Fantasy Football Injury Report: July 11
It might be the middle of July, but it's never too early to start looking into fantasy football rosters. Michael A. Stein gives a rundown of some key players who will be returning from injuries to begin the 2016 season.
As you prepare for the upcoming fantasy football season, it is imperative to pay attention to the progress that many injured players are making as they get set to return to the field. It is easy to forget some players who missed significant time during the previous season because they do not show up in statistical rankings. OK, so maybe it would be impossible to forget a lot of these players since the 2015 season was marred by injuries to several elite stars, but they may have slipped in projected value simply because of the risk. As the author of the weekly fantasy football injury report for Fantasy Alarm, I am going to provide you with several key players who are coming back from injury who should be on your draft radar. Some of these players could provide great value if their injury history scares other GMs away from investing early round picks on them.
Andrew Luck (QB-IND)
The Colts certainly don’t seem concerned with Andrew Luck’s injuries that he sustained in 2015 which cost him more than half the season. Luck suffered a serious internal injury and was shut down after having somewhat of a disappointing season based on his own standards. However, Indianapolis made him the highest paid player in NFL history with a new six-year contract. Luck is back and will be ready to go in Week1. He should still be the first quarterback drafted, but the dilemma is always how long to wait before taking one in the draft. I’ll leave that bit of advice to my draft guide colleague Jonathan Impemba.
Le’veon Bell (RB-PIT)
Fantasy GMs will be faced with a tough decision in the first round when presented with the opportunity to draft Bell. He was a consensus top two pick in 2015, even despite having to serve a suspension to begin the year. After he came back, he suffered a season-ending knee injury and was limited to just six games. The Steelers' offense has become one of the most prolific in the league and Bell figures to be a huge part of that. He has not had any setbacks in his recovery and should be ready to go for Week 1. The concern will be when he finally gets in game action, takes hits and has to cut on his surgically repaired knee. He is undoubtedly a top draft pick with all things being equal, but there is absolutely inherent risk coming off the injury.
Jamaal Charles (RB-KC)
Charles has been one of the best fantasy running backs for a long time now, but he is smothered in red flags right now. His 2015 season ended after five games when he suffered another serious knee injury requiring surgery. This was the second major knee surgery he underwent in five years. While he came back successfully after the 2011 injury, he is now five years older with a lot more wear and tear on his body. Charles is entering his ninth NFL season and very rarely do running backs at his age maintain that elite level of production, especially after suffering such a significant injury. The Chiefs will likely be very conservative and cautious with him in training camp and preseason. Don’t forget that Kansas City also signed Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware to contract extensions, so they have plenty of depth and options in case Charles isn’t ready or isn’t productive.
Jordy Nelson (WR-GB)
Many fantasy GMs’ 2015 seasons were severely altered before it even began because Nelson suffered a serious knee injury in the summer. Nelson was coming off of two elite seasons and was clearly one of the top wide receiver options in any league format. His production could not be replaced no matter how badly we all wanted Davante Adams to step into that role. Nelson fell just shy of 100 receptions in 2014 but should be able to eclipse that threshold now fully healthy and Aaron Rodgers able to play with a full offensive arsenal. So far everything looks great with his recovery so he appears to be a lock to be ready for Week 1 and pick up where he left off.
Sammy Watkins (WR-BUF)
Watkins missed three games last year with a foot injury and was still in a walking boot as recently as a month ago. Now he is doing sprints and claims he will be ready for training camp. Watkins is also trying to demonstrate a new attitude and dedication with his rehab, so if he can stay healthy and get on the field for Week 1 he could be in for a big season. In just 13 games last year, he caught 60 passes for 1,047 yards and nine touchdowns. Now entering his third year, Watkins could put up elite statistics over the course of a full season and will come at a discounted price on draft day.
Kelvin Benjamin (WR-CAR)
Heading into 2015, Benjamin was one of the most sought after young wide receivers in fantasy drafts because of his exceptional rookie season where he was targeted 145 times and caught over 1,000 yards with nine touchdowns. But he tore his ACL in the preseason and missed the entire year, including Carolina’s incredible run to the Super Bowl. Now he is back but the thought process in Carolina appears to be spreading out targets more to several players rather than condensing the passing offense squarely on Benjamin. We’ll see how long that strategy holds up because Benjamin will be a welcome sight for Cam Newton and will make a great WR2 on fantasy rosters.
