Injury Risk - Odell

Injury Risks – WR Edition

In the latest of the ‘Injury Risks’ articles, we look at injury issues that may affect a player’s 2020 fantasy performance.

The success of American football is defined by maximum performance. The speed and velocity created by players. The risks taken to beat an opponent. The drain on stamina and strength for a long run of games. For these reasons, and more, a lot of players get injured, some becoming nagging injury risks for your team.

But surgery, rehab and conditioning help injured players return quicker than before. Sometimes, it’s astounding how swiftly players return, but the benefits of getting important players back can really boost teams. But with that comes inherent risk – losing a player for longer due to more serious damage. This isn’t just a decision that managers need to take. Can fantasy owners count on a player with previous injuries? Is that second round pick worth it, when you lose them after two games?

Let’s look at three Wide Receivers with previous injuries that fantasy owners should be aware of…

Jarvis Landry – Cleveland Browns

Although Cleveland’s 2019 season disappointed, Jarvis Landry did not let down his fantasy owners. The receiver was a goldmine of points at WR2, with more consistency than team-mate Odell Beckham. Both wide players suffered with injury during the season. Beckham played throughout 2019 with torn ab muscles, while Landry himself had lingering hip issues. Although surgery was certain for Beckham, the Browns held out hope that it was not needed for Landry.

Sources said both player and team reported that it was unlikely, but Landry ended up having the surgery in February. The 6 – 8 month recovery timescale had him questionable for a training camp return. In an interview, Landry believed he was ahead of schedule and the COVID outbreak had not affected his rehab. He was anticipating an August return.

In normal conditions, August has teams in the middle of pre-season games. However, nothing has been normal about this off-season so far. Although team facilities are beginning to re-open, restrictions are in place for many teams. Landry himself hinted quarantine has affected access to certain recovery methods.

Week 1 return?

As previous events have affected Landry’s recovery, so will ones in the future. August was the earliest month for his return, so delays in his rehab will see Jarvis’ return edge towards the regular season. This could start to eat into his game time  – and therefore his fantasy production.

But would the Browns team wait that long for a full recovery? The management have used players suffering from existing injuries. Even with an ab injury, Beckham was played all season, and had to get surgery afterwards.

When looking at the stats, Landry’s consistent floor would be enough for a team’s reliable WR2. But it was several excellent performances that pushed him up to the overall WR11 in 2019. Those included 167 yards against the Ravens in Week 4, and 158 yards and 2 touchdowns in two outings against the Bengals. And the first games of 2020? Baltimore and Cincinnati. Having Landry playing in these games could be vital for results.

 Not a Lot Below

Landry and Beckham were bright spots in a dreary season for the Browns, and it’s certain that they will be called upon in 2020. But, as they are both injury risks, could their over-use be an error? And could they suffer repeats of injuries due to being rushed back?

The reliance on the starters is clear from the 2019 target share. In addition to Landry and Beckham, 5 other Wide Receivers saw targets in 2019. But, when you add together those 5 players’ targets, you get 61 – less than half the amount of either Landry or Beckham.

It gives the management a tough decision to make. Do they rush their starters back into action, and take the risk of re-injuring themselves? Or trust their bit players to take the slack while the starters recover?

ADP for CLE

Whether or not Landry is back in time for regular season, he is worth drafting. The upside is there, even if it is to stash him away. His status means he will see volume whenever he returns. Landry sits at WR31 on the ADP board, 21 places below Beckham. This seems great value for someone who will likely end up with the same volume.

But who do you look at if either of the top two go down with injuries? Ratley? Higgins? Hodge? No-one jumps out with confidence and why should they? The management didn’t show any faith in them either!

Something new may be needed, and the Browns did draft a Wide Receiver. 6th round pick Donovan Peoples-Jones has just signed his four year contract. He does not feature on the fantasyfootballcalculator.com board. He does however sit on the fantasypros.com chart…at WR138. he third highest Browns receiver doesn’t even register as an overall pick. With both starting receivers considered injury risks, it would be worth tracking Peoples-Jones in pre-season games. Can he take the load if a starter goes down? If his ranking stays low, the returns could be high!

AJ Green – Cincinnati Bengals

Bengals fans cursed their luck when they lost AJ Green once again at the start of 2019. They were hopeful that their talisman would return after missing the second half of the 2018 season with a toe injury. But it wasn’t to be, as an ankle injury struck in pre-season. Although there were glimmers of hope in November, it took him out for the year.

Green missed many games for the Bengals (21 games since 2016). His list of injuries before 2019 reveals right toe injuries that has affected game participation since 2014. Keep looking, and there are games where Green has played whilst injured. Sadly, this has been his downfall, as it has led to extended injuries, and longer absences.

Go Hard or Go Home

Make no mistake, Green performs when he plays. Despite him missing nearly half the games in 2018, he made nearly 700 yards. His average of 15.1 yards per carry was equal to his 2015 record. And 6 receiving touchdowns still a lucrative return on his reduced playing time. He ended up WR39 off half a season’s play.

Seasons when Green has managed to stay major injury-free have seen him hit top 10 position ranks. WR9 in 2017; WR8 in 2015, and some sites rank him as WR4 in 2013. Both dynasty owners who have Green, and the Bengals, will hope Green gets another season like this. But that injury risk raises questions, especially for those in redraft leagues. Can A.J. make the same moves with repaired toe and hamstring on one leg, and the repaired ankle on the other? Can he recapture the form?

