Public Enemy No. 1 of running backs and receivers.
Fantasy football games are not won and lost because of touchdowns, yards, interceptions, and field goals anymore. Injuries are now becoming the main reason why fantasy teams win or lose.
It is getting to the point where the best team isn't winning fantasy football leagues anymore—the healthiest team is. Just take a look at your own fantasy squad. How many players from your opening day team have been hurt already? Three? Five? Everyone? Do not say zero or someone might hire Matt Prater to kick you through some uprights.
Here is a list of the running backs who have missed games or parts of games already this season due to injury: Arizona's Beanie Wells, Atlanta's Michael Turner, Baltimore's Ray Rice, Detroit's Jahvid Best, New England's Fred Taylor, Indianapolis' Joseph Addai, New Orleans' Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas, Oakland's Michael Bush and Darren McFadden, St. Louis' Steven Jackson, Washington's Clinton Portis, and EVERY running back on one of my fantasy teams.
I entered the season with four running backs—Green Bay's Ryan Grant, San Diego's Ryan Mathews, Denver's Knowshown Moreno, and Cleveland's James Harrison. On paper it looked like a foursome I could be pretty happy with. By Week 3, all four were injured and none of them dressed for their respective teams. So during that third week, my starting RBs were San Diego's Mike Tolbert and Denver's Correll Buckhalter—not exactly the second coming of Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris. My team gutted out a victory anyway (thanks Mr. Vick!), but that's beside the point.
Some of the other injured players who have saddled fantasy owners with ulcers include Philadelphia's Michael Vick, Kevin Kolb and DeSean Jackson; Chicago's Jay Cutler; Detroit's Matthew Stafford and Shaun Hill; Tennessee's Vince Young; Jacksonville's David Garrard; Houston's Andre Johnson; Cleveland's Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace; Carolina's Steve Smith; Minnesota's Sidney Rice; Green Bay's Jermichael Finley and now San Diego's Antonio Gates and Indianapolis' Dallas Clark. Whew, I am as out of breath as a cornerback trying to keep pace with Randy Moss on a streak pattern.
I would list the top injured defensive players, but then this column would be longer than a Rex Ryan profanity-fest. But you get the idea. Fantasy teams have been ravaged by injuries. No one has been immune. And when half of your starting lineup is made up of players you have picked up on your league's waiver wire, has some of the joy been sapped out? Is rooting for Colt McCoy as much fun as rooting for Vick?
It is not just the injuries that kill you like an Ahmad Bradshaw chop block in the end zone. It's the byes, too. If you are not shorthanded and hamstrung enough as it is, the dreaded bye weeks deplete your roster even further. Now even some of your healthy players are sitting on the sidelines while your fantasy squad is trucking out the likes of Justin Forsett and Ryan Fitzpatrick.
So what can fantasy leagues do about this rash of injuries? Here are a few suggestions that may cushion the blows your teams are taking.
1. Expanding rosters. The NFL is talking about expanding its rosters if the league goes to an 18-game schedule because injuries would obviously increase. I suggest fantasy leagues discuss expanding their rosters regardless in 2011, because if your bench is only large enough to carry one reserve at each primary position, you are going to run out of guys by Week 4 with the way players are dropping.
Expanding rosters may make your drafts a couple rounds longer, but not only will you have a stronger, deeper bench, you will have more pieces to make blockbuster trades, which is one of the fun parts of fantasy football.
2. Allowing injured reserve spots. It is tough to carry a Portis or Stafford on your roster when they are out for multiple weeks, so have your league create an injured reserve (if it does not already use one) where you can stash 1-4 players who will be missing extended time. Just make a rule that players placed on IR cannot be made active for a certain amount of weeks so no funny business goes on.
3. Advise all of the players on your roster to drink lots of milk. In this age of e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook, it should not be difficult to track down the contact information for every player on your fantasy squad and tell them to keep their bones strong with milk and a well-balanced diet. Also warn them to flop like Torry Holt whenever James Harrison is about to forearm them in the facemask.
Many naysayers have said in the past that fantasy football is just a bridge to get from one fantasy baseball season to the next, something to keep fantasy lovers occupied while the granddaddy of fantasy sports is in its off-season. Their ammunition has never been greater, because fantasy football is getting to the point where winning games and leagues takes about as much skill as it takes to win on a slot machine.
What's your view, fellow fantasy owners? Has your interest in fantasy football waned because of all of these injuries to superstar skilled players? Has your team's season been ruined because of countless concussions and torn ACLs? And do you play fantasy football just to keep yourself busy while baseball is on break?