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Dustin Keller Injury FF Impact
By Kevin Greenstein •
Aug 18, 2013
Dustin Keller suffered a serious right knee injury on Saturday night, tearing his ACL, MCL and PCL while also dislocating his knee. He was injured on a hit by Texans rookie safety D.J. Swearinger, whose postgame comments suggest that the NFL’s ongoing efforts to reduce head injuries are going to result in an increase in lower-body injuries like the one suffered by Keller.
“With the rules in this era you’ve got to hit low,” Swearinger told ESPN.com‘s Tania Ganguli after Saturday night’s game against the Dolphins. “If I would have hit him high, I would have gotten a fine. So I think I made the smartest play. I’m sorry it happened and I pray he has a speedy recovery. … Right now it’s just instinct. You see somebody come across the middle, you gotta go low. You’re going to cost your team 15 yards. You’ve got to play within the rules.”
The fantasy implications of this injury are quite significant. For starters, Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill appeared to be developing strong chemistry with Keller, and borderline TE1 production was a distinct possibility given the relatively low expectations for Miami this season (and consequently high number of passing attempts).
The obvious first place to look for a replacement is behind Keller on the depth chart. Unfortunately, the pickings are quite slim. Rookie Dion Sims has been one of the biggest bright spots of the Dolphins’ offseason, demonstrating himself to be a strong blocker with the potential to develop into a solid safety-net receiver, but he isn’t close to ready to replacing Keller’s production in 2013. Another option, Charles Clay, hasn’t really shown much as a receiver n his first two years in the league. Drafted as a fullback in 2011, he is more likely to be clearing lanes for Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas than he is to be making a consistent impact downfield. And 2012 third-round pick Michael Egnew, a combine star already battling the “bust” label, now finds himself merely battling for a roster spot. Evan Rodriguez could also have an impact.
Instead, an entirely different strategy will likely be required, with the Patriots’ expanded use of running back Shane Vereen expected to replace must of what would have been Aaron Hernandez’s production. One possibility would be to take Joe Philbin’s word that he’s quite high on Thomas and to look at last night’s production against the Texans (4 carries for 25 yards, 1 reception for 27 yards) and imagine that Thomas would play the Stevan Ridley role in the Fins’ backfield while Miller plays the part of Vereen. This would mean a big increase in fantasy production from the Dolphins’ running back corps, while effectively eliminating the Dolphins’ tight end corps from fantasy consideration.
Another possibility is that the Fins would go with more three-receiver sets while using Sims and Clay to provide increased pass protection for Tannehill. Should that happen, free agent signee Brandon Gibson could quickly emerge as a valuable slot receiver for PPR leagues, as opposed to a buried third option behind Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline. As it stands right now, both Wallace and Hartline are already terrific buy-low candidates, as their ADP is far below their likely production.
However, if Keller’s production is split – probably the most likely scenario – the real takeaway from this injury is that fantasy owners are going to start paying increased attention to Miller/Thomas and Wallace/Hartline/Gibson, all of whom are likely to see a bump in their fantasy value following Keller’s injury.
Our own Mike Clay projects Tannehill to complete 315 passes for 3,925 yards and 20 TDs this season, with Gibson (51-712-3) emerging as a legitimate bye week option for fantasy owners in PPR leagues and Wallace/Hartline both good bets to exceed 60/900/5. Meanwhile, at running back, Miller (211/948/6 and 29/233/1) is inching towards the top 20, while Thomas (101-380-4 and 22-177-1) is an important handcuff and a top-50 running back in his own right. If Thomas is — as expected — anointed as the Dolphins’ goal-line back, his fantasy value in touchdown-heavy leagues will be even further magnified.