First Down: Steve Smith, Antonio Bryant latest casualties of unforgiving injury imp

Depth-chart topping wide receivers are being viciously attacked by a heartless fantasy destroyer – the injury imp.

Concerned for the well-being of their cherished pass catchers, coaches and virtual managers have recommended wideouts stay indoors, travel in pairs at night and avoid contact with headhunting defensive backs until the serial killer is apprehended. However, carrying a weapon in loose-fitting sweats for protection has been strongly discouraged.

Two standout receivers, Carolina's Steve Smith and Tampa's Antonio Bryant(notes), are the latest stars to be victimized by virtual pigskin's biggest nuisance.

Smith injured his shoulder after violently colliding with corner Chris Gamble(notes) in an evening workout Monday. Onlookers noted the four-time Pro Bowl selection was in "considerable pain" when carted off the field. More concerning, his agent revealed, "Steve has a high threshold of pain, and he's in a lot of pain, so something's off-kilter." X-ray results were negative, but an MRI could be in order. Insiders believe the elite fantasy target will be out at least two weeks, although some sources have indicated he could miss the entire preseason.

This is just the latest summer setback for Smith. In 2006, he suffered a pulled hamstring in camp, an injury which cost him the first two weeks of the regular season. Last year, he kindly relocated Ken Lucas'(notes) nose in an altercation, which earned him a two-game suspension. He also suffered a severe concussion in the preseason opener. As a preventative measure, the man should seriously consider practicing in a Zorb.

Prior to the deflating news, Smith's ADP stood at 22.5 per Mock Draft Central. Obviously, he's avoidable in Round 2, but similar to '06, he'll likely be heavily discounted in many drafts. Don't sleep too long on his services. It's certainly possible he'll start off slowly, but his 12.1 fantasy points per game output since ‘05 proves he's extremely valuable when healthy. Once the Vincent Jackson(notes)/Chad Ochocinco/Anthony Gonzalez(notes) class comes off the board, pounce.

Old reliable Muhsin Muhammad(notes), third-year bust Dwayne Jarrett(notes) and wildcard Ryne Robinson(notes) would see increased looks against the stingy Eagles in Week 1 if Smith was deactivated.

Meanwhile, the prognosis for the imp's second victim, Bryant, is slightly rosier. Decommissioned by a torn meniscus in his left knee, Tampa's No. 1 target will miss the entire preseason, but expects to be ready for the Bucs' opener against Dallas. From head coach Raheem Morris:

"We're going to go ahead and work on that knee. We're going to go ahead and scope it, clean that thing out, get him ready for the season. He ran out there. He was ready to go the other day, ran out there and it swelled up a little on him again."

"It's just not worth it. Let's get him ready for Dallas. Let's sit him down for three weeks. He probably could come back the last preseason game, but I'm probably going to be mentally weak and not play him and just wait for Dallas and we'll figure that out as we go.''

Considering Tampa's vanilla options at quarterback and implementation of a ground-stressed West Coast scheme, the outlook for Bryant wasn't sunny to begin with. Despite an unforgettable fantasy playoff run (6.7 rec, 145 ypg, 4 TDs Wks 14-16), many owners, including the Noise, are largely unconfident he will experience repeat success.

Entering the week, his 48.4 ADP was nearly equal to Roy Williams (45.7) and Sir Drops-a-Lot, Braylon Edwards(notes) (47.1). Due to the setback, expect that number to plunge, possibly well into the 60s. At this point, he's essentially a low-tiered WR3 with upside in 12-team leagues. As Reggie Bush(notes) owners can attest, persistent knee swelling isn't a condition any fantasy owner wants to deal with on a regular basis.

If Bryant is unavailable Week 1, one-year wonder Michael Clayton(notes), Brian Clark(notes) and, especially, Kellen Winslow(notes) would stand to benefit.

How far does the receiving tandem slide down your draft board? Discuss below.


Images courtesy of AP and US Presswire

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