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Unlike so many other veteran starters, Randall Cobb has continued to practice despite a painful and limiting injury this preseason. Cobb and the team haven't been specific about his condition, calling it a bicep injury that Mike McCarthy says Cobb will "probably going to be battling for a while" but not something he'd be allowed to practice with "if we thought he was in jeopardy moving forward."
That sounds optimistic, but there was a concerned tone in Cobb's comments last week.
“I know at some point during the season, I’m going to be in pain, and I’m going to have to play, and I’m going to have to be productive when I do play. So trying to push through right now is more of a mindset for me. It’s nothing to be worried about. I may be in a lot of pain, but I’ll be fine.”
When asked if it was smart for him to be practicing last week, Cobb answered, "No."
Vague reports on the injury and its severity. A difference of opinion between coach and player on whether practicing through the injury is wise. It's a clear indication that we're getting closer to the regular season, where deception and misdirection is the norm when teams discuss injuries.
So, I presented what we know about Cobb to a few orthopedic surgeons and asked for their thoughts on his condition. While we're working with incomplete information and can only speculate, there was a clear consensus opinion on Cobb's most likely diagnosis.
Given the initial reports on Cobb -- pain in the upper arm, an ice pack on the shoulder and the team's report of a bicep injury -- I worried that he may have suffered a tear of the bicep tendon near the shoulder. It's an injury that is often treated without surgery, but the surgeons I spoke with think either a partial or full tear is unlikely in this case. All felt that the team would have shut him down for a period of time, especially in the preseason, with a partial tear. And the pain and associated bleeding associated with a full tear would have taken 2-4 weeks of rest to subside.
Instead, the consensus is that Cobb's continued attempt to practice through a bicep condition that reportedly began bothering him in early August strongly suggests tendonitis. It's an issue that can be managed with rest, anti-inflammatory medications and, possibly, steroid injections. The worst case scenario, though those I spoke with felt it unlikely, would be a rupture of the inflamed tendon and the 2-4 week timetable to return noted earlier.
Two of the surgeons I spoke with noted one possible caveat of higher concern. The most commonly injured of the two upper bicep tendons attaches to the labrum in the shoulder. Any involvement of the labrum (i.e. a SLAP tear variant) would cause pain and instability in the shoulder joint that could require a surgical procedure needing months of rehab. Thankfully, there's been no indication of that with Cobb as yet.
If Cobb has tendonitis, he may be limited by pain all season long. There have already been reports that he's struggled with dropped passes -- likely on balls away from his body -- as he learns to adapt to his symptoms. If the pain and ineffectiveness persist, he could be shut down for a brief period to allow the inflammation to cool and limit the number of steroid injections he might need to finish the long season.
Deciding how much this should affect Cobb's fantasy value is a difficult question. The team clearly has little concern for progression of Cobb's injury or they would have shut him down during the mostly meaningless preseason. But McCarthy has been told by his medical staff that it's a condition that could limit Cobb for a while. Given the number of other strong options in the Green Bay passing offense, it won't be surprising to see more variance in Cobb's numbers and they may alter his route tree to put him in the most comfortable positions possible. That, in addition to the slight risk of an absence if his symptoms worsen, is enough to keep him out of the low WR1 - high WR2 tier (alongside Andre Johnson, Roddy White and Victor Cruz) in which he's currently being drafted. I'd be more comfortable with him in the Marques Colston, Dwayne Bowe, Hakeem Nicks tier, receivers with a WR ADP in the WR14-WR20 range.
I'll be watching Cobb's practice participation and play closely for clues in coming weeks. Follow on Twitter @JeneBramel for breaking injury news, commentary and analysis of this injury and others around the NFL.