2020 NFL Draft Guide: The Injury Report
Published: Jul 10, 2020
It seems ironic to be writing an article about football injuries when it seems like the entire world has been on injured reserve since March. Hopefully everyone is staying safe and healthy as we prepare for a unique fantasy football season. There are several unknowns at this point about the schedule and logistics of how the season will be played. However, that should not deter anyone from preparing for fantasy drafts. One of the most important parts of draft preparation is knowing the status of players coming back from significant injuries. These players may fall off other GMs’ radar because they did not accumulate enough statistics to be ranked where they normally are, so they could become huge bargains come draft day. So without any further ado, let’s take a look at some key players coming back from injuries that could have a huge impact on your draft strategies.
Odell Beckham (WR-CLE)
It would not be a stretch to say that Odell Beckham was one of the biggest fantasy busts of 2019. His tumultuous tenure with the Giants came to an end after he signed a lucrative contract extension and then was traded to Cleveland. Big things were expected for Beckham to provide a game-changing downfield option for second-year quarterback Baker Mayfield . This never materialized as Beckham was plagued with nagging injuries, inconsistent performance and a questionable attitude. While he did amass 74 catches for 1,035 yards, he only caught four touchdown passes falling well short of expectations. Part of the reason for his sub-par performance could be attributed to abdominal injuries he sustained in the summer of 2019. He ended up having sports hernia surgery this past offseason and claims he is 100% healthy in advance of training camp. There has never been any doubt about Beckham’s talent. Fantasy GMs may get better value for Beckham this year as he could fall into the third round of many drafts.
A.J. Green (WR-CIN)
Green has not played a down since late in the 2018 season and then underwent surgery on his foot. There was constant speculation all year in 2019 that he would be ready to play at some point, but that never happened. Fantasy GMs drafted Green in the later rounds hoping to stash him and gain value with a mid-season return. They ended wasting a roster spot as the disgruntled Bengals wide receiver never made it back on the field in the midst of a horrendous season. Now the Bengals have number one draft pick Joe Burrow as their likely starting quarterback in the second year of Zac Taylor’s tenure. Green has openly expressed his frustration with his situation in Cincinnati after failing to come to terms on a contract extension. He will need to rebuild his image and show he can still play at a high level if he wants to cash in on a new contract going forward. This means that Green could provide solid draft value as he will likely be off people’s radar heading into the summer.
Calvin Ridley (WR-ATL)
Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley missed the final month of the 2019 season with an abdominal injury. He was carted off the field during Week 14 last year and finished his sophomore season with 63 receptions for 866 yards and seven touchdowns in 13 games. Ridley’s statistics over his first two seasons in the league are a clear indicator that he is on his way to being an elite wide receiver. Opposing defenses typically game plan against Julio Jones , so Ridley has been able to take advantage of favorable defensive matchups. He is unquestionably a solid WR2 in any league format as he has scored 17 touchdowns in less than two full seasons. There does not appear to be any concern about his health heading into 2020, so GMs can comfortably draft him and expect him to produce even more.
James Conner (RB-PIT)
There are few players that were more frustrating to have on fantasy rosters last year than James Conner was. The Steelers running back failed to meet expectations placed on him as a first or second round draft pick because he was hobbled with injuries all season and did not play well when he was on the field. Granted, the Steelers suffered a plethora of injuries to other key players on offense. However, this does not excuse him appearing in only ten games and amassing 464 rushing yards with four touchdowns along with 34 catches for 251 yards and three touchdowns. This is not the production one would expect from a RB1. Conner is entering the final year of his rookie contract, so he will be motivated to cash in at the end of the season. He is a solid candidate for a bounce-back season so GMs should target Conner at a discounted price in upcoming drafts.
JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR-PIT)
JuJu Smith-Schuster was given an excellent opportunity to be a number one receiver after the Steelers traded Antonio Brown to the Raiders. Fantasy GMs were salivating at the thought of him being the primary target as he was coming off a stellar 2018 season catching 111 passes for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns. Unfortunately, he was one of the biggest busts of the season as injuries and horrendous quarterback play limited him to only 42 receptions for 552 yards and three touchdowns in 12 games. He suffered a knee injury late in the season that cost him four games, but many GMs had already given up on him for the year anyway. The good news is that Smith-Schuster will be a free agent at the end of the season and he will have Ben Roethlisberger back throwing balls to him. His draft position will be drastically reduced compared to last year, but there is a lot to like in terms of his upside and chances for a rebound.
