“You might not win your fantasy league with your first draft picks, but you can definitely lose it.”
I’m not going to debate the accuracy of that bit of fantasy football wisdom. It’s enough to say I’m not a big fan of absolutism. No doubt many of you have come storming back to win your league after seeing injuries and unexpectedly poor production wipe out three of your first four draft picks. But I think it’s worth trying to mitigate as much risk as possible in the early rounds. At minimum, if you take a high risk player, you want the upside to be worth it.
Injuries, whether it’s a player who suffered a muscle strain during the preseason weeks or a player whose recovery from offseason surgery remains an unknown, are a vital part of that risk equation. Although we’re often working with incomplete information, it’s still possible to make an educated guess on how to value injured players on your fantasy draft board.
Let’s examine the players being drafted in the first 8-10 rounds of most drafts who are perceived – rightly or wrongly – to have the most worrisome injury risk-reward profile.
I’ll include each player's current overall ADP (using Footballguys consensus ADP list), positional ADP and the range in which they’re most likely to be drafted. After a profile of their injuries, I’ll provide a risk assessment and a recommendation of where I feel each player can be most sensibly drafted. If you’re willing to tolerate more risk, draft the player a little earlier than my recommendation. If you prefer safer bets in the early rounds, you might consider taking a few of these players off your board altogether.
NOTE: I’ll update this feature frequently over the next two weeks. Any additions will be dated and in red typeface. The date at the top will reflect the day of the most recent update, which will include ADP data.
Footballguys will have all the injury angles covered for you during the regular season. In addition to a daily wiki of players in the news and current injuries put together by Clayton Gray and Mark Wimer each week, we'll have a review of the week’s injuries on Monday, a discussion of the first injury report of the week on Wednesday and an assessment of the fantasy expectations of all the key injured players on Sunday morning. Our twitter feeds -- @JeneBramel and @CraigZumsteg -- will also be active throughout the week with breaking injury news and analysis.
Julio Jones | Low Ankle Sprain
WR3 | ADP 4 | 1st Round
August 28: Replays of Jones' injury showed a clear mechanism of a low ankle sprain. While multi-ligament and higher grade sprains necessitating longer rehab times are possible, Jones seemed to be able to walk off his injury and was actively lobbying to return to play on the sideline. There have been no further reports of concern and no reports of an MRI to further assess his injury. He may have extra treatment early this week but it's reasonable to expect a quick to return to practice and no limitations for Week 1.
Draft Recommendation: You can draft Jones at his current ADP with confidence.
August 31: Jones has yet to return to practice and won't play in the final preseason game. The mechanism of injury did not suggest a long-term recovery. There's no reason for the Falcons to push Jones 10-14 days before Week 1 of the regular season. Expect Jones to practice and play in Week 1. My draft recommendation has not changed.
Ezekiel Elliott | Hamstring Strain
RB4 | ADP 8 | 1st Round
Elliott left practice with a hamstring strain during the first week of August. He did not return to practice for over two weeks. It's possible the injury was more than a low-grade strain but more likely that the team was exercising extreme caution with a talented rookie they see as a 20+ touch per game player. Elliott has returned to resistance work, individual drills, then team drills and the Cowboys are planning to dress and debut Elliott in the third preseason game.
Draft Recommendation: It's stunning to see a rookie with a first round ADP, especially one who's barely participated in training camp. That's a testament to Elliott's talent. If Elliott sees light duty in the third preseason game and has no setbacks, it's safe to consider him at his current ADP.
August 28: Elliott played 14 snaps in the third preseason game and carried the ball seven times. He isn't fully reconditioned yet, but his 6.9 average yards per carry and willingness to accelerate and run over Kam Chancellor is very reassuring. Reconditioning skill position players are always at risk of aggravating soft tissue injuries, but Elliott's efforts were reassuring. His ADP is likely to rise. Draft him as earlier as you like.
A.J. Green | Knee Contusion/Injury
WR5 | ADP9 | Late 1st Round
Green got tangled up with a defender and banged knees as they went to the turf, then pulled up after a comeback route on the next play. Green and the team immediately dismissed the injury as minor and said he could have returned to a regular season game. Green was allowed to give an in-game interview and never left the field for evaluation or treatment. That's as reassuring as it gets. Also, when Green has suffered an injury of concern in the past, ESPN's Bob Holtzmann has provided useful details. There has been nothing of note from any national writers or Holtzmann over the past three days.
Draft Recommendation: I'm inclined to believe Green here. Watch for late-breaking news, but you can draft Green with confidence.
