Team-by-team rundown of potential injury risks
With the last (joke) preseason games coming up and the first NFL game less than a week away, either you've already drafted and you're holding your breath or you're coming up quick on your draft. Since Labor Day weekend is when most drafts are held, let's focus on what players have been most helped and most hurt ... literally! Knowing the proper value for your players is more than checking out a magazine that was printed months ago or looking at last year's numbers. If you want to be the one taking home the trophy, it's the here and now that you have to know, so here come the injury ups and downs for each team:
BILLS: They head into the season with one big question mark -- rookie RB Marshawn Lynch. He's got good size and no injury history, but he's also going to be taking his first NFL-style beating each week. That's tough even when splitting a load, as Joseph Addai told me last season, but Lynch doesn't have that luxury. I look for him to wear down some, so he's a good pick, but he's got to be paired with another couple backs to contend.
DOLPHINS: Trent Green is just one hit away from retirement and I'm as concerned for his long-term health this year as I was last year. If Ronnie Brown isn't the feature back, that should help his health -- like his Auburn mate Cadillac Williams, he'd never carried a full load until last year and it showed. I'm also seeing a lot of signs of aging with Chris Chambers. That's going to start to show up with grinding injuries by the halfway point of the season.
PATRIOTS: The Pats have to hope that Laurence Maroney can shoulder the load and that their receivers don't hamstring their playoff hopes. That's Maroney's damaged shoulder and the chronic hamstring problems of Randy Moss and Dante Stallworth. With Maroney, you'll have to take him in the top 10 or miss out, but that might not be such a bad play. Yes, he's good, but he's that risky. The Pats WR corps is the same. You could get good value later in the mid-rounds, but don't take Moss thinking he's going to return to the elite tier just because Tom Brady is throwing him the ball. One sleeper: Wes Welker, who'll get in plenty of three-WR sets and a good number of time at the No. 2 slot when one of Moss or Stallworth is out.
JETS: Thomas Jones will be fine, but I'm not so sure about Chad Pennington. The team has a capable backup in Kellen Clemens and could turn to him unless Pennington finds some of the zip he's lost to a couple shoulder surgeries. The problems to the line could lead to whatever QB is back there taking a lot of hits or handing the ball to Jones even more.
RAVENS: Willis McGahee is always a risk with his knees, but the Ravens as a whole are pretty healthy. Steve McNair proved he was over his odd sternum problem with a solid performance last season. The WRs are the bigger problem here and one that might make McNair go back to his old scrambling ways. Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton are both injury prone. Worse, there is little depth behind them. It could mean good things for Todd Heap, who could be the best passing option in this offense.
BENGALS: Arrests are one thing; health is another. Aside from a couple freak plays, the Bengals are among the healthiest teams in the league. No one's talking about Carson Palmer's knee, and they shouldn't. No one's talking about Chad Johnson's legs, and they shouldn't. T.J. Houshmandzadeh is the biggest concern and he's not so much of one that you should pass him over.
BROWNS: Now that the team is past a season that beset them with everything except a rain of frogs, we'll see if the law of averages works for injuries. Kellen Winslow looks solid after microfracture surgery on his knee, but we haven't seen him hold up and there's enough good TEs in the league now that you can pass on him. Jamal Lewis is aging, but he's also motivated and in shape, something he hasn't been the last couple years. Braylon Edwards is another year out from ACL surgery, a place you like to see players on the rise. Take his talent, because the risk is past.
STEELERS: Ben Roethlisberger went the whole offseason without getting his brain rattled. At least that we know of. That's a big factor. The worry now is about the guys he throws to. Hines Ward has had all kinds of problems and is better suited to be a plug-in WR rather than an every-week starter. Santonio Holmes also hasn't proven himself and hamstring problems in camp won't help. Willie Parker, however, has proven himself durable even on 30-carry days and taking a goal-line shot. He's being drafted too low in most leagues.