“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 few rounds who are perceived – rightly or wrongly – to have the most worrisome injury risk-reward profile.
I’ll include each player's current overall ADP, 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 as needed over the next two weeks. Any additions will be dated and in red typeface.]
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, 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.
LE'VEON BELL | KNEE SPRAIN
ADP1 | RB1 | Early 1st Round
Bell worried fantasy owners this summer by repeatedly saying he had yet to feel 100% after a December knee injury. When camp began, Bell was fully practicing and he has quietly continued to practice without concern throughout the preseason. He's participated in the Steelers' last two preseason games. Bell undoubtedly had more than a mild hyperextension last season, but we're seeing no ill effects of it now. The loss of Maurkice Pouncey, possibly for the entire season, and a two game suspension are more likely to be limiting factors than an unresolved knee injury.
Draft Recommendation: Draft Bell with confidence in the early first round.
arian foster | abdominal surgery / groin strain
ADP78 | RB32 | 6th - 8th Round
It's been very quiet in Houston since Foster's surgery. But we have enough information about Foster to narrow down the time frame for his return. Foster had surgery to repair a lower abdominal muscle tear (sports hernia). He also suffered a mid-grade groin strain. Both of those injuries usually carry 4-6 week timetables, which is what started to trickle into the media immediately after Foster's surgery. I think a return in 4-6 weeks, which would give Foster a chance to play in Week 1, is too optimistic. When I asked fellow injury staffer and database guru Craig Zumsteg about his data on sports hernia recoveries, he felt the sweet spot would be more likely in the 5-7 week range. I think we'll see Foster move through the last 2-3 weeks of his rehab very deliberately and carefully. Taken together, I think we see Foster back in the 6-8 week range, which would be between Week 2 and Week 4. Any added time Foster takes would make it less likely he'll suffer a re-conditioning injury and put him closer to a full workload on his return. Barring a rehab setback, I don't believe Foster is in danger of being placed on injured reserve - return.
Draft Recommendation: Before the injury, Foster was considered a RB1 and being drafted between the mid-first and early second rounds. He's now being discounted to the mid-RB3 tiers. There's little risk with Foster in that range. You're generally targeting running backs with flex value at that point in your draft. Many of them won't hit. A healthy Foster, while obviously no guarantee, is a strong risk-reward play anytime after the sixth round now. There's an argument the risk is worth taking in the late 4th or early 5th rounds, especially if you prioritize a higher floor RB3 to follow.
adrian peterson | inactivity / quad strain
ADP2 | RB2 | Early 1st Round
One of the offseason's biggest surprises for me is the black-and-white nature of how fantasy owners see Peterson this season. Some are adamant that Peterson, who has returned to elite form after clavicle fractures, high ankle sprains, sports hernia surgeries, and a torn ACL, will have no ill effects after spending an entire year away from football. Others are equally adamant Peterson will struggle to stay healthy after not taking any contact for twelve months. I'm not concerned with Peterson. Returning to play effectively in this situation is highly dependent on conditioning and we know Peterson's preparation is as elite as his on-field play. Peterson had a low grade quad strain earlier this month but returned to practice without issue. There's little risk here.
Draft Recommendation: Draft Peterson with confidence in the early - mid first round.
randall cobb | shoulder injury
ADP18 | WR8 | 2nd Round
30 Aug: Cobb suffered a shoulder injury in third preseason game. On video, the two most likely diagnoses were a broken collarbone or AC sprain. Cobb told reporters after the game his x-ray showed no collarbone fracture, but wouldn't commit to being available for Week 1. He's expected to have more tests, likely a MRI, on Sunday (Aug 30). Mike McCarthy didn't seem concerned in his post-game press conference and Cobb was allowed to speak with the media after the game. All are strong indications Cobb's injury will be minor. If his tests confirm a low grade AC sprain, Cobb's return will depend on pain tolerance and range of motion in the shoulder. Though these sprains are painful and easily aggravated, receivers have returned effectively in 1-2 weeks with a harness and padding. I'll update again when the results of Cobb's imaging studies are reported.
Draft Recommendation: I think Cobb's injury will prove to be minor. While it's possible he could suffer an in-game aggravation or miss a week or more of the regular season, I think the odds are good he'll play Week 1 given what we know today. If you're risk averse, drop him to the bottom of the tier you currently have him. Otherwise, he remains a relatively safe pick at his current ADP.
