Death, taxes and injured fantasy stars – these are some of life’s few certainties. Make no mistake about it, injuries WILL play a major role in fantasy seasons this year, and the more you know, the better your odds of hoisting that virtual trophy. Welcome to the 2014 Fantasy Football edition of Don’s Do Not Trust List ©. As a practicing physical therapist in a fast-paced University practice (and a die-hard fantasy fanatic), I’ve spent the last decade treating a wide variety of sports related injuries. I’ll be discussing a number of players with injury concerns entering the season and whether or not I “trust” them to provide draft day value. If I think the injury risk outweighs the reward relative to the player’s Average Draft Position (ADP), he gets a spot on my list. Keep in mind that a spot on my list doesn’t necessarily mean you should avoid drafting the player entirely; draft at your own risk, just don’t pay full price. If there are any players I didn’t cover that you want to hear about, drop me a line in the comments or shoot me an email and I’ll give you my take. ADP data courtesy of FantasyFootballCalculator.com (12-team standard scoring format).
Doug Martin: He missed the majority of the 2013 season after tearing the labrum in his shoulder and requiring reconstructive surgery to repair the damage. If Martin was a QB or a baseball pitcher I’d be more concerned. He’s had plenty of time to recover and shouldn’t notice any residual effects from the injury. Any hesitation you have about Martin at his current ADP of 26.7 (13th RB) should be based on skill and workload concerns, not health.
Michael Crabtree: The 49ers WR missed a large portion of the 2013 season after undergoing surgical repair of a torn Achilles tendon. While looking noticeably slower and lacking explosion upon his return, he successfully managed to play the end of last season without complications and went into the offseason healthy. Now well over a year removed from the injury, he should be fully recovered and have his burst restored. Recent reports indicate Crabtree is nursing a hamstring injury early in camp, which is never ideal, but if he’s back on the field in relatively short order I wouldn’t be too concerned. Achilles repairs are very challenging to recover from, and while the timeline would suggest he’s fully recovered, any residual deficits from the ankle could increase the stress elsewhere in the leg, elevating the risk of compensatory injury. Prior to the Achilles injury, Crabtree was very durable, having missed only one game in the previous three seasons. Again, watch the practice reports carefully over the next couple weeks; so long as he returns to action, I’d feel comfortable drafting him at his current 48.3 ADP (20th WR). Frankly I’m concerned about all the competition for looks in a run-heavy offense more so than his health.
Kyle Rudolph: He suffered a fractured foot during Week Nine last season and nearly returned at the end of the season before the Vikings wisely decided not to risk it. Rudolph had no complications during his recovery this offseason, has been running since February, and enters camp without limitations. I see no reason to doubt Rudolph’s health, and at his current ADP of 90.8 (ninth TE), he may provide some value as an athletic TE with a nose for the end-zone in Norv Turner’s TE-friendly offense.
Jeremy Maclin: 15, 16, 13, 15 – these are the games played by Maclin in the four years prior to last season’s ACL injury. Maclin’s injury-prone label is not without merit as he’s only played one full season out of five, but it’s also a bit misleading as he’s only missed five games total in the four years prior to 2013. Maclin is now more than a year removed from the ACL injury, which is within the normal recovery timeline and makes him trustworthy to draft this year. While his draft stock is on the rise (current ADP 61.5, or 25th WR overall), I don’t think the health risk is significant enough to avoid him at his current price.
Dennis Pitta: He suffered a hip dislocation in the preseason last year and wound up missing the first thirteen games of the season after undergoing surgery. The hip joint is similar to your shoulder in that it’s a ball-and-socket joint that relies on soft tissue for stability. While Pitta did require surgery to clean out debris in the joint, this is a fairly minor procedure, and after a few months of rehab Pitta was able to return to the field in Week 14 without complications. With a full offseason to continue his recuperation and an increased role expected this year, Pitta represents nice value in drafts at this current 93.3 ADP (10th TE).
Reggie Wayne: The Colts wideout is another player returning after ACL surgery, and reports out of camp suggest Wayne isn’t missing a beat. Wayne will be roughly 10 months removed from surgery when the season begins, which is on the shorter side of the 10-12 month recovery timeline. Reggie Wayne is known for being meticulous in every aspect of his football career and I have no doubt he’s approached his rehab the same way. Even though he’s a world-class athlete, Wayne has always relied more on his precise routes, instincts and hands to be effective rather than pure athletic ability. While’s he’s aging and has surely lost a step athletically, I see no reason Wayne can’t rebound and have a productive season. At his current ADP of 81.4 (33rd WR), you can draft him as your WR3 and I see room for profit there.
Maurice Jones-Drew: MJD signed a three-year contract with the Raiders this offseason after coming off a lackluster 2013 and will compete for touches with Darren McFadden. MJD played in 15 games last season and aside from an injury-marred 2012, he’s been very durable over the course of his career. His current ADP of 76.5 (32nd RB) means you (hopefully) won’t be drafting him as a starter. MJD reported to camp lighter to help improve his mobility and given McFadden’s inability to stay healthy, there’s a reasonable chance that MJD sees an increase in volume as the year progresses and turns into a serviceable player. Keep your expectations in check, but I see some value here and am cautiously optimistic he’ll hold up health-wise.
Don’s “Safe To Draft (Hopefully)” 2014 Players: Cam Newton, Doug Martin, Michael Crabtree, Kyle Rudolph, Jeremy Maclin, Dennis Pitta, Reggie Wayne, Maurice Jones-Drew