Can You Trust Players Returning From Injury in 2016?

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Injuries are the one downside to the beautiful game of football.

Some major injuries might scare us away from drafting a player. In some cases, it should, but other cases it shouldn’t. Players who are young and talented, like Kelvin Benjamin, should not be doubted. Players like Jimmy Graham, a player past his prime who suffered one of the toughest injuries to come back from, should be. It’s important to find which players will rebound and which won’t.

Keep a keen eye on these players and don’t let injuries scare you, because when you pass on them during your draft, your league rival will be sitting there licking his chops to pick them up.

WR Jordy Nelson

The absence of wide receiver Jordy Nelson was felt by the entire Green Bay Packers offense last season. Both quarterback Aaron Rodgers and fellow wideout Randall Cobb’s numbers were down. Nelson’s ability to burn his defender and catch the deep ball will help Rodgers’ numbers, open things up underneath for Cobb, and help you win your league.

Coming off his best year yet, Nelson tore his ACL in a 2015 preseason game, but will be ready to compete Week 1 with over a year to recover.

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Playing all 16 games the previous two seasons, Nelson seemed to be durable. Since 2011, he has led the team in receptions every year but one. He is arguably Rodgers’ favorite target, especially with the deep ball. In 2014, he led the league with 5 touchdown catches beyond 50 yards and 5 catches of 60 yards or more. He also tied the franchise record with 4 touchdowns of 80 yards or more in a career.

ACL surgeries have a high recovery rate. Reggie Wayne, who tore his ACL at 34, suffered some career lows but was still productive when he returned to the field. Same could be said for Jeremy Maclin and Rob Gronkowski. Nelson is 31 years old, but this is his first major injury.

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Nelson’s ADP has steadily moved up this month, and will continue to do so once fans see him take the field again. He will be worth the hefty price tag this season and I have full confidence he will be the Jordy of old, if not better.

RB Jamaal Charles

Coming back from an ACL tear is far too familiar to Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles. In 2011, Charles tore his left ACL and missed most of the season. This year, he tries to return from another ACL tear that occurred during Week 5 of last season.

Year after first ACL tear
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In 2013 and 2014, Charles was been one of the most consistent backs in football. Since taking over the starting job, Charles has rushed for more than 1,000 yards with more than 5.0 YPC every year he stayed healthy. He scored a career-high 19 touchdowns in 2013, and 14 in 2014. This guy is a flat out stud.

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The Chiefs run their whole offense through Charles. He is just as much as a threat to burst through the tackles as he is to take a screen pass to the house. Four out of his five years that he was healthy, he caught at least 40 passes.

It’s never easy to come back from an ACL tear, let alone two. Although he came back strong after his first one, the second will be a little different. He was 24 when he tore his left one and only had 487 carries in his career. Since recovering from his first one, he has amassed almost twice that amount with 821 carries. Charles will also turn 30 late December, the age of death for productive running backs.

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I have no doubts in Charles’ talent. If he returned and rushed for over 1,100 yards and scored 10 times I wouldn’t be surprised. The latest reports are that he might not be ready for the start of training camp. With the solid production from other backs Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware, it wouldn’t be out of the equation for head coach Andy Reid to sit Charles until he’s really ready to come back. The Chiefs are a team with realistic playoff chances and don’t want to wear out their star early in the season. If Charles is eased back into the offense, make sure to be patient with him. Do NOT trade him low when your frustrations are high. Let him regain his final form and ride him to the promised land.

He will be an absolute steal in the 2nd Round if he can put up the same numbers he did after recovering from his first ACL tear, and there’s a good chance he could. Trust in Charles this season when your draft comes around.

WR Steve Smith Sr.

If Steve Smith can come back and be productive, it will be fed off of pure anger. Entering his 16th season, the former Carolina Panthers wideout will attempt to come back from a torn Achilles. He will at least be coming back to a better offense as quarterback Joe Flacco will be back on the field after tearing his ACL last season. Smith has been very boom or bust in first few years with the Ravens.

