Assessing Week 1 injury situations

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - You'd like to think that, regardless of what happens the rest of the season, you can bank on your fantasy football lineup being intact for Week 1.

Injuries and poor performances may mangle your team by midseason, but usually Week 1 provides solace because the team you drafted is 100 percent ready to go.

Not this year.

A large number of stars, especially running backs, are uncertain to play Week 1, and even if they do play, it might be in a limited role.

Let's assess those situations.

Trent Richardson, RB, Cleveland Browns - We've heard everything under the sun regarding Richardson's availability for Sunday's game. The rookie running back had arthroscopic knee surgery in early August and missed the entire preseason. However, he returned to practice Monday and appears to be back on schedule. According to Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal, Richardson said the only thing that can keep him out Sunday is if Browns coach Pat Shurmur "doesn't feel like I'm ready." While I wouldn't expect the Browns to give Richardson 25 carries Week 1, 15 seems reasonable. Against a suspect Philadelphia Eagles run defense, that should be enough to make Richardson a worthwhile start.

Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers - Surprisingly, even shockingly, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has not ruled Mendenhall out for Sunday. All preseason, we expected the Steelers running back to miss at least the first month of the season after he tore his ACL last December. While I wouldn't start Mendenhall, his looming presence removes Jonathan Dwyer from the Week 1 conversation and ensures Isaac Redman will be waiver wire fodder.

Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars - Jones-Drew isn't injured, but he just ended a 38-day holdout Sunday after missing the entirety of Jacksonville's OTAs and preseason activities. Jones-Drew will play Sunday, but he's likely to handle third-down duties while Rashad Jennings starts. If you have another option, I'd keep Jones-Drew on the bench this Sunday and wait until Week 2 to insert him in your starting lineup. Jennings makes for a solid flex play this week.

Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers - The injury-prone Mathews did nothing to dispel the notion that he can't handle a full season's workload when he broke his clavicle on his first carry of the preseason. The running back has insisted he'll be back Week 1, but all the hard work in the world can't make a bone heal more quickly. I'd be shocked if Mathews handles 20-plus touches in any of the first two games, but stranger things have happened. Still, he shouldn't be in your Week 1 lineup. I wouldn't start Ronnie Brown, either.

Miles Austin, WR, Dez Bryant, WR, and Jason Witten, TE, Dallas Cowboys - Fantasy owners were hamstrung by Austin's shoddy hamstrings last season and the receiver missed most of the preseason with the same ailment. Bryant also missed time with patellar tendinitis in his right knee during the exhibition season. However, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said both players are 100 percent heading into Wednesday's season opener against the New York Giants, according to FoxSportsSouthwest.com. Get both of them in your lineup. Meanwhile, Witten is a game-time decision with a lacerated spleen so fantasy owners should use their TE2 this week.

Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings - Peterson may be a freak of nature who is ready to go less than nine months after suffering a catastrophic knee injury. However, the Vikings aren't ready to proclaim him "100 percent." We won't know Peterson's status until the team hands in its inactives 90 minutes prior to kickoff Sunday, but if he plays, he's likely to be limited. Consider Toby Gerhart a RB2 candidate if Peterson is inactive, but don't start either of them if Peterson is in the lineup.

Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina Panthers - Stewart suffered a high ankle sprain in the team's preseason game against the New York Jets on Aug. 26. He hasn't practiced and is likely to be a game-time call for Week 1, so fantasy owners should sit him down. The Panthers have two other running backs and a QB who can tote the rock.

Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks - The good news is that Lynch is not expected to be suspended for his July arrest for DUI. The bad news is that he's still uncertain for Week 1 because his back spasms have yet to subside. We'll monitor this situation closely Sunday. Fantasy owners who own backup Robert Turbin should start the rookie if Lynch is inactive. But if the Seahawks deem Lynch healthy enough to play, start the veteran.

Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants - Nicks is still dealing with pain in his surgically repaired foot, but the receiver is prepared to play through it early this season. According to NFL.com, Nicks said, "It's a situation where you just gotta get used to playing with it. It's not going to feel great, I know that, but it's a matter of me having the desire and want to get through it." He's unlikely to be on a snap count. Start him.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Thomas J. Harrigan at tharrigan@sportsnetwork.com.

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