Reviewing the Injury Report from the Ultimate Draft Kit (Fantasy Football)

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In this space, transparency is key. Too often in life, we celebrate the hits but fail to reflect on the misses. Think about it – How often are you scrolling Twitter and seeing fantasy gamers posting screenshots of their DFS winnings from the week prior or a bettor posting a screenshot of his or her winning ticket on a four-team parlay? Probably pretty often, right? Now, think about how often you hear analysts tell you what they got wrong. Or, consider how often you see screenshots on social media of a DFS player losing $250. That probably never happens, right?

Most people have heard of the old adage “Process over results,” right? Well, what exactly does that mean? Being able to reflect on why or how something happened instead of what happened will help improve our process and make us more successful long term. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk. Now let’s talk football.

One of my favorite things about the DFS Podcast that I host with Kyle is that we spend some time every week reflecting on the week before. We talk through what we got right, what we got wrong, and how we could have been more thorough in our process to make us more successful long term. Until now, I had never really done that when I look back at what I wrote in the Ultimate Draft Kit the year prior. As the injury lead on staff, I’ve been writing the Injury Report section of the Ultimate Draft Kit for the last four seasons, but I never took the time to look back on my analysis…until now. Below are my biggest takeaways from the 2020 UDK.

Biggest Hits

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

2020 UDK Blurb: Initial reports last year indicated that Big Ben ruptured the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his right elbow in Week 2 of the 2019 season. However, it appears this information was incorrect as details have finally emerged that Ben tore three tendons in his forearm…Ben underwent surgery shortly after to repair the torn tendons, and now knowing this, his quick recovery makes sense. This injury carries a shorter recovery timeline than your traditional Tommy John surgery, and the outcomes are more favorable, especially in quarterbacks compared to baseball pitchers….Short term outlook is very favorable after this procedure, but there is still some concern for long-term longevity, which is more relevant if you’re playing in dynasty leagues. However, for 2020, my confidence in Ben is rising, and he’ll most certainly be ready for Week 1″

Analysis: The reports regarding Big Ben’s elbow surgery in the middle of the 2019 season all indicated Ben ruptured the Tommy John ligament on the inside of his elbow. However, he posted videos of him throwing early in his recovery – much earlier than a throwing athlete who underwent Tommy John surgery. As a result, it seemed as though this injury diagnosis was being misreported, as there’s no way an athlete would be allowed to throw three months removed from Tommy John surgery. Using recovery timelines, it made much more sense that Ben’s injury was to repair tendons in his forearm. Thankfully, we were on the right side of this one, and in fact, Ben threw the ball 608 times last season, tied for the second-most of his 17-year career.

Will Fuller V, WR, Miami Dolphins

2020 UDK Blurb: It was a down year in 2019 for Will Fuller, who was hampered by multiple hamstring strains coming off 2018 ACL surgery in his knee. As I discussed in last year’s Ultimate Draft Kit, Will Fuller was a player who made me nervous given the fact that he was recovering from his ACL surgery and was also a player who had previously been plagued by hamstring injuries. However, 2020 could very well be the season we see Fuller puts it all together. Fuller does carry greater risk than other players given his history of multiple hamstring strains, but he’ll be in his second season removed from ACL surgery, and research indicates players perform at a higher level in year two post-operatively. There is some risk with Will Fuller given the hamstring injuries, but compared to last year Fuller has a much better chance of staying on the field in 2020.”

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Analysis: The “injury-prone” narrative let a WR1 on a point per game basis fall all the way to round 6 or 7 in redraft and best-ball formats. Yes, Will Fuller came with risk in 2020, and he’ll come with risk again in 2021 given his injury history, but failure to look at this player’s overall profile and bake in the risk-to-reward ratio let Fuller slip in 2020 drafts….but here’s the thing. The risk with Will Fuller was already baked into his average draft position. How many years can you take a potential WR1 in the 6th or 7th round of a draft? Almost never. Will Fuller spent time rehabbing with a different strength and conditioning coach, changed his running posture, and worked with a different nutritionist in his second season removed from ACL surgery, yet fantasy managers didn’t want to buy into a potential bounce back for a player who was stepping into a WR1 role sans DeAndre Hopkins with one of the best quarterbacks in football in Deshaun Watson. Understanding relative risk is important in this example, as Fuller could have easily strained his hamstring in Week 1 and proved all the doubters right, but for a 7th round pick, there was essentially zero risk with this player given that the investment was minor. Had Fuller been going in the first three rounds, he would have been an easy fade given injury risk.

