Fantasy Football 2013: When Should You Draft Injured Stars?

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystAugust 27, 2013

Fantasy Football 2013: When Should You Draft Injured Stars?

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    After what seems like forever, the wait is almost over. The preseason is just about wrapped up, and before you know it the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos will be going at it for real in the 2013 season opener.

    That means this year's fantasy football campaign is almost upon us as well, with one last weekend of drafts between now and "go time."

    Waiting to hold your fantasy draft is wise, in that it prevents preseason injuries from rocking teams before the season even starts.

    However, for these drafters one big question still looms.

    When should you draft injured players? At what point does the reward of what these players could potentially bring to the table outweigh the risk involved in drafting them?

    That's the question we're here to answer, so let's get to it.

Robert Griffin, QB, Washington Redskins

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    At this point, it may be a stretch to even call Robert Griffin "injured."

    Yes, Griffin tore his ACL in last year's playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks, and the second-year pro hasn't played in any of the Redskins' preseason games.

    But ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted the most significant development in RG3's rehab process thus far:

    What Washington wanted: Redskins QB Robert Griffin III will start their Monday night opener against the Eagles.

    The larger risk involved with Griffin isn't the knee. It's the possibility that he gets hurt again as a result of his running style and/or the Redskins offense.

    That's the price of doing business with scrambling quarterbacks.

    According to the average draft position data at My Fantasy League, Griffin is presently the 10th quarterback off draft boards in the sixth round.

    That latter price is indicative of many casual fantasy owners taking quarterbacks too early, but that ADP of QB10 is excellent value for a player that was a top-five fantasy performer at his position in points per game last year.


    When Should You Draft Him?

    After the "elite" passers (Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan) come off the board, Griffin is part of the "second wave" of viable weekly starters that includes players like Matthew Stafford and Colin Kaepernick.

    If anything, the injury has only increased the value he represents for fantasy owners, and Griffin is a fine target if you wait until most of the top 10 signal-callers are off the board before drafting one.

Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans

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    The fantasy value of Houston Texans running back Arian Foster has been all over the place this summer.

    Before training camp began, the 27-year-old was a consensus top-five fantasy pick. Some pundits even advised taking Foster first overall.

    However, at first a calf injury and then a sore back continued to keep Foster off the practice field, causing his fantasy value to dip.

    Reports early last week that Foster had received painkilling injections and that the soreness had spread from his back to his legs caused a mini-dive. Foster dropped from the first round, entirely, in some drafts.

    However, Foster was activated from the PUP list and returned to practice last week. The running back spoke to Sports Illustrated's Peter King for an article that came out Monday, saying, "My body feels great. I actually think all this time [off] might help. I feel fresh. I feel rejuvenated."

    Foster's return to health has rehabilitated his draft stock a bit, but there is still some cause for concern.

    After all, we're still talking about a back who carried the ball a career-high 351 times last year. No back in the NFL has received more carries over the past three years than Foster.

    Foster also averaged a career-low 4.1 yards per carry last year, and ESPN's Chris Mortensen went so far as to theorize that the Texans will employ more of a "timeshare" with Foster and Ben Tate this year, according to Rotoworld.

    With that said, Foster has averaged over 15 total touchdowns a season over the past three years and finished as a top-five fantasy back each season. If he's healthy, Arian Foster will provide plenty of production in the run-heavy Texans offense.


    When Should You Draft Him?

    Bleacher Report's own Chris Trapasso recently broke down Foster's situation and came to the conclusion that Foster should be selected sixth overall. That's a pretty solid recommendation, and Foster's tremendous upside would be very hard to pass on in the back half of the first round.

    Just make absolutely sure to handcuff Tate as insurance.

Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Two years ago, Maurice Jones-Drew led the NFL with 1,606 rushing yards and was a top-five fantasy performer.

    However, last year was an injury-marred nightmare, with a Lisfranc injury leading to the worst season of his seven-year career.

    That injury, and Jones-Drew's seemingly slow recovery, haven't done his fantasy stock any favors this year, but Jones-Drew appears to be trending upward now.

    Granted, the 28-year-old hasn't played much in the preseason, but at least he's healthy. Jones-Drew had seven carries for 28 yards in the team's third preseason game, telling Hays Carlton of The Florida Times-Union that, “I feel comfortable...These next two weeks, I’ll keep working on cardio and getting my speed back.”

    Yes, Jones-Drew is a veteran back coming off a lost season who has more than a little wear on his tires.

    However, he's also shown the ability to produce, even on a moribund Jaguars team where he faces eight-man fronts with regularity.

    If the foot's OK, there's little reason to think that Jones-Drew can't at least post fantasy RB2 numbers, and his ceiling is quite a bit higher than that.