Dez Bryant (WR-DAL)
There are always going to be players who grossly underperform and disappoint GMs based on the complete and utter lack of value provided. In 2015, there are fewer players who had more underwhelming and disappointing seasons than Dez Bryant. After suffering a foot injury in Week 1, he needed surgery and missed almost two months. There was speculation that he came back too early because Bryant never looked right. It’s possible part of the problem was the fact that Tony Romo was out as well, but it didn’t seem to matter who was playing quarterback because Bryant looked completely lost on the field. The consensus first or second round pick rewarded fantasy owners with just 31 receptions for 401 yards and three touchdowns in just nine games. This is simply unacceptable, but expect Bryant to come back with a vengeance in 2016. He is certainly a player to target as having a significant bounce back season.
Mark Ingram (RB-NO)
Ingram was limited to just 12 games last season due to a shoulder injury for which he underwent surgery in December 2015. He appears healthy and on track to begin the season, and the good news is he has been outwardly vocal about wanting to continue his role in the passing game that he established last year. Ingram caught 50 passes in 2015 which was almost twice as many as his previous career high. If the Saints do continue to utilize him in the passing game, he will provide great value in both standard and PPR leagues. Ingram is one of those players that could get lost in the shuffle during draft preparation so make sure you don’t let him fall off the radar on your list.
Tony Romo (QB-DAL)
There are many words used to describe Tony Romo who is one of the most polarizing athletes in all of professional sports. Some would call him injury prone and fragile, and they would be correct. Romo hasn’t played in all 16 games since 2012 and is coming off a season in which he suffered two major collarbone injuries limiting him to four games. However, when he is on the field he has been a highly productive fantasy player. He appears to be fully healthy and will have a full offensive arsenal at his disposal again which makes him a tempting fantasy option if you decide to wait until the later rounds to draft your quarterback. At 36 years old and with his history, it is absolutely fair to call him fragile so drafting him presents a high risk/high reward scenario.
Dion Lewis (RB-NE)
It is never easy to rely on a Patriots running back in fantasy football because no one ever seems to get consistent touches and the backfield committee tends to include way too many candidates. Lewis emerged for a short while as New England’s featured back, but his season was cut short with a knee injury which required surgery. He is still recovering from the surgery and is being slowly eased back into the fold. The Patriots are optimistic that Lewis will be ready for Week 1, so target him accordingly. He will have even more value the first few weeks of the season due to Tom Brady’s suspension and with solid performances he could lock himself into the featured role in New England’s high-powered offense.
Victor Cruz (WR-NYG)
It has been a long road back for Cruz who has not played in a game since early 2014 when he suffered a gruesome patella injury requiring surgery. When he attempted to come back in 2015, he suffered a calf injury which kept shutting him down to the point where that required surgery as well. Now Cruz is back on the practice field and doing drills with the Giants which is a great sign. He would be the team’s third receiver behind Odell Beckham, Jr. and rookie Sterling Shepard, so there is absolute fantasy value for Cruz in PPR leagues if he can stay healthy. He will not have the explosiveness he was once known for, but in this role Cruz could become a great possession receiver with 8-10 targets per game.
Jordan Reed (TE-WAS)
Reed has emerged as one of the top fantasy tight ends in the league after having a spectacular 2015 season in which he caught 87 passes for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns. He accomplished this in only 14 games which should make fantasy GMs salivate over what he can do in a full 16 games. Injuries have always been a concern for Reed who has missed several games in each of the past three seasons. Now he is dealing with an ankle injury which will keep him out of minicamp. This should not affect his status for preseason, but it is something to keep an eye on because he has a well-deserved reputation as a fragile player.
Michael A. Stein, Esq. is the Chief Justice of Fantasy Judgment, the industry's premier dispute resolution service, and co-host of the Fantasy Alarm Podcast. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook and Twitter (@FantasyJudgment).