Returning From A Season-Ending Injury: Running Back Edition
If you have been playing fantasy football for many years, one of the biggest fears is losing one of your top picks and/or players to an injury. The thing is that injuries are part of the game and there is no way to predict them. Last season, there were multiple notable players that went down with a significant injury, knocking them out for the season. When that happens, fantasy owners could be hesitant to draft the player the following year and it is totally understandable. However, a lot of factors have to be considered when making that decision and one of the more important ones is the type of injury that the player suffered. Another important thing to consider is when the injury actually occurred. What is at the beginning of last season? In the middle? Towards the end? This could give you a general idea of what type of health to expect a player to be in at the start of the season when weighing in the recovery timeframe. With that said, let’s go over some running backs that suffered season-ending injuries last season and what we could expect this year.
David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
Johnson was the top pick in most PPR leagues last season and if he did not go first, chances were he was top three pick in your league. It was to be expected after totaling over 2,000 yards and scoring 20 touchdowns in 2016, while catching 80 passes out of the backfield. I myself had him ranked No. 1 overall in my rankings. What fantasy owners fear most, did not take long to happen, as Johnson went down with a wrist injury in the first game of the season and ended up missing the remainder of the year after it was announced that he needed surgery on his wrist. He finished the season opener with six receptions and 90 total yards before sustaining the injury, so it appeared he was picking up right where he left off the previous season. Looking at the early ADP’s, Johnson is being drafted 1.03 in PPR formats. The difference is insignificant when comparing it to what it was last season, so clearly he is still considered one of the top backs in the league and rightfully so. In fact, I would not mind taking him No. 1 overall this season again. He has proven that he can be one of the better backs in the league already, he offers tremendous upside and a very high floor on a weekly basis, and he is still young. You can certainly make an argument for taking Todd Gurley and/or Le’Veon Bell ahead of Johnson as they are both very talented backs as well, but one cannot overlook what Johnson did in 2016.
I am not letting a wrist injury that occurred in Week 1 determine my expectations for Johnson this upcoming season. While it is a tad riskier taking him No. 1 overall this season than it was the prior because of the missed time and the coaching changes, he is still an elite back that has all the tools to be the top fantasy back at the end of the 2018 season. If this was a more serious injury, I would certainly be more hesitant about taking this stance, but that is not the case in this instance. Assuming he is at full health on draft day, there is no problem going back to the well and taking him No. 1 overall.
Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
Cook was off to a promising start in his rookie season before tearing his ACL in Week 4 and missing the rest of the year. He rushed for 354 yards on 74 carries in his first four games, finding the pay dirt twice during that stretch and also caught 11 passes for 90 yards. If you average those numbers out, he was on pace for over 1,300 rushing yards, eight touchdowns, 40+ receptions, and close to 400 receiving yards. He underwent surgery in early October and is currently on track to be ready for Week 1. Earlier this month, it was reported that he was jogging, which is nice progress. This is a tricky injury as it can affect players in a different ways. There have been instances that a player returns from this injury and does not skip a beat, but then we have also seen the opposite where a player does not quite return to form that quickly. Last season, he had a third round ADP and is now going as a top 12 player, so clearly the season-ending injury is not concerning fantasy owners at this time.
A fully healthy Cook is definitely a back that I would consider top 10 going into the season, but ACL injuries for me are delicate and make me more apprehensive about drafting a player. I prefer taking the more conservative route and passing on someone who is coming off of this type of injury, especially in the first round. It is way too early to make a decision on him now, as a lot will be determined on his progress from now until draft day, but I do not expect to be as bullish on him come draft day as others will be. I rather take my chances in a PPR format on someone such as Christian McCaffrey, who is currently being drafted a round later than Cook.
Darren Sproles, Philadelphia Eagles
It was a brutal Week 3 for Sproles during the 2017 season as he suffered both a broken arm and a torn ACL, sidelining him for the season. The most recent reports suggest that he wants to return in 2018, but at age 35 and coming off of an ACL tear, this is not an easy task. He came into the league in 2005 and was never an every down back, but was always a reliable pass catcher out of the backfield, averaging 60.4 receptions per year from 2009 to 2016. He had an ADP 10.08 in PPR formats last season and is currently at a 14.08 ADP. The Eagles have a crowded backfield after trading for Jay Ajayi last season and with Corey Clement showing glimpses of potential, so they made not need Sproles’ services this season, making this a situation to keep an eye on.
Being that Sproles was never an in between the tackles runner in this league has really allowed him to play this long. That said, his value will ultimately be determined on where he plays, if he plays, this upcoming season. The ACL injury also plays a big role for those who have any type of interest in him. At this point in his career and considering the situation, Sproles will likely go undrafted in most leagues, for the exception of really deep PPR leagues. He is not someone I plan on actively targeting.
Of this group, only one running back did not suffer an ACL tear and that would be the one that I have the least concerns about heading into the 2018 season. This does not mean I will not be drafting a player coming off of major knee injuries, I just may not be willing to pay face value for that player. This could be a leak in my process, but when exhausting an early round pick – especially a first round pick – I rather use it on a player with the least risk possible. If I can get a back like Cook in a late second or early third round, that will be a no brainer, but based on his current ADP, that is not likely. Therefore, my exposure to him will be less than most because I rather play it safe early in the draft. Keep an eye heading into the season on the statuses of these players coming off major injuries, as their progress in the rehab process can change their value at a very rapid pace.