Injury Risk - Big Ben

Injury Risks – QB edition

Injury Risks – QB edition

In this Quarterback edition of the ‘Injury Risks’ series, we look at three ball-slingers for whom injury may be an issue in 2020. How could suffering an injury affect their on-field and fantasy performances, as well as that of their team?

Let’s look at three of those Quarterbacks that fantasy owners should be aware of with regard to injuries…

Ben Roethlisberger – Pittsburgh Steelers

If there was ever a time to demonstrate how a season can be determined by injuries, take a look at Pittsburgh. It would have been bad enough to lose WR1 JuJu Smith-Schuster for a quarter of the season. Now, add in the decimation of the Backs.  James Connor, Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell and Roosevelt Nix all out with injuries at points in the season. And, to top it off – they lose their QB1 in Week 2. An elbow injury ended Ben Roethlisbergers season, and required him to have surgery. 

That left the makeshift offense in the hands of Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges for the rest of the campaign. Some players made the best of it and ended up with decent output. Diontae Johnson and James Washington made the most of their extended play time. But Pittsburgh’s 8-8 record didn’t get them anywhere near the playoffs. 

BRING BACK BIG BEN

Since the season finished, the Pittsburgh faithful have been buoyed by videos showing Ben’s recovery. They got particularly excited when a clip showing Roethlisberger practicing his throwing found its way onto the web in late February. Big Ben swore he wouldn’t cut his beard until he could throw again properly. So, when footage of him throwing to JuJu appeared on the official Steelers Instagram channel, it spelled out good news for his progress. There was also a clip of him getting his beard trimmed as well. He went through with his promise. 

So, with positive signs after last season’s setback, could there be hope for a consistent Quarterback this season? And could that consistency lead to an increase in fortunes for the Steelers? 

BIG BEN’S INJURY LIST

Roethlisberger is 38 years old. He is coming into his 16th year as an NFL player. He has seen it, done it and gotten the Superbowl –  twice. You’re very lucky if you come away from American football only one injury to show for it. But the elbow issue was not Ben’s first injury – not by any means. 

It is an impressive list of ailments picked up over the years. And he showed his resilience by actually playing through some of the minor ones – and quickly returning after other more concerning ones. At different stages, he has played through cracked ribs, a dislocated finger and a broken nose. And, after tearing his meniscus in 2016, Roethlisberger had surgery before returning – he missed only one game.

So I imagine it was a shock for Pittsburgh fans to see their seemingly invincible Quarterback out for so long.After all, he has managed to play through a lot of injuries before – he has kept the momentum going. And this extended layoff may well be an indicator for things to come. The injury and the virus outbreaks have slowed down a lot of player’s abilities to prepare for the season. Facilities have been closed and rehab options have been limited. And, while rested, it will be harder for an injured Quarterback to have that same physical fitness needed to compete straight away. Especially one who is close to 40 years old. 

BETTER THAN DEVLIN YOU KNOW…

In the 2019 season, we have seen glimpses of what life would be like without Big Ben. Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges took the helm without the veteran in play. Considering the situation, both did their best behind the line. But it was a clear step down in talent from the Superbowl winner. 

However, it’s important to remember that the Steelers were 0-2 when Roethlisberger got his injury. Rudolph and Hodges managed an 8-6 record afterwards. And the defeats included two against Baltimore, one against San Francisco and one against Buffalo. All three are post-season teams. In addition, Rudolph got a 13:9 TD/INT ratio in his games. 4 of those picks was a particularly fiery game against the Browns – which tightens up that ratio. Add in injuries at other positions – and this makes their achievements more impressive. 

So, that means there are promising signs if the veteran goes down once again. An increase in experience and game time will help both the backups. An improved bill of health for the other members of the team should also take off the pressure. 

ADP FOR THE STEELERS’ THREE

Big Ben is often off the board at QB14 – the top end of the QB2 range. If you were considering an alternative, you need only look those getting drafted below.

This includes players like Baker Mayfield. A younger option, but not necessarily a better one at present. Mayfield could well feel the heat from Case Keenum, who has pushed many Quarterbacks for their starting roles. Look no further than last year – when he battled with Dwayne Haskins for Washington’s QB1 spot. 

