The “post-hype sleeper” discount. The “regression to the mean” discount. The “recency bias” discount. The “Freddie Kitchens is no longer my head coach” discount. Of all the potential fantasy discounts, none is more powerful than the injury discount.
The problem is, most fantasy players don’t really know what that word means, when to apply it, or how. Luckily, Scott Barrett is here to help. But, his problem is, well, he’s not a trained medical expert. Luckily Edwin Porras, a Doctor of Physical Therapy, is. He’s here too!
In this article, Scott (through the dark art of dank stats) will explain why he thinks a given player is an injury discount. Edwin will then make his own argument, relying on his own expertise and any relevant medical literature. Finally, The Honourable (that “u” makes it look so much more important) Joe Dolan will provide his ruling: “Yes, this player is an injury discount” or “No, this player should not be targeted in drafts” or at least “no, an injury is not pushing this player down the board.”
Let’s get started on the quarterbacks.
Note: This is Part I of a IV part series. You can read our articles on running backs, wide receivers (coming soon), and tight ends (coming soon).
Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
ADP: Round 2, QB2
Regression? What regression?
Excluding the two games in which Patrick Mahomes suffered an in-game injury (Week 7 and Week 14) and including the playoffs, he averaged 24.6 fantasy points per game across 15 games. For perspective, 24.6 fantasy points per game would rank ninth-most by any quarterback in any season all-time, and not too far off his 2018 season, which ranks third-most all-time (26.8).
Keep in mind, his Week 7 injury was supposed to last 3-5 weeks, but he missed only two games. He also suffered a bruised hand in Week 14, and wasn’t able to properly grip the football for at least a number of days afterwards.
In addition to the dislocated kneecap and the hand injury, Mahomes also suffered a high ankle sprain (in Week 1) that nagged him for a number of weeks (aggravated in Week 5 and maybe Week 6). Perhaps it’s worth noting Mahomes averaged just 2.1 rushing attempts per game through his first eight games, but 5.6 across his final nine games (postseason included). In any case, all of these issues are par for the course as “injury-free” games in the NFL – injuries are documented just 2.3% of the time. The knee cap technically has a higher chance of re-dislocating, but it shouldn’t be something to actively be concerned about. All systems go for the team in Kansas City.
Frankly, I don’t think too many people are even discussing Mahomes’ injury after he came back on fire and led the Chiefs to a victory. By my own definition, any QB being drafted in the second round isn’t a discount. This one isn’t even close.
VERDICT: NO INJURY DISCOUNT
Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
ADP: Round 11, QB10
Drew Brees would have averaged 22.8 fantasy points per game in 2019 if we excluded Week 2 (when he played just five snaps before suffering a torn ligament in his thumb). For perspective, 22.8 fantasy points per game would have ranked behind only Lamar Jackson, though Brees ranks just 10th by ADP.
Brees is entering his age-41 season and as such, it’s unsurprising to see a decline in arm strength from Brees. Over the past two seasons he’s ranked 20th and 19th in passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield. Additionally, he ranked 29th in adjusted pass-attempt distance last year. What does all this mean? Simply speaking, his physical performance is capped – but that doesn’t mean he still can’t be highly productive in a proven system with a strong supporting cast. Overall, another ligament rupture or an overuse injury is more likely to happen to Brees compared to younger players, but he could still pay off big as the Saints are clearly in win-now mode.
If you believe Brees is a discount, I think it’s more of a “he’s old” discount and a “F***ing Taysom Hill” discount. I can’t in good faith call that an injury discount, though Edwin’s analysis doesn’t have me terribly worried about his health. Given we have him ranked well below his ADP, though (something Scott disagrees with, I know), I can’t call him a discount of any kind.
VERDICT: NO INJURY DISCOUNT
Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
ADP: Round 11, QB11
Prior to last season, Tom Brady had finished fifth, first, first, and second in PFF grade. By fantasy points per game he finished 17th, seventh, third, and second.
Through the first nine weeks of the 2019 season, Brady ranked sixth in PFF grade, while averaging 18.8 fantasy points per game (10th-most) and 7.1 yards per attempt. Throughout the remainder of the season, Brady ranked just 18th in PFF grade, while averaging just 14.7 fantasy points per game and 5.9 yards per attempt (worst). Perhaps this second-half dropoff is yet another obvious sign of an aging (42-year-old) player in decline. Or, perhaps it’s just bad injury luck. Brady’s already meager supporting cast was plagued by injuries for much of the second half (as you’ll read in Part III of this series), and Brady himself also suffered an injury in his 10th game of the season (tennis elbow). Apparently, that injury lingered longer and was much more serious than initially reported, as NFL Network’s Michael Giardi told us in December.
From 2018-2019, Tampa Bay totaled 9,970 passing yards, or the fourth-most passing yards by any team through any two-season stretch all-time. And they’ve now effectively replaced two backups with the greatest quarterback of all-time, while also bringing his favorite receiver (and the greatest tight end of all-time) along with him. And, yet, he only ranks 11th by ADP.
