Second Opinion: How To Value Injured Players on Draft Day

Reviewing the latest on the most critical injury situations and when it's safe to draft Foster, Gronkowski, Nicks and many others on draft day.

The majority of my posts on the Footballguys Second Opinion blog break down player injuries without an extended fantasy take. I'll offer my thoughts on what a vague report may truly mean and give an opinion on whether the timetable we're given by a team or player is overly optimistic. This time of year, though, that's only a small part of what you need to know.

It's drafting season. Injuries are a huge variable in where you tier players and, ultimately, how comfortable you are drafting them. It's not enough, as my long time friend and colleague Sigmund Bloom often reminds me, to just analyze injuries in August. It's time to decide just how worried to be about the injury variable, how soon is too soon to draft a player with an injury concern, and whether some of the more vexing players should be on your draft board at all.

Bloom is right. Your drafts -- and many of mine -- are on the horizon. In the words of my favorite supporting movie character of all time, Cameron Frye, "I'm gonna take a stand...Right or wrong, I'm gonna defend it."

I'll use ADP to frame each argument and start at the top of the ADP list. I'll list each player's current positional ADP and then roughly translate his current overall ADP to a likely draft position in a standard scoring 12 team league. I'll focus on players expected to go off the board in the first ten rounds (ADP of 120 or lower) before considering what to do with a trio of players (Percy Harvin, Le'Veon Bell, Michael Crabtree) who may return late in the season.

Arian Foster | current positional adp = RB4 | current overall adp = High-Mid 1st Round

Foster has struggled with injury all offseason and was only recently activated off Houston's Reserve/PUP list. Gary Kubiak tried to minimize a spring calf strain that was at least mid-grade and still bothering Foster in mid-August. Then news broke that Foster had an epidural injection for a minor disc issue in his lower back that was causing pain down his leg. Local observers noted that Foster was moving well on the sideline during camp practices and his activation off the PUP list this week is another reassuring sign. But he'll be at high risk of a re-conditioning injury in his first week back to practice and the steroid injection will relieve his symptoms but not fix his disc problem.

Draft Recommendation: Foster had a strong season in 2011 after a significant preseason hamstring strain. But he's averaged 371 touches over the past three seasons and his rate stats have been declining. He's yet to prove he's recovered from the offseason calf strain and his disc issue won't resolve without extended rest. Until Foster proves he can practice on consecutive days and successfully navigates the critical 7-14 day period when he's at highest risk of re-aggravating his muscle strain, I won't trust him in my elite running back tier. He's a much better risk in the second round than the first and I'll be drafting Ray Rice, Trent Richardson, Marshawn Lynch, Jimmy Graham or Calvin Johnson ahead of him over the next two weeks.

Jamaal Charles | RB3 | High-Mid 1st

I covered Charles' foot strain extensively last week on the blog. Charles been practicing regularly, which is strong evidence that the Kansas City medical staff felt the strain to be very minor.

Draft Recommendation: If you had Charles in your elite tier, keep him there. His practice participation this week means there's little to fear from the foot strain. 

Trent Richardson | RB9 | Low 1st

Richardson has at least one balky knee and has been fighting a stress reaction / bone bruise / strain (depending on which report you believe) of his lower leg for weeks. He showed no signs of any leg issues in the second preseason game and all indications are that Richardson's missed practice time has been more than a smart maintenance plan. I think there's reason to worry that Richardson's knees may limit his fantasy career peak to 2-3 years rather than 5-6 years, but that's a discussion for 2014 and beyond.

Draft Recommendation: I won't bet the house on Richardson's durability this year, but I think the shin condition is a minor concern. I have Richardson just outside my elite tier and I am comfortable drafting him as the RB6 or RB7 in the back half of the first round.

Brandon Marshall | WR4 | Mid-low 2nd

After two surprising drops in the third preseason game, Marshall told reporters that he didn't feel he was "where I want to be right now." He was then excused from camp for four days for personal reasons, which Ian Rapoport reported was to allow time for a "previously scheduled followup" with his hip surgeon. Marshall didn't appear to be limited in any way during the third preseason game. He was making an effort to block downfield and wasn't obviously limited in his route running, so this feels like more drama than substance -- something that has been an issue for Marshall in the past. It is conceivable that Marshall had an end-of-preseason checkup scheduled with his hip surgeon, though the timing is odd. And there's some reason for concern about a joint that has needed multiple surgical procedures.

Draft Recommendation: We may find otherwise early next week, but I'll give Marshall's hip the benefit of the doubt right now. He looked good on the field last week and he's played effectively through hip pain in the past. The drama is enough for me to keep him at the bottom of the elite WR tier (which is six deep for me) behind Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas and Julio Jones. But I think Marshall remains a solid second round pick.

