- Checking in on James Conner, LeSean McCoy and other injured fantasy football stars.
Week 15 is not exactly the ideal week for a swath of fantasy-relevant injuries, and yet that’s exactly what we’re dealing with this season heading into the playoff semifinals in most leagues. To make matters worse, a number of those injuries are to legitimate stars in this week’s Thursday night game, making the timetable for turning around even tighter. That’s where our focus will be in the Week 15 version of the SI.com Training Room. As always, we’ll give you the injury nuts and bolts, provided by 4for4’s Russell Manalastas, a physical therapist and strength coach based in New York, and the fantasy spin to go with them.
James Conner, RB, Steelers
Injury: High Ankle Sprain
Injury take: Conner was ruled out early last week heading into Week 14 due to the high ankle sprained he suffered in the loss to the Chargers in Week 13. With the Steelers playing the Patriots this weekend in what suddenly looks like a must-win game, there’s a chance that Conner makes a return to the field. However, he’ll likely be less than 100% and will be questionable at best heading into the weekend. He’s not likely to practice much, if at all, and even if he plays, there will be a significant risk of aggravating the injury. It’s simply not an ideal situation for Conner owners.
Fantasy spin: With Russ having said that, it’s impossible to sit him if he plays. Complicating matters is the fact that Patriots-Steelers is in the late window on Sunday, meaning you may have to make a call on Conner before you know whether he’s playing. You’ll want him in your lineup if he plays, but this is a situation we can’t fully diagnose without the clarity that the next few days will bring.
LeSean McCoy, RB, Bills
Injury: Strained Hamstring
Injury take: McCoy left Sunday’s game against the Jets relatively early after sustaining a strained hamstring. Early reports have McCoy as day-to-day, but it isn’t often that we see a player with a soft tissue injury such as this one turn around and play the next game. Hamstring issues are rarely figured out early in the week, unless they’re bad, so plan on keeping on eye on his practice reports all week, while also assuming that you’ll need to go in another direction.
Fantasy spin: No matter if it’s McCoy or Chris Ivory for the Bills this week, the team’s starting running back will be on the low-end RB2 and flex radars. McCoy, obviously, would be preferable, but he’d also likely be playing at less than 100%.
Kerryon Johnson, RB, Lions
Injury: Sprained MCL
Injury take: Johnson has yet to return to practice since spraining his knee, and at this point in the season it is fair to wonder if the Lions just end up shutting him down to not risk him aggravating the injury. With the Lions out of the playoff picture, they have no real incentive to rush Johnson back.
Fantasy spin: To be honest, I’m a little surprised we haven’t already seen Johnson placed on IR. The Lions’ season is done, and he’s a key part of their future. There’s no reason for them to risk his health in meaningless games. You’ve already played without him for a few weeks, and should plan on doing so for the rest of the season.
Tyreek Hill, WR, Chiefs
Injury: Bruised Heel
Injury take: Hill was at first dealing with a wrist injury early on in the game against Baltimore, but it was the heel injury he suffered later in the game that could keep him out of this week’s Thursday night game with the Chargers. Given the quick turnaround, it’s hard to imagine that he’ll be anywhere near 100% on Thursday. However, considering that Hill was able to play through the issues against the Ravens, that does inspire some confidence that he’ll be effective if he’s on the field.
Fantasy spin: Hill did make one of the biggest plays in the Chiefs’ 27-24 win late in the game, limping his way through the catch, so there is something to his ability to play through this injury. Still, for a guy who lives on speed, his effectiveness could be lessened by a heel injury. If Hill plays, you’re starting him, but he may not have the some monster ceiling he typically does.
Austin Ekeler, RB, Chargers
Injury take: Stingers occur are when the neck and the arm go in opposite directions, causing an overstretching of the nerves that run through the neck/shoulder region. They typically result in significant discomfort, tingling and numbness, depending on the severity. Ekeler has had a history of stingers in his injury past, which makes this more complicated as the recovery process may take longer. What’s more, the Chargers announced on Monday that Ekeler is also in the concussion protocol, which further complicates his return. There’s very little chance he’s able to suit up in a short week.
Fantasy spin: There’s also the chance that Melvin Gordon returns this week, which would’ve taken a huge bite out of Ekeler’s fantasy value even if he were healthy. Plan on going in another direction in Week 15.
Spencer Ware, RB, Chiefs
Injury: Strained Shoulder/Hamstring
Injury take: Ware suffered injuries to both his shoulder and leg last week, with the latter being the more concerning issue heading into Thursday’s game against the Chargers. Hamstring strains can be tricky, and even if it were just a minor strain, it would be tough for any player who suffered such an injury on a Sunday to be ready the following Thursday. Any sort of practice participation would be a good sign over the next couple days.
Fantasy spin: Owners invested in Ware would be wise to grab Damien Williams off the waiver wire this week. If Ware cannot go, Williams would step in as the Chiefs’ starter at running back. The fact that Ware returned, however, and played well after suffering the hamstring injury does bode well for this week.
Melvin Gordon, RB, Chargers
Injury: Sprained MCL
Injury take: There is some optimism that Gordon could make his return to the field after missing the last two games due to a sprained knee. With the Chargers playing on Thursday night, I would feel much more confident in starting Gordon if he was able to at least practice in some capacity on Tuesday or Wednesday. If he does play, he’ll likely be wearing a knee brace to help reduce some of the stress on the healing tissue, and that could limit his mobility.
Fantasy spin: The Chargers have all but clinched a playoff berth, but a win on Thursday makes a division title realistic. They’d still be behind the Chiefs on tiebreakers, though, so would need to win out and get some help to get a home playoff game and, almost certainly, a bye. That potential payoff could entice both Gordon and the team, even if he isn’t quite 100%. If he plays for the Chargers, he plays for you.