Will Carroll
Thursday September 2nd, 2010

The glory of Fantasy Football is in the skill positions. The winning can be in what I call the "fantasy grab bag," all the other players, even the ones you don't pick. Don't pick? You look confused, my friend. Yes, fantasy games can be won or lost due to the play of offensive linemen, defensive players (even in IDP leagues), and even the lowly kickers. Aside from the freakish Devin Hester Bears teams, I don't know of any real advantage to any special teams, so we'll ignore them for the most part. The fact is that the guys up front can make or break the production of the skill players. A lineman goes down isn't important? Ask Matt Hasselbeck about that after he lost Walter Jones. A defender breaking down isn't important? Brian Urlacher's absence didn't just hurt the Bears on defense, it put them behind more and put pressure on Jay Cutler. In a fantasy world where information is everywhere and your grandmother understands you don't take Drew Brees in the first round, little advantages like keeping your eye on the guys you don't pick can be the difference between winning and losing.

Look at Vernon Davis. Now look at your man. Now look at Vernon Davis. Davis isn't the Old Spice Guy, but if you look at Vernon Davis, you probably wouldn't think "injury prone" would be a tag he had hung on him. It is. Davis has been held back as much by his own physical problems as he has by the quarterbacks he's been relying on to get him the ball. Alex Smith learned that getting Davis the ball worked pretty well last year, but in the first preseason game, Davis limped off with a mild patellar tendon strain. It's not something that's serious, though the Niners have been conservative with him, but it is something that can linger and nag at him. It's something that will cost him a step, keeping him from getting open enough for a target or breaking a long RAC. You can look at Vernon Davis and think "breakout"; just remember it's not a big trip from breakout to breakdown.

Zach Miller wasn't bad last year, but most of the focus on him in fantasy circles is about his new QB. Jason Campbell does like throwing to his TEs, but is Miller as good as Chris Cooley? That doesn't matter. What does matter is whether he'll get the opportunities. The running game is relying on two injury prone runners and one of them, Michael Bush, is already out. The WRs are questionable in almost every way. That leaves Miller. The only knock on him, no pun intended, is a history of concussions. Miller is one of those players that wants the extra yard and is willing to lower his head, probably in the way he's been taught since Pop Warner. At his size, it works, but it also exposes him. Sad part is, Pop Warner coaches are still teaching this and announcers will rave over Miller's toughness. Concussions are completely unpredictable, so don't drop Miller on your board for his previous issues. With a recent poll saying 58 percent of NFL players hide concussion symptoms from the Trainers, this problem's not going away soon.

If Wes Welker is back, why isn't Owen Daniels? Daniels tore his ACL in Week 8, but just made it off the PUP this week. The biggest difference is bigness. Welker's a small guy while Daniels is carrying something north of 250 on his wide frame. More weight on the knee isn't a good thing. Daniels' position also demands more from the quad muscles, which in turn stresses the ACL. He's squatting, accelerating, pushing, and jumping. All Welker needs to do is run that little bubble screen. Daniels should be back to full-go pretty quickly, but he's likely to be held back the first few weeks. If you don't get Daniels on draft day, make yourself a note to look at his numbers after Week 3. If they're down and his owner panics a bit, you could steal him in a trade.

Rob Gronkowski would have gone higher in the draft than he did if he hadn't been so injury prone in college. He missed all of 2009 with a back injury and that put up red flags with a lot of teams. The Pats weren't scared off, thinking Gronkowski's size and hands fit very well into their offense. If you think "next Ben Watson", you're on the right track. He's been healthy in camp and if he can stay healthy, his massive size is going to get him some red zone looks. Then again, that's Randy Moss territory as well, so it might not be as many as you think. Add in the presence of Alge Crumpler, who's likely to be the starter initially, and Aaron Hernandez, another rookie TE who's shown some potential in camp, and Gronkowski's upside is very limited. He's probably not worthy of a pick unless it's as a TE2 very late in a draft. He's more a guy who you should be monitoring closely, both for injuries and for the point where he pushes Crumpler aside.

Ron Jaworski once told me that it was Peyton Manning, not the line, that made him so durable. "It's the quick release. It's the vision," he said (and you do need to imagine it in his voice for the full effect) and for years, he's seemed right. The Colts line isn't that good man for man, but it's been good enough ... until the playoffs, when Bill Polian blamed them for the loss. He didn't do much about it, signing only a couple spare parts and drafting defense, which leaves Manning standing behind a banged up crew. Jeff Saturday will be back in time for Week 1 after minor knee surgery, something of which there was little doubt if you'd listened to me. The bigger problem is on the "blind side" where Charlie Johnson and Tony Ugoh are both banged up. Neither have been good, but Johnson took over for Ugoh last season and was passable. The Colts, I'm told, are not looking for waiver wire help, due to the complexities of their schemes. If it really has been Manning all along, we'll find out this year, because there's not much between him and some big, mean guys. Also, if you're drafting Joseph Addai or Donald Brown, you might want to consider that they may end up held in on pass protection more often.

