Realistic Projections for Every NFL Star Returning from Injury in 2014

Eric Mack@@EricMackFantasyFantasy Football Lead WriterJune 30, 2014

Realistic Projections for Every NFL Star Returning from Injury in 2014

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    Injury can cloud a player's value in fantasy football—for better or for worse. We either cannot imagine him being 100 percent and productive (the Seattle Seahawks' Percy Harvin), or we just haven't seen him be anything but outstanding (the Atlanta Falcons' Julio Jones).

    We break down the NFL's top stars returning from serious injury in 2014, providing updates on where their health stands and realistic projections on their production for fantasy owners.

    Being labeled injury-prone by fantasy analysts isn't always a bad thing. Injury can sometimes make a player fall to a lower level than he should. We chronicle some of those cases (read: the Philadelphia Eagles' Jeremy Maclin) here, too. 

Running Back Arian Foster, Houston Texans

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    Age: 27, but will turn 28 in August

    Injury: Back surgery (herniated disc)

    FantasyPros.com Consensus Ranking: No. 12 overall, No. 9 running back

     

    Arian Foster has been working fully in OTAs this spring, so much so, the new regime has an expanded role for their feature back. Foster has always been a three-down back, but new coach Bill O'Brien figures to feature him heavily in the passing game. With Ryan Fitzpatrick the starting quarterback, Foster will be a popular target, O'Brien told Dave Zangaro of CSNHouston.com.

    In the past, we've had guys like Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead in this offense that have filled those types of roles, and now it looks like definitely Arian will be able to do that and more. ... 

    He's got really good hand-eye coordination. He's got good hands. He's an instinctive player so he has a good idea about how to get open. And he enjoys being involved in the passing game, both on the protection basis and then routes. He's had a good OTA period for us.

    The passing involvement is what is going to keep Foster among the candidates to select in Round 1 of fantasy drafts this summer. His receiving totals have dipped each of the past three seasons, but he could realistically challenge for career highs in those categories in O'Brien's short-, rhythm-passing system.

    Projections: 1,050 rushing yards, 60 receptions for 550 yards and 12 combined touchdowns

Wide Receiver Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons

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    Age: 25

    Injury: Foot surgery (screw placed to stabilize twice-fractured bone)

    FantasyPros.com Consensus Ranking: No. 17 overall, No. 6 wide receiver

     

    Julio Jones was limited to running in OTAs, but he told Lindsay H. Jones of USA Today he is merely biding his time to be sure his surgically stabilized foot is 100 percent for Week 1 of the season.

    It is a serious injury, and knowing that I broke the same bone in a different spot over the course of two years. So it's a very serious matter, and we're not trying to play with it.

    We're taking all the precautions before throwing me back out there and just saying, 'He's ready to go.' I feel great, I feel good, but at the same time, we have to take it slow because the season is still far away.

    Jones told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Michael Cunningham after minicamp he has changed the focus of his strength training to lessen the impact on his foot, which had a screw inserted:

    I am back doing the little things I used to do. I am back to the old Julio. I feel like I am actually stronger now. I've been doing back squats loading up and getting my quads more stronger more so than my hamstrings.

    That might have been a problem as well. (I'm trying) to balance my strength in my quads and my glutes to make sure everything is equal so I don't put that amount of force and pressure on the outside of my foot.

    The fact Jones has had this injury before, according to CBS Sports' Pete Prisco, is both good and bad news. Sure, there can be another relapse of the injury, but he also has proven he can come back from it to be an explosive NFL receiver. He still is a potential fantasy monster among wide receivers.

    Projections: 80 receptions, 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns

Running Back Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Age: 25

    Injury: Shoulder surgery to repair torn labrum

    FantasyPros.com Consensus Ranking: No. 24 overall, No. 14 running back

     

    Doug Martin's shoulder surgery would be problematic for his profession if he were a pitcher in baseball or even an NFL quarterback. As a running back, he should be just fine after being cleared to participate in OTAs, as he tweeted in late May.

    While the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted Charlie Sims in the third round and new head coach Lovie Smith has hinted toward a rotation of their backs, Martin is still going to be a workhorse. Smith told the Tampa Times Greg Auman:

    What I've said is I like Doug a lot. Doug's a good football player. Everywhere I've ever been, if you look at my history, our history, we've played more than one running back. We had a great running back in Thomas Jones, and we drafted Cedric Benson and played them both. One running back just can't make it through the season.

    Smith also told Auman the talk about limiting Martin's role this coming season has been overblown.

    That chatter, that's that baseball chatter before a guy gets to bat: 'Hey, batter, batter, swing' stuff. Don't pay any attention to that. Doug's a good football player. He knows that. You don't see Doug complaining. He knows what our plans are for him.

