On very rare occasions, players coming back from a devastating injury are able to hush naysayers with incredible record-breaking seasons that nobody saw coming. Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson returned to action to begin the 2012 season at full-strength after tearing his ACL and MCL a mere nine months prior. His speedy and successful return to the field was so encouraging for other injured players that the 'Adrian Peterson effect' was born. It's basically a new expectation that players can return to the field following major surgery quicker than ever before, despite what doctors tell them is a conventional recovery time. You could call it "Magic" like Coldplay, but really it's just the wonders of the human body.
When a player is working his way back from surgery to repair a severe injury (ahem, Rob Gronkowski) all we want to know is if he will be ready to jump, sprint and cut around the gridiron when Week 1 rolls around ... you know, for our fantasy drafts. Last season, several early round draft picks went from stud to out for the season in a matter of seconds. Where are they at now in their rehab and where should you be drafting them for 2014? Let's find out.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins: Robert Griffin III finally looks 100 percent healthy after he struggled to succeed last year on a hobbled knee that he had clearly not fully recovered from. He might have rushed back after surgery to repair torn ACL and LCL ligaments in early 2013 and was shut down at the end of the year to preserve his body for the long-term. Although he managed nearly the same amount of passing yards in 2013 as he did in his rookie campaign, he didn't score one rushing touchdown last year compared to seven in 2012. He also had 326 more rush yards as a rookie than he did last year. Heading into his third pro season, the young quarterback and the Redskins have a new coach in Jay Gruden and a completely new outlook. Griffin's value for 2014 is on the rise and the latest word is that for the first time in his career, RGIII will have the green light to call his own audibles at the line. His mental development and understanding of the game at the NFL level has increased immensely, and DeSean Jackson has been added to an already potent passing attack. Hopefully all of these factors combined with his health and natural athletic ability will translate into fantasy stardom once again. He should be a top-10 fantasy quarterback when all is said and done in 2014.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots: For the sake of fantasy owners' sanity, let's hope Gronkowski's return to the starting lineup for the Patriots this year is not a repeat of 2013--a year in which he only played in seven games before a season-ending hit to his right knee, tearing his ACL and MCL. As for his 2014 fantasy value, he will no doubt be the second tight end coming off draft boards this summer behind Jimmy Graham, but proceed with caution and have a backup plan as he's a huge risk-reward pick. Those willing to take the risk should expect a headache each week on whether the Pats will start him or not. Get used to holding your breath every time Gronk reaches to catch a ball. There haven't been any negative reports regarding his rehab yet, and he'll be six months removed from surgery when training camp starts later this month. It's understandable that New England will want to limit his activity leading up to the season opener in Miami, but he should be all systems go.
Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons: Jones went down with a foot injury last season in Week 5 against the New York Jets. It was early enough for fantasy owners to recover by grabbing another reciever like rookie breakout Keenan Allen off the waiver wire, but it was still a detrimental blow to starting lineups. Jones will be nine months removed from surgery to repair his problematic foot when training camp begins later this month. His 2014 outlook is positive as all reports point to the Falcons having him ready to fly in the team's opener against the Saints which will likely be an all-around aerial assault for both teams. As with Gronkowski, there is some re-injury risk involved in drafting Jones but the sky is the limit for the fourth-year Falcon. Target monster Gonzalez has officially retired and Jones' counterpart Roddy White should also be back to full strength to distract opposing defenses. Jones won't last past the second round no matter what the format.
Reggie Wayne, WR, Indianapolis Colts: Ironman wideout Reggie Wayne hadn't missed a game dating back to the 2002 season until he tore his ACL in an unfortunate non-contact play in Week 7 against the Broncos. He underwent surgery in October, so he'll have had nine months of rehab time when the Colts commence training camp this month. Although he says he is healthier than he's ever been, head coach Chuck Pagano doesn't want to risk over-working Wayne in camp and preseason sessions. Entering his age-35 season, Wayne may still be Andrew Luck's safety net, but the Colts also have T.Y. Hilton and Hakeem Nicks in their receiving corps and tight ends Colby Fleener and Dwayne Allen (who is returning from hip surgery) to target. Wayne only had two touchdowns before his injury last season, but he's been consistently reliable for anywhere between 75-100 receptions and has eclipsed the thousand yard mark eight times in his career. Don't reach too high for Wayne in your draft but he's a solid bye week fill-in for early round reciever picks like Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall or Jordy Nelson who all have Week 9 byes. Wayne has tremendous value if he's still on the board in rounds eight or nine.
Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers began last season with a 0-8 record, six games of which running back Doug Martin played in before a torn labrum cut his season short and required surgery. In the six games he started in 2013, Martin managed one touchdown and only eclipsed 100 rushing yards in one game, proving to be one heck of a fantasy bust as he was a top-five pick at his position in drafts. Heading into 2014 training camp, Martin is 100 percent healthy but according to the team's new offensive coordinator, Jeff Tedford, he shouldn't expect as much of a workload as he has seen in the past which will diminish his fantasy value. Tedford has a history of using multiple backs in his schemes and the Bucs have several capable rushers in Mike James, Bobby Rainey and rookie Charles Sims who is shaping up to be a passing down go-to. Curb your expectations for Martin in 2014 as he shouldn't go before the third or fourth rounds.
Matt Franciscovich is an Associate Fantasy Editor at NFL.com. Practice makes perfect, so he encourages you to do some mock drafts in preparation for the fantasy season. You can follow him on Twitter at @m_franciscovich