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Columns - Magazine

RB Injury Profiles

by Jake Davidow
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

One of the biggest factors when deciding on your highest and most important draft picks is figuring out how likely they are to get injured. It is crucial that your first round picks stay on the field if you’re going to win your season-long league. Luckily we are here to identify those players that are riskier than others.

 

The reason you want to do this type of analysis is that risk and reward influences the price of a player. Usually the market sets the price fairly. But sometimes either risk or reward is inflated devaluing or overvaluing a player. Also there may be opportunities to find players who have similar production levels but whose risk is lower and therefore might make a better investment.

 

Running Back Risk-Reward Profiles

 

The chart below gives a break-down of production versus injury probability for the top 24 RBs. All points are for PPR projections and can be found in the Rotoworld.com draft guide and injury probability can be found here. If we overlay this with ADP we can look for inefficiencies in draft price as it relates to risk vs reward.

 

 

RBI

 

We have divided the RBs here into 4 segments:

 

1)    High Risk – High Reward

2)    Low Risk – High Reward

3)    Low Risk – Low Reward

4)    High Risk – Low Reward

 

High Risk – High Reward

 

Players in this category are Foster, Bell and Lacy.

 

These guys have two things in common:

 

o Huge volume

o Recent injury

 

All of these players are home run hitters in the sense that when they are on the field they are more than likely going to produce.

 

Lacy may surprise some as being in this category but he has been injured in each season he has played and had his NFL draft stock sunk with several nagging injuries that carried over from college along with concerns about a serious turf toe issue (that one looks like it has been put to rest). He has not missed significant time by any means but it’s not a coincidence that Coach McCarthy limits his rushing attempts as a means of reducing his injury risk (246 in 2014 ranked 13th in the NFL). Lacy feels priced correctly at 1.05 considering where his risk is and the upside he brings in one of the most efficient and high powered offences in the NFL.

 

Bell’s injury that he suffered to his knee in 2014 is a mystery. We provide an in-depth analysis of his injury probability for 2015 here. His high injury probability is based on his previous injury history, high projected workload and the mystery knee injury he is returning from. Although described as a garden-variety hyperextension, on review the injury could very easily have been a PCL tear. If you haven’t read the deep dive above, it’s highly recommended that you do to get an idea of just how much risk he is carrying before you take him with your first round pick.

 

Looking at his current ADP of 1.04 it’s clear that Bell is overpriced. The fact that he is being drafted so high even though he is set to miss the first 4 games just goes to show how in-love the market is with the upside he displayed in 2014 and completely overlooks the implications of missing your number one pick for 25% of the fantasy season (before injury concerns are taken into account).

 

Arian Foster’s touch projection is at 250 which is roughly what he had last year (260) in a season which he missed 3 games. His upside is sky high if he could maintain health but he has only been able to do that twice since 2015. At his current ADP of 1.09 he feels priced about right if you view his projected points total this year as his floor. Early in July his ADP was in the second round at which point he becomes a no brainer. He is one to keep an eye on as training camp rolls around. The two seasons in which he played a full complement of games were preceded by healthy training camps and this could be something to factor in when deciding to pull the trigger in the first round of your draft.

 

Low Risk – High Reward

 

The players who make up this segment are as follows (in order of points scored):

 

o DeMarco Murray (injury risk 48%) – ADP 2.07

o Jamaal Charles (injury risk 46%) – ADP 1.03

o CJ Anderson (injury risk 39%) – ADP 2.02

o Marshawn Lynch (injury risk 5%) – ADP 1.08

o Justin Forsett (injury risk 20%) – ADP 2.11

o Jeremy Hill (injury risk 14%) – ADP 2.09

o Matt Forte (injury risk 35%) – ADP 1.11

 

DeMarco Murray

 

Murray is clearly the biggest undervalued bargain out of this group of RBs and potentially within the entire draft if his ADP stays so low. The reason for his depressed market value is due to concerns around his injury risk as well as his role within the Eagles with Ryan Mathews being signed in the offseason.

