I sincerely apologize if you clicked here expecting adorable pictures of NFL players and their dogs. You are in the wrong place for that. (Here’s the right place.) As much as I’d love to set the odds on adorable football canines (Puppy Bowl 2018?), I’m here to talk about the preseason Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.
I understand if you’re disappointed. But please don’t hound me too hard for paws-ing the puppy-talk to get back to football. (My joke writer is really screwing the pooch lately.)
Over the last few days, we’ve learned that a number of key players will start training camp on the preseason PUP list (see Andrew Luck, Latavius Murray, Jordan Reed, Teddy Bridgewater, etc.) Don’t get this confused with the regular-season PUP, though, which a player cannot return from until Week 7. Any player placed on the preseason version can be removed from it at any time. But obviously a trip to the list is not ideal, and could signal legitimate concern about availability earlier in the year.
Who should you actually fear for, and who will be ready to roll in Week 1? The odds are below on the six biggest names, along with a little bone-us coverage on Ezekiel Elliott and his potential suspension.
PRESEASON PUP LIST: PARTY OF 6
ANDREW LUCK, QB, COLTS
After multiple seasons of getting hammered behind a Swiss-cheese o-line, Luck underwent surgery on his partially torn labrum this offseason.
Why does it seem like everyone is just shrugging this one off? I’d be a lot more confident in Luck’s recovery if he was able to physically shrug his throwing shoulder without making a team doctor sweat.
Luck isn’t the first start quarterback to go through this. We saw a similar movie starring one Drew Brees back in 2006. Now before Colts fans start stomping me over the comparison, I am aware of the differences between the two situations: Brees fully tore his labrum; Luck apparently only suffered a partial tear. But there are a couple lessons we learned from Brees’ injury back in January of 2006 that can be applied here, and they are cause of concern.
(1) Players and teams lie about the severity of injuries and recovery times: we were initially told that Brees’ injury shouldn’t be a big deal, after all.
(2) An injury to the labrum of your throwing shoulder is very concerning: when Dr. James Andrews performed surgery on Brees, he believed he was performing career-ending surgery on the Pro Bowl pivot, and has called Brees’ recovery “the most remarkable comeback he’s ever treated.”
Again, we have been told that Luck only suffered a partial tear, and it is believed doctors didn’t have to repair the humerus, bicep tendon, or rotator cuff. But the organization has been disconcertingly vague when speaking about the injury. And while Luck began throwing on July 24th, he could require a six-week throwing program before being able to participate in a live practice. According to my calendar, that brings us up to September 4th, six days before Indianapolis’ season-opener against the Rams.
If you’re comfortable with your QB getting less than a week of live reps with his offense (after nearly a full offseason of not throwing a football), there’s a strong chance you’re under-appreciating the difficulties involved in successfully moving the football against an NFL defense. On the other hand, maybe Luck’s shoulder won’t require an extended throwing program, and he’ll be off the preseason PUP list sooner than expected. But I can think of about 87 million reasons for the Colts not to rush their franchise QB back.
Odds Luck starts Week 1: 1/1
Over/under total passing yards for Luck in 2017: 4300.5
Over/under total times Luck is sacked in 2017: 38.5
Odds Luck wins 2017 NFL MVP: 29/1
MALIK HOOKER, S, COLTS
More crummy news for the crummy Colts. Rookie safety Malik Hooker already missed all of OTAs while recovering from hernia surgery last winter, and is now missing the opening days of training camp due to a hamstring injury suffered during a conditioning test on Monday.
Indianapolis drafted Hooker 15th overall to play center-field for their revamped defense, hoping to improve a unit that allowed Brock Osweiler to post a 90.7 passer rating. But he is falling way behind now. Fortunately, the hamstring injury doesn’t sound very serious, and Hooker’s stay on the PUP list should be a short one.
Considering Clayton Geathers is already set to miss at least the first six games of the regular season, and the Colts have the depth of a puddle, it won’t matter if Hooker doesn’t know the system; if he’s able to run, he’ll be on the field in Week 1.
Odds Hooker plays Week 1: 1/3
Odds Hooker starts Week 1: 3/5
Over/under total interceptions for Hooker in 2017: 3.5
Odds Hooker wins Defensive Rookie of the Year: 8/1
JORDAN REED, TE, WASHINGTON
News broke yesterday of Jordan Reed opening training camp on the PUP list due to a sprained big toe. Early reports out of Washington suggest the move is more precautionary and Reed shouldn’t miss much time at all. So breathe easy, Washington, it’s not like Reed has ever been held back by a minor injury that lingered …
Ok, so a Jordan Reed injury update out of Washington has about the same integrity as Donald Trump’s Twitter account. However, there’s no way a sprained toe keeps the tight end sidelined more than a week or two. It’s a much different story if this is actually turf toe, though.
The departures of Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson result in an extra 214 targets to be shared among the remaining receiving corps. Fantasy pundits have been salivating over Reed’s ceiling this season; this setback has to make them nervous. The former third-round pick has never played in more than 14 games in his four-year career, and this is not a good start to 2017.
