Fantasy Football: Are These Top Players Injury Prone?

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I’ll preface this article by saying that football is a violent sport. Literally, every single play when the ball is snapped, the goal is to overpower your opponent with brute force. As a result, every single player in the NFL is subsequently “prone” to an injury in a given season. This is the reality of the game of football.

So while every player that chooses to play this game is exposed to injury and situations that lead to injuries, are there some players who are more likely to get injured than others? And, can we use injury history to predict future injury? The purpose of this article is to look at four very well known top-tier fantasy players who have a list of injuries in their history. Are these players ‘Injury Prone?’ Or, should we retract this unfair label?

I asked my followers on Twitter to give me players who they believe are “injury prone.” The following players were among the top four responses –  Jordan Reed, Keenan Allen, Rob Gronkowski, and Odell Beckham, Jr.

Jordan Reed

Injury Prone? – Yes

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Rule 86. Is it dead? I think Andy, Mike, and Jason might touch on this during some upcoming podcasts, so stay tuned for their thoughts. Until then, I’ll give you mine. Jordan Reed is without a doubt a top-3 talent at the position when he’s on the field. Unfortunately, he’s not on the field enough to be a reliable option at the tight end position. If you’ve ever owned Reed in the last few years, you know how frustrating that can be. Over his past two seasons, Jordan Reed has only played in 14 out of a possible 32 games. He’s been on the field less than 50% of the time dating back to 2016! Are his injuries predictable, or is he just unlucky?

I do believe Jordan Reed is prone to injury. When we look at what the research suggests, players who strain their hamstring are much more likely to suffer a subsequent hamstring strain in the following season. We see this year after year – players who attempt to come back from a hamstring strain during the season are very likely to aggravate their injury. The greatest risk for re-injury occurs when the athlete steps back on the field within the first two weeks. In fact, over the course of the season, the athlete has about a 30% chance of re-injuring the hamstring if he injures the hamstring earlier on in the season. The hamstring strain is probably the single most predictable injury in sports. Jordan Reed is, in fact, prone to future hamstring strains.

I won’t go into a ton of detail regarding Reed’s concussion history. I wrote an article last season regarding Jordan Reed’s concussion history. One thing I will touch on though is the fact that Reed has six documented concussions in his injury history dating back to college. Research suggests that it will take him longer to return to the field than it did before with each subsequent concussion. Sadly, I firmly believe Jordan Reed’s next concussion will end his NFL career.

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Keenan Allen

Injury Prone? – No

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When you think of the injury-prone label, you probably picture Keenan Allen. After all, it was the #1 response I got when asked my question on Twitter. We’ve seen Allen miss time throughout his NFL career, but the concerns don’t start there. Allen was projected as a top-tier wide receiver by NFL scouts when he was coming out of Cal in 2012. However, he fell to the third round of the NFL draft due to concerns regarding a partial tear of the PCL (posterior cruciate ligament) in his left knee.

Harry How/Getty Images

Allen’s PCL injury was diagnosed by renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews as a grade II PCL sprain, so it was not completely torn. Like the ACL, the PCL’s main role is to help stabilize the knee during running and cutting. However, the PCL prevents the tibia (shin bone) from slipping behind the femur (thigh bone) while the ACL prevents the opposite motion of the tibia. Grade I or II PCL sprains often times do not require surgery, and isolated PCL injuries are actually rather rare compared to ACL injuries. As a result, outcomes after a PCL injury are actually pretty good, and the athlete is usually able to return to the field with minimal limitations as long as there are adequate recovery time and rehab. Allen quieted concerns regarding his knee very quickly during his rookie season on his way to 71 receptions for 1,046 yards, and 8 TDs.

As you can see in the table above, Allen has a few season-ending injuries on his resume. The fractured collarbone and lacerated kidney have absolutely no correlation and are not predictors of future injury. For the purposes of looking at Allen’s “injury prone” label, we can absolutely disregard these injuries. When we take these out of the equation, we are left with a sprained PCL in his left knee from 2012 and a torn ACL in his right knee from 2016. Sure, Allen is at an increased risk for a future ACL tear because he already has one in his injury history, but he is not prone to injuries in general. We need to stop giving Allen this label because it’s flat out just not true.

Rob Gronkowski

Injury Prone? – Yes

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As you can see in the table above, Gronk does have a pretty significant injury history. It’s possible this is one of the reasons why he contemplated retirement earlier this off-season prior to committing to the Patriots for 2018. Will he be there in 2019? That’s yet to be seen, but if Gronk suffers another back injury, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him walk away from the game as one of the best tight ends in NFL history.

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Most of Gronkowski’s injuries don’t have a big correlation, but there is one recurring theme for the Patriots’ star tight end. One red flag for me is the fact that dating back to college, Gronk has a history of three separate surgeries on his low back (all before the age of 29). From what I’ve read, his surgeries have been focused on removing a piece of a disc in between the low back vertebrae. When low back injuries are traumatic in nature, such as in football, and significant enough to cause damage to the disc, there is the concern for neurological damage, which can affect the nerves that control the muscles in your legs. If this sounds like a serious thing, it is. What’s worse is that if Gronk does have an additional low back injury that requires surgery, it’s likely that he’ll require a fusion in his low back. Essentially, this means that the surgeon will permanently fuse together two of the vertebrae in order to enhance spinal stability. While this sounds like a good thing (which it is short term), there are several long-term complications and outcomes later in life aren’t great. For that reason, I’m a believer that Gronk’s next low back injury will force him out of professional football.

Is Gronk at an increased risk for a future low back injury? Yes, he is, but it’s very difficult to quantify the level of risk that is associated with a future injury. We do know, however, that once a spinal injury has occurred and a patient experiences low back pain, the deeper layer of muscles that surround the spine become weaker. This is a huge emphasis in physical therapy and rehabilitation. Therefore, it would make sense that he is indeed at a risk for an additional back injury. For perspective, Tyler Eifert has a similar injury history in his low back, and he’s faced significant challenges in staying on the field.

Odell Beckham Jr.

Injury Prone? – No

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I was very surprised to see people out there throw Odell Beckham into the conversation regarding whether or not some players are injury prone. As you can see, he doesn’t have a long list of injuries, so this is likely some recency bias from his brutal injury last year. Beckham sustained a high ankle sprain and a fracture of the fibula on his left ankle. Shortly after, he underwent surgery to stabilize the fracture, ending his season. Coming into the 2018 season, I’m not worried about Beckham’s foot and ankle. Videos of OBJ show him exploding and cutting off his injured ankle, so things are looking good for Week 1.

I’ll keep this short, sweet and to the point. When you look at his injury history, there’s no way you can say Beckham is injury prone. His two injuries during his time in the NFL don’t correlate whatsoever. Out of all the guys on this list, he’s the least injury prone out of all of them.

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