 

As far as workload goes all signs point to Murray being the main guy in Philadelphia. He was given a bigger contract and has played at a much higher level than Mathews has throughout his career. Even if he is not given his historic workload of 2014, the pace the Eagles play at along with the emphasis on the running game places him in line for a high enough volume to give him great upside.

 

As far as injury risk goes there are two arguments. The first is that because of his huge workload last year there is a concern that he will “break down” this year. The second is that he is “injury prone” and therefore highly likely to get injured this year.

 

Previous workload is not a predictor of future injury. It’s one of the biggest myths regarding a player’s likelihood of injury in the upcoming season. We did a deep dive into that and several other injury myths here.

 

The definition of “Injury prone” according to the Collins Dictionary is “often sustaining injuries”. Unfortunately the way this term is used. It’s used out of context and spoken of as this imaginary force field that surrounds a player who has suffered from injuries in the past. It’s a fire and forget mechanism that really helps the part of our brain where recency bias lives, by assigning a label to a set of events surrounding a player as a means to predicting a future outcome. So if you use the injury prone label as predictor on Murray it would sound like this: Because of the injuries he has suffered throughout his career he is injury prone and will get injured in 2015.

 

The problem (or opportunity) with using only previous injuries (injury prone) as a predictor is that you remove the two key factors that decrease injury risk. Experience and workload.

 

If you refer to our article here about injury myths and facts you will see that older players get injured less. You’ll also see that with a reduced workload players are exposed to less risk of injury. That’s why Chip Kelly needed another first tier running back in Ryan Mathews. Sproles would not be able to give Murray the kind of rest he needed to avoid injury. Mathews can carry the offense for a few series at a time without affecting the game flow. 

 

This is not to say that he does not have injury risk. He does. But compared to his production and how much he costs right now it is clear the market is over-emphasizing the injury risk.

 

All signs point to Murray having another monster year and he is a bargain at his current ADP.

 

Charles, Anderson, Forte and Forsett all seem well priced relative to their injury risk.

 

Marshawn Lynch

 

Lynch is well priced and is the running back with the lowest injury probability. It’s worth speaking quickly about his back issues because they come up regularly whenever anyone speaks about his outlook.

 

Lynch faces a very real problem in his back but one that he has been dealing with since 2007. He suffers from compressed cartilage in his vertebra or cervical spondylosis. Basically the cartilage in-between the vertebra acts as a shock absorber to protect the nerve endings in the spine. Due to several reasons (age, genetics, trauma etc.) the cartilage solidifies to bone-pinching nerve endings and causes muscle spasms in the back. We have several thousand injuries in our database but Lynch is our only documented case of someone playing through this type of injury. As far as we know he has not undergone any surgery on his spine which leaves him with muscle relaxant, pain medication and rehab to get through the shooting pains this issue is causing him.

 

He has missed one game due to back pain in the last 5 seasons. Outside of that he has managed the pain and played at an elite level. There is no reason to think that this is the year he falls apart.

 

Also – looking closer at the deal he signed with the Seahawks you can see how high the organization is on him. He was coaxed out of retirement with a two year extension to his one year remaining with the Seahawks for an additional $24M making his total earned over the next 3 years $31M. This from a team who won’t commit long term to a quarterback who has taken them to back-to-back Super Bowls. The ‘Hawks have ponied up to the production and bought in to the durability of Lynch – there is a strong argument to say that you should too.

 

Jeremy Hill

 

A favorite of Evan Silva’s in 2014, Hill’s low injury probability surprised us as younger, less experienced running backs have an increased risk of injury. Last year alone 48% of all rookies were injured, missing at least one game or more. Why then does Hill have such a low probability?
When we built our algorithm we tested many different things to come up with weightings we have for the factors we consider to be predictors. Size is one of those factors. We work on BMI and the way we work it out is a little different than the standard method but the results are more or less the same.

