We are less than 25 days away from the draft and it seems like every conversation on the radio/TV is whether Indy will take Luck or RGIII? Does Justin Blackmon have straight line speed to be the first WR taken or is Michael Floyd a better candidate to go first? Could Tampa's selection of Morris Claiborne or Trent Richardson be a revelation of what concerns them more; Blount's fumbling problem or Aqib's legal troubles? All great questions deserving of national attention, but as I and other fantasy mangers prepare for our upcoming drafts the data on incoming rookies should be taken with a grain of salt. What a guy does in College doesn't always translate into what he will do in the NFL.
At this time of the year I'm more interested in updates on players that finished last season on IR. These are the guys that usually fall in a draft, but provide some of the best upside and sleeper potential if you know what to look for. You want to understand how the injury happened, the time it takes to heal from that injury and where the player is in the rehab process. This type of investigation is the closest thing to insider information any of us will ever get and will help in formulating your initial draft strategy.
Let's start by looking at QBs that finished last season on IR.
The Injury: Cutler essentially ended his 2011 campaign because of a thrown pick during the fourth quarter of a Week 11 contest against the Chargers. Cutler tried to tackle Antoine Cason on an interception return and ended up breaking the thumb on his right hand (which also happens to be his throwing hand). The Bears initially kept Cutler off IR with the hopes of a late season or playoff return, but with Caleb Hanie and Josh McCown leading the team those hopes quickly died and it was Week 17 when they officially ended his season.
Offseason Update: The pins in his thumb were removed last December and reports have been consistent that he's fully recovered and will be more than ready for the 2012 season.
Fantasy Outlook: It looks like the Bears are committed to making Cuter a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year in 2012. Before the injury, Jay had thrown 13 TDs and 7 interceptions through 10 games. Blah!!! The Mike Martz experiment had not translated into "The Greatest Show on Grass," so it surprised no one when he "resigned". Since then it's hard to argue that most of the Bear's off-season moves have been designed around making Cutler a better QB.
· Promoted Mike Tice to Offense Coordinator; he confirmed they will utilize a no-huddle offense to leverage Cutler's strengths
· Hired Jeremy Bates as their new QB Coach (was Cutler's former QB Coach in Denver)
· Acquired Brandon Marshall (had 226 receptions, 2,809 yards and 15 TDs when he played with Cutler in Denver ('06-'08)
Cutler will be 100% to start next season and is a strong sleeper pick come draft time. I compare Cutler's situation with Matthew Stafford's. Stafford was coming off a shoulder injury and was drafted in the later rounds, yet ended up being a Top 5 QB. I think you can wait until rounds 7, 8 or 9 to grab Cutler; and if you can, grab Marshall too. I would run the dice on this Double Dagger if I got the chance.
The Injury: Schaub was just another casualty of the debacle that is Albert Haynesworth. Tampa claimed Haynesworth on Nov 10th and then three days later during their Week 10 match-up against Houston, he falls on Schaub's foot causing a Lisfranc fracture. This is the same injury that also sidelined McFadden for the entire season. Houston was initially reluctant to place Schaub on IR hoping he could make a return in the playoffs, but by the time Thanksgiving came Matt was done for the year.
Offseason Update: A patient recovering from a Lisfranc fracture usually waits about 6-12 weeks before putting any weight on their foot. Lucky for Matt, he is 5 months removed from his initial surgery and according to reports is ahead of his rehab schedule and expected to be ready by the start of training camp. One report recently stated that he's been golfing and showing no signs of pain in his foot. I also take into account that the owner of the Texans (Bob McNair) decided against chasing Peyton Manning because of his faith in Schaub and that his injury is not a concern anymore.
Fantasy Outlook: Schaub should be at full strength by the start of Week 1 and I still consider him a #1 QB to start in any fantasy league. He comes back to a team that recently re-signed Arian Foster and Pro Bowl Center Chris Meyers. Plus let's not forget he has one of the best WRs in football that finished last season against a tough Baltimore D with 8 catches for 111 yards (with TJ Yates slinging the ball). I also believe Houston will plan on giving Schaub another weapon by drafting a WR (Kendall Wright or Stephen Hill) in the 1st round.
The Injury: The Broncos and Chiefs have one of the most heated rivalries in all of football so when Matt Cassel left their Week 10 match-up due to injury, the mood in Arrowhead was not good. Initial reports after the game gave the impression that the injury was not serious and that Matt would be ready to play the following week in New England. Within the next two days we learned that Cassel had to have surgery on his broken right hand and that the damage was "pretty severe" according to their Coach at the time -- Todd Haley. A week later he was on IR.
Offseason Update: There haven't been many updates on Cassel's rehabilitated hand but as the saying goes, no news is good news. In actuality, the only reports out of KC about Matt Cassel is that he helped save a woman from a house fire and that new Coach Romeo Crennel and Scott Pioloi are making the starting QB job his to lose. In addition, I think it's safe to assume that the release of Kyle Orton and Tyler Palko and the addition of Brady Quinn translate into a healthy Matt Cassel in 2012.
