Will Carroll: Fantasy football preseason injury report - Sports Illustrated

The injury wave has hit, so plan your replacements wisely

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Fantasy players around the country are already adjusting their draft boards and even their teams. If you're not already making your plans, you'll be caught reacting rather than adjusting. Take the time to look at your roster and league and say, "If this player were to get taken out, how would I replace him?" It's a simple exercise, but one that will show you the weaknesses of your team and better prepare you for the inevitable injuries.

Let's get to some notables:

Arthroscopic surgery is one of the modern miracles that lets so many players come back quickly. Richardson's injury is, stunningly, equivalent to the one that Joe Namath first had while he was at Alabama. Namath's knees were as famous as his Super Bowl guarantee, but in today's world, he would likely have had a normal career with minimal issues. Sports medicine has changed that much that quickly.

Richardson's knees aren't good, but they do come back from these kinds of surgeries well. He's had enough of these procedures for us to know he likely will recover again. I'd expect the Browns to split his touches with Montario Hardesty for the first couple of weeks, which could help Richardson adjust and keep from wearing down. In college, he never stayed healthy enough to not need more surgery after a season. I'm worried that his usual timeline will hold true in the NFL, which demands so much more physically. Richardson's career and fantasy value for this year and beyond are entirely dependent on Dr. Jim Andrews and the work of the Browns' medical staff in maintaining his knees between games.

Having a plate installed over a fracture is more common than most people think. The plate strengthens the area and allows healing behind it. The bone is aligned due to the fixation rather than a more typical casting. It's tough to cast a clavicle, so the timing of Mathews' return won't complicated by the plate any more than someone else's return from a broken arm would be by a pin or even a cast. It's part of the treatment.

Mathews is healing well and normally, but his hope of being back for Week 1 is playing out like most people expected. He'll be close, but it's too risky to let him come back. Week 2 is possible, but the doctors will have the final say, not Mathews. Once he's back, his style doesn't appear to be one that will be altered by the injury, assuming it's fully healed. He might lose some short yardage touches and some yards after contact, but injury was always part of the mix with Mathews. This doesn't change his value significantly, but Ronnie Brown is a nice short term fill-in at RB. Then again, LeRon McClain might pick up those short yardage plays even after Mathews returns and could be the better long term value.

Should we be thinking of Stewart as an RB1, RB2, or even an RB3? The roles have always been very fluid in the Panthers' backfield, with Stewart and DeAngelo Williams both effective but inconsistent from a fantasy perspective. With Cam Newton in the mix, Stewart became the third running option at times, which has to affect his value. Even the slightest injury, like an ankle sprain, is going to cost him touches in the short term. It looks like he will be back up to speed by Week 1, but we'll have to watch him right up to game time. Stewart's advanced numbers are exceptional, so he's even more tantalizing, making every fantasy player wonder what he would do as a clear RB1. Don't let your imagination get the best of you at a draft.

Redman is going to struggle all season with his torn hip labrum, but his ankle sprain is the first sign that he might not be able to go. His ankle and hip aren't connected, like in that old song, but his injuries are. I call them "cascades", a term borrowed from network science, to denote injuries that are caused by trying to protect another area. Redman's altered running style likely contributed to his sprain. Even small changes, ones that can't be detected by sight, can cause big problems. Redman has a small window to establish himself before Rashard Mendenhall gets back from ACL surgery. An injury that will linger and cause acute issues is going to slam that window shut. Redman might play in Week 1, but you don't want him on your roster.

Collie was back at practice just two days after his last concussion. He wasn't dressed, but he was out there, a clear sign that he wanted to return. Now he's back in pads, but not taking contact. Coach Chuck Pagano thinks Collie "has a chance" to return by Week 1, indicating that his concussion symptoms have lessened, if not gone away. Collie has not yet been cleared to play, though there are conflicting reports as to whether he's passed the baseline tests. (One side note: Since baselines are redone every year, does Collie's history of concussions lower his results, which is the opposite of what we'd want? Opinions vary on this, especially considering the studies that question the ImPACT protocol that's currently used.) Collie may or may not be ready for Week 1, but he's comfortable trying. He's very likely to play again, although that's between him and his doctors. I picked him up as a last-round flyer in a couple leagues, given the amount of targets he got in the first preseason game and his likely WR2 role for Andrew Luck's offense.

Long hasn't shown his face much on Hard Knocks, but that's probably for the best. Top offensive linemen are pretty boring. We'll see whether his injury makes the broadcast -- he hurt his knee during Monday's practice. An MRI showed a mild sprain of his MCL, which is about the best news the Dolphins could have gotten besides Long avoiding injury altogether. He will be ready for Week 1, with the only question now being whether he'll need a special brace to protect the knee. Long normally wears a brace, so it shouldn't affect his play. This is a huge plus for Ryan Tannehill, his WRs, and Reggie Bush.

The Giants were hoping that Amukamara would upgrade their defensive backfield last season. A broken foot kept that from happening, so they hit reset. Cue the Groundhog Day references, because he's injured again. This time an ankle sprain has kept him off the field. He should be back for Week 2, and the Giants will need him with Terrell Thomas out. The question is can he stay healthy or will he always be limited? We have almost no idea what kind of workload Amukamara can handle aside from noting that he played well at Nebraska.

Michael Vick will be ready for Week 1. He's got his Unequal rib protector, but he's just slightly sore. By gametime, he'll be 100% and a must-start in Week 1 ... Adrian Peterson is taking more contact in practice, but not full-blown tackles. That could come later this week, but there's no sign yet that he is any less than 100% ready for Week 1. Regardless, expect his touches to be slightly down, shared with Toby Gerhart ... It's not a surprise that Jahvid Best starts the season on the PUP. His concussion symptoms are still there and may never go away. He's got no place on a fantasy roster right now. The Lions are desperate for RBs with Kevin Smith nursing a sprained ankle. If Detroit can find someone on the trade market or even waiver wire, Smith's position becomes tenuous and his fantasy value plummets. Knowshon Moreno, Matthew Stafford's college teammate, is one name that's being mentioned ...

Roy Helu played and played well in the Redskins' last preseason game. It's tough to judge him since Tampa rested its starters, but if all you wanted to see was that Helu is healthy now, you saw it. He's still risky, since Achilles strains tend to linger ...Hakeem Nicks looks ready to go for the Giants. His fractured foot has healed up for the most part and what little issue he's still having can be covered by running certain routes and not others ... Mike Wallace reported to the Steelers on Tuesday. Sources tell me he's in pretty good shape, but isn't up to speed on the offense. Many are thinking he could be a bit limited in the first couple games, depending on how he quickly picks up the system. To me, his physical condition, the Steelers' running problems, and the way Ben Roethlisberger improvises make Wallace a decent gamble ...

Kyle Cook could miss the entire season with a serious foot injury, which hurts the Bengals' offense significantly, especially since they're already replacing LG Travelle Wharton and starting a rookie, Kevin Zeitler, at RG ... Jammal Brown underwent hip surgery. The Skins are hoping to have him back around Week 6, but it could be longer ... Brian Urlacher will be back on the practice field next week. If his repaired knee continues to swell, the worry won't be whether he's ready for Week 1, but if he'll be ready at all ...

I don't want to get into the uncomfortable details about the DJ Williams suspension, but it highlights just how lax the NFL's testing program is. In all other major sports, collectors have to "see the stream", but the NFL has allowed a more modest procedure ... I'll be back with an Injury Report next Wednesday, just in time for the season's kickoff game. We'll also start up the Friday chat session and, of course, the Sunday Med Check next week as well.