ALSHON JEFFERY | CALF STRAIN
ADP24 | WR10 | Mid 2nd - Early 3rd Round
The Bears initially said Jeffery was day-to-day, which didn't fit with a calf injury to a wide receiver, especially one that necessitated a walking boot. The Bears are still saying Jeffery is day-to-day. I'm more willing to buy in after two weeks of recovery. Still, calf injuries are difficult for wide receivers. Until he's fully recovered, Jeffery will be limited off the line of scrimmage and could struggle to run routes effectively. Calf injuries are also easily aggravated. I'd like to see Jeffery back to practice before the final preseason game and continue to progress leading up to Week 1. Jeffery played through a hamstring strain that would have limited other wide receivers last year. That's a strong precedent for this calf strain.
Draft Recommendation: This recommendation is subject to change if Jeffery aggravates his calf injury in early September as he tries to recondition, but I'm currently comfortable drafting Jeffery in the early third round.
lesean mccoy | hamstring strain
ADP19 | RB9 | Late 2nd - Mid 3rd Round
You should be worried about McCoy's hamstring strain for two reasons. First, the images of McCoy immediately after his injury showed him reaching very high on his upper leg, nearer his buttocks than the middle of his hamstring. Strains at the end of the muscle often involve tendons. Tendons can take longer to heal and often scar. Secondly, there was clearly concern for a high grade injury. Rex Ryan made a point to tell reporters McCoy's muscle didn't tear away from the bone and the Bills sent McCoy for an MRI immediately. Despite reports McCoy could return for Week 1, the facts indicate he's more likely to need 4-6 weeks to recover than 2-4 weeks. I don't think he'll be ready for a full workload in Week 1. This is also the type of injury that may be more easily aggravated as a player reconditions.
Draft Recommendation: If you strongly felt McCoy was a low level RB1 / strong RB2 before his injury, you might still consider him at his current ADP. But that's the very earliest I'd recommend considering him. I'd much rather have Jeremy Hill, Frank Gore, Justin Forsett, or Lamar Miller if I'm looking for a running back at that point in my draft.
TODD GURLEY | ACL
ADP49 | RB21 | 5th Round
The Rams are exercising extreme caution with Gurley. Months ago, Gurley was said to be well ahead of schedule in his rehab, with Dr. Andrews praising the recovery of his quad muscles. After the team put Gurley on the active roster when camp opened, it seemed clear we'd see Gurley get enough snaps to have flex value or better as early as Week 1. Gurley wasn't cleared for team drills until the fourth week of training camp, however, and still hadn't been cleared for full contact in the week leading up to the third preseason game. There's not been a known setback. The Rams have chosen to put Gurley through the final stages of rehab very deliberately. In the long term, that should be a good thing for him.
Draft Recommendation: You will not get fifth round value from Gurley in the first month of the season. He may not project in flex range during that period. But you may get much more than fifth round value from Gurley in the last month of the season. There's RB1 potential if Gurley can handle 18+ touches during the second half of the season. Again, I think these factors are already taken into account at his current ADP. If you can get Gurley as a RB3 (or RB2 if you've loaded up on elite WRs early), it's good value.
mike evans | hamstring strain
ADP25 | WR11 | Late 2nd - Mid 3rd Round
Evans was reportedly removed from the Buccaneers' second preseason game for precautionary reasons. He told coaches and the medical staff after the game he didn't think the strain was serious. The following day, the team announced Evans would not see any additional preseason game action. It's possible those facts tell the correct story. There's no reason to rush Evans back with a low grade injury. He may yet return to practice well in advance of Week 1. It's also possible Evans is suffering from a mid-grade strain that could limit him early in the season.
Draft Recommendation: I think Evans is safe to consider at his current ADP in the bottom of the WR1 tier. But If you before the final preseason game, you'll have to decide on Evans before he's returned to practice. If you draft after the final preseason game and reports suggest Evans won't be ready to practice soon, draft with the expectation he may be limited in Week 1 and possibly Week 2 as he reconditions. Hopefully, Evans is back practicing soon and I'll be able to update this recommendation with a strongly positive feeling.
emmanuel sanders | hamstring strain
ADP28 | WR12 | 3rd Round
Sanders aggravated a low grade hamstring strain two weeks ago. He's expected to return to practice soon. If he can make it through those first few practices without another setback, you can consider this injury behind him.
Draft Recommendation: I wouldn't feel comfortable drafting Sanders at his current ADP. That has as much to do with my lack of confidence he'll come close to last season's numbers as it does his risk of lingering soft tissue injury. From an injury perspective alone, the next 7-10 days are key. If he looks healthy next week, he's safe to draft on the strength of your projections and expectation alone.
joseph randle | oblique strain
ADP41 | RB20 | 4th Round
Randle returned to practice and played in the Cowboys' second preseason game. He didn't see time with the first team offense but looked healthy with the second team. Randle has already had one minor setback, but has now made it through nearly a week without any additional aggravations. Oblique strains can linger if not allowed to fully heal, however, as we saw with Drew Brees last season. I'd like to see one more healthy week from Randle before removing all reservations on him for the early regular season.