See everything said up there about Manning? The reverse is true for Tony Romo. When he's not protected, he seems to panic. When he gets hurried, the Cowboys (and your fantasy team) fall. That means that any reduction in effectiveness in front of him is likely to produce a reduction in his fantasy stats, which also affects the WRs. It's actually a bit of a boon to the RBs; Wade Phillips and Jason Garrett seem to understand that and adjust. The injury to Marc Colombo is roughly the same as what Saturday had, but the demands of the position are different. The center, surprisingly, doesn't usually need to be as strong and doesn't need the lateral motion and knee drive. Both of those tax the knee much more than the running and shifting that a center does. The schedule helps a bit, avoiding pure speed rushers until Week 3. Columbo will be back for the opening game against the Skins, but watch to see if he makes Adam Carriker look good.

When I asked my Twitter followers which defensive players they were interested in, there was a lot of ... well, nothing. The IDP variant of fantasy football hasn't caught on - and won't - but even for those that grab a D/ST in the next to last rounds, there's not a lot of adjustment. People are still picking the Ravens high despite problems in the backfield. They're picking the Steelers, even though Troy Polamalu's hair is the healthiest part of him. A lot of people are still high on the Dolphins, despite some obvious problems as well. Those problems get a lot bigger if Channing Crowder is out. His hip injury turns out to be a lower abdominal problem, perhaps a sports hernia. A sports hernia isn't an actual hernia, but a tearing of the lining around the muscle. It sounds funny, but like turf toe, it's no joke. Any surgery that involves wire mesh being installed is serious and could cost Crowder as much as eight weeks. Keep your eye on this one over the next few days.

The injury was actually to Calvin Pace, but it's Taylor that's getting the IDP love in some drafts. If you liked Taylor before as a spot-in rusher for the Jets, this doesn't necessarily make him better. Exposing Taylor to every-down play is going to wear on him, meaning that where he might have been good for some "obvious passing down" work where he could do one thing in a burst, he could end up much less effective with more opportunities. Think of it as the ultimate expression of platoon football or something that would drive Vince Lombardi to question things. Pace is expected to miss five weeks after surgery to fixate his fractured foot, but that doesn't mean he'll be 100% by then. Rex Ryan's Jets are going to have to juggle a bit through the first few weeks of the season, something that could involve Vernon Gholston more than expected.

Look, kickers get no respect. In fantasy football, they really don't deserve much of it. You take one with your last pick (or, if you're sneaky and your league's rules allow it, you don't take one, cutting someone just before Week 1 and getting an extra slot to gamble with.) They're important, in that a big week can give you a boost, but it's essentially random. A lot of people picked Adam Vinatieri last season, thinking he's one of few kickers worth picking up. He's consistent and had the benefit of a solid offense without a great running game. The problem was that he came up with a bad hip. He had to have surgery (the same that Sidney Rice) just had and when he came back, he ended up hurting his knee. Matt Stover was good enough to get the team to the playoffs, so a healthy Vinatieri is just a mid-pack kicker this season. Kris Brown had an off-year last year, but with the team on the upswing, some are looking at Brown as a top-tier kicker. Downside is that he's got plantar fasciitis and has been in a walking boot more than kicking shoes. He should be ready for Week 1, but plantar fasciitis lingers and any inconsistency could lead to someone like ... Matt Stover! Jason Hanson has been as consistent as they come for 20 years, showing that he still has the leg to go long for a sputtering offense. He had his plant knee cleaned out early in camp, so he hasn't been kicking in the preseason, but he's going to be ready for Week 1. If you believe in the Lions upsurge, and I do, there's no reason Hanson can't be your kicker again.

Brett Favre's ankle lubricant was a planned part of his maintenance program. You'll see this again in a few weeks, if defensive ends don't detach it ... Donovan McNabb is on track for a Week 1 start. We knew that. I'm telling you he'll have no limits ... Knowshon Moreno's hamstring has the Broncos more worried than they're saying. Expect him to show up as "questionable" on the first OIR next week ... Clinton Portis' ankle sprain might be a sign of things to come. He's seldom been healthy, though when he is, he's proven he can take a full 30-carry load ... Steve Slaton's neck isn't his only issue. Now he's got a case of turf toe, not a good sign for a team that plays on turf. Push him further back on all draft boards and solidify Arian Foster in the third tier ... Just because Darren McFadden has another opportunity while Michael Bush is out doesn't mean he'll stay healthy. Michael Bennett could end up the sleeper out of Oakland's running back mess ... If you like Jahvid Best, you'll like him more when you find out Kevin Smith isn't ready and may end up cut or on the PUP. It does force Best to get more of the load, which could wear on him as the season goes on ... Larry Fitzgerald has switched to a smaller knee brace, a good sign that things are moving along. The knee sprain is going to affect him through the first few weeks, especially if he takes more hits low ... Sources tell me that while Michael Crabtree's neck problem is still bothering him, he'll be ready for Week 1. He continues to undergo regular treatment and may need some painkillers before a game. Don't expect to see him in the Niners preseason finale ... Next week, we get this thing going for real. I'll be here on Thursday, so you'll have all your info if you have one of those leagues that locks in with the first game. Then I'll have a weekend update to let you know the latest. Be sure to follow me on Twitter -- I'm @injuryexpert -- to make sure you get the latest or to ask questions.

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