Depth Chart Decisions

Unlike Jarvis Landry and the Cleveland Browns, the Bengals have game-tested players below Green. Tyler Boyd stepped up into the WR1 slot and saw the team-record 148 targets – a 25% share. Auden Tate and Alex Erickson both saw over 75 targets, and speed man John Ross got over 50. These are players with experience who can take the pressure off and give Green enough time to slip back in.

And Heisman winner and number 1 pick Joe Burrow is calling the shots. There is hope that he can produce the accuracy that was missing from last season. The Bengals receivers had a 50.03% completion percentage average in 2019. Joe’s LSU accuracy in his senior year was 76.3%. This will help Green’s completion rate, but also those of the other receivers too. This can also shrink the need to rush Green back into service.

On the Board

For me, it’s the year-long absence that has caused a drop in Green’s ADP. His contribution to fantasy teams past has not been forgotten. However, you have to recognise that the ankle damage was a season-ending injury. And, as such, caution is advised when drafting him. He sits at WR28 in ADP – 61st overall. Some people may see great potential WR1 value, but the injury factor means is a big risk for a 5th or 6th round pick.

But who would be the successor to take the starting position should Green not be healthy? First, look at the 2019 starters. Tyler Boyd took a large share as WR1, and did very well in the role. He is actually below Green – ranked at WR35. Considering the injury factor with Green, I think Boyd should be looked at before his fellow Wide Receiver. His points floor is great – but the potential ceiling is way up there!

After Boyd had his fill, the majority of the remaining targets went three ways.They went to John Ross, Auden Tate and Alex Erickson. No-one showed efficiency with their targets, Erickson’s completions the highest at 55.13%. Neither were they that productive – although Ross’ returns for Weeks 1 and 2 account for 270 yards and his three touchdowns. He is the highest on the board at WR64. Tate is further down at WR95, whereas Erickson is a lowly WR179.

But rookie Tee Higgins, the 2nd round draft pick from Clemson, should feature in some regard. He is only 10 spaces below Ross, at WR74.  The obvious pick should be Ross, but a later round pick for Higgins has potential.

Will Fuller – Houston Texans

 Fuller is no stranger to injury. In fact, he has missed games in every season he has played. His rookie year saw two missed outings due to a hamstring injury. The sophomore season was near halved due to a variety of broken bones. And his third season ended 4 games in with a torn ACL. 2019 saw more production, but a sports hernia meant 3 games out, and it then worsened in the play-offs. Post-season surgery made an effort to repair the damage.

Texans must be hopeful that surgery marks the start of Fuller’s consistent presence in the team. That there is nothing more to add to the list. He has got a lot to prove this year.

Comings and Goings

There has been a lot of movement from the Texans this year, particularly during off-season. The big move is, of course, DeAndre Hopkins joining the Cardinals. Hopkins was the long-standing WR1, taking the top receiving spot since 2014. And, since Fuller’s arrival, he has sat behind Hopkins at WR2, on the depth chart AND the stats charts. It makes you think – if Fuller had not been as injured, would he have been closer to challenging Hopkins? Regardless, DeAndre’s departure has been Will’s way to the top. And now Fuller sits at WR1.

In a Houston Chronicle interview, head coach Bill O’Brien acknowledged “When he is played, [Fuller’s] made big plays”. This statement recognises Fuller’s ability. It does also highlight the major restriction in his game – he cannot stay healthy. His injury track record backs this up. And, now that Fuller has an increased role, the Texans will have to monitor this more than before. And it leaves the question: how much will they get out of Fuller before he gets another injury?

More Than Backup

O’Brien has been encouraged by Fuller’s recovery. But, while Fuller holds the top tag, the Texans’ actions speak louder than words. There have been other movements around the team. The Texans have brought in two players – and they are well-known replacements.

Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb saw plenty of action at their previous clubs. Cooks saw 43 catches off 72 targets at the Rams, with 583 yards and 2 touchdowns. As a Cowboy, Cobb corralled 52 catches from 83 targets, pulling in 828 yards and 3 touchdowns. These players were active parts of their offenses – they will likely demand big roles at the Texans. And, although they will likely help replace Hopkins, there is a feeling that they are there to cover Fuller’s shaky health. After all, a frequently injured player is in his first year as WR1. There needs to be be strong players to take the reins if necessary. Kenny Stills (55 targets in 2019) and, to some extent, KeKe Coutee (36) would also benefit.

Best of Times, Worst of Times?

The best that the Texans can hope for is that Fuller has his first fully-fit season. If he does, there’s no doubt that Houston can benefit from his availability. More high-quality targets for DeShaun Watson and enough to keep the defences guessing.

The worst is that Fuller continues his unlucky streak. He has plenty of previous injuries that can reoccur, and other areas that present injury risks. And, judging his 100% injury record, it wouldn’t be amiss to say that this could happen.

Fuller is charting at WR35 – low for a team’s predicted WR1. This may be due to his injury-prone condition, but it could also be to do with the new arrivals. Randall Cobb is further down at WR76.

But recent weeks have seen Brandin Cooks rise above Fuller on the board, and the former Ram now charts at WR33. Cooks has had issues with concussion in the past. However, he has only missed 2 games since 2015 – and so looks to be a healthier option than Fuller. Fantasy drafters may have realised the same. Cooks’ consistency and availability might be the key to who will be WR1 at the end of the season. 

Another player who could feature if Fuller goes down is Kenny Stills. After arriving last season, Stills ended up as the third receiver with decent stats. The arrivals knocked him down the depth chart but 2019 shows that Stills can contribute well when needed.  

Next time we look at three tight ends who may have some Injury Risks to contend with.

Until then, keep Rushing!

Rob @CowsillRob

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