When Thomas Jones went down in Sunday's practice and limped off the field, a collective gasp could be heard from both New York Jets fans and fantasy football owners alike.
The veteran running back, who was acquired from Chicago in the offseason, had sustained what was described as an undisclosed leg ailment. While X-rays weren't required, Jones didn't attempt to run after he was hurt and had an MRI. The exam showed a strained right calf muscle and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, called it a "week-to-week injury." Jones walked with a limp on Monday and spent most of the morning session doing calisthenics and working on a hand bike. He also had a small wrap on the affected leg.
The Jets are usually tight-lipped about player injuries, but head coach Eric Mangini did seem confident that Jones would return sooner than later.
"I can tell you that he is working extremely hard, and he'll be back as quickly as he can," Mangini told the New York Daily News. "Thomas has a pretty strong track record. He's only missed three games in I can't tell you how many opportunities. He's been pretty durable."
The most recent diagnosis on Jones is that he will miss one to two weeks, including Friday's preseason contest against Minnesota. However, Rosenhaus told the Associated Press that Jones said he was "confident he would be ready" for the team's regular-season opener against AFC East rival New England.
The Jets ranked 20th in the NFL in rushing offense last season and the addition of Jones was seen as the solution to that problem. His presence was felt in the team's first preseason contest, as Jones carried the football eight times for 27 yards and scored on a one-yard run in a 31-16 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
Barring serious setbacks, Jones should still be seen as an attractive No. 2 fantasy back and well worth a second- or third-round selection. However, his ailment does show the importance of the draft handcuff, so owners who land Jones should also use a middle- to late-round pick on backup Leon Washington.
JULIUS JONES SEES MORE WORK
Now that we've discussed Thomas Jones, let's move onto his little brother Julius. One of the few No. 1 backs that has less fantasy value than his immediate reserve, he enters 2007 in a contract year and with a lot to prove. Jones, who seemed thrilled with the head coaching move from Bill Parcells to Wade Phillips, is motivated to show that all the doubters and naysayers have greatly underestimated him at the NFL level.
|Marion Barber receives all the press in fantasy football, but Julius Jones could become a tremendous value in drafts.|
In order to prepare for this season, Jones worked out with his brother Thomas in Arizona rather than with his teammates. Since Jones left the lines of communication open with Phillips, the new coach didn't have an issue with the decision.
Jones is coming off the first 1,000-yard season of his NFL career. But the presence of Marion Barber, who led the NFC with 14 rushing touchdowns and had 16 overall, made Jones a lesser option in the world of fantasy football. But under Phillips' watch, Jones is getting more carries in the red zone and catching more passes out of the backfield in Cowboys training camp. Those duties were handed to Barber last season.
"[Bill] didn't give me a chance to really do anything as far as short yardage and red zone," Jones told the Dallas Morning News. I'm fine with coming out sometimes, that's just the way it is. But I think they will give me an opportunity to try that in the red zone, third down and goal line and things like that."
Jones realizes that Barber will remain prominent in the offensive attack - the two shared series in the team's preseason win over Indianapolis -- but that fact that he is seeing a greater role in practice could be a sign that Phillips won't automatically remove him from the game in third-down and goal-line situations.
Barber's nose for the end zone is well documented - he has averaged one rushing touchdown in every 14.4 carries - so he will remain the more popular pick in fantasy drafts. But with Jones falling into the sixth and seventh rounds, the former Notre Dame standout could become a terrific bargain as a No. 3 fantasy runner.
NEWS & NOTES
-- Reports out of Pittsburgh indicate that Willie Parker will play in Saturday's preseason game against the Washington Redskins. Parker has missed practice and the Steelers' first two preseason contests due to a sore knee, but he is back to a point where he can return to action. Fast Willie will see limited work against the Skins, but he should see plenty of time of the field in the team's fourth preseason game (Aug. 26 vs. Philadelphia). Unless he has a setback, Parker should remain a surefire first-round selection in drafts.
-- 49ers quarterback Alex Smith completed 4 of 5 passes for 58 yards and led his offense on two first- quarter scoring drives in Sunday night's 17-13 loss to the Denver Broncos. Head coach Mike Nolan was very impressed with Smith's performance and singled out a difficult throw to Arnaz Battle on a tight post route as the play of a confident signal-caller. A viable sleeper candidate, Smith's stock will soar if he continues to be a playmaker in preseason action. Fantasy owners shouldn't hesitate to consider him in the late rounds.
--Vernand Morency, who has missed most of training camp due to an injured knee, is still a few weeks from returning to the practice field. He will miss the Packers' next two preseason contests, and his status for the regular-season opener against Philadelphia is now in doubt. That's bad news for the Packers but good news for the fantasy value of rookie Brandon Jackson, who is now the favorite to finish camp atop the depth chart. The Nebraska product should now be considered a far more viable No. 3 fantasy running back.
--Reports out of Kansas City now have Priest Holmes as a long shot to make the Chiefs 53-man roster if Larry Johnson ends his holdout. Holmes, who is looking to make a miraculous recovery from a neck injury, hasn't even practiced with the team and is believed to still be more than a week from action. The likely backfield depth chart to open the regular season includes Johnson, Michael Bennett and Kolby Smith, with Holmes on the outside looking in. Unless injuries occur, Holmes' value in fantasy drafts is null and void.
--The New Orleans Saints might have lost Joe Horn, but the team is still loaded at the wide receiver position. Marques Colston and Devery Henderson, who will miss two weeks for an injured hamstring, are atop the depth chart. Veteran David Patten will line up in the slot as the third wideout, and both Terrance Copper and rookie Robert Meachem will also be prominent in the offense. With Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush in the backfield to keep defenses honest, Drew Brees should be in line for another huge season.