And what about Daniel Jones? Last year, the rookie took over from a legendary Quarterback. In replacing Eli Manning for 10 of the last 12 games of the season, Jones went for 24:12 and over 3,000 yards. He is the starter this year, so has a chance to make an impression straight away. 

Understandably, Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges do not feature on the board at present. The Steelers coaching staff have Rudolph as the main back up. However, it is worth knowing that Rudolph also had surgery this off-season. The backup Quarterback had an op on a dislocated shoulder. This in itself is not normally something that requires surgery. However, the specific dislocation can lead to life-threatening complications. So the injury risk to Rudolph himself should be something to know if he does get the job. 

Next Quarterback in line to be under the microscope is another big player…

Matthew Stafford – Detroit Lions

Matthew Stafford is another player that factors in at the top of the QB2 pile, alongside Daniel Jones and Ben Roethlisberger. The reason I didn’t mention him in the last segment is that he too has suffered a recent injury. Stafford missed the second half of the season due to a back injury from a Week 9 game against the Raiders. In the same vein as Big Ben at Pittsburgh, the backup Quarterbacks were a visible step down from Stafford’s passing ability and the Lions went on to lose every other game. 

BREAKING A RECORD SEASON

Despite the Lions’ record, Stafford was personally on track for a monster season. The Quarterback had already picked up a 19:5 TD/INT ratio and was on the brink of 2,500 yards. The second half of the season was easier than the first. Had Stafford been around, the Lions’ results may have been different – and he could have recorded his second 5,000+ yard season. The first came in 2011, when he picked up 5,038 yards. The following year, he fell just 33 yards short. And it took a back injury to not only stop his latest attempt, but to end a sequence of 136 consecutive starts for the Quarterback. 

Although this was the first back injury that took Stafford out of game time, this wasn’t the his first. A report in June suggested that the Quarterback had been playing with broken bones in his back for the 2018 season. He was marked as questionable for several games towards the end of that season. After the season was finished, Stafford had no surgery after the 2018 season, did no extra rehab and said himself that there were no lingering issues

But history repeated – and this time, the injury required time off. The Lions put Stafford on IR in December. Despite this, Stafford announced that he can be ready for the off-season – and has also involved himself in practices with his team mates. And so, any notion that the back issues could be a problem have disappeared. They have now been replaced with rumours on Stafford’s future at the club. ESPN even put out an article discussing how these rumours came about. But that article does cover the possibility (and effects) of another injury plagued season. 

WARNING SIGNS

But what is to stop this injury from happening again? Like last time, Stafford had no surgery. The likelihood of rehab in minimal, especially since the coronavirus outbreak has limited these facilities. And any practice that we have seen Stafford carry out thus far have been uncontested. As such, can you really rely on the Lions QB1 to be as prepared as much as last season? We could take him at his word – but he said the same approaching last season, and look what happened there. 

All this uncertainty points to a large injury risk for Stafford in the 2020 season. 

BACK TO BACKUPS

Detroit have lost Jeff Driskel to the Broncos, but David Blough has stayed around from last season. The Lions also brought in Chase Daniel from Chicago. Daniel saw several games after Mitch Trubisky was out with a shoulder injury. But this does not amount to any reasonable back up should Stafford go down. As it stands, Lions fans should cross their fingers that he stays healthy.

This risk is also there for fantasy drafters. There is certainly upside to gain from a fully fit Stafford – as shown in the numbers he produced from half a season. Getting a full season’s worth of production will make him a potent force. At present, he is being drafted at QB13, the top of the QB2 pile. 

There are pros to taking him, but it could be a risk to your season if you pick him as your backup Quarterback. It could be riskier to choose him as QB1 in a 14-team league. 

Our third focus is a rookie Quarterbacks who was considered the number 1 pick at one point last season.

Tua Tagovailoa – Miami Dolphins

Up until Joe Burrow overtook him as Number 1 pick, Tua was considered to be the one to take. In fact, rumour surrounding the Alabama man were the basis of questions about Matt Stafford’s status at the Lions. 

Burrow’s hot form and college championship win took him to the Heismann trophy and top position in the draft – it ultimately defined his season. Unfortunately, injury defined Tua’s. He got a dislocated hip and a posterior wall fracture in a college game and was out for the rest of the season. 

