When game-breaking wide receiver Julio Jones broke a bone in his right foot in Week 5, the championship aspirations of many of his fantasy owners went in the same direction as the Atlanta Falcons’ season, that is to say directly south.
With 580 yards to that point, Jones was on pace to record a season for the ages. The No. 6 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft had per-game averages projecting out to 1,856 yards over a full season, which would have surpassed Josh Gordon’s league leading total by more than 200 yards and been the second highest single-season mark in NFL history.
Word out of Falcons’ camp is Jones has not had any setbacks with his foot as the 2014 season approaches. Coach Mike Smith isn’t taking any chances though, limiting Jones to practicing every other day. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan told reporters earlier this week Jones “looked explosive” and was running crisp patterns.
Prospective owners will want to monitor his progress throughout training camp and the preseason, but Jones and his big upside provide a perfect example of a player coming back from injury who’s worth targeting early in fantasy drafts (say, late in the second round of standard scoring leagues). His average draft position (ADP) is 20, per Fantasy Pros, and he’s the No. 6 wide receiver in my rankings.
Below are some other players coming off injury to include (or avoid) on your draft boards:
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots: It’s no surprise the Patriots are taking it easy with Gronkowski as their most important offensive player other than Tom Brady works his way back from a torn ACL. Gronkowski didn’t even make the trip to Richmond this week to join his teammates in joint practices with the Washington Redskins, meaning it’s highly unlikely he’ll participate in Thursday’s preseason game at FedEx Field.
Still Gronk’s ADP is 30, which is about right for a TE1 who had 17 touchdowns in 2011 and when healthy is neck-and-neck with Jimmy Graham for the best in the business, fantasy or reality. Don’t pass on him if he’s available in Round 3 or later.
Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers: After rushing for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie, Martin missed 10 games last season with a torn labrum. Martin does not have a track record of being brittle, so if he’s available early in the third round, draft him despite reports of his workload perhaps being decreased.
After all, an injured shoulder doesn’t figure to have the same impact as say, a torn ACL, for a running back. Fantasy owners apparently are aware of that too, making Martin’s ADP 22.
Dennis Pitta, TE, Ravens: Baltimore’s offense just wasn’t the same without its top tight end for the first 12 games of last season because of a fractured and dislocated hip. Pitta was able to get on the field for the final month but was barely a factor. Now he says he’s 100 percent, and the Ravens seem to think so too after signing Pitta to a five-year, $32 million contract in March. When healthy, Pitta is a top-10 TE1 who should come off the board in Round 7 or 8.
Jeremy Maclin, WR, Eagles: Maclin missed parts of 2011 and 2012 with injuries, and a torn ACL kept him out all of last season, so there’s no doubt he’s a risky pick on draft day. But his upside is just too high to overlook, especially considering he’s the No. 1 wide receiver in an offense that can rack up yards and points at a staggering rate. Look for value in Maclin in Round 7 or later.
Arian Foster, RB, Texans: Once in the mix to be the first running back off the board, Foster had back surgery last season that had him considering retirement. That revealing piece of news doesn’t sound in line with a player whose ADP is 11, but that’s where Foster is being drafted this year. Given his age (28) and the nature of his injury, Foster has too many red flags to be selected that high.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers: In spite of his many physical gifts, Stewart just hasn’t been able to stay on the field. He’s missed 17 games in the last two seasons, including amassing a career-low 180 yards in 2013. Stewart tore an MCL last season, pulled his hamstring three weeks ago and operates in a time-share backfield, making him far too risky to come off the board as early as his ADP of 61 indicates.
Reggie Wayne, WR, Colts: A torn ACL ended Wayne’s season after seven games, but age is as much of a concern as injury when it comes to drafting the Colts’ second all-time leading receiver. At 35, Wayne has looked sharp in training camp, but T.Y. Hilton is on his way to becoming the undisputed No. 1 wide receiver, and the Colts added Hakeem Nicks for another downfield presence who can win 50-50 balls.
Owen Daniels, TE, Ravens: The Texans released Daniels after a leg injury kept him out of the final 11 games last season. He may receive an occasional opportunity with the Ravens under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, but Pitta is the clear No. 1 at the position, and with the arrival of WR Steve Smith, those short and intermediate targets figure to be in much shorter supply.
Jermichael Finley, TE, Free Agent: The playing status of the former Packers tight end remains uncertain following neck surgery. There have been indications perhaps the free agent would re-sign with Green Bay, where he has played his entire six-year career. Even if that scenario unfolds, there’s too much risk to draft Finley given the severity of his injury and his failure to play more than 14 games in any season.
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