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 less and therefore might make a better investment.
Wide Receiver Risk-Reward Profiles
The chart below gives a break-down of production versus injury probability for the top 24 wide receivers. 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. We use MFL 10 ADPs for this analysis. Although the format is different and MFL strategies may value different players than regular season leagues, using ADP from MFLs gives you a better sense of where players are going off the board, as people have had to pay money and are more likely to be drafting seriously as opposed to the auto drafting that happens in mock drafts.
High Risk – High Reward
The players in this segment are ones that will take the lid off of defenses and give you the win through their performance alone any given week. The reason for the high ADP is due to the very high yield projections that are a result of talent, scheme and supporting cast. The elephant in the room for these players is that they have a high probability of getting injured and scuttling your season as you reach for the production they promise.
Ultimately, your willingness to select these players will be directly tied to how you approach risk and what your threshold is. You will win your league by minimizing risk probability (finding low risk – high reward options) or minimizing impact (stacking at a position or finding alternatives in the event of injury).
Beckham is currently being drafted as the second WR off the board in MFL 10s. While the points system of MFL10s may skew towards selecting him here – in redraft this is incredibly overvalued due to his injury risk. He is our number one risk at Wide Receiver with an injury probability of 90% (you can see his profile here)
Beckham had to sit out of most of OTAs and minicamp due to an injured hamstring. Luckily it was not the hamstring that cost him the offseason and 4 games last year but soft tissue injuries can be really hard to rehab in players of the super-fast twitch variety like Beckham.
We recently did some research that focused on the injury likelihood of a player who gets hurt during training camp. The summary of it is that there is a 77% chance of re-injury if a player gets injured in the preseason:
1) Players who have suffered a previous injury are more likely to suffer another injury than players who have not suffered any injuries.
2) The bigger the role a player has on the team the higher the risk of injury due to more exposure to the ball.
The fact that he has already been injured in training camp AND that he is the featured receiver on offense escalates his risk probability.
Beckham has another factor that influences his risk going against him as well. He is inexperienced and he is expected to be the focal point of the Giants. Our research shows repeatedly that players in their first 3 years are a lot more likely to get injured than players who are more experienced.
Add the previous injury as well, the injury this year in camp, this only being his second year, his role in the offence as well as the Madden curse and we have Beckham at an 88% chance of injury behind only DeVante Parker (fractured foot) and Jaelen Strong (fractured wrist in 2014 and hamstring issues in 2015).
If Beckham is good to go and makes it through training camp unscathed his outlook definitely improves.
There is one other thing.
The Giants have the worst record over the last two years at keeping their players healthy and on the field. Football Outsiders have a statistic called Adjusted Games Lost (AGL) that tracks just how many games are missed through injury. The Giants have had the worst record by far for two years in a row. They are the only team since the merger to have back to back seasons as the team with the most games lost through injury. Not only that but it’s the fifth year in the row that Giants have been 22 or lower. Clearly something is going wrong there.
That’s not to say that it won’t correct but in a day and age where most NFL teams have dedicated sports analytics teams this kind of statistic is unacceptable and speaks to a bigger, more fundamental problem. Giants focal players have not thrived – Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, Victor Cruz, Ahmad Bradshaw and David Wilson have all had brutal injury histories. More so than any other team in the NFL.
It’s very fair to wonder if this too will have an impact on the latest rising star.
There is a saying that goes: All ships are safest in the harbor – but that’s not what ships were made for.
Jones’ ADP at the time of writing is 1.10 and he is going off the board as the Wide Receiver 3. If you’re picking Jones that high it’s because you are swinging for the fences and that’s ok. Just know that you are making a huge investment at a place where similar production is available for a lot less risk.
This year we have Jones at an 81% chance of injury.
We had Jones as one of the most likely players to get injured in 2014. This was as a result of the re-fracture on his foot the year before along with the hamstring and ankle injuries he has suffered in the past (his injury profile can be found here).
Detractors will say “Well, Jones went on to drop 1,593 yards on the season amid some very impressive games.”
However, on closer inspection we see that 38% of his production came in a three-week period of which one of those weeks was in the first fantasy playoff week. If you owned Julio last year he most likely did not lead you to a title. The reason for his drop in production over a 6 week period was an ankle injury that he suffered in Week 5 that limited him for 6 weeks in which he averaged 73 yards and scored only 1 TD.