Chris Carson (RB-SEA)
The Seahawks suffered some devastating injuries late last season, but none were more significant than losing starting running back Chris Carson . He suffered a season-ending hip fracture last December and missed the playoffs. He finished the 2019 season rushing for 1,230 yards and seven touchdowns along with 37 catches for 266 yards and two touchdowns in 15 games. Carson is expected to be ready for the 2020 season and Seattle still regards him as the team’s starter despite signing free agent Carlos Hyde and drafting DeeJay Dallas in the fourth round of the NFL Draft. After losing both Carson and Rashaad Penny to injuries, the Seahawks are clearly focused on accumulating a lot of depth in the backfield. This makes sense from an NFL perspective, but it is a red flag for fantasy GMs who should be concerned about Carson’s potentially diminished workload.
Jarvis Landry (WR-CLE)
Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry played in all 16 games last year but underwent hip surgery back in February after the season was over. It was anticipated he would need 6-8 months to recover which puts his status for the regular season in jeopardy. He is currently rehabbing but will likely not be very active, if at all, during training camp later this summer. Landry was more productive last year than Odell Beckham , Jr. catching 83 passes for 1,174 yards and six touchdowns. He benefits greatly from opposing defenses focusing their attention on the more explosive Beckham, so it is expected that Baker Mayfield will depend heavily on Landry. Landry is most valuable in PPR leagues thanks to his usual high number of receptions but GMs should keep a close eye on his progress during training and camp and the pre-season to see whether he will be available for Week 1.
Alshon Jeffery (WR-PHI)
The Eagles wide receiving core was decimated by injuries last year. The most devastating of those injuries was to Alshon Jeffery who missed six games due to a foot injury. He underwent Lisfranc surgery last December and is still rehabbing. It is not known yet whether he will be ready for Week 1, but he is a big part of the Eagles offense and is a solid WR2 when healthy. Philadelphia did select wide receiver Jalen Reagor with their first pick in this year’s draft, so they address their need for depth at the position in the event Jeffery misses more time. He caught 43 passes for 490 yards and four touchdowns in only ten games last year, and GMs can expect him to fall significantly in drafts this summer.
Matthew Stafford (QB-DET)
Stafford was having one of the best seasons of his career until he suffered a fractured back that cost him the final eight games of the season. The good news is that he has been medically cleared to play and will be fully ready to participate in training camp. The veteran quarterback threw for 2,499 yards along with 19 touchdowns and five interceptions before his season ended. He wanted to get back on the field, but the Lions refused to put him back out there with a fracture in his back. He is a low-end QB1 in any league format and can see his production increase even more if the Lions can ever figure out how to run the ball.
Ben Roethlisberger (QB-PIT)
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered a season-ending elbow injury in Week 2 last year and raised concerns that his career might be over. However, the 38-year old veteran has been working diligently with teammates this offseason and rehabbing with full intention on being ready to play in Week 1. Pittsburgh’s offense struggled mightily after Roethlisberger went down as neither Mason Rudolph nor Devlin Hodges played well and the team suffered a variety of other injuries. If Big Ben is healthy and has James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster being productive on the field with him, then there is certainly a chance that he can be fantasy relevant for one more season. He will have to avoid setbacks during training camp and prove that he has enough arm strength and endurance to still be an effective quarterback in the league.
Sony Michel (RB-NE)
The Patriots offense will have a dramatically different look this season with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski now in Tampa Bay. New England will likely have to rely on their running game even more meaning Sony Michel will be a vital part of the offense. He played in all 16 games last year and rushed for 912 yards with seven touchdowns. However, he tends to be banged up frequently and does have a history of knee issues. Of concern is the fact that he underwent foot surgery this past May to alleviate some discomfort he had been experiencing. It does not appear he had any significant injury to his foot, but this recent operation could prevent him from being able to fully participate when training camp opens. At this point GMs should expect Michel to be ready for Week 1 barring any setbacks throughout the summer. He should be treated as a solid RB2 but it is well known that Bill Belichik does not like committing to just one running back from week to week.