Maurice Jones-Drew | RB15 | Low 2nd - Early 3rd

I was worried about Jones-Drew earlier this summer. He was missing his rehab goals, which I felt could be a major red flag for a player that delayed definitive treatment for a Lisfranc injury. But Jones-Drew came off the PUP list early in camp and played in the second preseason game. More importantly, he looked decisive and powerful between the tackles. Many players, including running backs, have returned successfully from Lisfranc injures. Jones-Drew looks to have put his behind him.

Draft Recommendation: I think the current ADP of RB15 and 24 overall is too steep a price to pay for Jones-Drew. But I'm comfortable slotting him into my RB2 tiers. Prior to 2012, he was a model of consistency and played well through minor injury despite a questionable surrounding cast. If you choose to draft a wide receiver (or tight end) in the first two rounds, Jones-Drew is a solid third round pick.

Roddy White | wr9 | mid 3rd

There are rumors that White may have suffered a high ankle sprain two weeks ago, but multiple team sources have said that's not the case and an MRI reportedly showed a low grade injury. The replays are suspicious, but too difficult to interpret with certainty. Regardless, White will have had over three weeks of rest before opening weekend and should be close to full strength whether the injury is a low grade high ankle injury or not.

Draft Recommendation: There isn't enough concern here to drop White from his current tier or avoid him at a mid-3rd ADP. He's a safe WR1 and an even better WR2 if the draft falls that way for you.

DeMarco Murray | RB18 | Mid 3rd - Early 4th
Darren McFadden | RB20 | Late 3rd - Early 4th

The debate on injury-prone running backs starts with Murray and McFadden this year. Adrian Peterson and Richardson have equally worrisome medical files, but no one seems as worried about them. I'm reluctant to label a player injury prone, but it's hard to overlook the number of games Murray and McFadden have missed in recent years. Both are healthy right now. And that's not a small feat for either. Nagging soft tissue injuries and muscle strains have limited them at various points of the offseason throughout their careers.

Draft Recommendation: Both of these players have RB1 talent, but I think the depth of the elite running back tiers and their history of extended absences warrant the discount here. McFadden's surrounding cast is significantly worse than Murray's and that's reflected in their ADP and my draft board. These two represent a key flex point in your draft plan. Both are nearly certain to be available to you in the third round. If you feel Murray or McFadden have RB1 upside and the injury-prone worries are overblown, take a stud wide receiver in the first or second round and take advantage of the fear discount here.

RANDALL COBB | WR10 | MID 3RD - EARLY 4TH

Cobb's injury and attempt to practice through it seemed odd to me last week, so I asked some orthopedic surgeons for their thoughts on what he may be facing. The consensus was mostly positive -- tendonitis without a high risk of further injury and a low likelihood of missed time. And I'm reassured that the team seems more willing to let Cobb miss practice this week than last. Letting his injury cool off will go a long way to avoiding injections to manage his symptoms and walking the fine line between able to play through the pain or taking a week or two off during the season.

Draft Recommendation: I moved Cobb out of my not quite elite WR1 tier (which includes players like Vincent Jackson, Andre Johnson at the top and Victor Cruz at the bottom) and into the middle of the WR2 with WR1 upside tier (among players like Hakeem Nicks, Dwayne Bowe, Wes Welker, etc.). I think the fourth round is a good sweet spot for him right now, but I feel much better about rostering him if I've already drafted a steady anchor WR1 or am comfortable spending the capital on four total receivers from WR3+ tiers and above.

Victor Cruz | WR11 | late 3rd - Early 4th

Cruz suffered a heel injury in the second preseason game and was in a walking boot and using crutches the day after the injury. Reports are that it's not a bone bruise, but Cruz does have some bleeding in the soft tissues around the heel. It's tough to put a timetable on how long that will take to resolve, but there won't be any lingering effects once it does. Consider him somewhere between day to day and week to week. I think it's unlikely that he'll be at high risk of a re-conditioning injury unless he misses more than two weeks of practice.

Draft Recommendation: Cruz is safe to keep in the same tier you had him in before the injury. Re-evaluate if the initial reports on his injury are revised or he's unable to return to practice within 7-10 days.