This is exactly the kind of volatility you expect to see from a top tier player but one who battles with injury. If you drafted Jones you had just as explosive but safer options available at similar ADPs such as Dez Bryant, Antonio Brown, Demaryius Thomas and Jordy Nelson.
And this is the injury risk level Julio falls into this year. The upside is there but so is the risk. And there just so happen to be Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas who are going after him and that are projected to score within the same range of points, just at a lower risk.
Jordy Nelson has a 62% chance of injury this year.
Nelson sat out of OTAs and minicamp after undergoing arthroscopic hip surgery in February. As @jeffbudoff points out in this article the problem with the information at hand is that this surgery could signify two very different injuries. The best case scenario is that it was a case of hip impingement that would require a small piece of bone to be removed to alleviate any kind of pain Nelson is experiencing. The expected outcome is overwhelmingly good in this scenario where Jordy is able to return to the same level of play. The other scenario (bad) is that Nelson is suffering from a degenerative condition and arthritis has set in compromising the effectiveness of his hip cartilage.
If this is the case, Nelson’s movement and production could be limited severely going forward. We have him as a higher risk this year and at his current ADP of 2.7 or WR8 it looks like that risk is baked into his price as he produced as the WR3 last year in PPR leagues.
Keep an eye on him in camp to see how his hip responds. At this price even with this amount of risk he could return value if goes through the season setback-free.
A.J. Green has a 70% chance of injury this year and it appears that at his current ADP of WR7 he is being priced fairly. He finished as WR4 two years in a row (2012 and 2013) and he should have every opportunity to deliver if he can stay healthy.
Last year Green missed 4 games due to injury. Three were in the regular season and as a result of turf toe while one was in the post season as a result of a concussion. He still ground out 1,000 yards for the fourth season in a row and went over 100 yards five times despite battling what is one of the most painful injuries in football.
“Turf toe is a sprain to the ligaments around the big toe joint, which works primarily as a hinge to permit up and down motion. Just behind the big toe joint in the ball of your foot are two pea-shaped bones embedded in the tendon that moves your big toe. Called sesamoids, these bones work like a pulley for the tendon and provide leverage when you walk or run. They also absorb the weight that presses on the ball of the foot.” WebMD
This is a fairly common injury among football players. Some of the players who have suffered this injury are players like: Brandon LaFell, Eddie Lacy, Mark Ingram, Daryl Richardson, Felix Jones and Roy Helu.
The reason his injury probability is so high is that the players who have had turf toe in the past have either had recurrences (such as Ingram and Helu) or have suffered injuries the following year.
High Risk - Low Reward AND Low Risk - Low Reward
We’ve grouped these segments together because this is where it gets interesting. These segments are being drafted at similar ADPs due to the similar total projected yield as well as the drop off from the clear tier one players who are in the “High Reward” segment. This is where a clear strategy of fading players with a higher risk could pay off. Why take Calvin Johnson when you could get similar production from Alshon Jeffery? Why take Kelvin Benjamin when you could take Jordan Matthews? Why take Hopkins when you could have Evans? As these players do not have the projected upside of the Tier 1 group, it’s a great idea to manage your downside risk especially where you have such similar projected yields.
It’s worth calling out Calvin at this point as he is one of the most overpriced wide receivers in the draft at a cost of WR6. With a second round price-tag you’re paying for the Megatron brand name alone and not the projected performance he will give you. There are receivers being drafted after him who are projected to put up solid production and safer bets to be on the field every Sunday: Cobb, Jeffrey, Hilton, Evans and Hopkins will give you similar, safer production at a cheaper price.
His injury probability is at 63% heading into the 2015 season. This is as a result of two season-long injuries suffered to his knees and ankle. His injuries will hurt you even more as it seems the Lions have no problem playing him hurt but it’s usually as a decoy which is a death bell for any fantasy team that plays him while injured. So you can’t sit your studs but you can’t exactly start him either once that “questionable” tag lands next to his name. Avoid the sleepless nights. Draft yourself a younger, less risky, similar producing wide receiver and be done.
We are not ignoring Megatron’s upside. He is still going to have big games. But considering the risk and expected season-long yield, you’re paying a premium to go after his upside.
Low Risk – High Reward
There is not much to see here. With the exception of Cobb who has usage concerns after last season (and therefore is priced correctly at his ADP of WR9) all the other players are being drafted where they should be and you could quite easily interchange their ADP with no real surprises.