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The preseason is thankfully winding down, and you’re trying to jam as many fantasy drafts and auctions as your significant other will allow into the shrinking window between now and the Falcons/Eagles kickoff September 6.
You’ve already demonstrated intelligence and dedication just by hooking up with The Huddle. And as Andy asks Red in The Shawshank Redemption, “if you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to come a little further.”
Rest assured the majority of team managers in your league aren’t turning over the offensive line rocks in their quest for knowledge. But you, you’re weird. You’re a mutant. You’re a killer. You’re a trained killer. You’re a lean, mean, fighting machine!
And so, with thoughts of Dexey Oxberger trudging through that mud-filled wrestling pit guiding your inner lineman, let’s dig into what’s transpired in the trenches this preseason and how it impacts your draft day plans.
No team slipped more in these latest rankings than the Dallas Cowboys, who endured a one-two gut punch of injuries to two key interior linemen. Dallas dodged a major haymaker when an MRI revealed Zack Martin’s injury to be “only” a hyperextended knee and bone bruise; the team is hopeful he’ll be on the field for Week 1.
The news for Travis Frederick wasn’t as sunny: he was diagnosed with Guillain Barre Syndrome, an extremely rare autoimmune disease that causes numbness in the extremeties. While the disease was caught early and Frederick is “very optimistic” about his condition, there is no timetable for his return. Former NFL lineman and current ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth noted on Twitter that he battled the disease during his playing career. Schlereth missed almost half of the 1993 season and said on Twitter he “was still regaining my strength into the second half of 1994”. It’s worth noting that Schlereth played seven seasons after missing time due to Guillain Barre Syndrome so the hope is that this isn’t a career-threatening affliction for Frederick. But as for expecting the All Pro to return to opening holes for Ezekiel Elliott this season… that’s an extremely gray area—especially with left tackle Tyron Smith hardly a bastion of good health himself and rookie left guard Connor Williams struggling as he transitions from college to the NFL.
The Carolina Panthers have also been bitten by the injury bug. Right tackle Daryl Williams suffered a torn MCL and dislocated patella and is expected to miss at least half of 2018 in a best-case scenario. The Panthers have also seen guard Amini Silatolu (torn meniscus) and left tackle Matt Kalil (arthroscopic surgery) head to the training room as well, forcing them to tap into depth already sapped by the free agency departure of All Pro guard Andrew Norwell. Given that the Panthers ranked first in the NFL in creating running back yards before contact, and Christian McCaffrey ranked 50th of 53 graded backs in yards after contact, fantasy owners need to be aware of the condition of Carolina’s offensive line. The silver lining might be that Cam Newton will have no time to throw, increasing the number of dump-off passes directed at McCaffrey.
Other injuries of note:
- Pittsburgh Steelers guard Ramon Foster suffered a hyperextended knee early in training camp; the hope is that he’ll be ready by Week 1, or very soon after.
- Arizona Cardinals center A.Q. Shipley will miss the 2018 season after tearing his ACL in camp, but the Cards signed the potential free agent to a three-year contract extension anyway so he’ll be around to help acclimate third-round pick Mason Cole, who will start in his place.
- The Minnesota Vikings lost starting guard Nick Easton for the season following neck surgery and are still awaiting the return of center Pat Elflein. Rookie Brian O’Neill may be pressed into duty sooner than expected as what has become an annual issue for the Vikings approaches the critical stage. Minnesota has $84 million invested in quarterback Kirk Cousins and is getting running back Dalvin Cook back from a knee injury; they’ll need some help in front of them.
- First-round pick Isaiah Wynn tore his Achilles’ tendon and will miss the 2018 season. However, he wasn’t necessarily on track to crack the New England Patriots’ starting lineup this season so Bill Belichick’s train will keep on rolling.
- Tennessee Titans tackle Jack Conklin remains on the PUP list after tearing his ACL in last year’s playoffs, and it’s looking more and more as if the team will open the 2018 season with Dennis Kelly at right tackle instead.
- Donald Penn is off the PUP list, but he won’t be returning to his left tackle position for the Oakland Raiders; that job has been taken by first-round pick Kolton Miller. Instead, Penn has shifted to the right side and by all accounts is adjusting well. He’ll need to play himself into shape after missing the front end of training camp, but his return bodes well for Marshawn Lynch and Derek Carr.
Let’s flip the script. Last year the Detroit Lions‘ offensive line was derailed by a series of injuries; now they’re looking for a return on their investment of two first-round picks and two major free agent signings over the past three years. Detroit’s unit projects to be one of the most improved offensive lines in the league, solid enough to perhaps finally allow the Lions to fulfill their seemingly annual commitment to commit to running the ball more. TJ Lang has missed some practice time, but right now it looks to be little more than veteran rest for the oldest member of the unit. If you’re buying into Detroit’s o-line taking a major step forward, the fantasy payoff could in the form of undervalued running back LeGarrette Blount and eventually rookie Kerryon Johnson.