NFL Rookie Injury Histories: Part 1

May 18, 2018

Should Kerryon Johnson’s troublesome shoulder worry fantasy owners?

We are almost an entire month past the NFL draft, and rookie fever is at an all-time high. Dynasty rookie drafts have already begun, and fantasy players are looking for every edge they can find to beat their opponents. Recently I went through the injury histories of every single offensive player that was drafted in last month’s NFL Draft.

Football is a physical sport; I wasn’t surprised to find that the majority of the players drafted had some injury in their past. It is hard for players to avoid the occasional ankle sprain or pulled hamstring, but when a player has an extended injury history, it should peak fantasy player’s interest. We know that previous injury is the number one predictor of future injury, so being aware of players at increased risk can be a huge advantage.

In the first part of a two-part series, I will dive into some of the players that have significant injuries in their past. I will explain why those injuries matter, and what their fantasy impact may be heading into 2018 and beyond. I will start with three running backs who were drafted in the top 45 picks of last month’s draft. Here goes nothing!

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Nick Chubb (RB – CLE)

Pick: 35th Overall to the Cleveland Browns
Injury History: PCL/MCL/LCL Tear, Ankle Sprain

Why it Matters
Perhaps the most notorious injury on this list comes in the form of Nick Chubb’s knee injury during his sophomore season while at Georgia. A quick Google search will show the injury, but I will warn you now that it is not for the faint of heart. It was a devastating, career-threatening injury that was broadcast on every major television network. Everyone and their mother knows it happened and Chubb has carried an “injury-risk” stigma ever since.

The good news is that Chubb’s ACL remained intact, and he also avoided nerve and artery damage. After surgery, he was able to return for two more productive seasons at Georgia. After a nagging ankle sprain slowed Chubb during his junior season, Georgia realized he was most effectively used in a committee with Sony Michel.

Fantasy Impact
Chubb will likely continue being utilized in a committee after joining a Cleveland team that already has Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde. This three-headed running attack will most likely be a thorn in fantasy players’ sides in 2018. Unless something changes before the season, Chubb will be splitting carries with Hyde and will concede passing work to Johnson.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel though, in 2019 both Hyde and Johnson could be gone and Chubb will be a full four years out from his injury. If he can remain healthy, he may have total control of the backfield in an ascending Brown’s offense.

Sony Michel (RB – NE)

Pick: 31st to the New England Patriots
Injury History: ACL Tear, Scapula and Forearm Fracture, Recurring Ankle Sprain, Knee Sprain

Why it Matters
There was a lot of buzz in the 48 hours before the NFL Draft that Michel’s knee and possible “bone on bone” degradation. An ACL tear in high school that has been under-reported in the mainstream media may be the root of these rumors. It isn’t uncommon for players with a history of ACL reconstruction to display abnormal results on X-rays.

The phrase “bone on bone” doesn’t tell us much about Michel’s health. Many athletes have anatomical changes and never have impaired performance or pain associated with them.

The multiple fractures are concerning, but typically are the result of random chance. The recurring ankle sprains and knee sprain are the most problematic on a game to game basis. These are common injuries for NFL running backs and already having an established history doesn’t bode well for Michel.

Fantasy Impact
New England taking Michel in the first round of the NFL Draft tells me all we need to know about Michel’s knee. He will likely slide into a committee with James White and Rex Burkhead. As long as he can avoid fumbling the ball, a problem he had in his early years at Georgia, and remain healthy, he should see a solid workload. Expect him to fill in nicely for the departed Dion Lewis in the high powered Patriots offense.

Kerryon Johnson (RB – DET)

Pick: 45th Overall to the Detroit Lions
Injury History: Labrum Tear, Recurring Shoulder Dislocation, Hand Fracture

Why it Matters
Johnson’s shoulder is not in a good place. Multiple shoulder dislocations is a sign of significant instability in the area. Having already had one shoulder surgery on one of the main stabilizing components of the shoulder, the labrum, doesn’t help his case either. The labrum works like a suction cup on the humerus, working with the capsule and the rotator cuff to keep it resting within the socket.

When the labrum is compromised, the entire stability of the shoulder is at risk. If these dislocations continue to creep up, Johnson may be forced into another surgery to stabilize the shoulder.

That being said, Johnson has managed to play through multiple injuries already. He showed incredible toughness while at Auburn which I believe was one of the factors that influenced Detroit’s decision to take him earlier than many expected. While I don’t always agree with players playing hurt, it is a common occurrence in a sport that demands players be ready on as short as four days rest.

Fantasy Impact
Another shoulder injury could spell trouble for the Lions’ plans with Johnson. After investing significant draft capital in the offensive line and trading up for Johnson, it is clear that the run game was a priority this offseason.

The problem is that there are already reports that the Lions plan to use a committee. Johnson’s fantasy impact should come primarily on first and second down with Theo Riddick still catching passes. He will likely also be splitting some carries with LeGarrette Blount. Johnson is a much more intriguing option in dynasty leagues.


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Ethan Turner is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Ethan, check out his archive and follow him @TheFantasyDPT.

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