    Martin won't repeat his surprising success of his rookie season, but it won't be because he is limited by injury or a running-back rotation. Heck, the threat of backs taking touches from Martin stands to make him a great value if he slips into the second round in drafts.

    Projections: 1,100 rushing yards and 50 receptions for 450 yards, with 10 combined touchdowns

Tight End Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

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    Age: 25

    Injury: Knee surgery to repair torn ACL and MCL

    FantasyPros.com Consensus Ranking: No. 42 overall, No. 3 tight end

     

    The reports have been promising on Rob Gronkowski's latest injury rehabilitation. Coming back from career-threatening injuries has become a rite of spring for Gronk. The Boston Herald's Jeff Howe reports Gronk progressed to running uphill sprints by the middle of this month.

    Adrian Peterson had a similarly timed reconstructive knee surgery (December) and was able to return for Week 1 of the following season. Gronk is on schedule, even if the Pats and Gronk figure to be far more patient throughout the process.

    Even if Gronk is able to start games out of the gate, the risk for other injuries remains high with a tight end who is as physical and plays with a reckless disregard for his body. Gronk is fun to watch for those reasons, and great to have in fantasy, but only when healthy.

    Draft Gronk earlier this year than last, because there is less uncertainty about his recovery timetable, but you will be holding your breath week to week.

    Projections: 60 receptions, 825 yards and 11 touchdowns

Wide Receiver Percy Harvin, Seattle Seahawks

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Age: 26

    Injury: Hip surgery to repair a torn labrum

    FantasyPros.com Consensus Ranking: No. 51 overall, No. 21 wide receiver

     

    Harvin's return from hip surgery was relatively complete last season, as he made big plays in the Super Bowl, but his consistent injury woes are what should concern fantasy owners going forward. Harvin might not have a chronic injury, right, but he tends to be injured chronically.

    Harvin gave the obligatory "best shape of his career" tale this spring, as the Seahawks' official Twitter account quoted him saying: "This is probably the best I've felt since before college."

    Everyone tends to say that before the real action gets under way. Proceed with caution as always here.

    Projections: 65 receptions for 850 yards and seven touchdowns

Wide Receiver Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    Age: 26

    Injury: Knee surgery to repair a torn ACL

    FantasyPros.com Consensus Ranking: No. 73 overall, No. 29 wide receiver

     

    Maclin is woefully underrated right now. Fantasy pundits are selecting him well after Percy Harvin and putting him in the same risk pool as Gronkowski, who had reconstructive knee surgery late in the season as opposed to before it. 

    Heck, Maclin is the No. 1 injury-risk sleeper in fantasy this season. The risk is relatively low, and the reward is potentially high...like through the roof in that aggressive Chip Kelly offense.

    Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports Maclin has been unlimited in OTAs this spring. That is good news, because the Philadelphia Eagles released DeSean Jackson this winter and need a No. 1 wide receiver.

    If Maclin stays healthy and plays even close to his pre-injury form, we are looking at a career year and a No. 1 fantasy wideout. If he truly falls out of the top 20 receivers, as he currently is above, thank his injury, don't hold your breath over it.

    Projections: 80 receptions for 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns

Wide Receiver Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Age: 35

    Injury: Knee surgery to repair a torn ACL

    FantasyPros.com Consensus Ranking: No. 85 overall, No. 36 wide receiver

     

    There are a number of factors working against Reggie Wayne.

    First, even if he was 100 percent, he would be the oldest starting wide receiver in the NFL—about half-a-year older than the Baltimore Ravens' Steve Smith. Second, he won't have the full calendar year of recovery time from his knee reconstruction as Jeremy Maclin has had.

    Finally, the Indianapolis Colts have a myriad options in their passing game to target, including Hakeem Nicks, T.Y. Hilton, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen.

    That doesn't mean the future Hall of Fame candidate won't be worth drafting in fantasy. You just should expect him to get picked on name recognition more than his potential production. He is not going to be a good value on draft day.

    Projections: 70 receptions for 840 yards and four touchdowns

Tight End Jermichael Finley, Free Agent

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Age: 27

    Injury: Neck (spinal-fusion surgery)

    FantasyPros.com Consensus Ranking: NR overall, No. 37 tight end

     

    You can debate Jermichael Finley as a star, just as much as debating whether he will ever play again. Finley remains on the free-agent market as he waits to be cleared by doctors on a team-by-team basis, according to Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

    Finley is a potential fantasy starter in the right situation and a clean bill of health. Neither of those variables are clear right now. In addition to following the news reports of Finley's whereabouts this summer, we should all be keeping up on his health as well.

    Injury can make for some fantasy sleepers. It can also put your fantasy season to sleep.

     

    Note: We used the Expert Consensus Rankings produced by FantasyPros.com in each slide.

    Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, was the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this past season. He is now an NFL featured writer here. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.