Training Room: Updates on Julio, Wayne, Locker, CJ1K & Pierce
As organized team activities wind down and mandatory mini camps start up over the next few days, there will be many storylines about position battles, expectations for rookies and players recovering from injury. The majority of the time I advise fantasy football managers to take the stories about players recovering from an injury with a grain of salt, due to stories usually being blown out of proportion or being overemphasized in one aspect of the player’s rehab. Hearing stories that the player is “running, cutting, and jumping" or that he looks “really explosive” are great to hear from a rehab standpoint, but ultimately don’t mean that the players are deemed ready to contribute at a high level right away. Let’s take a look at some players that continue to get headlines on a week to week basis, and some other names that will be important to keep an eye on come draft day.
2nd Stress Fracture of the Foot: Stress fractures to the base of the 5th metatarsal of the foot (pinky toe) are called Jones fractures (no, I’m not making this up). Stress fractures are micro fractures in the bone that can lead to larger fractures if not treated or diagnosed right away. Stress fractures can sometimes cause pain, but often times go unnoticed. Due to poor blood supply in that area of the foot, a screw is often times placed into the fracture to allow proper healing/mending of the bone. Julio’s first fracture occurred in March of 2011 before the NFL combine, with his second fracture occurring in Week 5 of the 2013 season.
Bottom Line: It is tough to project what Jones will do this upcoming year because there haven’t been many cases like his in the NFL. A case study in 2012 showed that average return to play for elite athletes after a Jones fracture with screw fixation was around twelve weeks, which ultimately would’ve put Julio ready to go in February. The problem is the study doesn’t have any subjects that have had two fractures. So what should we do about Julio heading into this season? Reports are that he is able to run and cut on the foot without issues, but he didn’t participate in OTA’s and will likely still be restricted when mini camp opens up. The Falcons could err on the side of caution, holding Julio out through the preseason in an effort to ensure he's 100% come opening day. The main concern I have is the strength of the bone around the screw, as sometimes failure to allow the bone to fully heal can lead to refractures. All indications are that the Falcons are doing everything possible to make sure that Julio’s progress is going smoothly, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him be just as dominant as he was prior to him hurting his foot the second time around. There’s some increased risk of re-injury, but again, there's not much research on re-injury risk after multiple fractures. Jones recently said he is targeting a return by Week 1.
ACL Reconstruction: The ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) is the main ligament in the knee that helps prevent rotation/twisting motions and prevents the lower leg from moving excessively on the upper part of the leg. Wayne had surgery to repair his ACL in October of 2013.
Bottom Line: There have been some studies that have looked at player performance when returning from an ACL injury, with performance being reduced post-injury. Considering that Wayne will be 35 going on 36 entering this year, he will most likely be brought along slowly to get his conditioning up to par, but should be able to participate in training camp on a limited basis. All reports are pointing to Wayne being ready for Week 1 with minimal restrictions, even though he’ll only be 9 months removed from his surgery. Wayne has been Andrew Luck’s favorite target and security blanket since Luck has entered the league, so the situation he is returning to should allow him to remain relevant fantasy-wise. Football players who are in the first year of recovery after an ACL have some difficulty trusting the knee early on, but show more confidence in the leg as the season progresses. I like Wayne as a later-round pick with some upside just based on who is throwing him the ball.
Meniscus Repair: The meniscus is a c-shaped cartilage disc that sits in between the femur (upper leg) and tibia (lower leg). Its main job is to be a shock absorber when putting pressure through the leg. If the meniscus is torn or compromised, it can cause pain and at times cause the knee to lock or buckle due to it restricting proper motion in the knee. Depending on the location of the tear, it can either be repaired to allow the tissue to fully heal, or the portion that is torn can be removed with the knee still being able to function. Johnson underwent surgery to repair the meniscus in January.
Bottom Line: A lot of talk has been made about Johnson’s knee being arthritic in nature and that it will affect his ability to play at a high level. I’m not overly worried about the degenerative changes in his knee, as that is highly likely to show up in the majority of NFL running backs, even people who aren’t high level athletes. There have been studies that have shown poor correlation of arthritic changes in the knee with pain levels, so it’s tough to make that assumption, especially in elite athletes. I am more worried about whether or not the repair of the meniscus is healing properly and if it will allow Johnson the ability to cut and twist on that knee without restrictions. The meniscus gets very poor blood supply, which can cause poor healing rates, so if the repair isn’t healing properly, it can still cause pain which Johnson might have to play through. He’s landed in a good situation with Chris Ivory to help reduce the load each game, which should improve his ability to be fresher in the long run. He’s been one of the more durable backs in the league (he’s missed only 1 game during his career), so even though there is some risk with regards to playing time, he still can be plenty productive if he gets enough touches each game.
Lisfranc Surgery: A Lisfranc injury is an injury to the structures of the foot where the bones of the middle of the foot (midfoot) meet the front part of the foot (forefoot). The main function of this region is to help stabilize the foot and dissipate forces as pressure is put on the area when landing and pushing off the ground to walk or run.
Bottom Line: Locker has been participating in OTA’s with minimal restrictions and states that he is feeling no lingering issues with his foot after undergoing Lisfranc surgery in November. The most recent quarterback to return from a Lisfranc surgery was Matt Schaub in 2011. His recovery ultimately took him 10 months to return for the beginning of the 2012-2013 season, which is exactly the same timetable that Locker is going through currently. Locker could be an intriguing option as a steamer due to the presence of head coach Wisenhunt and Locker's ability on the ground, but Jake's health remains the big question mark in his NFL career.
Rotator Cuff Repair: The shoulder is made up of a ball and socket joint, with the majority of its stability coming from muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The rotator cuff is a group of 4 muscles that help stabilize the head of the humerus (ball) in the socket (glenoid). If the rotator cuff is injured, it can prevent an athlete from being able to lift their arm overhead or in other directions without pain.
Bottom Line: You don’t hear too much about rotator cuff injuries in football players unless they fall on the shoulder which can cause a traumatic tear. Pierce played through a number of injuries last year, which led to a very underwhelming performance on the field, but many are expecting a bounce back year especially with Ray Rice’s potential suspension. Gary Kubiak’s newly installed zone blocking scheme could play to Pierce’s strengths, leading to heavy involvement in the offense as the season progresses. There are still questions as to how the Ravens offensive line is going to gel, but Pierce has an opportunity to be the primary back in Baltimore if Rice misses significant time or doesn’t get off to a strong start. Keep an eye on Rice’s suspension, I can see hid ADP rising as soon as we get the verdict.