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Andrew Luck and Cam Newton fantasy football outlook

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Cam Newton and Andrew Luck have a lot in common.

Both were first-overall NFL draft selections in 2011 and 2012, respectively. They're both perennial top-five picks at their position in fantasy football drafts. They endure countless sacks and physical batterings year after year due to their playing styles and more recently, weaknesses with their offensive lines.

And unless you've been hibernating for the past six months you've probably heard that both quarterbacks underwent shoulder surgery on their throwing arms this past offseason.

If we're being completely honest, the news surrounding the potential healthy return of both Newton and Luck has not been promising at this point in the preseason.

Since many fantasy owners rely on both signal-callers as well as the top skill-position players surrounding them to anchor their fake squads, it makes sense to investigate this situation further to determine how concerned we should be about the pair's outlook for 2017 from a fantasy perspective. After all, the first full slate of preseason games is already underway.

WHAT WE KNOW


Newton suffered a partial rotator cuff tear in Week 14 trying to make a tackle after throwing a pick. He underwent surgery on March 30th per the Panthers' official website and was given a 16-week (four months) rehab estimate. Newton was on track and received clearance to throw short passes for a few training camp sessions in late July, but was shut down with shoulder soreness by the following week. He did some light throwing on the side earlier this week, but it's no surprise that he sat out the Panthers' preseason opener against Houston.

Luck's procedure to repair a torn labrum suffered back in 2015 was approximately two months prior to Newton's (mid-January). The Colts quarterback has reportedly yet to throw anything but tennis balls as he gradually rebuilds his strength and throwing motion. It seems like a new quote from Colts brass comes out every day regarding Luck's potential return, but with no real clarity. The latest is that his timetable remains unknown, including his status for the regular season opener on September 10th in Los Angeles.

Given their respective ADPs, fantasy drafters are not apprehensive about either quarterback just yet. Both are still among the top-10 signal-callers being drafted. But looking at the recent drop off in ADP since August 1 (see below chart), perhaps we're beginning to see a bit of fear set in. Rightfully so as fantasy drafts ramp up in the coming weeks.

Fantasy Football ADP for Andrew Luck, Cam Newton

The current uncertainty raises the risk of drafting either player, along with the risk in drafting the weapons that surround them in their respective offenses (T.Y. Hilton, Kelvin Benjamin, Donte Moncrief, Greg Olsen, etc).

WHY THE DIFFERENCE IN RECOVERY TIME?


Now, I'm not a doctor but I can read. And if you're reading this, you can too. So, it's important to note that not all injuries, surgeries, or rehabilitation programs are alike. One might see surface-level headlines like "surgery on throwing shoulder" and assume both players should be treated equally.

Former Chargers team doctor David J. Chao, MD (also known as @ProFootballDoc on Twitter) penned an enlightening piece on why Luck's recovery is so far behind Newton's given that the former went under the knife two months prior to the latter. It was a different injury, therefore a different procedure that has a different rehab timetable. Information like this goes a long way in deciphering the cryptic missives we receive from teams and coaches regarding recovery periods.

If there's a positive to take away from this situation, it's that we have some concrete examples of starting NFL quarterbacks successfully returning from comparable injuries in the past.

A STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE


A recent example:

For starters, it's worth mentioning that Jay Cutler underwent a procedure last December to repair an injury similar to Luck's. We've already seen Cutler throwing at Dolphins' camp as he gets acquainted with his new team. The dude literally didn't throw a football other than to his kids during the offseason. Again, no two injuries, surgeries and/or bodies are alike, but maybe this is a good signal for Luck's impending return.

Back in 2006:

You might have heard about a guy named Drew Brees. Late in the 2005 season, in Brees' final game as a San Diego Charger, he dislocated his throwing shoulder trying to recover a fumble. Brees had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and partially torn labrum in the offseason and was signed by the Saints that spring. The signing alone indicates that the injury was not a concern for New Orleans. Brees' rehab program was a four-month process and he played in every preseason game that year. There apparently was no holding back during the regular season, as he finished fifth in the league in pass attempts (554). He led the NFL with 4,418 pass yards to go along with 26 touchdowns and earned First-Team All-Pro honors in addition to making the Pro Bowl. The Saints won their division and Brees led his new team to the NFC Championship.

The Sanchize:

You might remember Mark Sanchez taking over under center for the Eagles back in Week 9 of the 2014 season. He had undergone a procedure to repair a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder the previous October and after about six months of rehab was healthy enough to play during the 2014 preseason with no real concerns. Sanchez didn't light the league on fire the way Brees did in 2006. But he did post a career-high 88.4 passer rating and had the second-highest completion percentage, 64.1, of his career. He finished with a very Sanchez-esque 14-11 TD to INT ratio that year but was a streamable fantasy quarterback for a few weeks.

A worst-case scenario:

Chad Pennington's story is somewhat of a different scenario but his experience is useful here nonetheless. Pennington underwent two rotator cuff surgeries on his throwing shoulder and four total shoulder procedures in his career. He underwent rotator cuff surgery in February 2005, was throwing in training camp by August and managed to play in a few preseason games. But he re-injured the same shoulder in Week 3 (late September) and went out for the season, going under the knife again in October. He returned healthy in 2006 and played the full 16-game slate. He finished ninth in the NFL in pass attempts (485), 10th in pass yards (3,352) and had a 17-16 TD to INT ratio. He wasn't a coveted asset in fantasy, but it's comforting to know he managed to play a full season after the two surgeries in a span of eight months. Pennington's career continued for a few years after that 2006 season which is surprising considering some medical experts thought his playing career was in serious jeopardy.

CONCLUSION


Should fantasy owners be drafting these guys with no concerns? Definitely not. There is no certainty that either of them will achieve 100 percent health during the season. As noted above, Brees had to continuously rehab his shoulder throughout the season. But we saw Luck play through his injury last year, and he still managed to be the QB4 in fantasy. A less-than 100 percent Luck/Newton still presents more fantasy upside than some of the other quarterbacks who will be drafted as top-10 options. Just be sure you're aware of the risk involved.

The "success" stories of Brees, Sanchez and Pennington make me feel a little bit better about the outlook for Luck and Newton and less worried that we haven't seen them back to throwing at a high level just yet. They'll get there. The Panthers and Colts are taking things slowly with their franchise quarterbacks, and are doing right to ensure their health in the long term. If that means fantasy owners have to make a tough decision on draft day, so be it.

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