Brady was on the injury report in Weeks 3, 4, 9, and 12-15, and was limited in practice in Weeks 4, 9, and 12. At age 42, it’s very possible that an overuse injury known as “tennis elbow” (painful irritation of the forearm muscles) reduced his ability to grip and throw a football. It’s also possible that defenses began keying in on a limited offense with an aging quarterback. Another factor to consider is that Bill Belichick uses even minor injuries as a thinly veiled strategy as evidenced by his whopping 144 “questionable” tags for skill players on the official injury report since 2016. The real kicker is that 73% of New England players on the “Q” tag end up being active. For comparison’s sake, since 2016, Seattle has listed 45 skill players as “questionable” on the injury report and only 42% have been active. The downside is the GOAT is 42 years old and his body obviously can’t hold up at an elite level, ripping passes down the seam anymore. The upside is that he’s the 11th QB off the board, in a stacked offense, and his brain is sharper than it was in 2001.
I think the reason Brady ranks 11th in ADP despite throwing to this loaded — if top-heavy — receiving corps is because the general public understands he’s the exact opposite of Jameis Winston. Tampa has ranked so highly in passing yardage in recent years because they have to throw it given Jameis’ penchant for giving opposing teams great field position with his turnover-prone style. On top of Brady taking much better care of the football, he won’t chuck the ball downfield with reckless abandon the way Jameis did. If Brady’s a discount, it’s because of these factors, not an injury.
VERDICT: NO INJURY DISCOUNT
Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
ADP: Round 12, QB13
Quite quietly, Matthew Stafford ranked fourth in fantasy points per game (21.5) and seventh in PFF Grade (82.6) last season. Unfortunately, his season ended in Week 9 after breaking a number of bones in his back. Although another top-five performance may be unlikely, he does look like an injury value, ranking 13th by ADP.
Stafford’s 32-year-old back is objectively a problem as he’s had recurrent vertebral fractures two years in a row (maybe due to the fact that he’s carried that franchise to relative relevancy for a decade now). These can be stubborn and painful but the worst part is the spasms they cause and the healing rates. If Stafford has another flare up, there’s a chance he can be shelved for another three-to-six weeks. However, considering he’s just the 13th QB off the board, it’s more than reasonable to take him as a dynasty manager in win-now mode or in a redraft league where you’re stock-piling RBs and WRs early. But you may also want to have another viable option at QB just in case.
We have some internal disagreements about Stafford, but I’m actually pretty high on him if I’m waiting to get my starting QB late. I like his supporting cast and I love how he looked in this offense last year. I want to make sure I get a quality QB2, but that’s a small price to pay for the ceiling Stafford showed in Darrell Bevell’s offense last season.
VERDICT: YES, INJURY DISCOUNT
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
ADP: Round 14, QB17
This one’s easy. Ben Roethlisberger missed 14 games last season, after undergoing surgery to “reattach three tendons” in his elbow. Prior to last season, Roethlisberger ranked third, eighth, seventh, seventh, and sixth (2014) in fantasy points per game. Currently, he ranks 17th in ADP.
In September of 2019, Roethlisberger had a primary repair of the elbow ligament on his throwing arm (he said it wasn’t exactly Tommy John Surgery). Those procedures are similar in that they both take at least 9-10 months to heal completely, but the primary repair has a slightly faster recovery. The flip side is that the primary repair does not have the same credibility or tried-and-true improved performance outcomes like Tommy John surgery does. In the end, that’s a shade of doubt cast over Roethlisberger’s durability, in addition to concerns related to his overall age and conditioning.
Ben has one of the most loaded supporting casts in the NFL. And though I think it’s stupid the Steelers didn’t upgrade their backup QB position from the atrocious Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges disaster duo, perhaps their willingness to keep those two chuckleheads behind Ben is a good sign for Ben’s health. If I draft Ben, I want a good QB2 to go with him. The advantage is at his ADP, he himself is being selected as a QB2. All upside, baby.
VERDICT: YES, INJURY DISCOUNT
Cam Newton, New England Patriots
ADP: Round 14, QB16
A torn rotator cuff in 2016 (which required surgery), a knee strain in the 2017 season (which included ligament and cartilage damage), cartilage damage to that same shoulder in 2018 (along with a second surgery), and a Lisfranc injury in 2019 (which also required surgery). Yikes!
A fully 100% healthy Cam Newton in a Bill Belichick/Josh McDaniels offense is drool-inducing, but how likely is that? He hasn’t been fully healthy for a number of years now and the injuries continue to pile up. Still, the upside is obvious:
Newton averaged a meager 8.4 fantasy points per game over his last four starts. However, across the 25 starts before that, he averaged 22.3 fantasy points per game. For perspective, only Lamar Jackson averaged over 22.3 fantasy points per game last season.
And, prior to 2019, Newton had finished top-five in fantasy points per game in five of eight seasons, or top-seven in seven of eight seasons. He currently ranks 16th by ADP.
In his prime, Newton was hands-down one of the most physically gifted players to ever play his position. However you feel about Cam’s place in history at the specific position is up to you – but that first part is undeniable. Now, in December he had a Lisfranc procedure that can take 10 months on average to heal in NFL players, but the standard deviation is three months. That means his recovery can theoretically take up to 12 months. In my opinion, if he was that far behind it’s highly unlikely that New England would have signed him. And, given his workout videos on social media, he’s probably going to land somewhere in the eight- to nine-month range as far as his return goes. Newton should recover fully from this procedure but there is a chance his play is hampered all year if he still has hardware in his foot.
This one is obvious. If Cam were healthy, he’d be a top-seven QB pick. Of course, if Cam were healthy, he’d probably still be in Carolina. His ADP still has enough injury worries baked into it that I’m willing to pay the cheap cost for the potential upside.
VERDICT: YES, INJURY DISCOUNT