Rob Gronkowski | TE2 | Mid 3rd - Early 4th

The Patriots have elected to keep Gronkowski on the active roster rather than keeping him on the PUP list to start the season. That's not a guarantee that he'll be available in Week 1 -- that's still unlikely -- but it's a strong sign that he could be back before October. The good news is that the infection that delayed his arm rehab seems to longer be an issue and he'll have had at least 16 weeks from his most recent hardware revision to heal. That's more than twice as long as he had last year and his risk of re-injuring the arm this time will be much lower. The bad news is that opening weekend is pushing the limits of the usual successful rehab from a microdiscectomy. He'll also have to avoid any muscle strains as he gets back into football shape.

Draft Recommendation: The mid-3rd draft round ADP was a hedge for most owners. Now that the PUP list isn't a concern, his ADP may climb into the mid-2nd or higher. I think the offseason has been too eventful to risk a high-mid second round pick on Gronkowski. But it's reasonable to expect he'll be a safe top 3 tight end (or better) later in the season. There's too much risk to draft Gronkowski at the same time you're considering Jimmy Graham, but anytime after that is now in play. I'd now be comfortable taking him in the third round. Just make sure you get a TE2 you like for the first month of the season.

Danny Amendola | WR17 | mid-late 4th

Amendola hasn't been a model of durability, missing 20 games over the past two seasons with serious elbow and sternum injuries. If Murray and McFadden are the primary "injury-prone" concerns at running back, Amendola (and the player next on this list) are at wide receiver. I had the sense that the worries were quieting on Amendola recently, but they've bubbled up again after his missed practice time this week due to an undisclosed injury. 

Draft Recommendation: There has been no indication that Amendola's current injury is serious. But only one of our four staff projection sets trusts him to play 16 games. When Amendola is on the field, however, he'll likely be a WR1, especially in PPR leagues. That's enough to take the risk on him at his current WR2+ ADP.

Hakeem Nicks | WR18 | early- late 5th

The list of injuries in Nicks' NFL career rivals that of anyone else in the league. Multiple hamstring strains, a groin strain, a broken fifth metatarsal that required surgery and multiple knee issues requiring arthroscopic surgery have limited him since 2009. Nicks has played through many of them, but hasn't always been effective. And this cluster of lower extremity injuries makes me wonder if there's a chronic cascade / compensatory injury cycle here, where one very minor area of soreness is enough leads to a more serious soft tissue problem, etc. If that's the case, it's fair to wonder how long Nicks can keep his house of cards standing.

Draft Recommendation: Nicks has been a top 10 wide receiver when in form. He's one of the few receivers who can put up a 10-150-2 line, even when not at full strength. So, the injury concern is already baked into his current ADP. Latest reports have him healthier now than he's been at any point this offseason. I'd rather have him than Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon as my WR2, especially if my first 3-4 picks are relatively high floor players.

PIERRE GARCON | WR19 | 5TH - 6TH

Like Jones-Drew, I saw many reasons for concern with Garcon this offseason. I'm still nervous about his foot injury. He didn't have surgery, spent the offseason telling reporters he wasn't sure of the health of his foot after months of rest and will be wearing special shoes to limit the risk of an aggravation. Like Jones-Drew, Garcon has looked very good in camp. However, the risk with Garcon is different than Jones-Drew. There could be some loss of range of motion and soreness in Jones-Drew's foot, but he's not likely to re-injure his foot in the same spot. Garcon's injury carries a risk of a toe dislocation or another tear to the soft tissues in the same place. The hope is that an offseason of rest and his special shoes will minimize that risk, but it's still there.

Draft Recommendation: I'm swimming upstream here with Garcon looking healthy in camp, but I just don't feel comfortable with him as my WR2. I think there's a high risk that he'll have periods of missed practice and limitations on game days and there's a chance he'll miss extended time. I have no hard data to back this argument, but we've seen too many players who had surgery recommended to them underperform then ultimately decide to have a procedure -- Ahmad Bradshaw, Osi Umenyiora, Maurice Jones-Drew and nearly every player who has surgery in January and then blames his "minor" injury for his previous year struggles. Garcon is neck and neck with Gronkowski as the toughest call on my board. With Robert Griffin III, Garcon could be an elite WR1. But I think he's a frustrating game-time decision waiting to happen (or worse) and I'm not risking him as more than a WR3.

Jordy Nelson | WR21 | mid 5th - mid 6th

Nelson underwent surgery for a nerve entrapment syndrome that had been reportedly been bothering him off and on for seven years. You can read more on his injury and how it might affect him in the short and long term on the blog. Reports on the progress of his rehab are positive, but the Packers aren't going to rush him back and risk that he'll develop scar tissue in the area and a quick recurrence of his symptoms. The expectation is that Nelson will return to full form. I haven't seen anything that suggests Nelson needed surgery because he was having weakness in his leg so it's possible he could be back in Week 1. Like so many other situations on this list, the first week back is critical for a player that's lost some conditioning. Nelson has had issues with muscle strains in recent seasons and will be at risk of another.

