One thing we can all agree on as fantasy footballers; it's damn hard to win a championship. Out of millions of leagues, there can only be one person to win. It seems like the key to a winning strategy is some combination of getting value out of draft picks, a keen eye on the waiver wire, trading and finally a little bit of luck. Even by having a perfect draft and knowing every detail about all the players and their fantasy potential may not be enough.
There are two factors that are almost impossible to predict: off-the-field issues and injuries. If either of these events happen to one of your players during the season, it can send your team right down the gutter along with your dreams of winning. For the purposes of this article, I am going to focus on injuries and how they can affect your perception of the player for your upcoming draft.
Do you remember injuries in 2013? Hundreds of players went down with injuries. In fact, 58 went down with torn ACLs alone. If you had a fantasy player on your squad go down with one of these injuries I'm sure you just cringed while reminiscing. It was a nightmare to say the least. Here's just a brief list: Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin, Chargers WR Danario Alexander, Saints WR Joseph Morgan, Dolphins TE Dustin Keller, Rams QB Sam Bradford, Colts WR Reggie Wayne, Seahawks WR Sidney Rice, Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski, Steelers RB LaRod Stephens-Howling, Jets RB Mike Goodson, Browns QB Brian Hoyer, Colts RB Vick Ballard and the list goes on.
Again, that list is only a sampling of the guys that tore their ACL! We also have to include stars Percy Harvin and Dennis Pitta who both went down with hip injuries, Doug Martin with a shoulder injury, Michael Crabtree who tore his Achilles, Jermichael Finley breaking his spine and Aaron Rodgers who broke his collarbone.
The main problem with injuries for fantasy football owners is it instantly casts a doubt if the player will ever return to his star-studded self. Should you take that risk on particular "injury-prone" players? The simple answer to this is yes and you shouldn't be afraid to draft them as they usually fall to later rounds of the draft. If you are looking for value in your upcoming draft, these players can be had for cheaper than what they once were and what they will be in 2014. They still hold all of the potential to put up big numbers.
From left to right: Jay Cutler, Rob Gronkowski & Reggie Wayne
2013 ADP: 11th round, QB17. The injury: Groin tear and high ankle sprain. Missed multiple games. 2014 ADP: Ninth round, QB14.
Cutler is one of the more interesting players on this list because he's the only player to be injured the previous season and see his ADP increase. I think that has more to do with the emergence of wide receiver Alshon Jeffery in a high-powered offense that also features studs Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall. With so many playmakers at his disposal, it would be hard for him not to do well this year.
There are some concerns though. Cutler has missed a least one game every season for the past four years. In 2010, it was a concussion. In 2011, a broken thumb eventually required surgery. In 2012, the injuries were bruised ribs, a concussion and a knee. Finally in 2013, as previously mentioned, he tore his groin in Week 7, came back in Week 10. He then sprained his ankle and was out another four weeks. With all that in mind, the name of the game is value. He is being drafted in the ninth round and if he stays healthy, he can be a top-eight QB this year. He's also going to be cheap enough now in redraft leagues that you can grab a late-round flier QB to compensate for a potential injury and still get great value on Cutler.
2013 ADP: Fifth round, WR17. 2013 injury: Week 7, torn ACL. Out for rest of season. 2014 ADP: Eighth round, WR43.
In 2012, Wayne was still a borderline WR1, a top-ten fantasy WR. In that season with a rookie Andrew Luck delivering the football, Wayne didn't miss a beat. He put up a 102-1,355-5 stat line. He also earned the nickname "Ironman" after not missing a game in 12 years which dated all the way back to his rookie season. Even in 2013 after his ADP began to fall and concerns about his age were becoming a bigger factor, Wayne was a productive WR3 before his injury. He will be Luck's favorite target and Wayne can still catch everything that hits his hands. In 2012 then-rookie Luck threw to Wayne 180 times, completing 106 of them making him by far the most targeted receiver on the team. Wayne may not be what he was two years ago; however, he can outperform his ADP.
2013 ADP: Second round. First or second TE drafted. The injury: Didn't start until Week 7 due to a nagging forearm injury which required multiple surgeries and a lower back issue. Suffered a torn ACL, MCL and concussion in Week 14. 2014 ADP: Third round as a TE3 (behind Jimmy Graham and Julius Thomas)
When he plays, Gronkowski has elite TE talent. The Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick are notorious for not committing to any single player by spreading the ball around offensively. Even with the "next man up" mentality, they have made Gronk a major contributor when he's on the field. Two things are remarkable about his 2013 season: First, after returning in Week 7, it only took him five games (Week 12) to play every single snap of the game. Second, the weeks he did play (Weeks 7 to 13), he was the highest-scoring TE of those weeks. Yes, more than Graham, Jordan Reed and Tony Gonzalez. More than anybody. Carried out over the course of a full season, he would of easily been the highest-scoring TE. Needless to say, there is value in getting a guy in the third round that could easily be the highest scoring in his position? What makes this even better is that all the reports are suggesting he is finally healthy.