An Injury History of Round 1 WRs in Fantasy Football Drafts

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Last week, I kicked off this four-part article series with a look at the injury history to RBs selected in Round 1 of fantasy football drafts. Here’s a quick highlight of what my research from 2015-2018 uncovered:

  • RBs taken in Round 1 missed a total of 78 games.
  • RBs taken in Round 1 missed a game 18% of the time.
  • There was a total of 12 injuries to RBs selected in the first round out of a possible 27 players for a 44% injury rate

While injury rates to the running back position are much higher, receivers do miss time, so it is equally as important to mitigate injury risk with wideouts being taken in the first round of fantasy drafts. For the second installment of this research project, let’s turn our attention to the wide receiver position. This article pairs perfectly with a recent episode of the Fantasy Footballers Podcast where Andy, Mike, and Jason broke down their top-10 WRs and each picked one player who is a potential bust candidate.

I looked back at the average draft position (ADP) over each of the last four seasons in PPR formats on Fantasy Football Calculator to see which wide receivers were being selected in the first round of drafts. Here’s what I found:

2018 (3): Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, Odell Beckham Jr.
(6): Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, A.J. Green, Jordy Nelson
(6): Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr., DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Allen Robinson
(5): Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Odell Beckham Jr.

Now that we know which wide receivers and how many were being selected in Round 1 of drafts from 2015-2018, let’s examine how many of these receivers were injured and how many games each injured player missed.

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Antonio Brown did miss Week 17, but this was not injury-related. While he was listed on the injury report that week, there were conflicting reports as to why he didn’t play. After the fact, details emerged that this is the time when the marriage between the Steelers and AB started to crumble, as Brown avoided team facilities that week and didn’t play. For the sake of this research project, his missed game will not be included.

DeAndre Hopkins was listed on the injury report off and on throughout the year, but he didn’t miss any time. The only player to miss time because of injury that was drafted in Round 1 was Odell Beckham, who missed four games because of two separate injuries to his quad. He first suffered a quadriceps contusion (bruise); then in practice, a week later, suffered a quadriceps strain. In 2018, 33% of wide receivers taken in Round 1 missed time because of injury with OBJ being the only culprit.

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Julio Jones, Mike Evans, and A.J. Green were all healthy in 2017, but the other names on this list missed time. Jordy Nelson missed Week 17 with a shoulder sprain, and Antonio Brown missed two games with a calf strain. However, the biggest injury for fantasy football was to Odell Beckham who only played in four games in 2017. He missed Week 1 with a high ankle sprain, which he suffered in the preseason. Then, a few weeks later, he had a defender roll up on his ankle while being tackled, causing him to fracture the fibula in his left leg.

Of the wide receivers selected in Round 1 in 2017, 50% of players missed time because of injury. Collectively, OBJ, Jordy Nelson, and Antonio Brown missed 15 games.

[lptw_table id=”160584″ style=”default”]

Antonio Brown sat in Week 17, but that wasn’t because of injury. The Steelers had already clinched a playoff spot and sat some key starters. The other guys taken in Round 1 were healthy for the most part, but there were notable injuries to two players – Julio Jones and A.J. Green.

Jones missed 2 games because of a turf toe injury while A.J. Green’s season was cut short because of a high-grade hamstring strain. Collectively, two out of six receivers suffered an injury that caused them to miss time. They combined for a total of 8 missed games.

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Odell Beckham Jr. missed one game in 2015 due to a suspension, but we won’t count that data in this sample. All in all, it was a successful season in terms of the stud WRs staying on the field and preventing injury. Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas, and OBJ all avoided injury. The only receiver drafted in Round 1 that was injured was Dez Bryant, who suffered a broken 5th metatarsal, also known as a Jones fracture. After missing five games, he returned to the field but reinjured the foot later in the year and was placed on injured reserve, missing the final two weeks.

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What does the data tell us for 2019?

Compared to the running back position, the wide receivers taken in Round 1 from 2015-2018 missed significantly less time. Wide receivers drafted in the first round of fantasy football drafts from this sample size missed a total of 34 games out of a possible 320 games (16 x 20 WRs drafted in Round 1). In other words, in 10.6% of regular-season games, the wide receivers taken in the first round of drafts were unavailable for fantasy gamers. To put this in perspective, Round 1 RBs missed a game 18% of the time.

Seven out of a total of 20 wide receivers drafted in the first round missed time because of injury, a rate of 35%. When compared to running backs, this number is much lower. 44% of RBs taken in Round 1 missed time because of injury during this four-year sample, pointing to the fact that running backs are more likely to get injured and miss more games.

This article isn’t to tell you, the fantasy player, to avoid running backs in the first round of your draft, but it should provide clarity as to how to mitigate risk for the remainder of your draft. For example, if you draft a wide receiver in Round 1, you may be able to take on more risk later in the draft because of the fact that your stud player is less likely to suffer injury than if you had taken a running back in Round 1.

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