2021 Injury Discounts

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2021 Injury Discounts

The “post-hype sleeper” discount. The “regression to the mean” discount. The “recency bias” discount. The “Adam Gase is no longer my head coach” discount. Of all the potential fantasy discounts, none is more powerful than the injury discount.

This year, Scott Barrett has passed the torch to our in-house medical analyst and Doctor of Physical Therapy Edwin Porras. Last year this article advised to avoid Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger while touting Alvin Kamara and Will Fuller. There were some misses but overall the point was to analyze why certain players’ ADP is depressed and serves as a great pre-draft exercise.

Most injuries in the NFL can be chalked up to playing a violent sport. However, when those injuries have long-term implications, they can impact a player beyond their time on the injury report. Conversely, some injuries come and go with no lasting impact. The goal of this article is to find guys with fluke injuries in 2020 who shouldn’t be limited in 2021, have overblown concerns, or don’t have injuries themselves but have teammates with injury concerns.

Dak Prescott, QB, Dal, ADP: 6.01

Okay so it’s hard to call a QB going in the first four rounds a discount but there has been an inordinate amount of hand-wringing about his ankle and his shoulder strain. This was predictably overblown from the beginning. Yes, Dak had a devastating injury and yes, he suffered a baseball type injury early in the preseason. As result, he’s now the last top quarterback taken in most drafts behind Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, and Lamar Jackson depending on the draft room. Given the unstoppable force of regression headed Buffalo’s way with a potential for fewer QB rushing opportunities in Arizona, Dak remains (or at least should remain) in the top-5 taken at the position. The ankle fracture return to sport time is 123 days — Dak has obviously cleared that. Additionally, his minor lat strain is in the rear-view mirror. Should there be concern that Dak will be apprehensive to take off and run? Sure. But he’s still more than capable to do so if necessary or can more than make up for those concerns with a 400 yard game. Draft Dak with confidence this year and beat your leaguemates.

Saquon Barkley, RB, NYG, ADP: 1.12

The concern has gone too far. Barkley is an all-world athlete with first round draft capital and still can’t rent a car without an additional fee. By Week One, he’ll be 10.5 months removed for an injury that takes about 9-10 months to recover from for NFL athletes. I’ve pounded the table for him all off-season so you can read that here or here. And here. Oh and here. And, um here. Basically, Saquon checks all of the scientific boxes to wash away many concerns regarding his performance in 2021 that would be valid for his contemporaries (i.e. Tarik Cohen) . He’s been ahead of schedule all summer and is quite literally like no other NFL RB to ever come off an ACL with nearly 11 months to recover. But he’s not risk-free and it’s totally reasonable to address the injury-related concerns which would be delayed onset swelling in the knee or a soft tissue occurrence which has happened to 20% of skill players since 2015 year one after an ACL repair. The Absolute stone-worst-case scenario is something similar to what happened to Jerick McKinnon with severe post-op complications. However, at this point in his rehab that is extremely unlikely. What about the soft tissue strains like with Danny Woodhead and Darren Sproles? Well, it didn’t help that those two players were 32 and 35 years old respectively. So then of course that leads to Dalvin Cook, who missed five games in 2018 following his ACL surgery. Does that mean missing five games is in the cards for Barkley? Sure. However, it’s a risk I’m willing to take as those strains are still more random than we like to think they are. When else has a former top-2 PPR RB at age of 24 and projected for 80+ targets been available at the 1.12? If you think I was high on him before, you should have seen me while reading this tweet.

Joe Mixon, RB, Cin, ADP: 2.08

Mixon, since his college days, has played about 93% of games. He’s durable, and that’s really the bottom line. In the first few years of his career he’s been documented to have suffered one concussion and did have a minor scope in his knee. Then in 2020, he was out for 12 weeks for a “foot” injury which was presumably a midfoot sprain, AKA a Lisfranc sprain. No surgery indicates this was a stable injury which means the alignment of the joint/bones was so minimal that rehab and rest was the best course of action. These two massive studies indicate when players return from a stable midfoot sprain, they have no setbacks in performance the following year. It’s not unreasonable to assume Mixon’s sprain was stable since there were no reports that he had surgery. For that reason, specifically in regards to the foot, there’s minimal reason to be concerned. In a remade backfield with volume galore, it’s a travesty that the lead back in a Joe Burrow-led offense is going five picks after the likes of Antonio Gibson who, let’s face it, we’re all making massive assumptions about in terms of usage. Note that this isn’t advice to fade Gibson, but the point remains that Mixon is being undervalued. Further bolstering the case for Mixon is that quick slants, dump-offs, and wheel routes are totally plausible to build Burrow’s confidence in the early going. The peripherals have always been there for Mixon and it simply hasn’t materialized, I get it. However, this is the year to be all in one last time as many are using the injury as “last straw” to tank his ADP to a disrespectful extent. Lastly, for the sake of complete conjecture, I personally believe Mixon was shut down preemptively after the Burrow injury and he was still practicing.

