with more than 1,300 of those rushing while averaging nearly 4.5 yards per carry, he would be sixth in the league with touches inside the 10-yard line, and he would be a lock to play in 14 games this season, tell me you would hesitate to draft him.

These are, in fact, real statistics put up last season by Maurice Jones-Drew, or MJD as he is affectionately referred to by fantasy owners. So why the hesitation?

OK, his touchdown totals might not have been off the charts (five rushing, two receiving). And he did have several underwhelming games to start the season before he got warmed up. But all in all, his productivity was impressive, especially given that he was playing with a torn meniscus in his right knee, suffered before the season even started. Sure, the injury caught up to him in the latter part of the season (hence the two missed games), but now he's had the issue surgically addressed.

And still fantasy owners seem somewhat apprehensive about drafting him.

For his part, Jones-Drew, an avid fantasy player himself, is not buying what the naysayers are selling. He told the Jaguars' official website that his knee not only feels good, but it feels better than it did at this time last year. He questioned those who questioned him.

"A lot of fantasy football gurus who have never stepped on the field before or ever been in the locker room, they know the best about football," Jones-Drew said. Ouch. Sarcasm detected.

[+] EnlargeMaurice Jones-Drew
Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesMaurice Jones-Drew has eclipsed 1,600 total yards in back-to-back seasons, while his seven touchdowns in 2010 were a career low.

Jones-Drew emphasized the difference in how much better his knee actually feels this year. "I feel totally different, because there's no pain at all," he said. "I think that's the biggest thing, because no matter how tough it is, or how sharp the pain is or how dull the pain is, it's pain. This year, there is no pain. It's just going out there and playing like I'd been playing the first couple of years without it."

The Jaguars have brought him along gradually through camp, wisely, to reacclimate him to football and, in particular, contact. Jones-Drew understands the caution but hopes to get some playing time in a preseason contest. It appears he will get that opportunity, as the Florida Times-Union reports Jones-Drew will see some action in the Jaguars' preseason finale on Sept. 1. He says he will definitely be ready for Week 1.

There's reason to believe him and to believe in him for your fantasy team. First -- and perhaps most obvious -- the injury that nagged at him last year has been, ahem, tackled. Last season was the time for risk-averse fantasy owners to shy away from Jones-Drew given the uncertainty about the health of his knee. During the 2010 preseason, reports surfaced that Jones-Drew had a knee injury -- some even said he had undergone surgery -- but those reports were quickly denied by him and the team. Despite the denials, the evidence that something was amiss came when the Jaguars shut Jones-Drew down for the final two weeks of the preseason. He did not play in the final two games and, more significantly, did not practice with the team during that time.

The question became if there were indeed some type of knee ailment, how long would it take for it to become a limiting factor in the season? One could argue that it may have been a factor in his slow start in 2010, but the concerns evaporated when Jones-Drew put up six straight 100-yard rushing games and double-digit fantasy points. They evaporated, that is, until the bubble burst after Week 15 when the pain and swelling in his knee were such that Jones-Drew was forced to miss the final two games of the season.

As for the nature of the injury, arthroscopic procedures to address meniscal tears have become commonplace in the NFL. The rehabilitation following the procedure is typically straightforward. Allow the post-operative pain and swelling to subside, regain range of motion and muscular strength, and work on gradually increasing endurance and integrating return-to-sport activities. Jones-Drew chronicled his workout schedule and updated his progress via his Twitter account this offseason, providing little doubt that he was intent on a full recovery.

While it's reasonable to have concerns about the fact Jones-Drew played through the injury and whether that affected the overall health of his knee joint, the potential effects of that can largely be lumped in the long-term outlook for his knees. There may be intermittent episodes of discomfort and swelling when the joint is irritated, but that is not completely out of the ordinary for any back. All running backs subject their knees to gradual wear-and-tear, and the injuries that accompany the job can affect the longevity of a career, typically in total years played. Coming off a "clean-up" procedure and an intense rehabilitative effort, the prospects for Jones-Drew this season should be improved over last year, when he actually entered the season with an injury.

He should still have plenty of running back life left to live. As Jones-Drew is quick to point out, he is only 26 years old. Twenty-six and talented with something to prove. So fantasy owners, why hesitate?

Stephania is a physical therapist who is a Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. She is a clinician, author and teacher with extensive experience in the area of orthopedic manual therapy and sports medicine. Follow her blog here.