Under The Knife: Will Peyton be ready to play in Week 1?

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It's the same kind of injuries we've seen to the same kind of players. An early season run on Achilles tears seemed to be some sort of problem, but a closer look showed a simple cluster, not a pattern. Our brains want to see patterns, to find reasons, but in small numbers, those patterns are tough to find and seldom exist. Quantum entanglement aside, it's hard to find a reason that a rookie RB tearing his Achilles in Detroit would have much to do with a veteran long snapper tearing his in Tampa.

We have torn ACLs like always. We have concussions -- or "apparent concussions" if we use the new terminology that the NFL seems to like suddenly. We have some broken bones and torn tendons. These injuries are part of the game but they're something fantasy players have to avoid and minimize in order to win. Let's take the first of our weekly looks around the league at the fantasy-relevant injuries that will change our rosters or in this case, our draft strategies.

Then again, we have to remember that we can make a difference. This year, I've focused a lot of time and effort into getting heat illness as much awareness as the concussion problem. While concussions can't be fixed without significant changes to the game, there's no excuse for letting heat illness take one more life. It was a bad year, losing players and even a coach in Texas, but the message is working. Here in Indianapolis, after the Indianapolis Star ran an article on what could be done, it worked. I can't tell you the feeling I got when Nat Newell sent me the article. All the medheads out there need to keep working. Dr. James Andrews once said to me that he wanted his legacy to be that he put himself out of business. I know how he feels. Lets get to it:

I could do a whole column about Peyton Manning, or even just the panic surrounding Indy's QB. The panic is kind of precious in a way, allowing Jim Irsay to use his Twitter account to make fools of many. Irsay was in Monterey California, bidding at a classic car auction, not checking out Hattiesburg retirement homes.

Irsay has a habit of tweeting Steely Dan lyrics, so seeing people put some kind of significance on his ramblings amuses me. I like that an owner is willing to be a bit wacky in connecting with his fans, but I also wish people weren't so gullible. The issue here is that Peyton Manning's neck is fine in the long term. This is similar to last year's surgery and recovery and also similar to 2008, when Manning came back from minor knee surgery and a not so minor infection.

So what is going on with Manning medically? For more on that, I spoke to a lot of doctors and other medical professionals this week, trying to get a handle on exactly what the issues are. One of the best explanations I got was from Dr. Rodwan Rajjoub, medical director of neurosurgery at Susquehanna Health in Williamsport, Pa. Dr. Rajjoub explained to me what Manning had gone through and why his progress seemed delayed:

"The disc herniation in Peyton Manning had caused compression of the nerve root going down his arm. The surgeon went ahead with microdiscectomy and removal of this section of the herniated disc taking the pressure off the nerve root. This relieved his arm pain.

"Generally speaking with such procedure the healing process is about 6-8 weeks for full recovery. The peripheral nerve growth usually is about 1 mm a day, which amounts to about 1 inch a month. By the time of the first 6-8 weeks the recovery is usually faster for the nerve root and Manning will feel significant improvement in his strength as well as relief of his pain.

"So the statement 'once the nerve regenerates he'll be back' is true because the peripheral nerve regeneration occurs at a slow rate but the strength usually will come back as well as the sensation after the recovery. Thus, Mr. Polian's statement is correct. The recovery for such procedure is typically, as I previously stated, between 6-8 weeks although it could be a bit longer."

We're already more than eight weeks out, so while Manning is not "behind", it does appear that he's on the long end of the recovery clock. One key point is that Manning did not have this surgery until May, which indicates both that it wasn't an issue at the end of the season or that it was insignificant enough to think that rest would clear things up. Ignore the noise. Every expectation is that Manning will be starting in Week 1 and that Kerry Collins is nothing more than an insurance policy.

The Jags didn't bring in Blaine Gabbert to start, but he could end up there quickly. Gabbert's getting nothing but kudos from everyone who's seen him during camp. Meanwhile, David Garrard has been dealing with back spasms. That will definitely cut down on his mobility and could take him from being a game manager type average QB to one who's standing with a clipboard quickly. There's a lot of downside risk with the Jags, one that could force some impatience. Garrard will try to play through a disc injury in his lumbar spine, and while he's played through injury before, he's never played through this injury. While Garrard will start the season as QB1, I'm not convinced he'll finish it there.

With uncertainty in front of him, Maurice Jones-Drew is trying to stop the questions about what's below him. Problem is, his public statements about his knee are raising more questions. Jones-Drew allegedly played through a meniscus tear last season, then had it fixed in the offseason. That's a simple surgery, so routine that similar procedures are done in season, such as recent surgery for Osi Umenyiora.

Jones-Drew said, however, that he was told not to run for "seven months." That immediately led many to speculate that Jones-Drew had undergone a different procedure, such as microfracture. There's no evidence for this, and while Jones-Drew is many things, he's simply wrong here.

