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).
Rob Gronkowski once again finds himself recovering from an injury entering the season. He suffered a torn ACL and MCL in December of last year that required surgery in early January. Reports out of training camp paint a rosy picture with Gronk running, cutting and jumping without issue. Gronkowski has yet to be cleared for full contact and is expected to be brought along slowly in the preseason, but the expectation is that he will on the field in Week One.
ACL repair is a reconstructive procedure that typically requires 10-12 months for a return to competition, but closer to 16-plus months for full recovery. Gronkowski will be at the eight month mark when the season kicks off in September, so if he’s out there Week One as anticipated he’ll be ahead of schedule. The ACL and MCL are stability structures in the knee essential to making sharp cuts, changing direction or planting the leg. Running routes, making open field moves or even planting the leg to block will stress the area. Tackling a giant like Gronkowski is no easy task either, and defenders have no choice but to target his legs to bring him down. A blow to the leg is what caused the initial injury last year and you can bet his legs will be targeted by opponents again this season. Gronkowski has been arguably the best red-zone weapon in the NFL since he arrived due his freakish size and leaping ability. Gronk is still a beast of a man, but will his leaping ability be compromised as a result of the injury? Gronkowski has yet to be cleared for full contact and may not see much of it until the season starts. Running routes and catching passes in a controlled practice environment is not the same as absorbing contact and making instinctive moves that a game environment will require. How will the knee respond?
The psychological aspect of recovery can’t be ignored either, and often this is the toughest hurdle to clear. If Gronkowski doesn’t completely trust his knee and alters his movements to protect himself, he’ll be at a higher risk for compensatory injury. We must also keep in mind that Gronkowski has undergone five additional surgeries over his career aside from the knee: four to the forearm and two to his back. His physical style of play combined with his size (he’s a huge target) makes him susceptible to injury.
There’s precedent at both ends of the spectrum over the last couple years in terms of player effectiveness coming back early from ACL surgery: Adrian Peterson and Robert Griffin III. AP was historically great coming back in 2012; RGIII was largely a mess in his return last season. Where Gronk will fall in this spectrum is the million dollar question, and with an ADP of 26.5 (second TE), I’m not paying the going rate to find out. Gronkowski is arguably fantasy’s top TE when healthy and fully operational, but I’m not convinced we’ll see that guy this year, at least not initially. The Patriots are also notoriously tight-lipped about player injuries and I could see a weekly headache for his owners brewing. Gronkowski’s ADP will likely continue to rise as the preseason wears on, and to me it’s crazy. Gronkowski gets a spot on my list for the second straight year and I suggest you think long and hard before pulling the trigger on him in the second round.