11 Top Fantasy Players With Injury Concerns: Are They Worth the Risk?
We’ve all been there. You just finished your draft, you are looking over your roster and you're really excited about your team. Then as soon as your draft is over, one of your stud players gets hurt, and it basically ruins your outlook on the entire season before it even starts. Instead of reaping the benefits of your top tier playmakers giving you an advantage, now you have the difficult task of trying to plan ahead for potential waiver wire additions and sleepers you wouldn’t have to keep your eye on if your stud player didn’t get hurt.
We’ve mentioned this plenty of times in these columns, and we'll continue to do it because we can't be naive about players and the risk of injuries when playing football. Football is a rough sport, and an athlete’s body can only handle so much repetitive trauma before sustaining some sort of injury. This column is going to look at a few players in the top-20 (based on our 4for4 PPR projections) of each skilled position you should be very wary of heading into your drafts. Some names might be obvious, but there are other players who I wouldn't necessarily feel overly confident in their ability to stay on the field for the majority of the fantasy season. I hope I'm wrong on all of these players I'm about to cover, but unfortunately the biggest risk for injury is previous history, and for many of these guys, the extended history of injuries can't be overlooked.
Marcus Mariota – Considering Mariota is only entering his second year in the NFL, there isn't a ton to go off of. But in the short time he's been in the NFL, he has already sustained injuries to both knees. The Titans have gotten better in the backfield with the additions of Derrick Henry and Demarco Murray, so maybe Mariota might not need to do as much with his legs if the running game is taking the pressure off of him. Regardless, if he does decide to start running more, which everyone in the fantasy world would like, he needs to make sure he knows how to slide and not take unnecesary hits. There is a ton of upside with Mariota, but the Titans offense seems to be focused on running the ball, and his offensive weapons besides Delanie Walker and Rishard Matthews, are largely unproven.
Ben Roethlisberger - Big Ben is as tough as they come when dealing with injuries, but it seems like he's always playing with some sort of injury each and every year. Roethlisberger has a ton of weapons at his disposal, but the suspension of Martavis Bryant, the possible suspension of Le'Veon Bell, and the lingering headache issues of Ladarius Green do pose some questions heading into the season. If Ben is healthy, there is no denying his capability, especially in Todd Haley's offensive scheme, but the health issue always does seem to creep up every year.
Tyrod Taylor - The hype train is strong with Tyrod this year and there's plenty of reason for it. He exceeded expectations last season, but if you've noticed the players on this list, they are more mobile quarterbacks who extend plays, which can leave them more susceptible to big hits. The thing I worry about most is not so much whether or not Tyrod is at risk, it's whether his #1 target, Sammy Watkins, can stay on the field. I feel like Tyrod's success is directly tied to Watkins, as the Bills depth at receiver drops off significantly if Watkins isn't on the field. If Watkins misses time for whatever reason, I believe Tyrod will try and make things happen more with his legs, or maybe OC Greg Roman uses him more in the run game, which does bring his risk up. I'm a fan of Tyrod this year and have him on a few of my teams, but Watkins' health, as you'll see shortly, is the thing I'm more concerned about.
Alshon Jeffery – Soft tissue injuries, especially hamstring injuries, are very difficult to recovery from, especially for receivers. Jeffery has a long history of hamstring issues dating back to 2012, so it is clearly a chronic issue that continues to get exacerbated each year, it seems. The fact that he is already missed some time this year due to a mild hamstring strain is a big red flag to me come draft day. If you are planning on drafting Jeffery, you need to take into account that the likelihood he plays the full season is not very high.
Sammy Watkins – Watkins was really high on my draft board early in the offseason, but since we have found out he had foot surgery, I'm not sure I can pull the trigger on him now. The myriad of injuries he's already had in such a short time period in the NFL is concerning, and although he has so much potential when he's healthy, it will be hard to make a determination if he doesn't play any preseason games. The foot surgery he underwent in April, where he had a screw inserted to help stabilize and expedite the healing process of his fracture, is also the same ankle Watkins sprained in 2015 and cost the receiver two games. Are both injuries related? It's really hard to say, but I'm just connecting the dots in that multiple injuries to an area of close proximity doesn't bode well for long-term health.
Jordy Nelson - I completely whiffed on Nelson last year as he was returning from offseason hip surgery and basically said he was going to have a monster year, and then shortly thereafter, he tore his ACL. This year, Nelson looks to be healthy when it comes to his surgically-repaired knee, but it's his non-surgical knee that he's dealing with tendinitis now. As I've mentioned before, it is not uncommon after an ACL reconstruction to deal with some tendinitis in the other leg or maybe even in other parts of the body, but tendinitis usually appears in the earlier parts of rehab. Although the Packers will still try and take it slow with Nelson, there is some risk here that his tendinitis lingers into the season (even though they'll deem him 100 percent heading into the regular season). Keep an eye on his progress as he's still currently on the active/PUP list, he's a little too pricey for my liking in the second round.
Mark Ingram - As our senior editor John Paulsen has mentioned, Ingram has failed to play in more than 13 games since 2012. Although he looks to be completely recovered from his rotator cuff tear he suffered last year, the time spent off the field over the last few years is what is making me skeptical. The shoulder injury last year, the broken hand in 2014 which caused him to miss five games, and turf toe in 2013 which also caused him to miss five games all make me a little leery of where he is currently going on draft day (late second round in 12-team leagues and early third round in 10-team leagues). If you pull the trigger on Ingram, you may want to target Tim Hightower in the later rounds just in case.
Le'Veon Bell - Even if Bell's four-game suspension is upheld, I still think I would include him in this column. Knee injuries are serious matters when it comes to NFL running backs, and the fact Bell has missed time the past two years due to significant knee injuries definitely creeps into my head when considering him on draft day. Yes he has great upside when he is completely healthy, but how long he'll be healthy remains to be seen. Bell's appeal is scheduled for August 18th, so we should know more soon about whether or not he'll be playing Week 1, or if he'll be forced to sit out until Week 5.
Ryan Mathews - I think there is a lot to like this year for Mathews. He's coming off a great year and is now going to be the workhorse back for new HC Doug Pederson's run-first offense. With that being said, the more carries he gets, the more increased risk there is that Mathews could sustain some sort of injury that could sideline him for a number of games. Mathews has only played a full season once in his career. I'd be a little less bullish in my stance on him if all he sustained were just strains, fractures, or soft tissue injuries, but his concussion history is also what is concerning. Mathews has missed at least one game in three of the last four years due to a concussion, which we all know are very hard to predict. If you're drafting Mathews, understand you are drafting him with the likelihood that he plays 12-14 games.
Jordan Reed - Reed finally was able to stay relatively healthy last year as he ended up playing 14 games and was able to put up some solid numbers. The thing that scares me is Reed's concussion history is extensive, and like I mentioned before with Ryan Mathews, we're just never really sure when a concussion could occur. Those who have had a history of multiple concussions usually struggle with the recovery process, as symptoms have a tendency to linger longer.
Charles Clay - Clay missed the last three games of last season due to lower back issues, and it seems as if he still isn't fully recovered. ESPN's Bills reporter Mike Rodak has stated that the training staff has still been attending to and treating Clay's low back regularly this training camp, which is a red flag to me. Back issues do have a tendency to linger, and although the Bills have stated they want to use Clay more in the passing game, they still need him to block a fair amount in a run-first offense, which could put more stress on his back. The TE position is really deep this year, but if you are waiting on TE, Clay would not be on my list of guys to target.
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