Le'Veon Bell | MCL/PCL Repair
RB5 | ADP 11 | Late 1st - Early 2nd Round
It's been an extremely reassuring training camp for Bell. He had surgery to repair both his MCL and PCL -- a significant two-ligament injury and difficult rehab -- and openly discussed his need to get over the mental hurdle of recovering from two serious knee injuries in two years. Despite those concerns, Bell did not start camp on the PUP list and every report on his conditioning and footwork has been glowingly positive. Other than planned rest days, he's not missed a day of camp practice. All indications are that Bell has put another knee injury well behind him.
Draft Recommendation: Bell's three-game suspension should be more of a factor in your draft deliberation than his knee injury. I would draft him with confidence at his current ADP. Bell's list of past injuries is significant, however, with a midfoot sprain and two major knee injuries in his three NFL seasons. Long time readers know I don't put too much stock into the injury-prone label, but those of you who are highly risk-averse should take Bell's history into account.
Dez Bryant | Metatarsal Fracture Repair/Revision
WR6 | ADP 13 | Late 1st - Early 2nd Round
Bryant returned too quickly from his first surgery last year and required a revision procedure. Nearly every player who has undergone a revision and allowed himself 12-16 weeks of healing time has returned to form the following year. While always a risk of re-injury at some future time, the return to play prognosis is good. After some chatter about poor past conditioning, Bryant has participated in camp without issue and looked like his pre-injury dominant self.
Draft Recommendation: Draft Bryant with confidence in the elite WR tier.
August 28: Bryant is recovering from a concussion suffered early last week. He missed the third preseason game but there's no indication he's in danger of missing Week 1.
August 31: Bryant has been in pads doing individual work and progressing through the return to play protocol. He should practice and play in Week 1.
Jamaal Charles | ACL Repair
RB8 | ADP 16 | 2nd Round
Over the past few years, we've reached the point where a full recovery from an isolated ACL injury within 8-9 months is believed to be a given. After Charles started camp on the Chiefs' PUP list and stayed there for two weeks, many worried about a setback or less than a full recovery. Those concerns have since settled considerably. Charles returned to individual drills looking like his former self and immediately began pushing Kansas City's medical staff to allow him to do more in practice. Although the team plans to hold him out of the third preseason game, Charles has been fully cleared for team drills.
Draft Recommendation: I believe Charles has shown enough during OTAs and since returning from the PUP list to feel comfortable drafting him at his current ADP. He's still at risk of a reconditioning injury for another week and it would be nice to see him in form during live preseason action, but a healthy Charles would probably have an ADP above RB8. He represents very reasonable value in the mid-second round.
August 31: This week, Andy Reid told reporters that Tamba Hali was "a little further along" than Charles, who was "making progress" in his recovery. Those comments became a hot button topic, and deservedly so. But I'm not sure there's a worrisome subtext here. Charles was reportedly ahead of schedule throughout the offseason but the Chiefs frequently said they planned to bring him along slowly in the later stages of his rehab. Charles was asking to do more than just individual work after being activated off PUP. If the Chiefs were worried about Charles' availability, they would have hedged and kept him on the PUP list. And there's been no report of a setback or compensation injury.
Charles has since said, "I am full go right now. I'm out here, I'm practicing, and I can't be happier about where I'm at." I think this is more about the Chiefs' caution than Charles' health. Those things aren't exclusive, of course, but I'm not seeing the same gloom-and-doom that others are here. It's tough to argue Charles will receive a full workload in Week 1 without having participated in a preseason game, but I don't believe Charles is at risk of falling into full-blown committee back status.
I wouldn't draft Charles until the second half of the second round, but I think the RB8 ADP tier is reasonable.
Jordy Nelson | Knee Tendinitis
WR8 | ADP 17 | 2nd Round
This is the toughest call on the list. Nelson was way ahead of schedule in his ACL recovery last year and was well enough to participate in OTAs this spring. Starting camp on the PUP list and revealing he'd been struggling with tendinitis in the repaired knee joint was surprising and worrisome. There are two ways to look at this. First, you could argue that Nelson showed every sign of having recovered from ACL surgery, overdid his final stages of conditioning for camp, the conservative Green Bay medical staff gave him the first 2-3 non-essential weeks of camp to finish recovering, and he's already proving he can handle individual drills without difficulty. Or, you could argue that there's a known risk of reinjury after an ACL tear, the conservative Packers' medical staff held him out over a month in fear of aggravation, and the delay in recovery suggests ongoing asymmetry in strength/range of motion and the potential for another cascade injury. I lean toward the first scenario, but I can't deny the possibility of the second.
