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Fantasy Football 2014: Injured NFL Players Worth Gambling on Early

Eric MackFantasy Football Lead WriterJuly 14, 2014

Fantasy Football 2014: Injured NFL Players Worth Gambling on Early

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    You love the Seattle Seahawks' Percy Harvin. I don't. You are reading this slideshow. I am writing it (much to your dismay, perhaps).

    Before outlining the injury-prone players we believe are worth gambling on early in fantasy football drafts this summer, we start with a quick discussion of a popular one we had the guts to omit: Harvin (hip and concussions among myriad ailments).

    This is a talented slot receiver, sure. The Super Bowl proved that, and it proved Harvin can be healthy—albeit briefly. Harvin has also proved incapable of staying healthy in his five-year career.

    He has just one 16-game season to date, which equals the number of regular-season receptions he had a year ago. Harvin has not had a 90-catch season yet. He hasn't reached 1,000 yards. And forget about him cracking 10 touchdowns.

    You need those types of numbers from a wide receiver you select in the first five rounds of fantasy—not just once or potentially for this season, but year in year out.

    The fantasy-wide love for Harvin's potential might not allow him to slip out of Round 4. He is slotted as the last pick of that round in a standard, 12-team league, according to the FantasyPros.com consensus rankings. Yours truly ranks him No. 65, roughly a sixth-round pick.

    If you like to gamble with your most valuable fantasy resources—early-round picks—go ahead and select Harvin. But enough about a player too risky to select in the early rounds, which we are considering the first five rounds. We will take the guys who actually play in games and put up numbers.

    Here are the injured NFL players worth gambling on early this summer.

Round 1/2: Running Back Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    It is fairly amazing the lack of love Doug Martin has been getting going into training camp. He is a first-round pick in our book, but the analysts in the FantasyPros.com's consensus rankings have him ranking No. 23. That is barely a second-round pick in 12-team leagues.

    Martin was knocked out by a shoulder injury a year ago. It has nothing to do with his wheels. Remember the days when Emmitt Smith was torching teams with a shoulder injury? A running back shouldn't be downgraded due to a shoulder issue, especially since Martin is 100 percent now.

    Martin has a team built to feature the running game, especially with defensive guru Lovie Smith now installed as the head coach. Smith will use Martin heavily, even if he wants to work in third-round pick Charles Sims some in the passing game and to give the lead back a breather. Smith doesn't call the plays, but he gets his team playing elite defense, giving the running back the situations and field position to succeed.

    Don't hold last year's six subpar games against him. That team was a mess. Smith is a veteran head coach that will make them competitive.

    Martin, a near 1,500-yard rusher in 2012, is a player who was the No. 2 or No. 3 overall pick a year ago, behind just Adrian Peterson. He is in the right system, playing for at team that will feature the running game. He was injured, but he is no longer injured. He is worth the risk when he falls into Round 2.

Round 1/2: Running Back Arian Foster, Houston Texans

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    Arian Foster might have a career-threatening back injury, but he told the Houston Chronicle's John McClain he is healthy again and "raring to go." New head coach Bill O'Brien's system is running back-friendly, particularly when it comes to the short passing game.

    It wasn't too long ago Foster was the No. 1 player in fantasy football. Even if he is turning 28 this Aug. 24, there is a productive year or two still in him.

    The Houston Texans still don't have a quarterback—unless you consider journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick one. Foster will bear a heavy, heavy load early and often in O'Brien's offense. Even if he needs a breather and Andre Brown absorbs some carries, Foster is going to increase his production in the passing game. This is a back capable of 1,500 combined yards and 10-plus touchdowns.

    Foster is a first-round pick at No. 12 overall, according to FantasyPro.com's consensus rankings. He probably should not fall out of the first round, but we have a hunch the increasing love for wide receivers might allow him to. He is worth the risk anywhere after the top 10 overall.

Round 2/3: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    Rodgers already returned from his broken collarbone to throw for 318 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the 2013 season finale. He is not quite an "injured" player. In fact, head coach Mike McCarthy went so far as to say Rodgers looks as good as he ever has, according to Rob Reischel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

    "I think Aaron's had probably his best spring, if I'm going to sit back and try to rank them," McCarthy said. "I'll probably say the same thing next year, but I think he's in great shape. I think Aaron's in a great place and had a very exceptional spring."

    We should fully expect him to have a great summer and fall now too.

    A healthy Rodgers is a lock for 30-plus touchdowns and 4,000-plus yards. Toss in his yearly two to five rushing touchdowns, and you have a top-five fantasy quarterback. We continually stress to not reach on quarterbacks in fantasy, but commoners often do. Rodgers is well worth the pick after Peyton Manning is off the board, which should happen in Round 2 even if it doesn't in Round 1.

Round 2/3: Wide Receiver Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons

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    Julio Jones is the first player in this slideshow we rank lower than FantasyPros.com's consensus rankings, but that only serves to show he is absolutely worth the early-round price tag coming off his career-threatening foot injury from a year ago. Some analysts even have Jones as a potential first-round pick.

    We see him as a late second-rounder, but considering Jones is dealing with a foot issue that plagued him in college, that is a lofty draft position for an injury-risk wide receiver.