If this is the last we hear of his toe injury, the 28-year-old will have a big season.
Odds Reed plays Week 1: 3/7
Over/under total games Reed plays in 2017: 12.5
Over/under total receiving yards for Reed in 2017: 800.5
Over/under total receiving TDs for Reed in 2017: 7.5
LATAVIUS MURRAY, RB, VIKINGS
Latavius Murray, who’s still recovering from offseason ankle surgery, was expected to be ready for camp, but finds himself on the PUP list, and it’s uncertain how much extra time he will need. While I would never celebrate or take any joy in an injury to a professional athlete, it may not be the worst thing in the world for the Vikings, as a team, to have Murray on the PUP right now.
In 2016, Minnesota averaged a league-low 3.2 yards per carry, ranked 28th in yards per play (5.0), and 26th in DVOA on offense. I wouldn’t be surprised if LeBron James’ whole “get me a f***ing playmaker” rant was ghostwritten by Sam Bradford.
Can Latavius Murray serve a purpose for the Viking offense? Of course. But the 27-year-old, who has averaged 4.0 yards per carry over the last two seasons, is best utilized as a short-yardage back. Rookie second-round pick Dalvin Cook is the home-run-hitter this offense needs. And if Murray’s early absence from camp leads to more snaps for the rookie, it will only benefit the Vikings in the long-run.
Odds Murray plays Week 1: 2/5
Over/under total TDs for Murray in 2017: 5.5
Over/under percentage of Vikings’ carries Murray receives in 2017: 40.5-percent
TEDDY BRIDGEWATER, QB, VKINGS
If there’s one player who is actually excited to see his name on the PUP list, it’s Teddy Bridgewater. After suffering a gruesome leg injury nearly a year ago, many feared the former first-round pick’s career was over. So the fact that he’s still on the roster, and now working out, is a very positive sign for the 24-year-old.
However, Bridgewater is the one player I can say with confidence will be transferred to the regular-season PUP list. Again, this is another good sign, as a few months ago many within the organization didn’t believe they’d see the QB at all this season. Bridgewater will be eligible to return from the PUP in Week 7, and would likely serve as Sam Bradford’s primary backup if fully healthy.
It should be noted the Vikings declined the Louisville product’s fifth-year option, so he will be a free agent in the spring of 2018. If Bradford, who will also be a free agent after this season, can’t get the offense going, you can bet Mike Zimmer will want to get a look at Bridgewater before the season is over.
Odds Bridgewater plays Week 1: 49/1
Odds Bridgewater is activated from the regular-season PUP list in 2017: 3/4
Over/under total games Bridgewater plays in 2017: 1.5
Odds Bridgewater is a Viking in 2018: 5/3
DONT’A HIGHTOWER, LB, PATRIOTS
The unsung hero of the Patriots’ two most recent Super Bowl victories is starting the preseason on the PUP list, after the club was able to re-sign him to a four-year $35 million contract. What’s really concerning here is the lack of details regarding what Hightower is ailing from. The same undisclosed injury prevented him from participating in OTAs, as well.
Knowing the “all business” mentality of the Patriots, and the fact they just gave him $17 million in guaranteed money, the injury can’t be anything too serious. Hightower has battled injuries in the past, missing 11 games over the last three seasons. But due to the tight-lipped approach by the club, we don’t know if this is at all related to a previous injury he has suffered.
As valuable as Hightower has been, Bill Belichick has never allowed the absence of one player to stop him from winning. (See the first four weeks of 2016.) Hightower’s injury won’t break that trend. New England has a bevy of serviceable linebackers who could step in if Hightower has to miss more than just the beginning of training camp.
Odds Hightower plays Week 1: 4/5
Over/under total games Hightower plays in 2017: 13.5
Odds Belichick cuts Hightower before his contract expires: 7/13
EZEKIEL ELLIOTT PROPS
ODDS ELLIOTT IS SUSPENDED WEEK 1: 4/3
Elliott’s offseason has been about as lively as a Michael Bay action flick, and as unenjoyable for Dallas fans. During a St. Patrick’s Day parade, the former fourth-overall pick was caught on camera pulling down a female’s top; the running back is still dealing with an allegation of domestic violence, dating back to 2016; and he was most recently accused of assaulting a DJ at a Dallas nightclub earlier this month.
As a result of the domestic violence case, it is believed the league will issue last year’s rushing king a short suspension to start the season. Although the Cowboys will refute the move was for insurance purposes, the team did just sign veteran running back Ronnie Hillman today.
ODDS ELLIOTT LEADS THE LEAGUE IN RUSHING IN 2017: 5/2
Zeke’s 1,631 rushing yards in 2016 were 318 more than his closest competitor, Jordan Howard. The Cowboys line will be without staples Ronald Leary and Doug Free in 2017, but their replacements, La’el Collins and Chaz Green, have both proven capable.
It won’t be a big deal if the holes Elliott has to run through downgrade from the size of an army tank to a Mack truck.