    When Should You Draft Him?

    According to My Fantasy League, Jones Drew currently has an average draft position of 28, which is a bit on the high side but indicative of the premium placed on running backs this year.

    It isn't advisable to count on Jones-Drew as an RB1, but if you can pair him with a top-five ball-carrier and high-end wide receiver, that isn't a bad way to start a draft.

Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders

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    There are three things that are unavoidable in life.

    Death, taxes and Darren McFadden getting hurt.

    Sure enough, as Kevin Patra of reported last week, the Oakland Raiders running back missed Friday's loss to the Chicago Bears with a "minor" shoulder injury.

    Head coach Dennis Allen told Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle that McFadden will "absolutely" play in the season opener, but this latest bump in the road just reinforces something we already knew.

    Darren McFadden cannot stay healthy.

    McFadden has missed at least three games in each of his five NFL seasons. He's missed 13 over the past two years.

    Even if, by some small miracle, McFadden stays on the field, there are plenty of reasons to be wary of drafting him.

    McFadden is coming off a year in which he averaged a miserable 3.3 yards per carry. The Raiders' return to a power-blocking scheme was supposed to help in that regard, but since Oakland lost starting left tackle Jared Veldheer to an arm injury that line hasn't been blocking much of anything.

    Make no mistake. The Raiders are a train wreck.

    And train wrecks don't generally run the ball effectively.


    When Should You Draft Him?

    Frankly? Don't. Let someone else waste a fourth-round pick on McFadden.




Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Until recently, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell was generally considered the top rookie ball-carrier in redraft fantasy football leagues in 2013. The former Michigan State star seemed set for an every-down role on a Pittsburgh offense looking to re-establish the run this year.

    However, Bell sprained his foot in the team's second preseason game, casting those plans into disarray.

    There has been some positive news about the injury. As Mike Wilkening of Pro Football Talk reports, head coach Mike Tomlin indicated that Bell won't need surgery, and he's been able to engage in some physical activity "without discomfort."

    The belief is that Bell has dodged the "L" word (Lisfranc), and that the second-round pick could return to the field sometime in October.

    Color this writer skeptical.

    Both Maurice Jones-Drew in 2012 and Darren McFadden in 2011 had mid-foot sprains that weren't believed to be overly serious at first. Then they lingered. And lingered. And then their seasons were ruined.

    That isn't to say that will happen with Bell, but we're talking about a rushing attack in Pittsburgh that ranked outside the top 20 in the NFL a season ago.

    The upside just isn't there.


    When Should You Draft Him?

    Unless he drops to ridiculously late in the draft, pass. Too much risk, not enough reward.

Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Indianapolis Colts

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    Finding a viable weekly starter at running back in the middle rounds of a fantasy draft is much easier said than done.

    That's what makes Ahmad Bradshaw of the Indianapolis Colts such an intriguing draft-day option.

    Bradshaw is currently the 30th running back off draft boards, according to My Fantasy League, with an ADP in the seventh round.

    Given his likely status as lead back for the Colts and top-20 fantasy finish last year in leagues that award a point for receptions, that may sound like a steal.

    That is, until you look at the ground.

    Until recently that would have meant spotting Bradshaw in a walking boot, one that the 27-year-old has been sporting since surgery on his troublesome foot.

    In January.

    Jene Bramel of FootballGuys (subscription required), who also happens to be a physician, recently reported that, "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."

    That's what you call a red flag, folks.

    However, Bradshaw has been activated from the PUP list, and while he won't see any preseason action, Bradshaw is expected to be ready for Week 1.


    When Should You Draft Him?

    The foot is obviously a concern, but if he's at or near 100 percent, Bradshaw is a much more complete back than Vick Ballard, and Bradshaw would at the very least be the front end of a committee attack.

    It's a risky pick, but the simple fact is that running backs with top-20 upside available in the sixth round or later don't grow on trees.

    Given that he's going in the same range as Chris Ivory of the New York Jets and Rashard Mendenhall of the Arizona Cardinals (each of whom have injury worries of their own), Bradshaw is worth a look at his current ADP, especially from fantasy owners who eschew the running back position early.

Jonathan Stewart/DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carolina Panthers

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    The second opinion on Jonathan Stewart's balky ankles came back, and apparently the news wasn't good.

    According to Ian Rapoport of, the Panthers will place Stewart on the reserve/PUP list to open the season, which will cost the sixth-year pro the first six games of the season.

    That also means that DeAngelo Williams, who was fantasy football's top running back in 2008, will operate as the Panthers' unquestioned lead back for at least the first six weeks of the year.