Draft Recommendation: I think Randle's oblique strain has been factored into his current ADP. The potential for a 15+ weekly touch option behind Dallas' strong line is worth the risk of a fourth round pick. If you like the situation and Randle hasn't had any setbacks before your draft, take him.
30 Aug: What hasn't been factored into his current ADP is the risk the Cowboys use a committee approach at running back as reported this weekend. The injury doesn't worry me now, but I'd be very wary of trusting Randle to put up RB2 numbers weekly after this latest report.
C.J. Spiller | knee surgery
ADP54 | RB23 | 5th Round
Spiller's knee scope should be minor. His recovery timetable was immediately reported to be 3-4 weeks, which is in line with the usual expectation for a cleanout procedure like trimming frayed meniscus, shaving bone spurs, or removing loose fragments from the joint. But all those conditions are signs of wear-and-tear on the knee that's progressed to the point of chronic pain. And recent studies are suggesting that arthroscopic knee surgery doesn't significantly improve outcomes. Will Spiller struggle with soreness and swelling throughout the season? That's an unanswerable question. But it's a known risk at this point.
Draft Recommendation: There's a lot to worry about with Spiller. Recent injury, a past history of poor recovery, and the game script dependent offensive role lead to a wide range of expectation. If you like the situation and can live with the bust risk (injury or otherwise), Spiller should be back early enough this season to warrant considering him at his current ADP.
victor cruz | patellar tendon tear / calf strain
ADP89 | WR34 | After 8th Round
The Giants reported Cruz's calf injury as soreness, then dehydration related, then inflammation. Those are all misleading in their own way. Cruz has a calf muscle strain. He hasn't practiced in a week. While Tom Coughlin can say it's not related to Cruz's ongoing recovery from a patellar tendon tear, there's no way to know for certain whether that's true. Regardless, Cruz is now at risk of an aggravation or another cascade injury to a different body part on his return to football related activity.
Draft Recommendation: I'm waiting to see Cruz show he's able to gain separation in his routes and likely to hold up physically over a full game before I draft him as anything more than a WR5 flyer. I wouldn't touch him until you've drafted four receivers you trust. I'm willing to live with Cruz beating the odds on someone else's team than take on his risk-reward profile too soon.
31 Aug: Cruz will now reportedly not practice this week. It's difficult to see Cruz start practicing during Week 1 prep and condition effectively enough for the Giants to feel comfortable playing him in Week 1. With this injury now trending toward two weeks, it's very possible we could see 4-6 weeks pass before Cruz is ready to play. Add the calf injury to the still unclear nature of Cruz's recovery from last season's patellar tendon tear. My recommendation above stands: Consider Cruz only as a WR5 flyer for now.
desean jackson | AC sprain
ADP 60 | WR25 | 6th-7th Round
Jackson suffered a low-mid grade AC sprain in his shoulder over two weeks ago. He's participated in some drills since, but hasn't been cleared for contact and likely won't play in the team's third preseason game. Jackson played through a similar injury during the regular season last year and I expect he'll be available in Week 1.
Draft Recommendation: Jackson is a boom-bust WR3. If that fits your roster profile, he can be considered at his current ADP.
Brandon LaFell | undisclosed
ADP91 | WR36 | After 6th Round
There's been no specifics reported on Lafell's injury. We know he was in a walking boot in June and wasn't in August. We know he was limited by a toe condition at the end of last season. And we know he's still on the PUP list nearly four weeks into camp. What we don't know is what type of procedure he had and when. I'm worried that he had surgery early in the offseason and was in a boot for a long period of time. Or he had a setback during the offseason and had major surgery in the spring. Turf toe repair, plantar plate repair, and Lisfranc surgery are all possibilities for a player who may have been immobilized for months after a procedure to address pain around the toe. Recovery is possible, but without knowing the what and the when, we're left only with the knowledge that Lafell doesn't appear to be close to returning. The final days of the preseason are key. Right now, he looks closer to staying on the PUP list than not.
Draft Recommendation: Take Lafell off your draft board until he's moved to the active roster.
joique bell | achilles / knee surgery
ADP71 | RB29 | After 7th Round
The Lions can say Bell is close to returning and beat writers can report Bell will regain his starting job when he returns. But we're well into the "believe it when you see it" territory with Bell. While his knee and Achilles surgeries are said to have been minor, it's the Achilles that concerns me. Removing calcium deposits from the tendon or repairing frayed portions of the tendon are minor compared to repairing a partial or completely torn tendon. But no Achilles surgery is minor. We've heard Bell has looked good in rehab this month, but if the team was comfortable with his progress he'd have been moved to the active roster by now.
