One of the most important aspects of fantasy football—and one of the most challenging to forecast—is injuries. There’s so much variance with injuries that it becomes really difficult to 1) understand when a player is likely to get injured and 2) use that information in any sort of predictive, quantifiable manner.
One of the issues is that we don’t really have great data on injuries. Well, we didn’t, until SportsInjuryPredictor.com came along. Using extensive injury data and a variety of variables, the site uses an algorithm to help predict when players are likely to get injured. Click here for a breakdown of the injury model graphic.
Is it perfect? Of course not, but neither are any of our 2014 fantasy football forecasts. We’re simply trying to tilt the odds in our favor, even if slightly, and that’s what this data can help us do.
Below, you’ll find Sports Injury Predictor’s analysis on seven high-risk quarterbacks heading into the 2014 season, along with Rotoworld’s fantasy spin.
1. Jake Locker
Locker was at the top of our list in 2013 for pretty much the same reasons we outline below. It didn’t take long for him to go down with a bad hip sprain in Week 5 last year.
He was placed on IR in 2013 and has missed 14 games since 2012 due to injury. He also underwent two surgeries in 2013, one to his non-throwing shoulder and the other to fix his fractured foot. These injuries are significant to a mobile quarterback and will weigh heavily on his ability to stay healthy in 2014.
Lisfranc fractures in particular are nasty injuries to overcome, as the bones on the top of the foot break and it affects a player’s ability to plant and generate power in the upper body. Ken Whisenhunt is attempting to counteract Locker’s injury risk by designing a game plan that keeps him in the pocket as much as possible. If Locker can progress in this system, Tennessee’s offensive line will have the responsibility of keeping him upright to prolong his health in the NFL.
Jake Locker’s injury history is as follows:
o 2008 (college) – fractured thumb on throwing hand
o 2010 (college) – fractured ribs
o 2012 (NFL) – separated shoulder (non-throwing) required surgery in the offseason
o 2013 (NFL) – sprained hip
o 2013 (NFL) – Lisfranc fracture
One of the big ‘ifs’ here is if Locker can progress in a system that naturally limits his ability to make plays with his legs. He’s the type of quarterback who relies on his mobility even when trying to get the ball downfield. If Whisenhunt attempts to keep him in the pocket, it could really limit his effectiveness, even if healthy.
The benefit of drafting Locker is that his injury risk is already priced into his ADP. Fantasy owners are scared to invest in a player who has a high probability of getting injured, but that’s driven down his cost such that, in deep leagues, he’s worth a look.
2. Cam Newton
Cam Newton is not okay.
We know there has been a lot of talk throughout fantasy football circles about how the surgery he underwent was to tighten the ligaments in order to provide stability and make him more explosive, but we are not picking up what everyone else is throwing down. To say that assumes we have arrived in an age of miraculous performance-enhancing surgeries.
While we may not be far off from that reality, we are not there just yet. Newton underwent surgery because there was a lingering injury that needed to be fixed. And when ankles get operated on, the likelihood of injury increases, especially with an athletic player like Newton who relies on trademark shimmying and shaking to remove angry 300-pound linemen off his back.
Newton has a new offensive line, as four starting offensive linemen retired since 2013. He also has a brand new receiving corps with whom he has never worked before. This could mean less time to release the ball, along with potentially longer waits for receivers to get open. Newton is going to be relying on that new ankle a ton in 2014. Let’s hope it holds.
In a recent expert draft, Evan Silva nabbed Newton in the ninth round. Whether he has a high probability of getting injured or not, that’s a huge discount on a quarterback who can rush for double-digit touchdowns.
Newton’s receivers are horrible, but you could make the argument that they weren’t any better last year. The loss of Steve Smith was one more of name than of substance, and Carolina’s receiving corps is actually better equipped to score touchdowns this season.
When the dust settled after Coach Shanahan’s departure, it became clear that RGIII was rushed back from his 2012 injury.
The post-Peterson-in-2012 NFL is an era where ACL injuries, even if season-ending, are not necessarily career-ending. What is often disregarded is the effect of a second ACL revision surgery. Players who have two ACL surgeries on the same knee have a substantially higher incidence of corresponding ligament damage along with reinjuring the ACL again (think Danario Alexander).
While he is a year removed from the second surgery, a player as mobile and edge-aware as Griffin will always carry an elevated level of risk due to his compromised right knee.
This is the type of information that can really lead to actionable fantasy football advice. We know that a knee tear is a clear negative, but the fact that a second surgery on the same knee significantly increases the risk of complications is important intel.
Worse, it seems as though RGIII’s injury risk isn’t fully priced into his ADP. He’s likely getting a slight bump due to the addition of DeSean Jackson—a player who might or might not actually help Griffin’s fantasy production.
Also consider that, even if Griffin remains healthy, there’s a good chance that the play-calling in Washington limits a lot of his rushing upside.
