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 to help make predictions. 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 five high-risk tight ends heading into the 2014 season, along with Rotoworld’s fantasy spin.
Orange Julius lit up the scoreboard for the Broncos in 2013 after getting very little time on the field in 2012 due to being buried on the depth chart behind Jacob Tamme, Joel Dreessen, and Virgil Green. Another college basketball player turned tight end, he had just one year of college football under his belt before coming to play in the NFL. Thomas missed all of his rookie season with a severe high-ankle sprain that he suffered in preseason training, and it required surgery to fix.
The reasons he is the most likely tight end to get injured are as follows:
1. He is very inexperienced with only two seasons of football in his life to his name. Our studies have shown over and over again that inexperience is a major signal for future injuries.
2. Ankle injuries are very difficult to overcome, especially those of the severity that Thomas suffered in 2011.
3. He missed two games in 2013 due to aggravating the same ankle he hurt in 2011.
If fantasy owners are thinking of getting more mileage out of Thomas with the departure of Eric Decker, they should know that it is highly unlikely he goes through the season without an injury that could keep him out for at least a few games.
Thomas is such an interesting player because, although the numbers show he’s a big-time injury risk, he also has a high level of safety whenever he’s on the field with Peyton Manning, especially sans Decker in 2014.
The question right now for Thomas is one of cost; if you need to invest a third-round pick to acquire him, it might be a little expensive given the risk.
2. Kyle Rudolph
Rudolph is ranked as the second-most likely tight end to get injured because of his fractured foot. Foot fractures are really tough for players to heal and there is a very high chance of injury in the first year back. Rudolph also had two concussions in 2012, which is something to be aware of as he enters a very tight-end-friendly scheme run by Norv Turner.
At first glance, Rudolph seems like a poor man’s Julius Thomas: a high-risk tight end in a more favorable situation than he was in 2013. The difference is that Rudolph’s risk of a long-term injury might be even higher given his foot fracture, which is a truly devastating injury. Further, it’s not like he has Thomas-like upside in Minnesota.
Nonetheless, I think Rudolph is worth a look just because the cost is still pretty low. You’re taking on some risk, though, so pairing Rudolph with another late-round tight end like Jared Cook might make some sense.
Gronkowski is one of the most explosive players in the NFL, having racked up just about one touchdown per game over a four-year span. After undergoing back, forearm and ACL surgeries in 2013, everyone wants to know whether Gronkowski will be okay this year.
Gronk has a high risk of getting injured for sure. The fact that the back surgery he had last year was to relieve symptoms of a similar injury that laid him out in college is a red flag. Any time a player has plates and screws in his body, it increases risk of injury, especially in a body part like the forearm that is used for blocking.
ACL injuries actually very rarely reoccur, but his ACL tear happened right at the end of 2013, which means he is in the early part of the 6-9 month recovery window that most athletes need to rehab before getting back on the field.
o 2009: Herniated a disc in his back in college, requiring surgery and missing most of the year
o 2011: Suffered a high-ankle sprain in the postseason that required surgery in the offseason
o 2012: Fractured his left forearm in Week 11 and underwent surgery in an effort to speed up the healing by placing plates in his arm; re-fractured his forearm in the postseason, requiring further surgery to replace the screws and plates that broke
o 2013: Required another two surgeries (four total) to deal with infections that resulted from the surgery; needed a procedure to release the pressure in his spine after herniating a disc; tore his ACL and required surgery to repair the ligament
While he is the third-most likely tight end to get injured, Gronkowski’s injury risk lies below players like Julio Jones, Arian Foster and Ryan Mathews. His ADP makes him an interesting roll of the dice due to his mile-high ceiling.
Gronkowski hasn’t had the best luck with injuries and there’s lots of risk here, but we already knew that, right? His ADP has consistently reflected the fact that there’s a lot of risk, so you could argue that there’s lots of meat left on the bone in terms of potential value. Plus, I would have assumed he would be the top injury risk among tight ends, so seeing him at “only” No. 3 is actually surprising.
If Gronkowski stays on the field, he arguably has more upside than any tight end in football. You’re basically getting Jimmy Graham at a reduced cost.
4. Jordan Reed
Reed did the unthinkable last year and hid symptoms of a concussion that he suffered in Week 3. When the hit that took him out occurred in Week 11, no one had any idea that he had continued to play while suffering post-concussion syndrome. He was placed on IR because he couldn’t get past the concussion protocol for the next few games. Going back to his college career, Reed suffered a concussion in 2011 and another one in 2012.
Concussions are unlike other injuries in that they accumulate over time and, before long, it takes very little contact to initiate concussion-like symptoms. Reed is highly likely to get injured this year. While the injury predictor cannot predict career longevity, we feel Reed is facing a Jahvid-Best-type situation where he gets shut down for good the next time he suffers any kind of head injury.
When assessing risk, we need to be concerned not only with the probability of bad things happening, but also the magnitude of those events. True risk incorporates both probability and the potential extent of the damage. With Reed, the probability of injury is pretty high, but the chances of another head injury keeping him out a really long time are probably substantial. That gives him a lot of downside.
So in the real world, what do we do to limit excessive downside? We buy insurance. Insurance isn’t a good value in the strict sense, but it’s smart to buy because you can limit your risk of ruin. If you’re going to invest in Reed, consider buying some cheap insurance in the form of another late-round, high-upside tight end.
5. Jimmy Graham
Graham has suffered serious injuries in the last two seasons, but has been able to grind out two 1,200-yard performances while missing only one game. In 2012, Graham fractured his wrist but was able to play through it and missed only one game. In 2013, he suffered a torn plantar fascia and did not miss a single game. This is the same injury that demolished Antonio Gates in 2010 and 2011, causing him to miss nine games combined in those two seasons.
Predicting what motivates a player and how they respond to injury events is not covered within our algorithm. Super-elite athletes like Graham and Adrian Peterson will continue to reshape the concept of what is possible as they elevate themselves above the boundaries of what the human body can endure.
Graham has played through injuries in the past, which suggests it’s going to take a lot to keep him out. The fact that he’s projected just fifth in injury risk despite the highest projected workload among all tight ends is a good sign when assessing his safety.
When investing a first-rounder in Graham, you’re trying to obtain two things: scarcity and consistency. Graham is valuable because 1) he’s an outlier at his position and 2) we can really count on him. I don’t think his injury risk does anything to negate the two advantages he offers.