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How to Handle Injured Players on Draft Day (Fantasy Football)

by Jason Katz | @jasonkatz13 | Featured Writer
Feb 28, 2020

Wasting a pick on A.J. Green hurt fantasy owners last year

In an ideal world, we could all be 10-year-olds playing Madden and turn injuries off. I hate injuries. You hate injuries. But we live in reality and injuries are a part of the game. One of the most challenging analyses we need to perform as fantasy managers is evaluating injured players.

When a fringe WR3 or RB3 or worse gets hurt in training camp or the preseason, it’s easy to manage – just avoid that player. If a player was barely a single-digit round pick at full health, you can just remove that player from your board if he gets hurt. If you still want to take a shot on that guy, though, spending your last non-kicker/defense pick on that player isn’t going to kill you. The real issue is navigating through what to do when talented, fantasy-relevant players suffer injuries that are going to keep them out for at least a portion of the season.

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For the purpose of this discussion, we assume that the injured players you are struggling to evaluate are guys you know have a defined role and are guaranteed to return to that role when healthy. In other words, if a committee running back with a mid-round ADP gets hurt, it is entirely plausible that the other half of that committee will seize control of the job during his absence. You should only draft that player if you get a considerable discount.

What do you do when a superstar is going to miss a month to start the season? The first thing you need to look at is how much of a discount you are getting. If a third-round player is missing a month and his ADP has only moved a few picks, that’s probably bad value. If his ADP has dropped two rounds, it might be worth it. I am generally opposed to drafting injured players for two reasons: 1) Players that get injured before the season starts have an increased likelihood of getting re-injured during the season; and 2) We are all going to deal with injuries and busts to our players – I don’t need to start the season with one.

With that being said, there are situations where injured players can present value. Another general rule I apply is that I will not draft an injured player to be my starter. What this means is I don’t want to draft an injured player until I have all of my wide receiver and running back starting slots filled (this includes Flex). The idea behind this is that the injured player’s return should bolster an already strong team that doesn’t need the injured player to return. I don’t want to be relying on a player returning from injury, but rather treat his return as a welcome, but unnecessary boost. The fantasy regular season is only 13 weeks. It is imprudent to put yourself at a disadvantage to start the season, hoping that you can overcome a slow start once you get this player back from injury.

On the flip side, if you can sustain a .500 or better record while a star player is recovering, once he returns, you are sitting pretty. It is a classic risk/reward balancing act. This leads to the second thing you must consider, which is the impact of the injured player. How good is this player? How imbalanced will your team be (in theory) once you add this player to your lineup?

And this leads directly into the third consideration, which is the caliber of the replacement. Often times fantasy owners forget that 10 or 12 weeks of a player isn’t literally just 10-12 weeks of a player – it’s 10-12 weeks of that player plus 4-6 weeks of a replacement-level player. You shouldn’t live and die by projections, but when it comes to evaluating injured players, it would behoove you to figure out how many fantasy points per game you’re expecting from the injured player. Once you have that number, you need two compare it to two other numbers. You need the expected fantasy points per game from the replacement player and you need the fantasy points per game from the lesser, but fully healthy player(s) you could draft in the same spot as the injured player.

I’m doing a lot of extemporaneous speaking, so for the sake of simplicity, let’s use numbers and examples. Let’s say you are targeting Injured Player A in the fifth round and you expect him to give you 17 ppg. The replacement player you will have to start while waiting for Player A to return will give you 10 ppg. If you forego Injured Player A and just draft Healthy Player B, he will give you 13 ppg. It goes without saying that this is a basic example and there’s more to analyzing a player’s season-long impact in a weekly game than this, but the purpose is to give you an idea of how to evaluate the value of drafting an injured player. Is the downgrade from 13 ppg to 10 ppg for however long Injured Player A is out worth the upgrade from 13 ppg to 17 ppg for the time after Injured Player A returns? Are you confident that Injured Player A will return to his pre-injury form? Are you confident he will stay healthy for the remainder of the season? What does the rest of your team look like? Have you already taken on a lot of risk? Can you afford the temporary dip in production? Can you afford being wrong?

I can’t tell you in the abstract whether you should or should not draft an injured player. All I can do is equip you with the process required in making that determination yourself. It’s a complex equation that you are trying to balance and the answer is unlikely to be obvious. At the end of the day, it is your team and you need to make the decision you are most comfortable with.

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Jason Katz is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jason, check out his archive follow him @jasonkatz13.

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