Draft Recommendation: Nelson is a high variance WR2. Even when he's healthy, the depth of receiving options available to Aaron Rodgers will cause his weekly target counts to swing violently. Given what we know right now, I don't believe his nerve condition is a major factor. He's a value play in the fifth round, especially for those who are comfortable with a boom-bust WR2.

Ryan Mathews | RB24 | 5th - 6th

The clavicle injuries last year were a fluke. Mathews is healthy and running hard in camp. There is evidence that Mathews doesn't take his conditioning seriously, however, and that's a legitimate reason to consider a player injury prone.

Draft Recommendation: I'm not going to predict an injury for Mathews, but let's just say I'd be more worried about his ability to avoid injury than Murray or McFadden. Couple that with a well below-average offensive line, concerns that the Chargers won't keep enough games close to sustain a running game, and Danny Woodhead taking third down duties this year and there's no way I'm risking Mathews over other RB3 upside plays like Gio Bernard, Eddie Lacy or Daryl Richardson. If the ADP of those players climbs out of the 5th-6th round range, the wide receivers that fall as a result will be better risks than Mathews. Don't consider this a not a do-not-draft tag, just a recommendation that you exhaust the RB3 with upside and WR3 with upside tiers before you pull the trigger. That's probably going to be the 7th-8th round. If you get Mathews there, he's a much more acceptable risk.

Robert Griffin III | QB9 | 6th - 7th

Griffin III fascinated me this January. The circumstances surrounding his injury and the potential complications of rehabbing an LCL injury with a revised ACL graft were big stories. Now, it seems a foregone conclusion that he'll be ready for Week 1. Impossibly, he's bettered the recovery of Adrian Peterson, who wasn't cleared for contact until very late in the preseason last year. We know how that ended up. Griffin's participation in camp practices is even more notable than you might think. Given how last season ended and the disagreements on whether Griffin should have been on the field, there's no chance that Dr. James Andrews (and Mike Shanahan) would risk Griffin in a contact situation unless they were 100% convinced he was ready. There's a higher baseline risk of another ACL injury in players who have had revision surgery, but it isn't a major fear here and Griffin will be braced to further minimize the risk.

Draft Recommendation: Griffin has done enough in camp to believe his knee injury isn't a major concern. He's in the second tier of quarterbacks for me alongside Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, and Russell Wilson. Your decision on Griffin comes down to whether you're planning to slough quarterbacks until you're one of the last teams to take one. If you're not, I think you can safely target Griffin in the QB5-QB8 range. If you can get him after that, he'll be a tremendous value.

Ahmad Bradshaw | RB28 | 6th - 7th

I still haven't seen a legitimate reason for why Bradshaw was still in a walking boot and on crutches in June, five months after his foot surgery, and still not ready to come off PUP as camp began in late July. Assuming reports of Bradshaw's surgery -- a revision of the screw holding together the chronic stress fracture in his fifth metatarsal -- are correct, he should have been fully recovered within 12 weeks of the January surgery. Local reports have been adamant that Bradshaw is on track for opening weekend, however, and the Colts didn't seem concerned when they signed him to a contract in June. And Bradshaw was back in pads for the first time this week. Though my spidey senses start tingling when something doesn't add up, this feels different than the Chris Wells, Jahvid Best and Jonathan Stewart situations in recent years, none of which ended as optimistically as they began.

Draft Recommendation: I've been recommending holding off on the Indianapolis running back situation altogether until there was some clarity on Bradshaw. The practice in pads this week is a strong indication that Bradshaw will be ready for Week 1. I wouldn't jump him into my RB2 tiers yet, but if he's practicing on consecutive days or participates and looks good in the final preseason game, his ADP won't be in the 7th round range for long. 

Cecil Shorts | WR29 | 7th - 8th

Shorts ended the season on injured reserve after two concussions in one month, prompting questions about his risk for another concussion and how long he may miss should he sustain another this season. Without going into a deep discussion, I'll just note that there isn't a clear answer to either question. No concussion is alike and every injury is going to be treated on a day-by-day schedule based on symptoms. Shorts missed time in camp with a calf injury, but has been fully cleared for contact for some time.

Draft Recommendation: Base your draft evaluation of Shorts on his talent and your feeling about his role and potential in the Jacksonville offense. His ADP suggests a consensus ranking of a low ceiling WR2 / high floor WR3. That feels right to me.