Tua had just come out of ankle surgery to fix a recent issue. ESPN reported that he showed limited mobility on his return. But his head coach Nick Saban did not believe this was the reason behind his season-ending injuries. 

ROAD TO RECOVERY

The long road to recovery actually seemed to become much shorter than anyone anticipated. In fact, Tua got a clean bill of health after only five months. He was deemed fit enough for the draft. And the Miami Dolphins put any Lions rumours to bed in selecting him as the fifth overall pick. 

This declaration of full health goes against the normal recovery time of a posterior wall fracture. In an article by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), a typical recovery timescale from this fracture type is 9 – 12 months. This timescale is dependant upon severity of the injury and the status of the patient. Of course, Tagovailoa is a physically fit young man, who will be used to rigorous training programs. His determination to be fit for the draft has pushed him to recover as quickly as possible. 

But the article specifies that full weight bearing will not be allowed until the bone is fully healed, normally around 3 to 4 months time. Physical therapy then gives way to low-impact activities. To have Tua jump up to a clean bill of health for American football, a high-impact sport, after 5 months? It is miraculous.

THE NEXT LEVEL 

The virus outbreak will have actually given Tua more rest and recovery time. That period away from any potential damage from pre-season camps will do him good. But it does raise questions about whether his rush back to fitness did him more harm than good. 

An ESPN article about Tagovailoa’s injury brings up fellow Quarterback Sam Bradford. Bradford’s story shows similarities, in that he too injured himself twice in his last college season. The second time required season-ending surgery. Despite this, the Rams picked him first overall. What followed were nine seasons full of injuries. Although Bradford’s main NFL injuries were in different areas of his body (ACL tears rather than shoulder), it does raise a question about taking an injured Quarterback with a first round pick. 

That same article also highlights specific players like Dennis Pitta. A Former Ravens Tight End, Pitta injured his hip after three years on NFL play. After missing many games, including one full season, Pitta retired three years after his first setback. In the physical nature of the game, being the target for rushing defenders is not a situation where you want a damaged hip.

The AAOS article concludes by saying that many people who have suffered posterior wall fractures don’t return to the same level of fitness they had previously. This could signal Tua not being able to escape those rushes as well as he did before, increasing the risk of re-injury. 

MAKE WAY FOR FITZMAGIC

Ryan Fitzpatrick. A polarising player for many team, but one who brought some stability to the Dolphins in 2019. Last season started out with Fitzpatrick as backup for Josh Rosen. It ended with the veteran leading the field and the first rounder only seeing 6 games. So, you would be OK to think Fitzpatrick is Miami’s QB1 in 2020 – without Tagovailoa’s drafting to consider. 

One thing IS clear. Rosen, first round pick in 2018, will be the third-string Quarterback while Tua and Ryan are Dolphins. But who walks out as starter in Week 1 is still up in the air. Is it the first round talent – the potential ‘face of the franchise’ – arriving after a serious injury? Or the veteran who helped deliver some form back to the struggling Dolphins? The lack of team practices have led to analysts being uncertain about who will take the lead role.  

And it seems that a lot of fantasy drafters are feeling that same uncertainty, based upon the players’ ADP. They do not feature on 12-team PPR ADP boards but, in other league formats, neither has the definitive lead over the other. Some scenarios, see Fitzpatrick picked first. In other, Tagovailoa has the edge. But their rankings put them both right at the tail end of drafts. 

For such a promising prospect, there must be disappointment for Tagovailoa to not get an automatic shot as a first-round pick. But you have to feel as though that injury is playing a part in the Dolphin’s decision to keep Fitzpatrick around. In comparison, Heismann winner and #1 pick Joe Burrow stands uncontested as the Bengals’ QB1. He currently sits as QB18 in 12-team PPR leagues. In both players’ cases, what a difference a year makes. 

TO CONCLUDE

That concludes the Injury Risks series.

These last four articles cover some players who may pose a risk to the health of your fantasy team in 2020.

But, if there is one thing to take from these articles, it is to check on injury histories of players before the drafts. Knowing about those injuries could save you a pick and avoid heartache in the future.

With that in mind, see you all on the draft boards. 

And, as always, Keep Rushing!

Rob – @CowsillRob

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