For the sake of this article let’s define Fantasy Football “problem players” as NFL players who have demonstrated perceived negative on-and-off-the field behavior, or have broken, or are more likely to break NFL or team rules, which could potentially force them to miss playing time due to league or team mandated suspensions.

A fantasy player’s risk tolerance will play a large part on whether they’ll take a chance on rostering “problem players”. Conservative fantasy football players will probably shy away from drafting said players, fearing those players might receive a suspension, or get benched at the point of their season when that player is needed most. An individual fantasy player’s moral compass will also dictate whether they’re likely to roster a problematic player.

Football players have been suspended due to child abuse and domestic violence allegations in the past. Some fantasy players are able to ignore NFL players’ past behavior and have no problem rostering players who’ve been accused of these types of crimes, and there are others who’d never consider it. Whether you roster a “problem player” also depends on if you think your team’s roster is deep enough to withstand a potential suspension or benching.  

A major problem regarding owning shares of players who face potential league mandated suspensions is the randomness of the length of the suspension. Will a player receive a two, four, six or ten-game suspension? Will the NFL drop the dreaded “indefinite” suspension tag on a player? What criteria does the NFL use when punishing their players when they break the rules?

There’s nothing worse than when a major cog on your fantasy team receives an unexpected suspension for violating the NFL’s PED policy. Since 2013, Patriots WR Julian Edelman has averaged 6.4 catches per game. On June 6, 2018, seemingly out of nowhere, he received a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. When it comes to PED-related suspensions you never know which player may be next. There were no obvious signs that Mark Ingram was using PED’s, and yet he also received a surprise four-game suspension last season. Mark Sanchez was also suspended for using PED’s. Sanchez? Maybe he started using PED’s in order to avoid potential future butt fumbles?

Another way that an NFL player can get into trouble with the league is by violating their substance abuse policy. If the league determines you’ve been smoking weed, you’re probably going to get suspended. It happened to Packers RB Aaron Jones last season (two games), and it’s happened to former Steelers and Raiders WR Martavis Bryant more than once. Jets TE Chris Herndon received a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy on July 12th. These types of suspensions are occasionally easier to predict because they often follow a publicly reported police incident.

Josh Gordon is one of the most talented wide receivers in football. Unfortunately he has been suspended multiple times for  violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. He’s currently serving an indefinite suspension, but  Tom Brady  posted an Instagram video of him and Gordon working out together. The video caused some to think there may be a chance that Gordon’s suspension will be rescinded. Through 7/13/2019 according to the NFFC website, Gordon had an overall 254 ADP. That would have him selected in the 22nd round of a deep 12-team league. With that kind of an investment, yes, you’re taking a chance on a player who’s proven to be a bad risk, but it’s not a huge risk. You’re looking for some upside with that pick and if he should miraculously get reinstated and play several games this season you’d be sitting pretty. If not, then you’re only rolling the dice with one of the final picks of your draft.

Several players have received suspensions for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Cowboys star RB Ezekiel Elliott , received a six-game suspension in 2017 stemming from a domestic violence allegation. Players like Zeke, who’ve already been punished for past wrongdoings, need to realize that the NFL is always watching. This past May, Elliott was handcuffed after an incident at a Las Vegas music festival in which a video appeared to show he made physical contact with a security guard causing him to fall to the ground. He wasn’t arrested, but the league took notice. Zeke met with NFL commission Roger Goodell and while it was announced that he wouldn’t be receiving a suspension, he later issued an apology on Twitter.

Elliott is a top-four overall pick in fantasy football preseason drafts. While he’s had some off the field issues, he’s been a good citizen on the field. Only the most risk averse fantasy football drafters would avoid him based on his past transgressions, but if they do there are going to be many high-end choices at their disposal.

Kansas City Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill spent his offseason defending himself against child abuse allegations. Johnson County police are no longer actively investigating his case, but the NFL hasn’t historically required that a player be arrested or indicted before issuing a suspension. Mere allegations have been enough. Many fans and analysts believe he’ll receive a two-game suspension, but no one truly knows what the NFL is going to do. Why would he only get a two-game suspension while Elliott received a six-game suspension? He has an ADP of 59 according to the NFFC. There have been some twists and turns to Hill’s situation and if you’re drafting before knowing what type of suspension the NFL will hand down, taking Hill in the fifth or sixth-round of a typical 12-team draft represents a potential big risk. You’ll have to make sure that your team is deep enough to be able to withstand being without a top receiver like Hill, for anywhere from two-to-ten games. Whether you draft Hill depends on your risk tolerance, your moral compass (based on the crime he’s accused of) and your faith in your fantasy team’s composition.

The last player we’ll talk about has been suspended by the NFL and disciplined and benched by his team, and he’s been called out by his team’s Executive Vice President of Football Operations for behavior that was called “disrespectful, selfish and…unbecoming that of a professional football player.” We’re talking about Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette and the author of those statements is Tom Coughlin. Coughlin was taking Fournette (who was inactive and fellow RB T.J. Yeldon ) to task for sitting on the sidelines and not paying attention to the on the field action during the Jaguars’ last game of the season. Fournette has had a checkered NFL career including being benched for game nine of the 2017 season because he missed the team’s photo session, “an infraction of a team rule” as it was defined. He was also suspended for a game during the 2018 season for violations of unsportsmanlike conduct and unnecessary roughness. NFL vice president of football operations Jon Runyan issued the following statement directed at Fournette explaining the reason for the suspension: “video of the incident shows that you were not a participant in the play and that you ran from your sideline to the opposite side of the field to insert yourself as an active participant in a fight. Once you entered the fight area, you struck a member of the opposing team.” This past April Fournette was charged with knowingly driving with a suspended, cancelled or revoked driver's license in Duval County FL. He originally received the traffic citation last November, however he failed to pay the $204 fine.

In short, Fournette seems to constantly put himself in bad situations. So far it’s cost fantasy owners a game in each of the 2017 and 2018 seasons. How long before he does something that causes him to face a multiple-game suspension? His escapades seem to have adversely affected his on-field production as well. His average yards per carry and average rushing yards per game fell from 3.9 and 80 in 2017 to just 3.3 and 54.9 in 2018. Based on his NFFC ADP, you’d have to invest a third-round pick to roster him in a 12-team fantasy football league. Talented running backs are very valuable in fantasy football, and some believe that any halfback with a pulse has fantasy value. However, your risk tolerance will have to be pretty high if you choose to roster Fournette this season based on his recent behavior. There’s upside in owning shares of Fournette but potential for significant downside as well.

In general, if you take a chance on rostering a “problem player” you’re probably looking for a draft day bargain with upside. Almost any NFL player has fantasy value depending on how far their ADP drops. The type of league that you play in will also determine how much risk you’re willing to take on. If you’re playing with a bunch of sharks then maybe you need to take more chances in order to stand out from among a well-seasoned crowd. However, you shouldn’t take too many chances. You don’t want to roster too many players who need everything to fall perfectly into place in order for their production to meet or even exceed their ADP. When it comes to those types of players, yes the ceiling is high, but the floor could end up being a bottomless pit.