Kenny Britt | WR36 | 7th - 8th

Britt continues to have trouble with swelling in the right knee he's had multiple procedures (ACL/MCL tear and scar tissue removal) on since 2011. He's missed consecutive practices twice during the preseason and Mike Munchak has said the team will likely limit Britt's practice participation all season. That's not good news for a player who was reportedly in very good shape in April, May and June. There's a chance that Britt will make it through the season without in-game limitations, but it seems unlikely.

Draft Recommendation: Britt's ADP marks him as a high risk - high reward WR3 but I wouldn't trust him to be a weekly starter until he proves himself capable of big weeks whether he's practicing or not. Consider him only as a depth play after you've rostered three other receivers to anchor your lineup.

LE'VEON BELL | RB49 | 9TH - 13TH

We've yet to hear a formal diagnosis on Bell's midfoot injury. There was strong speculation that it was a Lisfranc sprain, but I don't think the medical staff would allow him to weight bear without a boot and crutches so soon after his injury were that the case. Running backs who have begun weight bearing rehab for midfoot injuries have generally been within 2-4 weeks of a return, but there are no guarantees.

Draft Recommendation: Last week, I recommended Bell no higher than your RB5 tiers. Now that it seems certain he'll avoid surgery, you can again begin considering Bell in the RB3/RB4 range. Work under the assumption that his Over/Under for games played this season will be 12. Draft him as your RB3 only if you're comfortable risking the under, which could be significant. If you can get him after the 10th round as your RB4 behind a solid top three, it's a reasonable risk to take.

DeAndre Hopkins | WR44 | 10th - 12th

Hopkins suffered a concussion nearly two weeks ago and was close but not yet medically cleared for practice as of August 28th. There are reports that he has made it to the fourth of five stages in the team's return to play protocol, and it's likely he'll be cleared in time for Week 1. It's also notable that Hopkins was knocked out in a car accident late in 2011 and played in a bowl game one week later. We'll be watching how the league handles concussions carefully this season, and it may be that players with multiple concussions will be cleared to return more slowly in some situations.

Draft Recommendation: Hopkins will probably be cleared for Week 1, given his current stage of recovery. His ADP already slots him into a depth tier (WR5 range), which is reasonable. I wouldn't draft him as my WR4 -- and I've seen him go in the 9th-10th round range recently -- but that has more to do with concerns over his target counts than his medical status.

Jonathan Stewart | RB44 | 9th - 11th

Stewart started camp on the PUP list and, despite Ron Rivera's optimism, I don't think there's a clear timetable for his return. And there may not be for awhile. I've felt that way for more than a month. Stewart is a great running back above the ankles but his chronic ankle and Achilles issues are proving impossible to overcome. He's a 26 year old talent with 30 year old legs.

Draft Recommendation: Stewart's ADP suggests that he's still a consensus RB4 or better. You want no part of him at that point in your draft. He's much more likely remain on the PUP than provide you meaningful bye week production in the middle part of your fantasy schedule.

Percy Harvin | Michael Crabtree

I've seen Harvin go anywhere between the 12th and 20th round in recent mock (and real) drafts. Crabtree has generally been a 15th round or later play. I think the absolute and relative value of both are fair. Neither player is a lock to return to the field this year, much less immediately re-assume a high target role and be effective. But Harvin is the more dynamic talent and faces a slightly less daunting rehab. If you have the roster depth (or an injured reserve slot) to carry Harvin for 12-13 weeks in the hopes that he'll be a value add to your playoff lineup, it's a good gamble. I'm not sure I'd say the same for Crabtree. A ready-to-be-activated Harvin is more likely to be near pre-injury strength than Crabtree.

I'll update these situations next week as news breaks.

During the season, I'll be doing similar breakdowns on Sunday morning with recommendations on what to do with the most pressing game-time injury decisions. The Second Opinion blog will also feature a Monday debriefing of every major injury from the previous week's games along with many other shorter features during the week.

Follow on Twitter @JeneBramel for analysis and commentary on injury situations as they occur and email your questions and comments to bramel@footballguys.com.


More from Jene Bramel:

Reading the Defense: Week 8 - October 22
Monday Injury Rounds: Week 8 - October 20
Gameday Injury Expectations: Week 7 - October 19
Sunday IDP Notes: Week 7 - October 19
Inside the Injury Report: Week 7 - October 16
Reading the Defense: Week 7 - October 15
Monday Injury Rounds: Week 7 - October 13
Sunday IDP Notes: Week 6 - October 12
Gameday Injury Expectations: Week 6 - October 12
Reading the Defense: Week 6 - October 8