Edgerrin James did it in 2002; Steve Smith followed suit in 2005. Javon Walker, Carson Palmer and Deuce McAllister did the same in 2006. They all returned from devastating season-ending injuries the previous season to return to the top of their respective games. A fantasy owner's worst nightmare is seeing the star player carted off the field. The aforementioned stars all share that one horrible moment in common, but they also give the following players hope. Below are guys who ended the 2006 season nicked up. Some hope to bounce back from season-ending injuries, while others simply try to avoid the nagging ones that prevented them from staying on the field.
Clinton Portis, RB, Redskins: Less than three minutes into the first preseason game of 2006, Portis' season took a turn for the worst after laying out Cincinnati's Keiwan Ratliff following an interception. Portis suffered a shoulder subluxation (a fancy word for a serious dislocation) on the play. He missed the rest of the preseason and played in six of the team's first seven games with his partially dislocated shoulder, before a broken left hand in Week 10 finished his season. He played well when healthy, racking up 693 total yards and seven TDs in seven games.
Since his premature departure in 2006, the 26-year-old Portis has been fantasy football's forgotten man. He was a borderline consensus fourth OVERALL projection in mocks prior to his mishap. Now, he's being projected as low as a fourth- or fifth-ROUND pick, due to the phenomenal play of Ladell Betts during the second half of last season, and whispers of possible tendonitis in his knee this off-season.
Portis is still in his prime, he has never suffered a major injury to any part of either of his legs, and the 'Skins don't see the tendonitis as a major issue. Don't let Portis pass you by at the end of round two of seasonal drafts. Despite Betts' presence, Portis is still a main weapon in Al Saunders' offense, meaning there¹s a very good chance he could return to 1,300-1,500 yard rushing status in 2007.
Kevin Jones, RB, Lions: Ah, the dreaded Lisfranc fracture. Jones was on pace to finish the season with 919 rushing yards, 693 receiving yards and 11 TDs when he went down in Week 14 against the Vikings. There have been conflicting reports out of Detroit ever since the injury -- some say Jones will never fully recover, and others saying he'll be 100 percent by training camp. Jones has begun running and cutting on his injured foot. He's a gamer who'll play through injuries and he fits in well with Mike Martz's offense, having caught 61 balls in just 12 games last year. On the other hand, it's a tell tale sign that Detroit brought in Tatum Bell and T.J. Duckett in the offseason for insurance, and there have been rumors that KJ will start the season on the PUP list. The prognosis is simple: if you're a dynasty owner of KJ, don't sell him low -- he will be back to full health, just not in 2007. He's still young enough to bounce back and pick up where he left off in 2008. Seasonal owners can take a chance on him toward the end of their drafts and hope that his rehab accelerates in the coming months.
Donovan McNabb, QB, Eagles: News out of Eagles' organized team activities is that McNabb, who blew out his knee in Week 11 against Tennessee, has looked and felt great while running through basic passing drills -- a great sign that he can return to his top-three fantasy QB status in 2007. Yes, Philly took Kevin Kolb with their first pick in the draft, but all that did was put a huge chip on McNabb's shoulder. He lost a weapon with Donte' Stallworth's departure to New England, but gained one with the signing of speedy Kevin Curtis. The nine-year veteran was on pace for 4,644 passing yards and 31 TD passes when his season came to an end. Those totals would have blown Peyton Manning and Drew Brees out of the water statistically. Can he stay healthy, after failing to finish two straight seasons? Absolutely -- and when he does, he'll easily be a top-three fantasy QB in 2007.
LaMont Jordan, RB, Raiders: Nobody dropped of the face of the Earth faster than Jordan in 2006. While the offensive line was definitely a huge factor, perhaps the coaching differences between Art Shell and Norv Turner played a larger role. Jordan caught 70 passes in 2005 under Turner, while Shell refused to throw the rock to his RBs. Adding injury to insult -- literally -- Jordan went down in Week 11 with an MCL injury, and might as well have been put on IR, as he didn't play after that. There always was something curious about the handling of Jordan's injury. While the Raiders running game figures to improve in 2007 under former Falcons offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and new head coach Lane Kiffin, the additions of Dominic Rhodes and Michael Bush don't bode well for Jordan and his quest to return to his 2005 digits.
