The optimism that springs eternal in the hearts of fantasy managers might just be trumped by the optimism that a new season brings for players that finished the previous season on the injured reserve. We saw an inordinate amount of injuries this past season that encompassed most every position. Fantasy champions were probably crowned more based on a combination of their ability to trade players away at the perfect time and search the waiver wire for gems than on their ability to draft non-injured skill players. Every year injured players get thrown back into the mix for a chance to breakout and re-prove their worth. A non-exhaustive list of some WRs that ended last year on the IR that might be worth keeping tabs on for the upcoming season is listed below. Good luck in choosing wisely.
Johnny Knox – I can't recall a play that made me cringe more during the slow motion replay than the near crippling hit that Anthony Hargrove laid on Johnny Knox last season. He underwent a surgery in December to stabilize the L1 lumbar vertebrae of his lower spinal column. Although no time table was originally given in regards to recovery, many people believe he will start the season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, even though his representative refutes this theory. If Knox is on the regular season PUP list, he will miss the first six games of the 2012 NFL season. His output from last season was 37 receptions for 727 yards and 2 touchdowns before being knocked out during the Chicago Bears' 14th game of the season. He has only had 2 games of 100+ yards in his career; that doesn't spell good fortune for his 2012 fantasy value (even if he does start the season on the active roster). It would be tough to advocate a fantasy roster spot for Knox in 2012, especially with the addition of Brandon Marshall and the possible acquisition of a WR in round one of the upcoming NFL draft.
Michael Jenkins – A torn meniscus, although not as severe as an ACL tear, effectively halted Michael Jenkins' less than stellar 2011 outing. He had 38 catches for 466 yards and 3 touchdowns. The bright spot of his season was catching Christian Ponder's first career pass for 72 yards against the Green Bay Packers. Jenkins should be healthy for training camp; however, he may be demoted to third fiddle on the Minnesota Vikings roster by week one of the regular season. The Vikings will be placing emphasis on their needs at WR during the NFL draft and there is a better chance that a rookie WR performs better than Jenkins in 2012.
Domenik Hixon – Hixon has played in 2 games over the last two NFL seasons after multiple ACL problems. If you think he will be the next Victor Cruz in 2012, please look elsewhere; place your money on 6'6" Ramses Barden to fulfill that fantasy. Hixon is really only valuable on special teams, if he even makes the New York Giants squad in 2012.
Sidney Rice – It has felt like ages since Sidney Rice hooked up with Brett Favre to score 8 times and produce over 1,300 yards of offense in 2009. At the completion of the 2011 season he had surgery on both of his shoulders and it is currently hopeful that he will be ready for training camp. The Seattle Seahawks better be extremely hopeful he plays considering he is guaranteed $7 million dollars this upcoming season. If he is on track to play, consider him a very nice option for ex-Packer Matt Flynn and deserving of a Flex position/low WR2 roster spot on your fantasy team.
Mike Williams – In December, Mike Williams broke both his ankle and fibula; in February he was off of crutches. Does this mean he will be ready for organized team activities in April? Although he is anticipating playing below his 240 pound playing weight from the past two seasons, he probably will not be anything but a 4th or 5th option at WR for Matt Flynn in 2012. He did go to USC, so Pete Carroll would know best if Williams is capable of making big plays in 2012 and moving up the depth chart; however, I'm not holding my breath.
Kenny Britt – Only a half a year has passed since 6'3" Kenny Britt had surgery on his right ACL. To prove that he is making fast progress, he is out of his knee brace and already vertical jumping 25 inches off the rehabbed foot. This is very impressive news for the Tennessee Titans' young WR stud. Britt claims he will be "110% better" than he was before the ACL incident. Britt has averaged 16.7, 18.5, and 17.0 yards per catch over the last three years and had two 100+ yard games coming out of the gate in 2011. I think this shows that he is no longer a sleeper in fantasy terms. If his off-the-field antics stop, he has the potential to be a WR1 on your team next season. I would draft him as a WR2 with major upside, maybe as early as round 4 in 12-team leagues.
Josh Morgan – Josh Morgan is currently slated as the number 2 WR according to the depth charts in Washington. This is great news for a WR who broke his right leg last October playing for San Francisco. Morgan's skills are supposed to be a great complement to draft hopeful Robert Griffin III's ability to throw on the run; however, this has yet to be seen. Early reports are claiming that Morgan will most likely be the flanker WR. Obviously, you are safer taking Pierre Garcon over Morgan; however, with the versatility of their potential 2012 1st round selection in RG3 we may see some offensive fireworks that will garner Morgan some looks early during the season off the waiver wire.
Steve Smith – Although Steve Smith won't solve the St. Louis Rams' issues at WR, it does give them some depth with a contract that has pretty much no money guaranteed. Smith is currently recovering from a knee injury suffered last season. Smith has shown flashes of brilliance, especially in 2009; however, he is not worth a fantasy roster at this time. Monitor the pulse of the Rams WR corps, because it's almost anyone's best guess who will be number one on the depth chart. It just might be Justin Blackmon if the cards fall right at the end of the month. One thing is for sure, it won't be Smith.