Fantasy's 2018 injury discounts
I was always sucker for the injury discount – whether it was injury-prone players at a reduced price tag or a player who was projected to miss only a few games but had fallen multiple rounds as a result, those were usually my favorite draft targets. I say this regretfully, because this was always one of the biggest holes in my game. Those players (names like Arian Foster, Julian Edelman, or Ahmad Bradshaw) would inevitably burn me, and I’d lament to my league-mates, “if only so-and-so had stayed healthy!”
Eventually I learned my lesson. Players coming into the year with an injury would be rusty from not playing in training camp and sometimes the injury would linger. Discounted injury-prone players were typically discounted for a good reason. Still, I do think there’s one way we can look at injuries to gain an edge on our league-mates, that most fantasy experts rarely talk about:
Sometimes a player will be active in the far majority of his team’s games, but will be playing through an injury and his production will suffer as a result. Oftentimes, this sort of injury will go overlooked an will result in an ADP discount.
I’m well known for posting intricate charts and next-level statistics to highlight my points, but in this instance my methodology was far more simplistic. To identify all such players who might qualify as injury-related ADP values, I went back and looked at all games each player was listed on the injury report as “questionable” in comparison to their total number of games played.
Here are a few of the players who stand out:
On a full-season sample, Winston ranked 14th among quarterbacks in fantasy points per game, and currently has an ADP of QB19. Winston was injured in Week 6 of last season, playing on only 15 snaps against Arizona. He would then spend the next seven weeks either inactive or listed as questionable. Looking only at his other eight games last season, Winston averaged 314.0 yards per game (would have been the most over the full season by 28.0) and 20.5 fantasy points per game (would have been fourth-most). Winston is easily one of my favorite injury-related values based on current ADP (QB19).
In 2016, Clay missed three games and spent a whopping 14 weeks on the injury report listed as questionable with a knee injury. In spite of this, he finished 12th at the position in fantasy points per game (9.0). In 2017, Clay missed three games, again with a knee injury, and then spent the following four weeks listed on the injury report as questionable. He averaged only 6.0 fantasy points per game in these weeks, but averaged 10.3 fantasy points per game in all other games. With Clay, I legitimately do think he’s a strong injury-related value. The reoccurring knee injury is a concern, but he’s shown the ability to play through it, and 10.3 fantasy points per game would have finished 10th-best at the position last year, well above his current ADP (TE21).
Over the past two seasons, Parker has missed four games and spent 12 weeks listed on the injury report as questionable with ankle, hamstring, and back injuries. Last season in particular, Parker first popped up on the injury report with an ankle injury in Week 3 and would end the season on the injury report with that same ankle injury in Week 17. Perhaps it’s no coincidence then that three of Parker’s four best fantasy outings last year came during his first three games of the season. Indeed, Dolphins OC Clyde Christensen would later blame Parker’s nagging injury for his poor play. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere and for other reasons, Parker is a fine value at current ADP.
Over the past two seasons, Hogan has missed eight games and spent an additional eight games on the injury report listed as questionable. Hogan and Brandin Cooks are currently more than three rounds apart by current ADP. Cooks averaged 13.7 fantasy points per game last season, without ever making it on the injury report. If we exclude Hogan’s Week 14 game against Miami last season, which was sandwiched in between seven inactive games, Hogan averaged 13.6 fantasy points per game for New England. Hogan would return in time for the postseason and outscore Cooks by 3.6 fantasy points per game over this stretch. Injury risk is a concern, but Hogan does appear to be the better value at current ADP.
Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys
Bryant spent 10 weeks on the injury report listed as questionable in 2016 with knee and back injuries. It’s worth noting here, but I’m doubtful this means he’s a value. I’d be willing to excuse away his down year in 2016 because of injuries, but he was even worse in 2017 and was only listed as questionable once on the injury report.
Maclin posted back-to-back top-15 seasons in 2014 and 2015, but he has been abysmal ever since. In his defense, he spent five weeks on the injury report (missing four of these games) with a groin injury in 2016, and then spent an additional eight weeks on the injury report (missing four games) in 2017 with a multitude of injuries. After Kansas City was so quick to release him in 2016 and with an extensive injury history throughout the rest of his career, I’m not optimistic. Still, he’s probably worth a dart-throw in best-ball leagues at his current ADP (WR74).
Sanders finished outside of the top-50 wide receivers in fantasy points per game last season, after finishing as a WR2 or better (top-24) in each of his previous three seasons. Perhaps this was related to a to a nagging knee injury that started in Week 7 and would end with Sanders on the injury report in Week 17. In total, he missed four games and spent an additional four weeks on the injury report listed as questionable. Sanders averaged 12.7 fantasy points per game across his first five games (before ever finding his way onto the injury report), and then averaged only 7.3 fantasy points per game across his final seven games. I’d bet on Sanders making a strong comeback next season, and especially if Denver makes an upgrade to their quarterback position.
For whatever reason, Gordon was the only running back who stood out with an especially high number of games played when listed as questionable. Interestingly, this did appear to have an impact on his usage, and maybe this should make us more skeptical of playing a running back when listed as questionable in DFS. Gordon ranked sixth among running backs in touches per game last season. Gordon played in all 16 games last year, but was listed as questionable six separate times. In those games he averaged only 17.0 touches per game, with four of his five lowest-touch games coming over this span. In all other games, he averaged 23.4 touches per game, or what would have been third-most.
Cooper has played in seven games while listed on the injury report over the past two seasons, and averages 3.2 more fantasy points per game in games not listed on the injury report. Still, injuries have little to do with Cooper’s down year last season. Cooper first popped up on the injury report in Week 13 and his struggles started well before that, averaging just 6.4 fantasy points per game in his first six games.
Jeffery spent just one week on the injury report last season, with an ankle injury. However, he finds his way into this article because, absurdly, he played the entire season with a torn rotator cuff. Current reports are estimating he’ll miss all of preseason, but expectations are (though uncertain) he’ll return for Week 1. Jeffery finished 26th at the position in fantasy points per game last year, and has an ADP of WR16. Part of me is skeptical, because there’s a good chance Jeffery’s recovery might cause him to miss a few games, but the other part of me wants to say he’s still a value because he finished as the WR26 with a freaking torn rotator cuff. My current rankings split the difference and has Jeffery as the WR21.
Terrelle Pryor, currently a free agent
Pryor totaled over 1,000 receiving yards and finished the 2016 fantasy season 21st among wide receivers in fantasy points, in only his first full season playing the position and despite catching passes from names like Cody Kessler, Josh McCown, Robert Griffin III, Kevin Hogan, and Charlie Whitehurst. His 2017 season, however, was a massive disappointment despite the quarterback upgrade. Pryor averaged just 26.7 yards per game last season with Kirk Cousins, a decline of 32.6 yards per game from 2016. His ADP has fallen seven rounds since last year, and he may now actually be a value. We don’t yet know which team he’ll be playing for and it’s hard to gauge how much of a role this might have played, but Pryor’s 2017 season ended early with an ankle injury, which he reportedly suffered in Week 2.