Hidden Value or Damaged Goods? When to Draft Injured Players - Footballguys

When is it safe to draft Saquon Barkley, Jerick McKinnon, Doug Baldwin, Josh Gordon, Rex Burkhead, Carson Wentz, Andrew Luck, Jordan Reed, and others?

How to approach players with a history of injury

I'm not a fan of the term "injury prone." It's overused and incorrectly applied.

Some players are undoubtedly prone to injury. Some have bone-on-bone conditions in their knee and are at risk of swelling and pain limiting their potential. Some have asymmetry in their biomechanics -- the quad muscles are weaker on one side or an ankle ligament is looser on one side. Some have a herniated disc or other degenerative back condition their medical staff is actively managing. Some aren't in peak physical condition.

But it's really, really hard to know who those players are.

You can examine past injury histories and try to estimate the risk of injury. But there's no complete data set to generate a player's baseline risk of injury in the NFL. You cannot be certain you've controlled for every variable and arrived at an accurate estimate.

You have no idea whether the medical staff is more concerned than usual about a player's recent meniscus surgery or microdiscectomy or worried about the effects of a player's offseason attempt to lose or gain weight. It's highly unlikely you'll hear a coach or player or trainer discuss those factors.

Even if you could accurately estimate a player's risk of injury, you'd struggle to decide which game presents the highest risk or how to assess cumulative risks. There's good data on aggravation of hamstring strains -- 33 percent of high-level football players aggravate a previous hamstring injury within the first 7-10 days of returning to sport-related activity. There's good data showing players with a history of ACL tear are more likely to sustain another ACL injury than players who have never had ACL injury.

But those are general data points. They're difficult to apply to specific situations.

Which of the many NFL players with an ACL tear is more likely to sustain another ACL tear this year? When?

Which of the players fighting through a preseason hamstring strain is most likely to suffer an aggravation?

Every NFL team collects GPS data on their players during practice. It helps the medical staff discover subtle biomechanical differences and can suggest which players are fatigued and at higher risk of injury. But multiple teams admit they don't know how to use the data they have.

Don't misunderstand. I think continued efforts to assess injury risk and improve player safety are critical. But it's a highly complex endeavor.

The NFL is more than a contact sport. It's a traumatic sport with multiple dangerous collisions every play.

The bottom line: Every player is injury prone.

Risk assessment in fantasy drafts

Labels aside, it's still correct to consider injury risk when drafting your fantasy roster.

First, understand your own risk tolerance. If you're risk-averse, factor all past injury concerns more highly. If you're risk tolerant, examine each situation carefully and adjust your draft board -- if at all -- accordingly.

Second, recognize that some players are already injured or unlikely fully recovered from recent injuries or surgeries. Those players absolutely carry increased risk.

With that in mind, let’s examine players likely to be drafted in the first 8-10 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 (using Footballguys consensus ADP list), positional ADP and the range 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 publication date of this article will correspond to the day of the most recent update, which will include ADP data.

MOST IMPORTANTLY, CHECK FOR BREAKING NEWS JUST BEFORE YOUR DRAFT. Teams practice at different times of the day. New injuries or aggravations of existing conditions are possible.

Do Not Draft List | Players On season-ending Injured Reserve

Do Not Draft List | Unlikely to Play Until Late 2018


Quarterbacks Returning from Injury

Deshaun Watson | 2017 ACL reconstruction

QB2 | ADP 42 | 4th Round

August 27: Reports on Watson's recovery were uniformly positive all offseason. He returned to individual drills and told reporters he had no mental hurdles to manage during May workouts and Texans' coaches do not plan to limit Watson's creativity around the pocket or rushing expectations. Cleared for camp without practice limitations, Watson has played in each of Houston's preseason games. Reviews of his performances have been mixed but there are no concerns about his recovery from his 2017 injury. Players with a history of ACL injury are more likely to sustain a future ACL injury to either knee. Watson now has had both ACLs reconstructed and carries a small, but notable, risk of re-injury.

Draft Recommendation: Purely from a health perspective, Watson is safe to draft at his current ADP. Though outside the scope of this feature, drafting any quarterback in the fourth round carries significant value-based drafting concerns when other quarterbacks with similar upside are available many rounds later.


Footballguys will have all the injury angles covered for you during the regular season. In addition to our extensive wiki of players in the news and current injuries compiled and updated daily by Clayton Gray and Joe Bryant each week, we'll have a review of the week’s injuries on Monday, updates after the daily injury reports are released on Wednesday and Thursday, and an assessment of the fantasy expectations of all the key injured players on Sunday morning. My twitter feed -- @JeneBramel -- will also be active throughout the week with breaking injury news and analysis.


Carson Wentz | 2017 ACL reconstruction / LCL repair

QB7 | ADP 72 | 6th-8th Round

August 27: Wentz's Week 1 status remains unknown. While not in danger of starting the season on injured reserve, it's possible Wentz will miss one or more games to start the regular season. Entering the final week of the preseason -- and now just ten days before Philadelphia's Thursday night season opener -- Wentz has been cleared for full team drills but not contact. If he's not cleared for contact early this week, there's no chance he plays in Week 1. The Eagles need to know whether he's ready for game action for game planning purposes. It's also unknown when Wentz will return to his pre-injury form outside the pocket, when scrambling, and on designed running plays. Wentz averaged nearly five rushing attempts per game last year. That may not come until the second half of 2018.

Draft Recommendation: Wentz will return to the Eagles' huddle soon, though it may not be Week 1. The possibility of a missed week or month combined with the likelihood the Eagles will cut his rushing attempts significantly make drafting Wentz a risky proposition at his current ADP. If you choose to draft Wentz, make sure you draft a strong complementary quarterback to minimize the risk.

Andrew Luck | 2017 Shoulder labrum repair

QB8 | ADP 84 | 6th-8th Round

August 27: After a long and complicated rehab lasting nearly 18 months, Luck started camp on the active roster and was immediately cleared for full contact and played in the Colts' first preseason game. His timing has been erratic at times and some observers believe he may have lost some velocity on certain throws. But Luck has had no soreness in his throwing shoulder. And that's arguably the most important camp development as pain from biceps tendinitis is what held his recovery back last summer and fall. Unfortunately, the underlying team issue that led to Luck's injury three years ago -- a struggling offensive line -- remains a worrisome factor.

August 30: Luck has missed practice with a foot condition of unknown severity. He is still expected to play Week 1.

Draft Recommendation: Luck has shown enough to assume he can produce QB1 caliber numbers this season. But the offensive line issues and depth at the quarterback position make him a risky pick at his current ADP. As noted with Wentz above, if you take the risk with Luck, consider a second quarterback earlier than you otherwise might.


Running backs Returning from Injury

Saquon Barkley | Hamstring strain

RB6 | ADP 7 | 1st Round

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