    Jones told Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he is back to health:

    I am back doing the little things I used to do. I am back to the old Julio. I feel like I am actually stronger now. I've been doing back squats loading up and getting my quads more stronger more so than my hamstrings. That might have been a problem as well. (I'm trying) to balance my strength in my quads and my glutes to make sure everything is equal so I don't put that amount of force and pressure on the outside of my foot.

    Because Jones already came back from a similar injury to become one of fantasy's most explosive wideouts, there is a lot of confidence he can do it again. You might not get Jones at a draft-day value, but he is clearly worth the risk in the second round, even if we wouldn't touch him in Round 1.

Round 3/4: Running Back C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    It is amazing what a difference a season makes. Last year at this time, we had to disparage the Buffalo Bills' breakout candidate C.J. Spiller as a breakdown candidate. Now, we have to talk him up as a useful early-round pick.

    No, Spiller isn't worth a first-round selection, because of his slight stature (just 200 pounds) and his injury history (ankle issues), but he is still a third-rounder and a top-15 running back in our book. Even in a bad year, he nearly rushed for 1,000 yards in 2013.

    The question is whether you can trust him to get a bulk of the load, particularly with Fred Jackson and Bryce Brown nipping at Spiller's heels in the pecking order. Spiller might not be as sturdy as Jackson, Brown or the backs in fantasy's top 15, but he is more explosive than all but a select few in this game.

    The potential for big plays might not be there in Buffalo's offense right now, but a healthy Spiller can bring that. It was why he was a top-five fantasy selection in so many leagues a year ago. Now, the question is whether he will even be selected in the first five rounds.

    We were not a fan of Spiller's Round 1 draft position a year ago, but as a third-rounder this year, he can be a value pick.

Round 4/5: Wide Receiver Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    Roddy White was able to play 14 of 16 games a year ago, but the fact that his production was cut in half despite the Atlanta Falcons missing Julio Jones (ankle) shows White was playing most of the year at something significantly less than 100 percent. White dealt with hamstring and ankle issues, but he tried to play through them in 2013.

    He is ready to go for training camp, even if he is now 32, the age of decline for NFL wide receivers.

    A healthy Jones certainly means as much to White as White's own health. White hadn't missed a game in his nine-year career before last year. In 2012, White was good for 92 catches for 1,351 yards and seven touchdowns. He dipped to a mere 63-711-3 despite playing just two fewer games.

    While you cannot guarantee health, especially at White's advanced age, he is still a top-20 fantasy wide receiver and a top-40 player overall. The analysts polled at FantasyPros.com roughly agree on both accounts.

    White is a risk worth taking in Round 4 in a standard 12-team league.

Round 4/5: Tight End Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

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    The news going into this season for New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is a lot more favorable for a Week 1 return. A number of Boston media outlets are expecting him to be ready to go for the start of the season despite the fact that he underwent reconstructive knee surgery in December.

    A healthy Gronkowski is worth drafting right after tight end Jimmy Graham goes off the board. Graham is looking like a pick in the middle of Round 1, according to the FantasyPros.com consensus rankings. The still-lingering uncertainty with Gronk will see him on the board rounds later, not picks later.

    Even if you fear another significant injury for the oft-injured Gronk, you have to like the value he provides if he slips out of the first three rounds in fantasy drafts. He wasn't able to do so in this Athlon Sports draft I was a part of in May. That 31st overall selection is likely more realistic than my personal No. 44 overall ranking or the No. 39 spot in the consensus above.

    Gronk still has plenty of health to prove in training camp to be worth a third-round pick. If he slips into Round 4 or 5, he will be a bargain like he was a year ago. Gronk will always be a talent you have to hold your breath on in that regard, but he is a monster in the games he does play.

Round 5/6: Quarterback Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

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    This final slide was supposed to be Ray Rice's after an injury-plagued (hip) and disappointing year, but Rice is facing a four- to six-game suspension, according to Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post.

    Instead, we will take a leap of faith and tout Cam Newton as a potential fifth-round pick. Yes, that is overly optimistic, especially with our belief that you can draft your starting quarterback as late as Round 8.

    This takes some doing, as Newton had offseason ankle surgery and watched his entire wide receiving corps get turned over into a bunch of has-beens and one raw first-round pick, Kelvin Benjamin. Things just are not looking up for Newton this year.

    But we said the same thing going into his rookie year. You know, right? When he posted the best statistical season for a rookie quarterback in NFL history by all accounts, including this one at Yahoo Sports.

    Newton is a physical marvel and the type of player who makes everyone around him better and more productive. There is potential for him to post 25 passing touchdowns with 4,000 yards and 10 rushing scores. Those are elite fantasy quarterback numbers, even if no one is ranking him among the elite options, because of his injury and concerns about his supporting cast.

    On Instagram, Newton posted pictures of himself working out after being cleared to do so by doctors. He is on target for training camp and a season in which he can surprise people. He is a risk we can get behind, especially at his suppressed draft position, arguably the last of the injury-risk picks in the first five rounds of fantasy this summer.

     

    Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, was the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this past season. He is now an NFL featured writer here. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.

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