David Givens, WR, Titans: Nobody on this list is more under the radar than Givens, who appeared in only five games last season due to a bum knee. The 26-year-old has the talent and experience to be Vince Young's No. 1 target in 2007. He¹ll compete with third-year WR Brandon Jones for that role, but should start regardless when healthy. Look to pick up Givens in the last round of your seasonal draft as a super sleeper in 2007.
Drew Brees, QB, Saints: Why is he on this list? Don't you remember the Pro Bowl? You know, that game that nobody watches. Brees dislocated his left elbow in the Pro Bowl an injury that surely won't affect his play too much in 2007, but still is disenchanting in terms of him being in the best possible physical condition come training camp. A slight dip at the beginning of the year could make sense, but nothing that will affect his overall numbers too much.
Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Seahawks: Hasselbeck is almost fully recovered from surgery on his dislocated left shoulder. He missed four games in 2006 with two broken fingers and a sprained knee, but having already bounced back from February shoulder surgery, Hass is primed to improve upon last season's numbers -- his worst as the Seahawks starter since 2001.
Joe Horn, WR, Falcons:, There's not much left in the tank for the 35-year-old Horn, who hasn't played since Week 13 due to an injured groin. He joins a Falcons attack that finished dead last in the NFL in passing offense last season. Despite the arrival of new aerial-minded head coach Bobby Petrino, Atlanta has been a black hole for wide receivers for several years and figures to swallow up Horn for good.
Daunte Culpepper, QB, Dolphins: We know the future holds a relocation for Culpepper, perhaps to a team where he could earn a starting gig once he regains his full health. His knee is still far from where it needs to be, after suffering a crushing blow midway through 2005 with Minnesota. Until he proves he's healthy, it won't matter what team he's on.
Kellen Winslow, TE, Browns A unique case, Winslow didn't miss a snap in 2006, but was listed on the injury report as questionable (knee), in all but three weeks. He underwent microfracture surgery in February on his weak knee, and there have been several conflicting reports about his health. The Browns maintain their stance that he'll be 100 percent ready for training camp. I see no reason for the franchise to lie about Winslow's health, and the self-proclaimed "solider" has proved he can play through injuries. He¹s likely to build upon his 2006 totals of 89 catches, 879 yards and three TDs.
Greg Jones, RB, Jaguars: Jones has little or no chance to make an impact after blowing out his ACL for the second time in four years. He now finds himself buried on the depth chart behind co-starters Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, and backups LaBrandon Toefield and Alvin Pearman.
Chris Simms, QB, Buccaneers: An injured spleen ended Simms' season after Week 3, and the ensuing downward spiral of the Bucs' offense brought into question the direction the organization should go with the quarterback position. Despite Simms' returning to health in the offseason, veteran Jeff Garcia has been named the early starter by head coach Jon Gruden, making Simms' comeback bid an uphill climb.
Darrell Jackson, WR, 49ers: Jackson missed the last three games of 2006 with nagging minor injuries, but was highly productive overall, recording 63 catches for 956 yards and 10 TDs. While Matt Hasselbeck looked to him quite often, he's now the undisputed No. 1 WR in San Francisco, where the Niners up-and-coming offense could help him to his first 85-catch, 1,100-yard season since 2004. He must first overcome a nagging toe injury that has kept him out of organized team activities this offseason, although all indications are that the Niners are simply playing it safe with Jackson to make sure he's 100 percent by Week 1. If their plan of resting him in the offseason pays off, he'll be able to do something he hasn't done since 2004 -- play a full NFL season.
Randy Moss, WR, Patriots: Last but not least, the freak. Physical health was the real reason Moss missed the last three games of 2006. It definitely could have been mental injury. Yes, the situation really was THAT BAD for him in Oakland. Now that he's in New England, his stock his soaring as August approaches. There's something about actually seeing him practice with the Patriots that solidifies my confidence in him to have a huge bounce back season. Let's not forget, this guy was the undisputed No. 1 fantasy WR for six years. He has two 100-reception, six 1,200-yard and six double-digit TD seasons under his belt. With Tom Brady and Bill Belichick now on his side, he should easily return to that place of healthy mind and body.