Draft Recommendation: I'm risk-tolerant and Nelson has healed well from multiple knee injuries in the past. Nelson's past production with Aaron Rodgers cannot be ignored. This isn't a lesser and unproven talent in a lesser offense. I think Nelson is worth the risk in the 2nd round. If he gets into a preseason game and looks healthy, his ADP will (appropriately) only continue to go up.
Brandon Marshall | Hip Soreness
WR9 | ADP18 | 2nd Round
The Jets held Marshall out of the third preseason game with soreness in his hip. There's an added layer of concern here, as Marshall has had surgery for hip impingement in the past. Nothing in the multitude of reports on Marshall this weekend suggests anything other than caution. He's expected to return to practice and be ready for Week 1.
Draft Recommendation: It's always worth doing a last minute check on a player before drafting, but I believe you can draft Marshall at his current ADP.
Sammy Watkins | Metatarsal Fracture Repair
WR16 | ADP 32 | 3rd Round
Julian Edelman | Metatarsal Fracture Repair/Revision
WR23 | ADP 49 | Mid 4th - Early 5th Round
Jones' fracture surgery is the most recent "injury epidemic" among the skill position players of the NFL. As noted in the Dez Bryant discussion above, wide receivers commonly recover from this surgery without loss in ability if they allow adequate healing time. Watkins and Edelman had different presentations and surgical issues. Watkins tried to play through a stress reaction that didn't recover in the offseason and had late spring surgery. Edelman didn't rush his return as aggressively as Bryant but required a late offseason revision procedure. Both wide receivers have been participating in camp fully and looking back to form. Both are expected to see live preseason action soon.
Draft Recommendation: There's some risk in every wide receiver with a history of a fifth metatarsal fracture, but the track record is good and it's difficult to identify which player is most likely to endure future issues and when. Both of these players have WR1 upside and can be safely drafted at their current ADP.
Thomas Rawls | Ankle Ligament/Fracture Repair
RB15 | ADP 37 | Late 3rd - Mid 4th Round
We're now well past wondering about the extent of Rawls' ankle injury and whether he had surgery -- it was severe and he did. The Seahawks were patient with Rawls as camp began, allowing him to continue to condition on the PUP list. Now activated and fully participating in practice, the team has remained patient with Rawls and will hold him out of the third preseason game. Since May, Pete Carroll has told anyone and everyone that Rawls was expected to be ready for Week 1 and it's clear the team continues to work toward that goal.
Draft Recommendation: Like Charles, it would be most reassuring to see Rawls in live preseason action and back in form. What we've seen so far has been positive and sent his ADP up significantly over the past two weeks. However, the renaissance of Christine Michael may keep Rawls' ADP from going too high for comfort. The current price -- low RB1 / elite RB2 -- is reasonable for a player of Rawls' talent and upside and includes both the injury risk and concerns about Michael's role in the running game. I would be comfortable taking Rawls at his current ADP.
Matt Forte | Hamstring Strain
RB17 | ADP 39 | Late 3rd - Late 4th Round
I believe Forte had a low-grade hamstring strain before camp started and aggravated his injury on the first day of camp. The Jets were cautious, but it's taken three weeks for Forte to return to limited practice duty. There's hope Forte will participate in the third preseason game. If he does and fares well, another week of practice will allay fears of further struggle. But players who aggravate hamstring injuries in camp often start the season slow and remain at risk of another aggravation.
Draft Recommendation: Unless you think Forte is a clear RB1 when fully healthy, his ADP isn't adequately accounting for his current risk of aggravation and delayed recovery. I wouldn't invest in Forte at this ADP until he proves he can handle consecutive practices and participate in live preseason action.
Carlos Hyde | Concussion
RB16 | ADP 38 | 4th Round
Hyde suffered a concussion in the third preseason game and is progressing through the return to play protocol. I wouldn't expect the team to dress Hyde for the fourth preseason game and I won't be concerned unless we hear there are ongoing symptoms of concern.
Draft Recommendation: I'll continue to watch for updates and add them here, but most players progress through the return to play protocol within 5-7 days. Hyde can be expected to be available for Week 1. Your general feelings on concussion should guide whether you're comfortable drafting him at ADP or not.
