Injuries, man. They are the blight of the sports world. Striking when we least expect it and stealing away our favorite players. But there is a second injury plague affecting sports fans. The one where folks ruin their own fantasy football rankings by trying to predict which healthy players will get hurt and which ones won’t. They might even draft a worse football player over a stud while playing that guessing game. Luckily for us, the Dr. FortuneTellers of the world drag down those players’ ADP, allowing the rest of us to profit. So today we’re going to help dispel some myths regarding injuries and help you ACCOUNT for them - without trying to predict them.
Predicting Healthy Players to Get Hurt is a Bad Idea for Fantasy Football
How many times in the fantasy football community have you heard someone say “He’s just going to get hurt”? Or “He’s burned me before”? It’s a PROLIFIC response among commenters on social media sites like Reddit and The Site Formerly Known as Twitter. And it’s something we can take advantage of. Even actual medical professionals like Edwin Porras of FantasyPoints.com will tell you that predicting which currently healthy players are going to get hurt or not is a difficult task. You should give him a follow on Twitter because he does a great job discussing football injuries in a realistic fashion.
For me, anytime I see someone saying “He’s GOING to get hurt, I know there is some advantage to be had by the rest of us. Even if it’s as small as getting Christian McCaffrey at 1.02 because folks were scared of injuries so they were taking Jonathan Taylor ahead (Spoiler Alert: it was JT that got hurt, not CMC). If you absolutely insist on accounting for past injuries or are trying to guess new injuries based on age, you should treat it the same way we treat something like stacking teammates. Don’t draft a worse football player over it. If anything, use it as a tiebreaker between two guys you have ranked EXTREMELY close. I’m talking so close that you can’t even see the difference.
When DO We Fade Players in Fantasy Football?
This one is also pretty easy. You can fade guys who are actually hurt. And I’m willing to be pretty lenient with this definition. If a guy is coming off a major injury, you can fade them. We have actual medically proven scientific data that shows that ACL injuries often cause a decrease in production and can shorten careers. Harvard (a potentially reputable source) also showed that players with an ACL injury were more susceptible to future additional injuries and arthritis. Obviously, we’ve seen some miraculous immediate recoveries for guys like Adrian Peterson. But their risk is absolutely there so go ahead and fade players like Breece Hall and Javonte Williams if you like.
I’ll even extend the “actually hurt” title to include players who deal with injuries or require treatment during the preseason process, even if they return to practice. You never know when a guy is fully healthy or just trucking through and, a tweak now could turn into something big later. And you can double that for soft tissue injuries and triple it with age. If you are fading Cooper Kupp from his first-round ADP because of his recent hamstring injury, I don’t blame you - even if they are hoping he is back sooner rather than later. If they are healthy when I am drafting though, I have no problem taking guys like Keenan Allen, DeAndre Hopkins, or Michael Thomas at ADP. But, if I hear one thing about a hamstring or the like during this offseason, I’m moving them way down. We aren’t going to predict healthy players to get hurt but, if they are actually hurt, fade away.
Don’t Predict Injuries in Fantasy Football, But Account for Them
Now, are you ready for the most advanced part of injury analysis - one that I don’t often see discussed? We don’t want to try to predict what healthy players get hurt. But injuries do happen. So we absolutely want to consider what injuries could do to OTHER player’s upside. Most fantasy gamers only consider this in the form of the classic example which is running back handcuffs. One RB gets hurt, then the backup steps in. But we really should be considering the upside potential at a LOT of other positions if someone gets hurt. Some guys even have an upside if a few different guys get hurt - not just the guy directly in front of them.
Let’s use the tight end position and look at five different examples.
- Travis Kelce – Kelce is already the top dog on his team. Injury to wide receivers really doesn't provide any additional upside. And his floor is already very high.
- Darren Waller – Waller doesn’t have the floor that Kelce has but his ceiling is the top target on his team regardless of WR injuries. They have a ton of WRs anyway so they would just go next man up. So, similar to Kelce, injury to wide receivers doesn’t necessarily affect his upside - though it could raise his floor.
- Dallas Goedert – When everyone was healthy, Dallas Goedert was clearly the third target on the team. So his upside is capped. But, an injury to EITHER A.J. Brown or DeVonta Smith, now unlocks a very high-end upside (on top of already being fairly “safe” if not a little boring).
- Gerald Everett – Last year Keenan Allen and Mike Williams essentially only played two full games together. This gave Everett a boost but he still didn’t have high-end upside. Now, with the addition of Quentin Johnston, on top of also having Austin Ekeler eating up targets his upside is even further limited regardless of injury. He's just not a full time player.
- Isaiah Likely – A wide receiver injury doesn’t really help Likely all that much - not enough to make him startable in fantasy in most cases. But an injury to Mark Andrews would immediately give Likely high upside.
If we were to attempt to visualize this example with a crude graphic, it might look something like this. The low end of the color matching the player's name represents their floor and the high end is their ceiling. The additional orange and brown lines would represent their new upside if there was an injury to a teammate.
And one final point to this - the availability of REPLACEMENT VALUE players can ALSO be factored into a player’s value. If your starting tight end is Dallas Goedert and he gets hurt, you are kind of screwed. Goedert is already battling for targets and we just saw last year that the next man up is not going to compete with A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. They are simply going to get more targets. With Mark Andrews however, Isaiah Likely last year slid right into that role and looked pretty solid doing it. So, if Andrews goes down, you might be able to just drop a bunch of FAAB and keep things rolling. That’s fairly rare at tight end but with running back and wide receiver, a LOT of these “handcuff” type players are going to be readily available on waivers. Something to keep in mind.
Know Your Format
And one final crucial point here - know your format. If you have an IR spot (especially multiple) you can move injured guys UP. You have a free spot to put a guy like Kyler Murray and just leave him there. It's a “free square”. On the flip side, if you don't have IR spots, have a bunch of starting spots, but don't have many bench spots, you really might not have the ability to sit around and wait for Kyler Murray. You might need to drop him early on without actually seeing him come back. And during that time you wasted a precious shot at upside. So know what YOUR league allows for and lean into it!
Related NFL Links:
- 2023 Fantasy Football Draft Guide: The Ultimate Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet
- 2023 Fantasy Football Player Rankings
- 2023 NFL Player Projections
- 2023 Fantasy Football ADP Risers & Fallers August 4: Keenan Allen Moving Up WR Draft Rankings
- 2023 Fantasy Football Player Debates: Is Anthony Richardson Worth His Current ADP?
- 2023 Fantasy Football Player Debates: Should You Draft Daniel Jones at His Current ADP?