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

August 27: Barkley missed nearly two weeks of practice with a hamstring strain. He returned to individual drills within ten days and was cleared to return to full practice participation on August 26. That recovery profile fits a low-grade strain but Barkley should still be monitored carefully. As noted in the introduction above, players are at the highest risk of aggravation during the first 7-10 days after returning to practice. Should Barkley avoid aggravation or compensatory injury during the final preseason week, he should be ready for a full Week 1 workload.

Draft Recommendation: Barkley is safe to draft at his current ADP.

Dalvin Cook | 2017 ACL reconstruction

RB10 | ADP 14 | Early-Mid 2nd Round

August 27: Cook's rehab and recovery from ACL surgery were smooth. He was considered ahead of schedule at many points during the offseason. Questions were raised about Cook's recovery after the Vikings held him out of the first two preseason games. Continued reassuring reports from camp practices and a return to game action in the third preseason week -- albeit just one short series -- settled any lingering concern. You should consider the Vikings' offensive line a bigger issue for Cook's statistical prospects than his injury.

Draft Recommendation: Cook is safe to draft at his current ADP.

Jerick McKinnon | ACL tear -- out for season

RB15 | ADP 25 | Early 3rd Round

August 27: The Niners have yet to clear McKinnon to return to practice but have consistently told reporters to expect McKinnon to be ready for Week 1. Videos posted of McKinnon performing footwork drills at speed and without limitation are reassuring. Like every other player recovering from a soft-tissue injury during the preseason, you must monitor McKinnon for evidence of an aggravation when he returns to full practice.

September 1: Details still unknown, but McKinnon reportedly suffered a significant injury in practice today.

September 1: Kyle Shanahan reported McKinnon injured his knee when he made a cut on the last play of practice without contact. Acknowledging that it's clearly too early to say anything with certainty, the tone of the all reports this afternoon are very suspicious for "we're worried about his ACL and will soon have an MRI to assess/confirm."

September 2: McKinnon was confirmed to have torn his ACL.

Draft Recommendation: McKinnon is out for the season. Take him off your draft board. Will update with news as soon as available, but multiple reports of concern on McKinnon should push him well down your draft board until it's clear this injury is not season-ending. Draft McKinnon with caution at his current ADP. Consider dropping him behind other backs in his pre-injury tier.

Rex Burkhead | Knee injury

RB28 | ADP 68 | 5th-6th Round

August 27: Described as a "tear," it's still unclear what limited Burkhead earlier in the preseason. He has since returned to fully-padded practice, though sometimes in a limited capacity. Limited practices can be a tough read in New England but established veterans commonly see decreased practice time with even the most minor injury or conditioning concerns.

Draft Recommendation: Burkhead's current ADP means you're getting him as your RB3 or have loaded up at wide receiver and tight end in the first five rounds. Either way, the track record of running back production in New England makes Burkhead worth the risk.

Chris Thompson | 2017 leg fracture fixation

RB30 | ADP 75 | 6th-7th Round

August 27: Thompson raised the red flag on himself in early August after telling reporters he wouldn't be 100 percent until October. That's mostly true -- players with leg fracture fixation often don't feel fully healthy until a year after surgery. Thompson acknowledged he was still having pain with certain movements as he learned to play with hardware in his leg. But he later qualified his statements, noting much of his hesitation was mental and implying he would grow more comfortable with additional practice reps. Washington has limited his practice time but Thompson has participated in padded reps since early in camp. It's also important to note Thompson's role won't be cut into by any other back on the depth chart.

Draft Recommendation: Thompson doesn't have elite statistical upside but he's safe to draft at his current ADP.

Rashaad Penny | Finger fracture fixation

RB32 | ADP 80 | 6th-8th Round

August 27: Penny had surgery to fix a broken finger two weeks ago. The Seahawks -- and multiple national beat writers -- immediately reported a reassuringly-quick recovery timetable of two to three weeks. Assuming no limitations with grip strength, it's likely Penny will be available for Week 1. His injury shouldn't affect his production much. Offensive line struggles and the strong preseason play of Chris Carson are bigger concerns.

