The tide has officially turned! Many fantasy football owners are shying away from taking running backs as their first round picks. As much as I hate being a part of the crowd, I think I will side with the masses on this one.
Although average draft position for running backs is falling, we all have to take a running back at some point. For most of us, our running back will be the second priority which still makes it a decision that you must do well with to win.
When you consider that this entire wave of demoting the running back in fantasy football can be traced back to the position proving itself to be high risk based on the durability and injury issues that running backs face, it would make sense to use that exact thought process to rule out certain running backs further. This is where I come in. There are three running backs that are being ranked in the top 10 that I would move down based on Injury Science.
Mark Ingram (RB – NO)
I wrote a recent piece on players returning from injury and I completely forgot about Ingram. I guess this gives you a hint of how I feel about Ingram being on my fantasy team. Someone on Twitter asked about his injury outlook and I suddenly remembered that he existed.
Subconsciously I think I block out certain players who I know I can’t depend on, and Ingram would be near the top of this list. Ingram’s career game logs prove my case with ease, as you will notice that he only has one season (in 2012) during which he played in all 16 games. Although Ingram is only 26 years-old, he may as well be 35 years old as far as I am concerned, as he finds a new way to be injured every year.
Ingram’s most recent injury is a pretty significant one as he underwent rotator cuff repair surgery in December of 2015. I have rehabilitated many rotator cuff repairs and trust me, a lot of things that can go wrong during rotator cuff recovery. The most important thing to know about the rotator cuff muscle group is that they are always working.
The four muscles that make up the rotator cuff are at work 24/7 with the job of stabilizing the humerus (the upper arm bone). This is important to note as it allows you to imagine the type of endurance these muscles must achieve to function.
I often see people (not my patients) doing rotator cuff exercises with heavy weights and low reps and it always causes me to give this dissertation on how the cuff muscles are very small and all about endurance. For any of you who have trained for muscular endurance, you can appreciate that this takes time.
At the start of the season Ingram will be about eight months status post surgery, which is on the early border of an appropriate return from this procedure. I believe his shoulder will come into the season at less than 100 percent, and likely end the season at less than 100 percent. The repetition in his position mixed with the role of the rotator cuff simply don’t give a favorable outlook for optimal use of that arm throughout the entire season.
The average patient with a rotator cuff repair has to deal with bouts of inflammation, stiffness, and sometimes impingement that causes pain and weakness; these risk are only multiplied with a football player playing the most physically intense position on the field. Look for a short peak of productivity in the middle of the season for Ingram that will be sandwiched by a sub par beginning and sub par ending to his season. Furthermore, his history strongly suggest that it is not his shoulder that you need to be worrying about, as he is likely to have a brand new injury for 2016.
Ezekiel Elliott (DAL)
I know this is one of those players that I will not be able to convince many fantasy owners to take off their draft board, but I think Elliott will become the poster child for not drafting a running back in the first round. I not only believe that fantasy owners will be disappointed if they draft Elliott, but I believe that the Dallas Cowboys will be disappointed as well. Elliott is definitely what I would classify as a “Freaky Talented” athlete.
There are many ways to identify these athletes but I will tell you an easy way that doesn’t require any real research. I discovered this method early in my high school football career by playing against a running back named Eddie Gaskins. When you see a guy with a chubby face and a six-pack for abs, you are in trouble.
I think this is some type of “Freaky Talented” trait that I don’t understand yet, but it is one of my unofficial ways of designating these athletes. As for the official way of designating these types of athletes, I simply look at the measurables. Elliott is 225 pounds, which is considered big for a running back with the average running back in the NFL weighing about 215 pounds.
Despite his size, his 40-yard dash time is an impressive 4.47 seconds. That combination of size and speed is really all he needs to get the “Freaky Talented” designation from me. If that is not enough for you, just watch any of the Ohio State Buckeyes games from the past two years and you will be convinced.