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Smith suffered a torn Achilles last year in Week 7. Reports are that his timetable is still unknown and he is projected to miss the entire preseason. A torn Achilles is extremely difficult to come back from at any point of a player’s career. Smith turned 37 in May, and at 37 years old, these feats are even harder. Players who tore their Achilles took an average of 11 months to get back on the field. This means he might not even come back until October. Players also had an average 50 percent loss in power ratings and around 30% could never fully make it back.

To me, this is more than enough to avoid him in any type of draft. There is no way that Smith will come back from the devastating injury and have any fantasy production. The guy I’m looking at in Baltimore is Kamar Aiken. Aiken is much cheaper than Smith too, not being drafted until the 11th Round! Having by far his best year last year, he finished with 75/944/5. He will see the majority of the teams looks early on until Smith returns, if he does at all.

Avoid Smith in all leagues and aim for Aiken. Smith will not be ready to start the season and will not be able to be relied upon. His anger fuel has seemed to run out, having a troubled ending to a truly historic career. Smith will be a complete bust in the 9th Round and please, please, draft Aiken. Please.

RB Dion Lewis

Before he was a Patriot, Dion Lewis struggled to find an NFL job. In 2013, he missed the entire season with a broken leg. In 2014, he spent his Sundays on the couch watching football after being cut by the Indianapolis Colts. Eight weeks into leading the Patriots running game, he tore his ACL which ended his season in Week 8. Normally a headache for fantasy owners, head coach Bill Belichick trusted in Lewis and gave him the opportunity to thrive. In the five of the six games he was healthy, Lewis scored double digits in standard scoring. Three of those five were over 20 points in PPR scoring.

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He is currently practicing without a brace, and is on track to be ready for Week 1. Expect him to be limited all preseason as his injury occurred later in the season. This is Lewis’ first major injury, and as stated before, ACL’s have a high successful return rate recently. He should be healthy, and returns to one of the best offenses in football.

The Patriots once again finished near the top of the league in most offensive categories. The team was third in points per game, and sixth in yards per game. Quarterback Tom Brady will miss the first four games of the season, but will return with a vengeance. Lewis carved himself a spot in this offense and will produce this upcoming season.

Lewis should be targeted in all leagues, especially in PPR. Most of his production came through the air, having more yards and just as many touchdowns as he did on the ground. Behind Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, Lewis will be the go-to guy for Brady when he comes back.

Rarely can you trust a Patriots running back, but Lewis seemed to see significant time on the field when he was healthy last season. In his fifth year, he knows the opportunity he has doesn’t come around very often and he will do everything in his power to keep it. I love Lewis in PPR and would still target him in standard leagues. Barring injury, Lewis will be an RB2 with low RB1 potential in standard, and RB1 in PPR.

RB Arian Foster

Let’s look back at the last three years for the newly signed Miami Dolphins running back, Arian Foster. 2013? Foster rushed 121 times for 542 yards through eight games, then hurt his back and missed the rest of the season. 2014? Foster played 13 games, rushing 260 times for 1,264 yards, and then tore his groin muscle in the first practice the following offseason. 2015? After battling back from the groin injury, Foster played 4 games (2.6 YPC) before tearing his Achilles. He hasn’t played a full 16 game season since 2012 and turns 30 next month.

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He’s joining a Dolphins team that ranked 23rd in rushing yards per game last season and has the hardest schedule for all running backs.

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The Dolphins backfield now becomes crowded with the addition of the veteran running back. Sophomore Jay Ajayi and rookie Kenyan Drake were in line to get the majority of the work, and in my opinion, still will. As mentioned with Steve Smith, an Achilles tear is one of the hardest injuries to come back from. There is no way that Foster returns to being the 22.5 touch per game workhorse he was in Houston. Early reports are that he will become involved in the passing game, which makes sense given his age and history.

All in all, Foster is not worth the risk whatsoever and I would avoid him in all drafts. Heck, I could have probably convinced you of that after the first paragraph.

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