Draft Recommendation: Penny can be drafted at his current ADP but he's best targeted as an RB3 or as part of a zero running back or fantasy running back by committee approach.

Sony Michel | Preseason procedure to drain knee

RB33 | ADP 81 | 6th-8th Round

August 27: Michel had fluid drained from his knee early this preseason, presumably to treat swelling and soreness associated with a chronic knee condition that may also have plagued him in college. Michel wasn't seen on the sideline or in the locker room for two weeks but returned to a limited, padded practice on August 27. If his knee responds well over the next two weeks, he should be available in Week 1. Michel is the most talented back on the New England depth chart but it's frequently difficult to project touch and target share for Patriots' backs. There's also no guarantee Michel's knee doesn't continue to trouble him throughout the season.

Draft Recommendation: Michel is draftable at his current tier, which slots him as an RB3 on your roster. It's too early in his recovery period to trust him as more than that.

Marlon Mack | Hamstring strain

RB39 | ADP 101 | 8th-10th Round

August 27: Mack has a mid-grade hamstring strain and may not be close to returning to practice. When he does, he'll still need to recondition and avoid an aggravation of his injury. Any aggravation would likely necessitate at least another month of rehab. He's doubtful for Week 1.

Draft Recommendation: Consider Mack as an RB4 option only. Draft with caution.


Wide receivers Returning from Injury

Antonio Brown | Quad strain

WR1 | ADP 5 | 1st Round

August 27: The Steelers have limited Brown's practice participation throughout the preseason. Brown has resisted any suggestion his injury is significant and strongly rebelled against a report that he was limping on the sideline earlier in August. While it's possible Brown had an early preseason aggravation, there have been multiple reassuring videos of Brown moving quickly and fluidly in all directions in recent practices.

Draft Recommendation: Brown is safe to draft at his current ADP.

Odell Beckham Jr Jr | Offseason ankle surgery

WR3 | ADP 12 | Late 1st - Early 2nd Round

August 27: Beckham has not played in a preseason game but the Giants are not limiting his practice participation. Cleared for full contact in advance of the team's June minicamp, Beckham has had no setbacks or compensatory injury concerns. There are no concerns with his injury recovery

Draft Recommendation: Beckham is safe to draft at his current ADP.

Doug Baldwin | Knee condition

WR15 | ADP 34 | Late 3rd - Early 4th Round

August 27: Baldwin was running sprints last week and continued to increase his practice participation in recent days. Pete Carroll has been consistently optimistic in telling reporters Baldwin would be ready for opening weekend throughout the preseason. On August 27, Carroll again told reporters Baldwin would be ready to practice fully during next week's preparation for Week 1. Barring a setback, Baldwin should be ready for his usual workload immediately. He will carry some risk of recurrence of the knee inflammation that limited him this summer, but his smooth recovery from his early August procedure is reassuring.

August 30: Baldwin said he was 80-85% healthy this week. He later qualified his remarks, saying no player was fully healthy during the season and he'd be ready to play in Week 1. Ignore the percentage comment but heed the overall sentiment. Although Baldwin is adamant he'll be active in Week 1, he's saying he's not fully healthy. He's likely dealing with a meniscus or cartilage ailment. That will result in one of three outcomes. Possibility 1: Baldwin isn't full strength but plays effectively without significant practice limitation. Possibility 2: Baldwin frequently misses practice for maintenance and has weeks where he's listed questionable and is considered a game-time decision. Possibility 3: Baldwin's knee flares up during the season and results in missed games and/or additional procedures. It's tough to handicap which is more likely but it's reasonable to lean toward Possibility 1 than Possibility 3.