Darrell Henderson, RB, LAR, ADP: 4.01

Henderson was included in this article prior to the Sony Michel trade, so I battled back and forth with whether to mention him or not. So, I left him in simply because a young running back with pass-catching abilities and relatively high NFL draft capital should still see at least 50% of snaps for the Rams. The name of this article is Injury Discounts and for whatever reason, Henderson, who played 90% of games at Memphis and 28/32 in the NFL is more durable than public perception. His thumb sprain was nothing and now that Michel is in the mix, his ADP will likely dip even further. If your primary concern is durability for Henderson and I still haven’t convinced you of the opposite, consider the fact that Michel is not the picture of health himself and despite looking sharper in 2020, has a history of significant inside the joint surgeries/injuries. If Michel goes down, Henderson is yet another … say it with me … league-winner.

Chase Edmonds, RB, Ari, ADP: 6.08

The fact that Edmonds, the latest member of the Slim Thicc Narrative, falls to the 6th round despite promising preseason usage is a crime in several states. Edmonds makes this Injury Discount article primarily because his backfield mate, James Conner, has suffered a major connective tissue injury five out of the last six calendar years. In fact this year, he’s coming off turf toe surgery. The bottom line is that Conner has not proven he can stay healthy and if he misses time at any point, Edmonds is a week-winner. If (when?) Conner goes down with a significant connective tissue injury, Edmonds is a league-winner.

Trey Sermon, RB, SF, ADP: 6.11

Don’t take this the wrong way, Sermon is on my prove-it list in terms of durability due to his past, too. However, his backfield counterpart (or at least one of them) in Raheem Mostert hasn’t shown he can stay on the field for extended periods of time. Although he’s definitely more talented than this comp, Mostert is similar to Mike Davis in the fact that he has never been a feature back. Part of this is undoubtedly due to durability concerns. There’s no doubt the 29-year-old can make splash plays but if he goes down with another high ankle sprain or MCL sprain, Sermon can take control of the touches in what should be an exciting offense. Moreover, it would make the most sense for the rookie with high draft capital to eventually lead the backfield. Lastly, it’s already been reported that Mostert wears a knee brace for “prevention,” which is fine, but his defensive response was…interesting. Most recently, a strange social media post by his wife about a back injury raised more questions. Mostert has been practicing but the fact that these odd and vague ailments are coming to light is also interesting.

Jamaal Williams, RB, Det, ADP: 10.03

Williams is on this list because he himself has stayed relatively healthy up until this point while his teammate, mid-round darling D’Andre Swift. This is less about the coaching staff being “concerned” about Swift and more about his extensive history with groin strains which includes surgery in 2018. In addition to the concussion from 2020, this groin issue that’s kept Swift out all of camp adds to his 2021 volatility. He’s far from a safe anchor RB but is…okay…otherwise overall. To put it frankly, I would prefer every other RB in Swift’s talent tier before taking Swift.

Alexander Mattison, RB, Min, ADP: 11.11

Many experts will advise to stash as many high-leverage handcuffs (for backs who belong to other managers) which I think is fantastic advice. Mattison is one of the highest leverage handcuffs in all of fantasy football given his usage in conjunction with Dalvin Cook, who has legitimately (under-discussed) durability issues. The bottom line is that managers with any bench capacity could absolutely smash in 2021 if Cook were to go down. The fact that Tony Pollard goes more than a round before Mattison doesn’t make much sense from an upside perspective.

Diontae Johnson, WR, Pit, ADP: 4.06

This one is for the managers who are concerned about the random collection of injuries that led to early exits for Johnson in 2020. There was no legitimate explanation for that other than the NFL is a violent game and Johnson had some bad luck. Johnson played 100% of games his final two seasons at Toledo and moving forward is not at a higher risk than any of his WR counterparts. Given the volume headed his way, Johnson has a classic floor that should attract every fantasy manager with a ceiling that has been unmatched at times.

