Injuries are an all-too-large part of the NFL discussion every week. Some weeks are worse than others, but the specter of an injury is always present. Week 4 of the 2017 season will go down as one of the worst weeks in recent memory.
The most significant injury belonged to Dalvin Cook, the Vikings electric rookie running back. Cook was on his way to another big game on Sunday, totaling 56 yards and a touchdown on his first 12 carries. On his 13th, and ultimately final, carry of the game, he ran for 10 yards and was ticketed for more before crumpling to the ground after attempting to cut back against the grain of the defense. Cook was able to walk to the locker room under his own power, but it was a dreaded non-contact injury, which usually spells serious trouble. Such was the case for Cook.
The Vikings confirmed on Monday that Cook tore the ACL in his left knee, and will miss the rest of the 2017 season. He ends what was shaping up to be a banner rookie year with 354 rushing yards on 74 carries, 90 receiving yards on 11 receptions, and two touchdowns. The Vikings do expect Cook to make a full recovery and be ready for the 2018 season.
Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon will share the backfield in Minnesota in the wake of Cook’s injury. Murray figures to serve as the primary early-down and short-yardage back, while McKinnon will handle the bulk of the pass-catching duty. Murray is still recovering from an ankle injury, but expected volume dictates that he’s the better back to own in Minnesota. All things being equal, fantasy owners would rather invest in a back whose expected to handle primary rushing duties, especially if that back is getting the work at the goal line. In this case, that will be Murray. McKinnon is likely to be a better real-life than fantasy player, though he could have good value in PPR formats. For a full breakdown of Murray and McKinnon, check our Week 5 waiver wire column.
Cook’s absence, however, could have a significant decelerating effect on the Vikings offense. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen make the explosive plays down the field, but Cook was the engine of this offense. He had 15 first down rushes on his 74 carries, and was most responsible for keeping the team on schedule. He was effective in third-down and short-yardage situations, which kept drives churning along no matter if it was Sam Bradford or Case Keenum under center. With Cook out, the entire ceiling for the offense comes down. A potential increase in volume might not offset that for Diggs or Thielen.
Julio Jones is as great a receiver as there is in the league when he’s healthy, but the reason he’s not quite in Antonio Brown’s class is because he deals with nagging injuries every season. He was limited in practice last week because of a strained lower back, and then left the Falcons Week 4 loss to the Bills with a strained hip flexor. The Falcons have a bye Week 5, and Jones is expected to be ready for their Week 6 game with the Dolphins, but this is the one downside that comes with owning Jones. Get ready for plenty of limited practices and questionable statuses the rest of the season.
Mohamed Sanu left the team’s Week 4 game with a hamstring injury, too, but there’s no real move to make in Atlanta. Taylor Gabriel and Justin Hardy could be mildly intriguing in the short term, but neither would step into a role inhabited by Jones or Sanu, even if one of them was seriously injured. In that scenario, Atlanta would likely lean on Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman even more than they already do. With neither Jones nor Sanu expected to miss time, there’s no change to make regarding fantasy values in the Falcons offense.
For the second straight season, Marcus Mariota and Derek Carr got injured on the same day. Mariota left the Titans 57–14 loss to the Texans with a hamstring injury, while back spasms knocked Carr out of the Raiders 16–10 loss to the Broncos. Both teams got a look at what life would be like without their young starting quarterback, and it wasn’t pretty.
It’s hard to fault Matt Cassel for his ugly showing against the Texans, given the situation into which he entered the game. Still, if he’s forced to start, everyone tied to the Tennessee offense will suffer. His presence significantly limits what the Titans can do, compared with what’s available when Mariota is at the helm. Should Mariota miss time, the only Titan who’d be an easy play every week is DeMarco Murray. Everyone else, from Rishard Matthews to Delanie Walker to Derrick Henry, would have to be considered on a case-by-case basis.
E.J. Manuel was not a total disaster for the Raiders. He completed 11 of his 17 pass attempts for 106 yards, 6.24 yards per attempt and one interception in less-than-ideal conditions against arguably the best pass defense in the league. With a full week of practice time as the starter, Manuel could keep afloat the fantasy value of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Their floors and ceilings, however, would undoubtedly be lower than they are with Carr on the field. Consider both WR2s for the time being, until there is more information available on Carr.