Draft Recommendation: Baldwin is safe to draft at his current ADP. I now have more reservations on Baldwin. At minimum, he must be at the bottom of his pre-injury tier. And, while I wouldn't red line him on your draft board altogether, he's a difficult sell at his current ADP.

Josh Gordon | Hamstring soreness

WR23 | ADP 52 | Late 4th - Mid 5th Round

August 27: Gordon returned to Browns' training camp last week but experienced hamstring soreness shortly after being removed from the non-football injury list. Early reports seemed reassuring that Gordon had not strained either hamstring and was only feeling soreness as he reconditioned. But he's yet to return to practice and Hue Jackson told reporters Gordon would not start in Week 1 even if fully recovered. Communication isn't a strong suit of the Cleveland coaching staff and you should be reluctant to read too much into Jackson's comments. Watch for Gordon to be cleared to return to practice this week. If he's not, it's possible there's more here and Gordon has an injury at risk of lingering and/or aggravation.

Draft Recommendation: There are too many unknowns to reliably project WR2 production for Gordon right now. He's a risk at his current ADP.

Alshon Jeffery | Offseason rotator cuff repair

WR29 | ADP 70 | 5th-7th Round

August 27: Jeffery's rehab continues on schedule but the return of full strength and range of motion after a rotator cuff repair cannot be rushed. Some athletes return closer to five months, others need longer. That's where Jeffery is currently. When he's cleared for contact, he won't need time to recondition and can return to action quickly. But the Eagles haven't shown any indication they're ready to take Jeffery off the PUP list, which means he's still at risk of missing the first six weeks of the regular season.

August 30: Adam Schefter tweeted Jeffery is expected to miss at least the first two weeks of the regular season but the Eagles would move him to the active roster. If accurate, it's good news that Jeffery will avoid the PUP list to start the season.

Draft Recommendation: Until the Eagles clear Jeffery to return to practice and remove him from the PUP list, he's too risky to draft at an ADP commensurate with a WR3 or better expectation.


Tight ends Returning from Injury

Delanie Walker | Toe injury

TE7 | ADP 71 | 6th-7th Round

August 27: Walker has not returned to practice but beat writers expect him to do so soon. Walker routinely plays through injury. Unless he remains out this week and there are indications of a longer-term injury, he should be available in Week 1.

Draft Recommendation: Walker is safe to draft at his current ADP.

Jordan Reed | Offseason foot surgery

TE10 | ADP 86 | 7th-9th Round

August 27: Reed was cleared to return early this offseason but Washington has been very careful with their talented tight end during the preseason. Reed's practice time has been limited and he did not participate in any preseason game snaps. After trying to fight through a painful toe injury with shoe inserts and suffering compensatory hip and hamstring injuries last year, Reed has reported no soreness and observers note much-improved movement in practice. One of the players most often cited as injury prone, Reed's history of soft-tissue injuries will undoubtedly give many drafters pause. But Reed is as healthy as he's been entering the season in some time.

Draft Recommendation: Reed is safe to draft at his current ADP.


QUICK THOUGHTS ON OTHER LATE-ROUND PICKS OF CONCERN

Nelson Agholor (WR42) -- Agholor missed time with an undisclosed injury but returned to practice on August 26th. Beat writers in Philadelphia uniformly expect him to play in Week 1.

Tyler Eifert (TE14) -- Eifert started camp on the PUP list but was adamant he had no setbacks and would return to practice soon. That proved true, and his practice participation and preseason game play have drawn positive reviews.

Matt Breida (RB53) -- Breida suffered a low-grade shoulder sprain during the first preseason game. The Niners' running back depth chart is set -- though banged up. The team elected not to risk aggravations by returning Breida to practice quickly, but he's expected to play in Week 1.

Rishard Matthews (WR60) -- Matthews' continued presence on the preseason PUP list was a mystery until reports of a minor meniscus removal procedure broke. Now off the PUP list, Matthews is expected to be full strength in Week 1.

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.