Week 1 Fantasy Injury Worry-O-Meter: Austin Ekeler, Saquon Barkley, A.J. Brown, More

Week 1 Fantasy Injury Worry-O-Meter: Austin Ekeler, Saquon Barkley, A.J. Brown, More article feature image
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Justin Edmonds/Getty Images. Pictured: Austin Ekeler

  • Thirty of the 32 NFL teams don't officially kick their 2021 seasons off until this Sunday, but there's already been a slew of injuries.
  • Samantha Previte grades how concerned to be about Austin Ekeler, Saquon Barkley and more players in her Week 1 Fantasy Injury Worry-O-Meter.

The long wait is over and the 2021 NFL season is finally upon us, which brings excitement and — unfortunately — injuries.

Below is a recap of injuries around the NFL to fantasy-relevant players to help you set your lineups and dominate your leagues. I also included my very non-scientific “worry-o-meter,” which indicates on a scale of zero to five just how concerned I am about that player’s injury status when it comes to their Week 1 status.

Austin Ekeler, RB, Los Angeles Chargers (hamstring)

Ekeler headlines this report after news broke on Wednesday that the Chargers’ star running back did not practice due to a hamstring injury.

Any injury to a top-tier starter is newsworthy, but it’s even more worrisome in Ekeler’s case: The 26-year-old missed ten games in 2020 due to hamstring and knee injuries and questions about his durability were raised throughout this offseason.

Continue to monitor the situation closely heading into Sunday’s Week 1 matchup in Washington against the Football Team’s stout run defense. Justin Jackson would be next up on L.A.’s RB depth chart, followed by Joshua Kelley. Jackson would be a valuable insurance policy should Ekeler miss any amount of time.

Worry-o-meter: 5 out of 5.

A.J. Brown, WR, Tennessee Titans (knee)

Brown was missing from practice on Wednesday, sparking concern around the fantasy community about his Week 1 availability. The 24-year-old underwent procedures on both knees this offseason and was held out of practices during training camp in August with knee issues.

There’s a good chance his DNP on Wednesday is more of a maintenance-type absence, which shouldn’t worry managers too much. New offseason addition Julio Jones would benefit from a target perspective should Brown be limited or miss the Titans’ Week 1 matchup against the Cardinals.

Worry-o-meter: 1 out of 5.

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Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants (knee)

Giants head coach Joe Judge was cagey on Wednesday about Barkley’s availability for the team’s Week 1 matchup against the Broncos and safety Jabrill Peppers said it was clear their star running back is “not 100%.” This is obviously concerning given he suffered a torn MCL and meniscus in Week 2 last year and underwent surgery in October.

At one point, the Penn State product was a “set it and forget it” weekly no-brainer start, but those days may be behind us. It seems like a limited Barkley is now our best-case scenario as the team eases him back into action, which likely means difficult lineup decisions for fantasy managers.

Worry-o-meter: 3 out of 5.

Brandon Aiyuk, WR, San Francisco 49ers (hamstring)

Aiyuk has been dealing with a hamstring issue that has limited him in practice leading up to the 49ers’ season opener against the Lions. It appears he is trending in the right direction, however, and practiced in full on Monday. Assuming he suits up, he is a locked-in starter against a Detroit secondary that allowed the third-most passing yards per game in 2020.

Worry-o-meter: 1 out of 5.

Curtis Samuel, WR, Washington Football Team (groin)

Samuel was a non-participant in Wednesday’s and Thursday’s practice having recently returned from a groin injury that sidelined him for multiple months. The 25-year-old former Panther was visibly upset and in pain on Wednesday as he was seen shaking his head, limping and speaking with Washington’s training staff.

“He came out, warmed up and he wasn’t feeling quite as well as we hoped he would,” Coach Ron Rivera said via The Washington Post. “So we’ll continue to monitor it and see how he is [Thursday] morning.”

This setback could easily jeopardize Samuel’s Week 1 availability against the Chargers, meaning fantasy managers should plan accordingly. Any absence could mean additional targets for the Football Team’s other pass catchers; Terry McLaurin, Logan Thomas, J.D. McKissic and even 2021 third-rounder Dyami Brown, Adam Humphries and Cam Sims.

Worry-o-meter: 5 out of 5.

Noah Fant, TE, Denver Broncos (knee)

Fant was limited in practice on Wednesday after practicing in full on Monday. He has been dealing with an injury he suffered in Week 2 of the preseason and is expected to be ready for the team’s Week 1 matchup against the Giants.

Wednesday’s injury report warrants minor concern for Fant heading into the season opener. Managers should start him with confidence.

Worry-o-meter: 1 out of 5.

Evan Engram, TE, New York Giants (calf)

The Giants have tight end problems of their own.

Engram did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday after suffering a calf injury in Week 3 of the preseason. The Pro Bowl TE is a crucial part of the Giants offense; he appeared in all 16 games last season and caught 63 passes for 654 yards and a touchdown, but struggled with drops throughout the year. He missed eight games in 2019 due to a foot injury and missed time in the year prior with foot and MCL issues.

It appears he’s trending toward not playing in the season opener for New York and fantasy managers should plan accordingly with a contingency plan.

Worry-o-meter: 5 out of 5.

Kenny Golladay, WR, New York Giants (hamstring)

Golladay has been back at practice after dealing with a lingering hamstring issue that has plagued him for the majority of the preseason, which bodes well for a potential Week 1 start against the 49ers.

The 27-year-old wideout is no stranger to the injury report, however: He missed 11 games in 2020 due to hamstring and hip issues. He finished as the receiving touchdowns leader in the year prior and earned Pro Bowl honors.

Golladay is an intriguing flex option with WR2 upside when healthy, but he’s incredibly risky to start given his history with injuries, potential adjustment period, and downgrade in quarterback/offense.

Worry-o-meter: 3 out of 5.

Carson Wentz, QB, Indianapolis Colts (foot)

Wentz underwent surgery on his left foot in early August with an initial timeline for return between five to 12 weeks.

It appears he will not miss any time, however, and is preparing to make his debut for the Colts and start in the team’s season opener against the Seahawks. He’s not an attractive starting option in most leagues — even two quarterback/flex formats — but his health does bode well for the Indianapolis pass catchers and the entire offense.

Worry-o-meter: 1 out of 5.

Parris Campbell, WR, Indianapolis Colts (Achilles)

Campbell was limited on Wednesday while dealing with a lingering Achilles injury. It’s another tough blow for the 2019 second-round pick who was sidelined for multiple games in his rookie season due to a broken foot and hand and missed all but two games in 2020 with a PCL and MCL injury.

Campbell has breakout potential this season, especially with fellow wideout T.Y. Hilton on injured reserve after undergoing neck surgery, but this report is concerning in light of his speckled injury history. For now, Campbell is droppable in most leagues.

Wentz will need to focus his attention on 2020 second-rounder Michael Pittman Jr. and Zach Pascal, both of whom could see a slight uptick in targets if Campbell sits out this game.

Worry-o-meter: 4 out of 5.

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