 

Hill is a big back weighing 235 lbs. and standing 6’1”. Our injury predictor algorithm likes that. Our algorithm also likes the fact that he has a clean bill of health having never been injured in college or the NFL. These factors combine to give him a very low chance of getting injured this year.

 

Hill is potentially undervalued at the moment at his ADP of 2.06 for two reasons. The first is that he is the lead back for the Bengals with potentially a great floor due to his durability. The second is that the only risk eating into his volume and production upside is Gio Bernard. But the reality is Bernard is way more likely to get injured. Bernard is a smaller running back (5’9” 209 lbs.), has suffered several injuries and has showed serious durability issues last year.

 

A quick comparison of the two Bengal RBs can be found here using our injury comparison tool.

 

If you’re looking to draft Bernard in the hope that Hill gets injured you’re zigging when you should be zagging. Hill stands a much better chance of being unleashed as the every down back at some point in the season due to Bernard’s elevated injury risk and being the more likely Bengal RB to miss time through injury.

 

Low Risk – Low Reward

 

The players who make up this segment are as follows (in order of points scored):

 

o Adrian Peterson (injury risk 21%) – ADP 1.03

o LeSean McCoy (injury risk 13%) – ADP 2.05

o CJ Spiller (injury risk 37%) – ADP 3.10

o Lamar Miller (injury risk 15%) – ADP 3.12

o Frank Gore (injury risk 6%) – ADP 3.07

o Mark Ingram (injury risk 20%) – ADP 4.03

o Alfred Morris (injury risk 12%) – ADP 4.06

o Melvin Gordon (injury risk 18%) – ADP 3.08

 

Adrian Peterson

 

Peterson comes back for the first time since 2010 without having undergone surgery in the preseason. He had a full year to recover. A freak of nature with a chip on his shoulder this season his injury risk is acceptably low.

 

The rest of the group are well priced based on either injury concerns (Spiller), scheme (McCoy) or role (Miller).

 

High Risk – Low Reward

 

The players who make up this segment are as follows (in order of points scored):

 

o Andre Ellington (injury risk 90%) – ADP 4.05

o Gio Bernard (injury risk 65%) – ADP 5.10

o Carlos Hyde (injury risk 53%) – ADP 4.10

o Latavius Murray (injury risk 54%) – ADP 3.08

o Jonathan Stewart (injury risk 58%) – ADP 3.08

o T.J. Yeldon (injury risk 65%) – ADP 3.08

 

This group creates some interesting arbitrage opportunities.

 

Andre Ellington

 

The fantasy community is understandably lower on Ellington based on the injuries he suffered last year. However his injury history goes all the way back to college and it’s clear that Ellington has never really had a clean bill of health – he is unlikely to have one this year. He is also still young enough to be in the high risk phase of a running backs’ early career so the very high injury probability is warranted.

 

Enter David Johnson. He has been referred to as Ellington 2.0 from a skillset perspective but at 6 foot 1 and 224 lbs. vs Ellington’s 5 foot 9 and 199 lbs. he has a very different durability outlook. He does not have the previous injuries that Ellington had coming out of college. Available at an ADP of 10.03 he may just be the lead Cardinals back before the season is done.

 

Gio Bernard

 

The arbitrage play with Bernard is to go all in on Hill in the second round. The Bernard experiment is over in Cincinnati and Hill is very much the lead runner. There is a chance he gets injured and leaves Hill to assume every down duties which at the cost of second round pick could be a league winner.

 

Jonathan Stewart

 

Stewart is overpriced even in the third round. He has a history of severe injuries that are very difficult to recover from. The fantasy world finally got what they wanted as River Boat Ron’s two headed monster of Stewart and Williams was finally put to rest with Williams heading off to the Steelers in free agency. Stewart finished 2014 with a flourish as he assumed lead duties with Williams nursing injuries. However, more opportunity actually equals more risk. Especially for players with histories of severe injuries.

 

Cameron Artis-Payne could very well be carrying the load for the Panthers sooner rather than later and he is available in the 13th round.