4. Jay Cutler
Smokin’ Jay has been banged up these last four years, having suffered the following injuries:
o Two concussions (2010 and 2012)
o Fractured thumb (IR in 2011)
o Pulled groin and high ankle sprain (2013)
The ankle sprain and groin pull are injuries to be concerned about at this stage of his career. Cutler does heal well and has never had consecutive injury-filled seasons that caused him to miss multiple games, but he is not getting any younger; with all older players, it will take less and less to keep him out of a game as the season progresses.
If you look at all the injuries he has suffered with the exception of 2013, they were due to contact (concussions, fractured ankle, fractured thumb and neck sprain). Cutler has been able to avoid the soft-tissue injuries that tend to repeat over the course of a career, so that is definitely working in his favor. Marc Trestman has been working on having Cutler get the ball out quicker, so hopefully that, along with his offensive line keeping him upright, should help the quarterback avoid the contact injuries that have plagued him over these last few years.
The data suggests that contact injuries, particularly to bones, fully heal and don’t have a major impact on players down the line. You could argue that the majority of Cutler’s injuries were due to his offensive system, which has been changed (for the better) since Trestman’s arrival in Chicago.
The 2013 injuries are the most concerning because 1) they’re the most recent and 2) they weren’t the result of contact. Nonetheless, Cutler’s minimal draft cost makes swallowing any chance of injury an easy chore.
5. Nick Foles
Let’s start with a big caveat here. While Foles may be the fifth quarterback most likely to get injured, the range of injury probability where he finds himself is still well below the top 20 riskiest running backs and receivers. So for a quarterback, he is likely to get injured, but versus the universe of total players, his injury risk grades out at the bottom end of medium.
Foles stepped up huge in 2013, delivering a record-breaking season and leading the Eagles to the playoffs in Chip Kelly’s high-octane offense. What triggered our algorithm to zero in on Foles as this year’s fifth-most likely quarterback to be injured is 1) the injuries he has suffered in the last three years all tend to reoccur, 2) it’s only his second year as a starter and 3) he is projected at a high volume of plays in Philly’s fastest-moving offence.
The injuries he has suffered are:
o MCL sprain in college
o Fractured throwing hand resulting in IR in 2012
o Huge concussion that knocked him out of a game in 2013
All of these injuries come with a high statistical probability of reoccurring.
Projected volume is also a big factor here. The more times a player touches the ball, the more likely they are to get injured. Kelly’s offense is set to run hot this season, and increased snaps will mean that there is a higher chance of an injury event occurring.
A lot of the injury analysis here has actionable fantasy football consequences, but one that you shouldn’t be overly concerned about is future workload affecting injury probability. Of course getting more touches will lead to a higher probability of injury, but opportunities are the backbone of fantasy production.
In that way, we actually want a higher probability of our players getting injured because it means they’re seeing more touches. Foles’ 2013 concussion is the biggest concern, not his anticipated workload or the pace of the Eagles’ offense, which are both huge positives.
This is more for Steelers fans than fantasy purposes; if you’re looking to draft Roethlisberger in 2014, you’re hopefully getting him at a price where injury risk is of no real concern. Anyone who has been watching the NFL for the last few years will know that there are few players who have been injured more than Big Ben. The types of injuries he has suffered over the years have been severe, and the fact that he is still balling shows the grit he personifies with his style of play. Last year was only the second time he has been able to make it through a full season since 2008. Some of the injuries he has suffered are:
o Dislocated rib (2012); missed three games as a result
o Dislocated throwing shoulder four times since 2006; required surgery to fix it in 2012
o Fractured foot in 2010; required surgery to place screws in the broken bones
Roethlisberger is a veteran and someone who knows how to grind through injuries. Hopefully the presence of a born-again running game with Bell and Blount should keep some of the pressure off of him.
Roethlisberger isn’t a quality fantasy option because of a very low ceiling. In the range he’s being drafted, you’re better off going with someone like Sam Bradford, who has much more upside. The fact that Roethlisberger is probably better than a coin flip to miss action only limits his ceiling even more.
7. Sam Bradford
After winning the Heisman Trophy in 2008, Bradford got severely injured in his junior year in 2009, causing him to miss most of the season with reparative surgery to his shoulder. In his sophomore season in the NFL (2011), he suffered a bad high-ankle sprain that laid him out for five games of the regular season. In 2013, primed for a breakout year with several high impact weapons at his disposal, Bradford tore his ACL in Week 7 and was placed on IR.
Although no one is assuming a Peterson-type comeback year for Bradford as he returns from an ACL tear, it would appear as though his rehab and recovery have proceeded without any setbacks. His chance of injury this year is within the top 10 of all quarterbacks, but overall it is very low.
It’s really interesting to see Bradford so low on this list given his injury history. The fact that the data suggests a player coming off a midseason torn knee isn’t a significant injury risk is not only really intriguing, but also useful information. If Bradford’s health is indeed likely to bounce back in 2014, he’s a steal at his current ADP.