Hurtin’ for Certain: Assessing Injury Risk for Fantasy Football 2016

As great as it feels to draft that stud running back in the first round of your fantasy football draft, it feels 10 times worse to see them go down with an injury. Injuries are the ever-present cloud that looms over fantasy football. They are the x-factor that can shatter a roster and wipe out a great season. Some owners may be resigned to accept injuries as a fact of fantasy football life. But smart owners should at least be aware of the injury risk surrounding players, particularly highly ranked players that demand some of your premiere picks.

To assess injury risk for fantasy football 2016, we took a look back at the career stats of all of the top-100 ranked (ESPN) fantasy football players in 2016. Basically we wanted to see how often a player completed a full season. We considered a full season to be one in which the player appeared in at least 15 games, this was done to allow for minor injuries, other absences, or intentional benching (i.e. player’s team is either non-competitive or has playoff position locked before week 17). We also looked at the average number of games missed per season to get a feel for the typical severity of injuries and time missed.

Before we get into the numbers, a few caveats:

  • We did not count any player’s rookie season towards their totals. There is simply too much going on for most players during that season to determine if missed games are the result of injuries or the fact that the player had not fully earned a starting spot yet.
  • While this article is about injuries (since they are the number one reason a player would miss games), we also included suspensions or other absences. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter to your fantasy score if the player is out with a twisted ankle or is out serving time for going on an ax murdering spree. Either way, they are not scoring points for you and the player has demonstrated they are a risky commodity.
  • Understand that some players have been in the league longer than others. Those that have been around for a while will have a more reliable assessment of how injury prone they are. Some have very little or no NFL experience. Those are listed as “Not Available” or “NA”, you are welcome to roll the dice (or go look at their college, high school, or Pop Warner history), but we don’t have much to offer you on those players.
  • Last, we are just showing you what’s happened in the past to guide your decisions. Picking players that have been shown to be more reliable does not guarantee they won’t get hurt this season. Injuries suck like that. We all have to deal with it. But past indications might make us a little smarter.

Here’s a key to our overall recommendations, which are the colored column on the right in the following tables:

injuries in fantasy football

Quarterback

The quarterbacks that are ranked within the top-100 are generally a pretty healthy group (now that Peyton Manning is gone). Most of these players get our green stamp of approval for past health:

Injury Risk for Fantasy Football

The top three QB’s on the board are all pretty safe bets and have good track records for health. Andrew Luck gives us a little reason to be nervous. Roethlisberger seems to be perpetually playing through some kind of injury, but he’s still on the field more often than not. Eli Manning, remarkably, has not missed a start in the 11 seasons since his rookie year. Take that for what it’s worth at the draft table.

Running Back

Here’s the position where the injury bug runs wild. The running backs in the top-100 are more likely to have a history of injuries or are unproven than they are to have a clean bill of health throughout their career:

Injury Risk for Fantasy Football

Adrian Peterson has had a hard time putting in full seasons throughout his career (sometimes for injury reasons, sometimes for…other reasons). He’s followed by young players without much of an NFL track record to discuss. Devonta Freeman and Le’Veon Bell similarly have just short careers to look at. Freeman’s has been pretty clean from an injury standpoint, Bell’s has not. You have to go all the way down to the 7th ranked running back, Lamar Miller, before you find a player with a moderately long, injury-free NFL career. Overall, there are not a lot of top backs with injury histories that inspire much confidence. There are red flags all over. You’ve been warned!

Tight End

From an injury standpoint, the tight end position is bi-polar. There is a mix of high and low-risk options and not much in between:

Injury Risk for Fantasy Football

Gronk is tempting, but he’s only logged 3 full seasons out of 5 beyond his rookie year. The next tight end on the board has had his own set of injury problems. There is no question Gronk and Reed have the rest of the field topped from a talent perspective, but is it worth the inherent injury risk? It’s a tough call, particularly when the next few guys are the picture of reliability. We leave that call to you gamer.

Wide Receiver

The field of wide receivers has quite a few players with clean injury histories:

Injury Risk for Fantasy Football

While there are a lot of receivers who have had injury-free careers, there are a few exceptions that should be noted. DeAndre Hopkins, the 4th WR on the board, has not played more than 10 games in any of the last 3 seasons. That might bear repeating: the 4th best wide receiver, who you would use a first or second-round draft pick on, has a track record of logging less than two-thirds of a season. Jordy Nelson is coming back from a year off, the risks there are obvious. Sammy Watkins, Keenan Allen, and Julian Edelman also carry their own injury baggage. There is a slug of wide receivers ranked between 44 (overall) and 71 that have immaculate injury histories. If you want to feel pretty safe about your picks these would be the guys to target.

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