Courtland Sutton, WR, Den, ADP: 7.04

Sutton got off to a rocky start in camp and since then has apparently struck the fear of the fantasy gods in managers. Those reports are so distant that to be honest I couldn’t even find them again to link them. To be frank, Sutton on this list is less about him being too low and more to emphasize that a talented and athletic WR with high draft capital should not be left for dead. There is a chance soft tissue injuries strike, but at his young age, it isn’t the most likely scenario. Besides, Sutton had ACL surgery 10 days before Saquon Barkley and his positional demands are different than a running back’s. Unless he’s simply not confident on the knee yet (which is possible) or he had a legitimate setback, Sutton should be ready by Week 1.

Deebo Samuel, WR, SF, ADP: 7.07

This one is, admittedly, a bit earned as Deebo hasn’t stayed on the field for a full season even dating back to college. In 2016, while still at South Carolina, Samuel missed three games, and in 2017, he fractured his fibula and played only three games. He bounced back, missing just one game in back to back seasons. In the summer of 2020, he had the unfortunate Jones fracture in his foot. At this point, he was not set up for success due to workload concerns coming off the rehab. So, in 2020, Deebo played just seven games and suffered a hamstring strain. This is all a long-winded explanation of the fact that I’m not certain whether this is a pattern or not. Listen, if you’re out on Deebo this year, I get it. However, that San Francisco offense is not to be trifled with and Deebo can be an absolute menace in the YAC department. This is the final year in which I’ll emotionally invest in Samuel and if he plays in even 14 or 15 games, he’s bound to deliver a nice floor at least.

Will Fuller, WR, Mia, ADP: 9.04

This is now two years in a row that it’s “my last year in on Will Fuller” and I can’t let it go. I don’t want to believe last year was a fluke. Yes, he was popped for PEDs but it’s important to realize that’s not necessarily an objective piece of data to properly analyze. Looking at the situation from a scientific method perspective, there are too many confounders to confidently conclude Fuller cannot stay healthy in 2021. For example, the NFL’s banned substance list does not contain a specific miracle drug that has been proven (key word is proven) to resolve soft tissue strains. Second, as I mentioned last off season, Fuller changed everything about his strength and conditioning program and running mechanics. To top it off, there is a legitimate possibility Fuller took a pre-workout or supplement that didn’t actually impact his health in a meaningful way. Fuller played every single game while at Notre Dame and since the best predictor of future injury is previous injury, the path his health has gone has been a real head-scratcher. The hope is that this is the year Fuller, once again, is on the field and healthy for a majority of the season.

Parris Campbell, WR, Ind, ADP: 15.10

Campbell’s history is extensive, but much like the great Keenan Allen who previously demolished “injury prone” early in his career, this can seemingly be chalked up to bad luck. In his final three seasons at Ohio State, Campbell missed one game, one game, and zero games. As a rookie he suffered a groin strain (par for the course given workloads) then a thumb fracture (a bit flukey), and a foot fracture (common for young pass catchers). It’s also important to know he was in a car accident where he sustained a concussion in August of 2020. Finally, Campbell took a hit and ruptured the PCL, another very uncommon injury. This is the same injury Nick Chubb suffered while still at Georgia. The PCL can be thought of as the ACL’s less fragile brother as it’s very much an important ligament to prevent massive translation of the knee joint. Typically it has a very similar recovery as an ACL surgery and by now it’s common knowledge that receivers tend to do relatively well following ACL ruptures. In regards to his “veteran rest day”, it is weird, but I wouldn’t place too much stock into it yet. If he’s full tilt for the first week of practice, it’s full steam ahead on Campbell. So, basically I’m in on Campbell’s extremely low ADP and cautiously optimistic he can remain healthy and supplant dusty T.Y. Hilton in that offense giving fantasy managers a healthy floor play in the late rounds.

Dalton Schultz, TE, Dal, ADP: free

Tight end is an extremely thin position, as always, which is why Schultz is being included — for upside. Teammate Blake Jarwin is coming off ACL surgery surgery. Now, a tight end coming off an ACL would normally be a throw-away fact. However, zooming in, Schultz has higher draft capital as a former fourth rounder while Jarwin is an UDFA. We know high draft capital matters for recovery, as is the case with Saquon Barkley. Further, Schultz flashed in 2020 and is two years younger than Jarwin. Cumulatively, there’s some juice to taking Schultz in a high powered offense as that position is certain to accidentally trip into the end-zone a few times in 2021. In deep, deep leagues, the D-Train (I just made that up … let’s see if it sticks) is worth a flyer.

Edwin completed his Doctorate of Physical Therapy education in 2020. His expertise is in all thing’s orthopedics, injury recovery, and he has a special interest in human performance. Edwin’s vision is to push injury advice past simple video analysis and into the realm of applying data from the medical literature to help fantasy players make informed start-sit decisions.

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