Training camp has not been a good place to be if you play the wide receiver position.
Over the last few weeks, a number of big-time fantasy wideouts have fallen prey to the injury bug. None of those players is more prominent than Steve Smith, who injured his shoulder during Monday's practice and had to be carted off the field.
X-rays on the shoulder were negative, but Smith was in serious pain after the collision with cornerback Chris Gamble that caused the injury. Smith stayed on the ground for several minutes and eventually kicked his helmet in frustration.
The Charlotte Observer reports he was seen an hour later walking in the team cafeteria wearing a sling.
"Steve has a high threshold of pain, and he's in a lot of pain, so something's off-kilter," said coach John Fox.
While no concrete reports about his status for the start of the regular season have surfaced, Smith's agent, Derrick Fox, told the Charlotte Observer that his client would likely miss at least two weeks with what appears to be a shoulder strain.
As it stands, Smith should be back in time for Week 1 and remains the fifth-ranked wideout on NFL.com. However, any negative news that makes him a question mark for the regular-season opener against the Eagles (Sept. 13) could push Anquan Boldin or Reggie Wayne ahead of Smith at the position. In the event that he is forced to miss time, Muhsin Muhammad would see a temporary increase in value. Dwayne Jarrett would also be pushed into a more prominent role, but his draft stock remains minimal.
In Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers have lost their top receiver, Antonio Bryant, for the remainder of the preseason.
Bryant, one of the top sleepers in fantasy football last season, has been diagnosed with a torn meniscus that will require arthroscopic surgery. Coach Raheem Morris said Bryant injured the knee back in December when he lit up the Panthers for 200 yards and two touchdowns during a sparkling performance on Monday Night Football. Bryant has had occasional issues with the knee since that contest and had missed practice when it swelled up late last week.
"It's just not worth it," Morris said. "Let's get him ready for Dallas. Let's sit him down for three weeks. He probably could come back the last preseason game, but I probably ... won't play him and just wait for Dallas."
While the operation is a routine procedure, Bryant could have a slow start to the season. First off, he won't have a chance to get comfortable in the offense of coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski. Furthermore, Bryant will be hard pressed to gain a rapport with Luke McCown or Byron Leftwich, who are considered the two top candidates to be under center for Morris.
Aside from the knee problems and his potential lack of rapport with his new quarterback, Bryant has a few other circumstances that make him a risk in fantasy drafts. One of those circumstances is the switch in offensive philosophies from former coach Jon Gruden to Jagodzinski, who will lean on Derrick Ward, Earnest Graham and the run more often. Bryant will also lose targets to tight end Kellen Winslow, who was acquired from the Browns in an offseason trade.
With so many questions about a player who has been inconsistent from a statistical perspective during the course of his NFL career, it's hard to envision a scenario where Bryant will duplicate the 83 receptions, 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns he produced last season. Fantasy leaguers should see him as more of a high-end No. 3 wideout.
The final big-name wideout who's been sidelined due to injuries is Donnie Avery, who will miss the next four to six weeks with a stress fracture in his left foot. He underwent X-rays on what was termed a "sore" foot over the weekend, but no breaks were found. However, further tests revealed a more serious ailment.
"The MRI showed more than we thought," coach Steve Spagnuolo told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch through a team spokesman.
Avery, considered a fantasy sleeper after the offseason release of Torry Holt, will miss the remainder of the preseason and could be out for the first two weeks of the regular season. Stress fractures can take longer to heal, so Avery's status for the Rams' first few games is very much up in the air. That makes him less attractive in drafts and more of a mid- to low-end No. 3 fantasy wideout.
In Avery's absence, Spagnuolo will lean on Laurent Robinson and Keenan Burton as the top options in the pass attack. Robinson, listed ahead of Burton on the initial depth chart, is now worth a late-round pick.
News and notes
- » The Kansas City Star reports Dwayne Bowe is currently not in the Chiefs starting lineup and could be in the doghouse of coach Todd Haley. The wideout will no doubt be atop the depth chart when the regular season starts, but Bowe has struggled with drops in camp and isn't responding to the team's new, more discipline regime. Bowe remains a breakout candidate, but fantasy leaguers should still monitor this situation.
- » According to reports, Jets coach Rex Ryan will significantly increase the role of Leon Washington in the team's backfield this season. In fact, he could finish with 250-300 touches in Ryan's run-based offense. While this is great news for the value of Washington, it also indicates a far less prominent role for Thomas Jones compared to 2008. With Shonn Greene also in the mix, Jones' draft stock is taking a serious hit.
- » The Detroit Free Press is reporting that Lions coach Jim Schwartz has confirmed that Calvin Johnson's thumb is merely sprained and will not keep him out of action for a significant period of time. In fact, the superstar wide receiver is listed as day to day. Johnson, who ranks fourth among wideouts behind Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson and Randy Moss on NFL.com, appears to be a safe player to draft in all leagues.
- » Michael Vick is still a free agent, but it might only be a matter of time before he signs with a new team. In fact, former Colts coach (and Vick's friend) Tony Dungy believes the veteran will sign a new contract within the next week. Unless he lands with a team that has a very shaky quarterback situation, Vick will be no more than a reserve or "Wildcat" contributor with little value as it pertains to fantasy football.
- » The Palm Beach Post is reporting that Ronnie Brown will be more involved in the Dolphins' pass attack this season. The veteran runner caught just 33 passes in 2008, so fantasy leaguers can expect an increase in that number. Brown, who now has one full season under his belt after reconstructive knee surgery, is also in a contract year. He could turn into one of the better values in fantasy football drafts.