    Williams' average draft position had already been climbing with Stewart sidelined. It will likely only increase even more now.


    When Should You Draft Him?

    As far as Stewart, who has struggled with ankle issues throughout his career, is concerned, he's essentially undraftable now as there's no timetable as to when he might return to action.

    That would seem to be a great thing for Williams' fantasy prospects, in that he won't have to share carries on an offense that was effective running the ball last year.

    The problem is that last year seems like a million years ago.

    At least, it looks that way when you watch the Panthers try to run the ball in 2013.

    The Carolina ground game has been absolutely wretched in the preseason. Against the Baltimore Ravens last week, Williams looked every bit of 30 years old, picking up two yards on four carries.

    That isn't to say that Williams doesn't have some value as a RB3 or "flex" option, but wise fantasy owners will be very leery of overpaying for upside that's more mirage than reality.

Danny Amendola, WR, New England Patriots

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    Want to watch fantasy owners pull their hair out?

    Pull up a chair and get a load of Danny Amendola's owners this year.

    The talented but oft-injured fifth-year pro was brought in by the New England Patriots as the replacement for Wes Welker. With six catches for 71 yards and a touchdown in the Patriots' second preseason game (in just over a quarter), Amendola had fantasy drafters drooling over his prospects with Tom Brady in 2013.

    Amendola then proceeded to remind everyone that he's missed 20 games over the past two years by sitting out the third preseason game with an "undisclosed" injury.

    Field Yates of ESPN reports that Amendola is back at practice and a "full go," but his mysterious absence from New England's dress rehearsal does not inspire the warm and fuzzies.


    When Should You Draft Him?

    Amendola is the poster boy for risk versus reward at wide receiver in 2013.

    As he showed in the second preseason game, Amendola is capable of fantasy WR1 production. The top 10 isn't out of the question in leagues that award a point for catches.

    However, not only does Amendola struggle to stay on the field, but he's now playing for a team that would list Amendola as "questionable" if he was hit by a meteor the size of a school bus.

    Amendola is currently being taken near the end of the fourth round, according to My Fantasy League. In PPR leagues that's pushing it, and in standard scoring leagues that's way too high.

    However, if you can get him a round or so later, the pendulum starts to swing the other direction as the upside's certainly there.

    Just be sure to set aside some money for Rogaine.

Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants

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    If you're the type of fantasy owner who loads up on running backs early, then sometimes the wide receiver options available when you're ready to grab your first one don't inspire a ton of confidence.

    This year one such option is Hakeem Nicks of the New York Giants, who was hampered last year by knee and foot injuries.

    Not only are injuries a concern with the 25-year-old, but as Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News reports, Nicks and quarterback Eli Manning appeared out of sync in the team's third preseason game.

    That may be true, but there's also more than a little potential with Nicks. In both 2010 and 2011 Nicks topped 1,000 yards, averaging nine scores a year over that stretch.


    When Should You Draft Him?

    Nicks is a hard player to peg.

    When healthy, there's WR1 potential with Nicks, and his average draft position of WR18 at My Fantasy League makes that upside all the more appealing.

    However, staying healthy has been an issue for Nicks throughout his career, and frankly he hasn't looked 100 percent in preseason action.

    At the end of the day, though, there just aren't many fantasy options at wideout available in the fifth round that have Nicks' ceiling. He's a much better target at that point than the similarly priced (and similarly nicked up) Jordy Nelson of the Green Bay Packers.

Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots

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    We've saved the best for last.

    There isn't a bigger risk/reward pick in all of fantasy football in 2013 than New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

    On one hand, you have a player who is a true difference maker. Gronkowski finished last year as a top-five fantasy option despite missing five games, and there's a very real chance that Gronkowski will lead all tight ends in fantasy points per game this year.

    The problem is that we don't have any real idea how many games that will be.

    The fourth-year pro had back surgery in June, and while Vinnie Iyer of The Sporting News reports that Gronkowski is on track to avoid the PUP list to begin the season, he also isn't going to be ready to go Week 1.


    When Should You Draft Him?

    The prevailing school of thought right now seems to be that Gronkowski will miss about three games before making his regular-season debut.

    That school of thought is reflected in Gronkowski's falling ADP, which is now the middle of the fourth round, according to My Fantasy League.

    That's an awfully tempting price for a player capable of making the sort of dent in the box score that Gronkowski can.

    It essentially all comes down to your tolerance for risk. If you can stomach not having him for a few games and back him up with a serviceable starter (who you can open the season with), then Gronkowski could be a huge addition to your team in the season's second half.

    Assuming that once he gets on the field he stays there, of course.

    Like I said, it's all about your tolerance for risk.