Marvin Jones (WR-DET)
It feels like déjà vu writing about Marvin Jones coming back from an injury-shortened season. He missed the final seven games of the 2018 season with a knee injury and then returned with a very productive 2019 season. Unfortunately, Jones sustained an ankle injury late in the season and missed the final three games. He was in the midst of a very solid year before Matthew Stafford went down with a back injury. Jones did finish with 62 receptions for 779 yards and nine touchdowns in 13 game, so he clearly has enough left in the tank as he approaches the final year of his contract in his age-30 season. Fantasy GMs should target him later in drafts as having a lot of upside playing with the motivation of becoming a free agent and with Stafford back under center.
Deebo Samuel (WR-SF)
The defending NFC champions might be without their number one wide receiver for the beginning of the season after he sustained a broken left foot while working out with teammates in June. He underwent surgery on his Jones fracture that can have a complicated recovery process. Samuel was given a timetable of three to four months to recover, so his status for the regular season opener is in serious jeopardy. He burst on the scene in 2019 with 57 catches for 802 yards and three touchdowns in 15 games. The 49ers do not have many established options behind him on the depth chart, so his absence could open up opportunities for first round pick Brandon Aiyuk.
Cam Newton (QB-NE)
The quarterback carousel of 2020 has brought Cam Newton to New England on a one-year, incentive-laden contract to replace the legendary Tom Brady . This could be disastrous or it could be the next example of Bill Belichik rejuvenating someone’s career. Newton has dealt with a myriad of injuries the past couple years including shoulder surgery in January 2019 and then being limited to just two games due to a foot injury last season. He is now 31-years old and has a lot of wear and tear on his body. The Patriots are known for their pass protections and creative offensive schemes, so this has all the makings for an incredible comeback story. Newton is no longer a top 12 fantasy quarterback, but he is intriguing enough to target as a backup to use for depth or trade bait.
Rashaad Penny (RB-SEA)
Not only did the Seahawks lose Chris Carson at the end of last year, but they also lost backup Rashaad Penny to a season-ending knee injury. He tore his ACL during Week 14 of the 2019 season and underwent surgery last December. Penny’s status for Week 1 of the regular season is questionable at best given the severity of the procedure he had and the fact that he had it only seven months ago. Seattle seems confident that Carson will be ready for the season but less optimistic about Penny at this point. He is only worth a late round flyer for positional depth coming off a season in which he only rushed for 370 yards and three touchdowns in ten games.
Will Fuller (WR-HOU)
There are few guarantees in life: death, taxes and Will Fuller getting injured. The talented wide receiver cannot stay on the field long enough for fantasy GMs to trust him. He missed another five games last year with a myriad of injuries and then underwent surgery in January to repair core muscle tears. Reports out of Houston seem positive so far in terms of Fuller’s recovery, but there is no way GMs can feel comfortable relying on Fuller with one of their starting slots. He can be explosive when he is on the field and will now be the Texans’ number one wide receiver after DeAndre Hopkins was traded to Arizona. However, GMs should proceed with caution after he has missed 22 games in his first four seasons in the league.
Evan Engram (TE-NYG)
Another talented player with a lengthy injury history is Giants tight end Evan Engram . He missed half of 2019 with a Lisfranc injury that could cause him to miss some time this year as well. The recovery from an injury like this is long and difficult. Plus, Engram has endured a variety of other injuries in his career as well. There is no denying Engram’s talents as a wide receiver playing tight end and usually gaining advantages against slower linebackers trying to cover him. He had 44 catches for 467 yards and three touchdowns last year and could have a huge role in the Giants offense that is filled with playmakers. Engram is a low-end TE1 when healthy and has the potential to become one of Daniel Jones’s favorite targets down the field.
TJ Hockensen (TE-DET)
Fantasy GMs thought they found the next coming of Rob Gronkowski after opening week last year when rookie T.J. Hockensen reeled in six catches for 131 yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately, he never came close to matching those numbers in any other game after that until his season ended last November. Hockensen suffered an ankle injury that cut his rookie season short but he had become irrelevant well before that. Now entering his second year, Hockensen should fare better with some experience and a healthy Matthew Stafford under center. He is still rehabbing and working his way back from the injury, so GMs will likely leave him undrafted except in deeper leagues where he is a low-end TE2.