Matt Jones | AC Sprain
RB23 | ADP 62 | 5th - 6th Round
Jones separated his shoulder in the second preseason game. After the game, he graded his pain seven out of ten and Washington has already decided not to play him in the next two preseason games. While there's a chance Jones may have a low-grade sprain, it's more likely his injury is mid grade. 2-3 weeks of rehab and recovery will go a long way to relieving pain and improving range of motion and strength after the injury. However, players who carry the football take many hits to the shoulder and these injuries can linger. Randall Cobb had trouble recovering from a similar shoulder injury early last year. And the added caution we're hearing from Washington suggests more than a mild sprain.
Draft Recommendation: Some players recover fully and have no setbacks after a low to mid grade AC injury. Others have lingering symptoms and struggle. I think Jones' RB23 ADP is reasonable -- it's the time of the draft where you've either taken a draft approach in which you know you'll be taking a risk at RB2 or you're willing to take an upside risk at RB3. Were there a better option on the Washington depth chart, I think Jones ADP would be lower.
Jordan Matthews | Knee Contusion
WR30 | ADP 72 | 5th - 6th Round
Matthews suffered a significant bone bruise around his knee early in camp and has been rehabbing aggressively. Every bone bruise heals differently, but Matthews will have nearly a month of recovery time before Week 1. There's been no indication yet he'll be unable to practice and play on opening weekend.
Draft Recommendation: Matthews is safe to draft at his current ADP.
Arian Foster | Achilles Tendon Repair
RB25 | ADP 64 | After 6th Round
Foster hasn't made it through a full offseason and preseason without a soft tissue injury in many years. His recovery from last season's Achilles tendon repair went very smoothly, he "annihilated" his conditioning test, and has successfully navigated nearly a month of consecutive practices. Whether he's been lucky or corrected a past error in his conditioning work is hard to say, but he couldn't have had a better offseason.
Draft Recommendation: When healthy enough to handle 20+ touches in the past, Foster has been an RB1. It's not yet clear whether the Dolphins will give Foster that kind of volume, but there's not too much risk in his current ADP.
John Brown | Concussion
WR33 | ADP78 | After 6th Round
Brown's ADP is about to drop precipitously after reports he missed practice with a headache one day after returning from a three-week absence with concussion symptoms. Brown will miss the third preseason game, with the best case scenario being a return to practice in advance of the final week of the preseason and a smooth recovery and clearance for Week 1. But expect the team to show extreme caution in the return to play protocol.
Draft Recommendation: It is very likely you'll be working with incomplete information on Brown no matter when you draft over these next 2+ weeks. I'd be reluctant to draft Brown as a WR3 today, but his ADP will probably drop to a more palatable round as his latest symptoms are accounted for in this week's drafts.
August 28: Proceed with more caution on Brown. The Cardinals allowed Brown to return to practice a day after his headache, only to see him leave with a trainer early again. There have been no further updates on Brown's condition. We'll hopefully hear more from the team after their preseason game this afternoon. Until there are more details, I'd suggest drafting Brown as a reserve only -- unless you think he has a top 20 floor and you are willing to take the risk he'll miss extended time.
Tyler Eifert | Deltoid Ligament Repair
TE8 | ADP 93 | After 6th Round
Eifert is three months into his rehab and has only just been cleared to jog. While I continue to read optimism that Eifert could still be available for limited duty in Week 1, I don't see any realistic chance of that happening. His rehab is much more likely to stretch into late September / early October than end in time for Week 1 or 2. The Bengals have another 10 days to decide whether Eifert is close enough to come off the preseason PUP list or not.
Draft Recommendation: If Eifert allows himself adequate time to recover, his TE7 ADP will look like a steal when you get 8-10 strong weeks from him through the mid-late regular season. If he rushes back a week or two early, he may have lingering strength and range of motion issues well into the season. That risk is included in his current ADP. If you draft Eifert, make sure you roster another TE you like to cover the first 4-6 weeks of the season. There's a good chance you'll need him.
August 28: Ian Rapoport reported Eifert is targeting Week 4-6 as his return to play date. I've been warning of this since a crucial detail about his surgical procedure was reported late last month. The Bengals have another week to decide whether Eifert is close enough to carry on the active roster or would be better served by continuing to rehab on the inseason PUP list. Based on his surgeon's general expectation of 5-6 months, I still believe PUP is in play. Eifert's ADP will drop even further after this week's news. If you must draft before the PUP decision is made, you'll have to decide whether you're willing to take the risk of floating an extra tight end on the roster for 6-8 weeks instead of 2-6 weeks. If you feel Eifert is a top three tight end when healthy and you don't see another tight end you love after the 8th-9th round, the risk is reasonable.