The Jags are being cautious with him, smartly, but there's no evidence that Jones-Drew won't be ready for the season. If you can stand the uncertainty, Jones-Drew is slipping down draft boards and should be a solid pick at the 8-10 range.

We know two things about Darren McFadden - he's very talented and he's very fragile. He started this season with a freakish eye injury -- a broken orbital -- that will heal but might bring back the Eric Dickerson goggle look. McFadden's legs are the bigger issue, with ankle sprains and hamstrings taking him from a guy who can find the edge to a guy that's on the bench. He's miscast as a feature back, but should be in the quick to the outside role that Jamaal Charles has succeeded in for the Chiefs. McFadden's talent is always going to make him an overdraft, so if you're going to be the guy who just can't wait until the second round, you'll need a very solid RB2 and you'll have to go RB-RB, period.

This former "throw in" is staring down the Madden Curse and so far in '11, it's holding up. (No, I don't really believe in curses, but I wonder if the players do.) Hillis is dealing with a mild hamstring strain, but with Montario Hardesty impressing and Brandon Jackson brought in, it seems that even when healthy, Hillis isn't going to get all the carries he did last year. That's not a bad thing for Hillis and the Browns, but will affect his fantasy value slightly. There are worries about Hillis' back -- he's a very "pads level" runner and tight hamstrings are often a precursor to back issues. Add in the pounding he takes inside the tackles and this is a red flag for the long term. If Hillis slides a bit from his current ADP of 16 down to the mid-20s, he's solid value.

The mystery surrounding Austin Collie's new helmet has been dulled a bit by the fact that he hasn't been wearing it lately. Collie has missed the better part of the last two weeks with knee and foot issues, making any millinery superfluous.

Collie's situation hasn't been noted much, with Manning's situation sucking all the media air out of the room, but with Collie and Anthony Gonzalez injured, plus Reggie Wayne dealing with a personal situation and contentious contract talks, there's a lot of questions marks in the Colts receiving corps. Manning can succeed with backups, as he showed last year, but the team doesn't have the margin it did a few years back.

Collie is "on the bubble" with Gonzalez, so while the Colts will continue to not care about the results of preseason games, they'd like to see availability. Collie has to move down on draft boards right now and move Pierre Garcon way up.

Michael Crabtree's foot injury didn't hurt him at the draft, but it's return does have the Niners worried. They showed that by bringing in Braylon Edwards, giving them another option at WR1. Crabtree's out of the walking boot he spent the summer in, but he's not running and certainly not cutting. His status for Week 1 is already in question, but he's not dropping significantly on most draft boards. He's still at 69 ADP, which doesn't leave much upside. If you have time before your draft, watch practice reports closely. The thing that you should be looking for is that Crabtree is able to cut. That might be written as "running crisp routes" or similar. If you don't see at least that, avoid or at least downgrade Crabtree (and upgrade Edwards.)

Visanthe Shiancoe is a huge sleeper at the TE position. Without a real WR1 and with a decent enough QB who's shown love for his TEs at various stops, Shiancoe is set up to build on his reputation. Instead, he's been stuck rehabbing a bad hamstring this camp instead of building up a rapport with Donovan McNabb. Shiancoe has had setback after setback during his rehab, with yet another one this week. Shiancoe's not going to play much if at all in the last two preseason games, so maybe he's going to be an even bigger sleeper on draft day. Assuming he can get past these continual setbacks -- and he should -- I'll take that risk if I miss on the first tier TEs.

Shonn Greene is getting over an infected foot, but should be in good shape for Week 1. We'll likely see a bit more LaDainian Tomlinson in the first couple weeks, but that's not a bad thing ... Jahvid Best came back from a concussion on Wednesday, but his history and the Lions lack of depth at RB is worrisome. Best has upside, but is very risky ... Mark Ingram fell in the draft in part due to concerns about his knee. Playing on turf in New Orleans isn't going to do that knee many favors, but he can't blame the turf yet. The swelling in his knee is a big red flag this early ...

Malcolm Floyd is dealing with a concussion, but the Chargers think he'll be fine by Week 1 ... The Browns hope Mohamed Massaquoi will be back at practice this week, giving him plenty of time to ramp things up by Week 1. Colt McCoy's progress should up Massaquoi's value slightly ... Danario Alexander is having swelling on his knee, but will try to avoid surgery for now. Playing on turf is going to make this a week-to-week maintenance issue (and he's not worth the headache) ...

LaRon Landry is dealing with a chronic Achilles issue and a new hamstring issue. I don't like that combo at all ... An anti-gravity treadmill sounds cooler than it actually is. Chris Cooley is cutting it very close for Week 1 since he's just now getting on to one ... Nice to see that Terrell Owens is coming to terms with being human. He might be back in November, but not before ... Jason Campbell finally cleared his concussion test on Tuesday and returned to practice, but the coaching staff is making sure he doesn't risk anything in the near term ... Here's to the crazy ones and to you, Steve.