Evan Engram, TE, New York Giants

2020 UDK Blurb: Engram’s 2019 came to a premature ending after he suffered a Lisfranc sprain. After spending 6 weeks attempting to rehab the sprain, he underwent surgery in late December with foot specialist, Dr. Robert Anderson. Given that Engram’s foot surgery took place in December, fantasy owners should expect a slow start to 2020. Most research supports that a minimum of 6 months is needed for the athlete to get back on the field, so Engram should be ready for Week 1, but don’t expect Engram to be back to his pre-injury level of play. Up to 70% of athletes experience pain upon returning to the field, suggesting this could be a management issue for the first month or so of the season.”

Analysis: Evan Engram‘s outlook in 2020, especially early in the season was relatively straightforward. It was difficult to envision a scenario where Engram got off to a strong start given the abundance of data in the research regarding Lisfranc injuries in NFL players. Engram’s 2020 season started as follows over the first six weeks: TE37, TE14, TE35, TE17, TE11, TE27. Through the first six weeks of the season, Engram was essentially unusable for fantasy football. Granted, there were many moving factors here with Engram – a new coaching staff, an unproven QB in Daniel Jones, and a Covid offseason, so we can’t necessarily point to the injury as the lone factor for his slow start. Still, there always seemed to be more downside with Engram entering 2020, and fortunately, we were on the right side of this one.

Biggest Misses

Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings

2020 UDK Blurb: In his 3-year NFL career, Cook has missed a total of 19 games. His injury history includes an ACL reconstruction procedure in his left knee from 2017 and now multiple shoulder surgeries on both shoulders. Most recently, Cook missed three games in 2019 because of shoulder injuries. He sprained the SC joint in his right shoulder earlier in the year then also suffered an injury consistent with a likely AC joint sprain on the left shoulder in Week 14. Cook had surgery to repair the labrum in his shoulder in 2014 (high school) and 2017 (college), so any additional shoulder injury exponentially increases his re-injury risk. Cook is fantastic when he’s on the field, but the shoulder injuries are piling up, and the risk is quite high.”

Analysis: There was never an argument from me that Cook wasn’t worthy of a 1st round selection in 2020 redraft leagues. He’s clearly one of the best backs in football and is coming off a career year in 2020. My concern with Dalvin Cook was primarily his recurring shoulder injuries that actually date back to high school and college. These injuries have now trickled over into the NFL. When you consider injury history plus the fact that first-round running backs get injured at an elevated rate there seemed to be a big-time downside with Cook given his first-round ADP. Missing on Cook in drafts hurt last season.

Odell Beckham Jr, WR, Cleveland Browns

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2020 UDK Blurb: Odell Beckham dealt with groin and hip pain for the entire 2019 season. In a recent YouTube post, OBJ admitted that he suffered a groin injury in training camp that was later revealed as a sports hernia and a torn adductor (groin) muscle. These injuries are notorious for being extremely painful with any type of explosive movements. It’s safe to say OBJ was playing at far less than 100% in 2019. Now about 6 months removed from surgery, OBJ is on track for a bounce-back campaign in 2020. These surgeries typically heal reliably in about 8 or so weeks. Studies show that players following this procedure are usually able to achieve their pre-injury level of play, suggesting this could be a bounce-back year for OBJ.”

Analysis: Perhaps I’m being too hard on myself calling this a miss, but I was in on the Odell Beckham bounce back, at least from a health perspective. The ACL injury suffered by Beckham in Week 7 certainly plays a role in chalking this up as a miss, but in reality, those injuries are difficult to predict unless the player has a history of a previous ACL injury. In terms of his on-field performance through the first six weeks, Beckham finished outside of the top 40 WRs in a given week four times. There are question marks about the chemistry between Baker Mayfield and Beckham so that definitely could have contributed to a lackluster start to the year, but it’s also possible that Beckham wasn’t quite back to 100% yet coming off his offseason surgery. I’ll certainly be taking a deeper look at Beckham in the 2021 Ultimate Draft Kit given his injury history as outlined below.

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Final Thoughts

Overall, the 2020 injury section of the Ultimate Draft Kit was chalked full of good, accurate analysis. Hopefully, it helped the #FootClan dominate in 2020, but there’s room to grow. In this year’s 2021 Ultimate Draft Kit, I plan on adding some deeper analysis behind these players’ injuries to further help us predict success, identify values and better discuss the risk-to-reward ratio. If you’re looking for even more injury information, consider supporting the team over at JoinTheFoot.com, where you’ll gain access to The Injury Blitz Podcast, an exclusive bonus in-season show for #FootClan Premier supporters!

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