Fantasy Outlook: During his 9 games last year he only amassed 1,713 passing yards, 10 TDs and 9 interceptions. In all honesty he wasn't having a great season and the whisperings of being a "bust" were starting to spread. His injury couldn't have happened at a better time because he now has another year to prove himself, but this time with the help of a full supporting cast and new Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll. Jamal Charles and TE Tony Moeaki will be back from injury, Dwayne Bowe was franchised tagged and Peyton Hillis is the new addition and expected goal-line vulture. There seems to be strong expectations that Cassel will be a NFL starter come September, but I would avoid drafting him as a fantasy starter. This has nothing to do with his injury and everything to do with the number of more talented QBs ahead of him.
Now let's talk about TEs coming back from IR.
The Injury: No one knows for sure how the injury happened, but Carlson had torn his labrum (shoulder injury) during the month of August and then immediately underwent arthroscopic surgery in September to repair the ligament. John Carlson's 2011 season was over before it even started.
Offseason Update: Back in January, Carlson confirmed his shoulder would be healthy by the start of the 2012 season. It seems that he's still going through rehab and the healing process is moving in the right direction. You can also factor in his recent acquisition by the Vikings as a strong sign he'll be ready to play by the start of the season.
Fantasy Outlook: My guess is that Carlson's injury will not be the reason he's ignored on draft day. He'll be ignored on draft day because the Vikings already have a starting TE. Kyle Rudolph was a 2nd round pick in 2011 and proved he could handle a full workload by playing in 15 games, scoring 3 TDs and not losing the ball once. The addition of Carlson is part of a planned strategy to use two-tight end sets where Carlson will be the #2. Oh yeah, Christian Ponder is still the QB, so there's that also.
The Injury: During last year's lockout, Moeaki had arthroscopic knee surgery and actually started training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. After a few weeks he was removed from the PUP and began participating in practices and playing in preseason games. It was the final preseason game against Green Bay when he went across the middle and was tackled awkwardly. Moeaki ended up tearing his ACL and spent the remainder of the season playing XBOX with Jamal Charles.
Offseason Update: There doesn't seem to be any concern coming out of KC that Moeaki won't be ready for OTAs and minicamps. Standard ACL rehab takes anywhere from 7 to 9 months and seeing that he had his surgery last September, he should be right on track to regain his role as the #1 TE for the Chiefs.
Fantasy Outlook: Moeaki finished his 2010 rookie season with 47 receptions, 556 yards and 3 TDs; although we didn't get to see him play last year, I think he has the ability to be a productive player and asset for the Chiefs in 2012. The only drawback to Moeaki is his proneness to injury. He will be the type of guy that makes you cringe every time he takes a big hit and hesitates to get up, which is why I wouldn't recommend drafting him as a #1 fantasy TE. I like the idea of drafting him as a sleeper late in the draft and stashing him as a bye week filler or nice trade bait if he does become a star.
The Injury: Cooley suffered two injuries last year. One was a lingering knee injury and the other was an unfortunate outcome designed by a poor pass from Rex Grossman. Who would have thought? It was during their Week 6 match-up against the Eagles where Cooley got blasted by a defender and ended up breaking his left hand in multiple places and would need immediate surgery. It was later revealed that he had a fractured index finger. The infamous Dr. James Andrews proceeded over the surgery and also decided to take a look at Chris's knee. The combination of both injuries was enough for the great doctor to recommend Cooley sit out the remainder of 2011.
Offseason Update: There haven't been too many updates concerning his rehab. Cooley has been dealing with a multitude of injuries since 2009 where coincidently enough he broke his ankle playing the Eagles on MNF and landed on IR. He then had arthroscopic knee surgery after the 2010 season which apparently didn't heal to full form and crossed over into last season. Before Chris landed on IR in 2011 he already had his knee drained 15 times during those first 6 weeks. The lack of information and updates on his recovery causes some concern and suspicion that he might not be at full speed come training camp.
Fantasy Outlook: Cooley is entering his 9th season at the age of 30 coming back from a season ending injury (2nd in three years) backing up Fred Davis with a rookie QB leading the offense. In one complete run on sentence I pretty much summed up what you can expect in 2012. The Redskins added a few more receiving options this off-season (Garcon and Morgan) for their shiny new QB and when you combine that with Fred Davis coming off career high 59 receptions and 796 yards I don't see a place for Cooley besides blocking. If anything Cooley would be better off if Washington cut him and the $3.8M in cap space he's worth and let the Giants pick him up. If that happened I would suggest drafting Cooley as a low-end #1 TE (Eli loves TEs) but if he's still in Washington come September I wish him the best of luck on his blogging career.