I can definitely see why my arch-enemy Dallas Cowboy fans are excited about their new addition. However, those Cowboy fans may not be as excited about this next part.
Part of projecting how someone will perform is to find comparable players. Player that are the same speed, body type, and position is a good start in evaluating what a players injury risk may be. I evaluated my 2015 SEP Reliability Ratings for the running backs to see which running backs compared most favorable to Elliott and then looked at their rookie years to make sure the comparison still lined up.
After reviewing all the current NFL running backs, the two that compare most favorably to Elliott were Ryan Mathews of the Philadelphia Eagles and Chris Ivory who is now playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Matthews came in the league at 218 pounds and running a 4.46, and Ivory came in the league at 222 pounds and running a 4.48.
They both have a style like Elliott where they choose to run defenders over rather than go around, and the absolute clincher was that they both have the chubby face trait with body builder bodies to match (although Ivory has put on a few since his rookie year). While these are pretty good comparisons for Elliott, as both these players are at least still in the league as productive players, the injury profile of their first three seasons combined looks like this:
- Injuries – ankle sprain, calf strain, concussions, broken clavicle, MCL sprain, hamstring strains, Lisfranc fracture, sports hernia, etc.
- Games missed (between both Matthews and Ivory): 34 games in three years (plus extra time missed during the games they played in)
If an average of almost one and a half injuries per year and more than five missed games per year is even close to what Elliott is in for, I don’t think Jerry Jones and Cowboy fans will be too happy. The fact is that a big body with that much speed in today’s NFL is an injury waiting to happen as lots of mass and lots of speed equals lots of force (literally: force = mass x acceleration squared). I don’t wish injuries on anyone (even Dallas Cowboys), but it is very likely that Elliott’s body will not be able to keep up with his talent which will cause something to eventually fail.
If Elliott’s own body doesn’t get him, he has all the high-speed collisions with linebackers and safeties to play clean up. This may not be enough to truly call him a bust, but what do you think the San Diego Chargers think about drafting Mathews now? Does anyone even remember that Ivory played for the New Orleans Saints?
Just like Las Vegas, I could be wrong. Buster Douglas did knock out Mike Tyson and Ronda Rousey almost got her face kicked off by Holly Holm in huge upsets; but those buildings in Vegas are big for a reason. They use data and processes to figure these things out, in other words they use science.
The Injury Science here definitely points to Elliott having an injury plagued career, which seems to have already gotten underway with his recent hamstring injury. I don’t think I need to preach about the difficulties of the infamous hamstring injury as I believe most fantasy owners dread hearing those words about one of their players.
Jamaal Charles (KC)
I feel like I short-changed Charles in an earlier post, as I did not explain myself well enough. Let’s take all the emotion out of it, and let’s ignore the near fantasy legend that Charles has been in recent years and simply look at the facts.
A 199 pound running back (average running back weighs about 215 lbs) approaching 30 years-old this season who is recovering from his second ACL repair and has a full season completion percentage of only 37.5% for his career. Add in the fact that he will get no game reps in the pre-season and has two hungry young running backs itching to replace him. Do you really want to draft the guy I just described?
Either I am missing something and am very wrong on Charles or the countless ranking that unanimously put Charles in the top 10 are crazy. I guess it is easy to say there was a train once it hits you, but I hope many of you are like me and want to see the train coming.
I strongly suggest to stay away from Charles in your upcoming drafts. I will take a quarterback before I take Charles and we all know how long we are supposed to wait for quarterbacks.
I know how hard it is when a big name is just sitting there and it’s almost like muscle memory to draft someone who the data says you shouldn’t. Let someone else in your league make the mistake of drafting one of these three running backs and thank me later.
Dr. Eric Petty is a Physical Therapist who is taking his talents from the treatment room to help fantasy owners. You can find more of his work at his site, The Injury Report Doctor, and you can follow him @DrPettyIRD.