30 Aug: Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press posted a feature today with some additional information on Bell. Of note, Bell's January knee surgery was to address a condition he played through in 2014 and had been "nagging him for years." Birkett also reports the surgeon said that if Bell was able to run by July, he'd have a shot to play in Week 1. Those two notes strongly suggest a microfracture procedure and that it's the knee holding Bell back rather than a slow recovery from Achilles surgery. Target recovery for microfracture knee surgery is usually in the 8-9 month range, but every recovery is different. Bell has been aggressively rehabbing this month, but the Lions have yet to move him to the active roster. It's hard to know just how close Bell is to gaining clearance for contact. If I'm right and Bell had microfracture surgery, recovery to effectiveness is possible but not guaranteed and it's tough to see him ready for a full workload early in the season if he's still not ready for the active roster two weeks before Week 1.
31 Aug: Bell was activated from PUP today and took part in practice, including some drills with the first team offense. He stopped short of pronouncing himself likely for Week 1, but this is a great sign for his early season availability. As with many others on this list, he'll need to make it through the next 7-10 days of practice without a re-conditioning injury to be ready for regular season action.
Draft Recommendation: The Lions don't have to decide on Bell for another few days, but it's hard to see him taking a lead committee role (or more) when he hasn't been cleared for contact two weeks before the first regular season game. I wouldn't draft Bell until I had three running backs I felt good about rostered already. With my suspicions of microfracture surgery, the above hasn't changed. I'd draft Bell only when you feel his upside matches his risk.
julius thomas | hand fracture
ADP82 | TE7 | After 7th Round
Thomas will have a month to recover from a broken bone near a knuckle earlier this preseason. It's an injury that will need more than six weeks to fully heal, but many players are able to return sooner. The medical staff will need to design a splint that can limit pain and risk of re-injury while still allowing Thomas the range of motion to catch passes effectively.
Draft Recommendation: I don't believe Thomas will be limited deep into the season. He is safe to consider in the middle tight end tiers.
31 Aug: Thomas will have a second opinion to decide if surgery to repair a tendon at the base of his finger is necessary. If he elects to have surgery, Thomas is likely to miss at least four weeks. The same caveats about a splint and pain tolerance will apply toward the latter stages of Thomas' recovery.
Zach Ertz | Abdominal Surgery
ADP98 | TE9 | After 8th Round
Ertz had sports hernia surgery in mid-August. Every procedure is different, but players commonly return in 4-6 weeks from these surgeries. Four weeks would put Ertz in consideration for Week 1, but don't expect to see him taking a full complement of snaps until Week 2 or 3.
Draft Recommendation: TE9 is a reasonable ADP for Ertz. He shouldn't miss more than 1-2 weeks of the regular season and may not miss any games.
Breshad Perriman | PCL sprain
ADP118 | WR46
Perriman's injury was described as a bone bruise and a strained tendon around the knee. He subsequently had an MRI after two weeks of slow healing and swelling which reportedly showed a PCL sprain. The PCL is a ligament in the back of the knee that provides stability and helps prevent hyperextension of the knee joint. It's rarely repaired surgically, but often scars and remodels slowly. Players may not feel their knee is fully stable for some time. That appears to be the case with Perriman. What may look like a 1-2 week injury can sometimes drag into 6-8 weeks, especially if other tendons and structures near the PCL are also strained.
Draft Recommendation: At one point this offseason, I saw Perriman's ADP rise to the 7th-8th round. That would put him in the late WR3 - early WR4 tiers. Until we're certain Perriman will return to form by early this season, I'd not consider him draftable until I had already rostered four wide receivers.
Devante Parker | Foot Fracture
ADP130 | WR50
Parker is close to being cleared to run without restrictions and clearance for contact should come shortly afterward. Week 1 was always on the edge of optimism for Parker. Many players who have had a screw revised and bone grafting for Parker's type of foot fracture have returned to effectiveness. Julio Jones did very well last year. When they're allowed a full 12+ weeks to recover, the success rate seems higher. That's the pace Parker is on, though it may mean he's not ready for 40+ snaps and 6+ targets until at least a month into the regular season.
Draft Recommendation: Parker is a reasonable late WR4, early WR5 flyer -- especially if you have a deep enough roster to float him through the first 4-6 weeks.
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.