Err on the side of caution here, however. It wasn't clear how hard Eifert and the Bengals would push to return before Week 4. If Eifert were to return to limited and high-leverage duty in Week 2, his red zone upside would warrant consideration in the TE6-8 range. Now that we have a strong indication Eifert's rehab to progress to its conclusion, those extra 2-3 weeks of high variance TE1 upside are probably off the table. You're now looking at a best case scenario of eight healthy weeks in the fantasy regular season and it could be fewer than that. Draft accordingly.
TONY ROMO | L1 COMPRESSION FRACTURE
QB31 | ADP 223 | After 15th Round
This injury is different than last year's spinal fracture. Last year's injury was relatively minor and Romo was able to be safely cleared to play when his pain resolved. This year's injury is more significant and Romo will not be cleared for contact until he shows full healing. That will be a minimum of six weeks, with 8-10 weeks a more likely estimate. When Romo returns, he should not have any limitations from his injury -- assuming the team waits to activate him until he's had time to rehab to football speed.
Draft recommendation: Most reports suggest the sweet spot for Romo's return will be after Dallas' Week 7 bye. That fits the 8-10 week timeframe nicely. It's possible the team will push Romo to return sooner if he's fully healed and the team's record suggests soon-to-be-desperate mode. There's no reason to draft Romo right now. There are many similar QB2 options and not enough upside to stash Romo and hope for a best case return and post-injury ceiling.
Dion Lewis | Arthroscopic Knee Surgery
RB47 | ADP 141 | After 10th Round
I wrote extensively on the recent developments on Dion Lewis in this week's Monday Injury Rounds. In short, there's not enough information to trust the 8-10 week recovery timetable. I don't think Lewis' injury has been fully defined yet and I don't think there will be a timetable for return until his surgeon has enough information to know what procedure is best. Lewis seems to be a lock to start the season on the PUP list right now.
Draft Recommendation: At some point, Lewis' risk-reward profile will match his relative draft value. Right now, he's not guaranteed to take a single snap in 2016. It's also possible he could return during the first month of the season if he needs only the most minor of cleanout procedures. Since those possibilities cannot yet be handicapped accurately, I'd avoid Lewis until the second half of your draft. Only the most aggressive should consider him as more than a risky RB4 until more is known about his condition and surgical decisions.
August 31: We're still waiting for details on Lewis' surgery and injury diagnosis. But the Patriots officially moved him to Reserve/PUP this week. That means Lewis will miss at least six games and possibly longer. While he may be worth a very late round flyer in leagues with deeper rosters, don't draft him (or add him) with any high expectations unless/until we hear something positive about his condition.
Quick Thoughts on Other Late Round Picks Of Concern
Josh Gordon (WR35) -- Looked healthy in limited action in the third preseason game. No trouble separating on Brett Grimes, who's no slouch in man coverage. Still reconditioning, trade, and off-field issues to consider, but Gordon's ADP is going to rise significantly.
Steve Smith (WR51) -- Double rupture Achilles tendon unprecedented. Technically difficult repair, but very impressive rehab reports. Off PUP and reconditioning. Draft with extreme caution. Depth flyer with upside.
Josh Doctson (WR71) -- Slow recovery from Achilles tendinitis now reaching into fourth month. Timetable remains unclear, has fallen way behind in camp. Draft only if willing to hold patiently for many weeks.
Victor Cruz (WR66) -- On the field for 32 snaps in third preseason game. Varying reports on his effectiveness, with most observers feeling as if Cruz did more than expected. No setbacks reported. Would still recommend letting someone else in your league assume the risk.
Breshad Perriman (WR76) -- Activation off PUP list is very promising sign. Still must avoid reconditioning injury, prove knee stable enough for live action. Little to no risk at current ADP, which is likely to rise if he can make it through a week of practice without any setbacks.
Jimmy Graham (TE13) -- Has been practicing for multiple weeks but Seahawks continue to be cautious. Could be active Week 1 but won't be highly targeted option on offense for many weeks. Would not recommend drafting at current ADP, which implies starting fantasy value or primary committee member.
Ladarius Green (TE20) -- Remains on PUP list. Whether related to ankle surgery (8 months ago) or headaches (concerning history of concussions), his ongoing absence has to be considered indefinite. Would not draft as more than hopeful depth. Reasonable argument to remove from your draft board altogether. (Aug 31 -- Green was moved to Reserve/PUP. He should not be on your draft board.)
Check back for more injury analysis throughout training camp and the regular season. Also, follow on Twitter @JeneBramel for breaking injury news, commentary and analysis of this injury and others around the NFL.