One of the most important aspects of fantasy football—and one of the most challenging to forecast—is injuries. There’s so much variance with injuries that it becomes really difficult to 1) understand when a player is likely to get injured and 2) use that information in any sort of predictive, quantifiable manner.
One of the issues is that we don’t really have great data on injuries to help make predictions. Well, we didn’t, until SportsInjuryPredictor.com came along. Using extensive injury data and a variety of variables, the site uses an algorithm to help predict when players are likely to get injured. Click here for a breakdown of the injury model graphic.
Is it perfect? Of course not, but neither are any of our 2014 fantasy football forecasts. We’re simply trying to tilt the odds in our favor, even if slightly, and that’s what this data can help us do.
Below, you’ll find Sports Injury Predictor’s analysis on 10 high-risk running backs heading into the 2014 season, along with Rotoworld’s fantasy spin.
1. Arian Foster
The Injury Predictor has highlighted Foster as one of the most likely players across all positions to get injured this year.
o He picked up several injuries last year before the back injury took him out for the season. The hamstring and the calf issues that sidelined him for training camp all speak to a body that is in decline.
o His current workload is not helping his health outlook. The Texans passed on drafting a running back with a high pick and let go of Ben Tate in free agency. The Texans are going to ride Foster until he breaks for good.
That last sentence is key, because even though the chance of an injury of course increases with more and more touches, that’s a good thing for fantasy owners. Avoiding a player who is likely to get injured because he will have a heavy workload is akin to forgoing making more money because you need to pay more taxes.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that Foster offers value this year, though. There’s a lot of risk here, so it’s a matter of his ADP and your personal risk tolerance. It’s tough to replicate his expected workload in the late-second or early-third round, which is where he’s getting drafted, but there’s also a decent chance of Foster tanking in 2014.
2. Eddie Lacy
Lacy came into the NFL with injury/conditioning concerns (turf toe issues and a pulled hamstring). He has enough upside to offset the injury risk that he carries, but buyer beware.
o In a six-month span, Lacy fractured his hand, pulled his hamstring, suffered a concussion, and severely sprained his ankle. Bad luck, or a sign of things to come in 2014? Our algorithm has identified these injuries as playing a large factor in Lacy’s outlook for 2014.
o He is a sophomore-year running back. Statistically, rookies and sophomores have a far higher risk of getting injured than veterans.
o Lacy played on an injured ankle for most of last season, which could very well have caused more damage.
This is a great example of where analytics can help us make smarter decisions. Based on anecdotal evidence alone, I would have assumed that older players are more likely to get injured than the youngsters, but that’s apparently not the case.
Despite his past injuries, it seems like for whatever reason people just aren’t labeling Lacy as “injury-prone.” I think Lacy is getting drafted around where he should, but note that you aren’t getting much of a discount on a running back who might carry greater risk than assumed.
3. Ryan Mathews
Mathews appeared to be healthy in 2013 for the first time since he was drafted in 2010. However, this “healthy” 2013 season is misleading because if you look beyond the “games started” statistic, you will see that he suffered a hamstring pull and a concussion that had him removed from two games. So while he did not miss any games, he continued his track record of being injured in every season he has played.
o Mathews’ injury history contains several really severe injuries to his upper and lower body, including a fractured collarbone (2007 and 2012), a fractured foot (2008), torn ankle ligaments (2010) and three concussions.
o The concussions are a cause for concern, as those tend to become cumulative over time, occurring more frequently and with less contact.
o Even though the algorithm does not predict how players respond to injuries, one can observe that Mathews does not play through injury well due to the length of time he takes to get back on the field when reporting an injury.
It’s always been a challenge to use injury information in any meaningful way simply because injuries are really difficult to forecast. I think examining a player’s recovery time potentially has more uses for us because that gives us an idea of how his body deals with stressors. The fact that Mathews hasn’t healed quickly, to me, is more important than his injury frequency.
You can get a discount on Mathews this year, but not enough of one, in my opinion, to offset both the risk and potential workload issues he might run into in San Diego.
4. Andre Ellington
Ellington is interesting, as he has very similar physical measurables to Jamaal Charles (small, elusive and fast) and has a similar injury history to what Charles had at this stage of his career. The question is whether or not Ellington has the bounce-back ability like Charles that makes him such an outlier for a player of his size at this position.
o Ellington had two surgeries in college (foot and ankle).
o In 2013, he missed two games (Week 1 concussion and Week 13 MCL sprain).
o He was unable to fully take part in the combine due to a pulled hamstring.
o Bruce Arians is talking up Ellington as a true workhorse back for 2014, which only increases his likelihood of injury during the season
The Charles comp for Ellington is an interesting one. It seems like the players who best avoid hard contact, such as Charles, Chris Johnson, LeSean McCoy and perhaps Ellington are also the least likely backs to get injured. I don’t think we have a good reason to believe that Ellington’s injuries are due to either him being injury-prone or the result of variance; there’s not enough evidence one way or the other.
The bigger issue for me is Ellington’s workload. If you believe he’s going to see 15-plus carries per game, then he’s going to offer value in the third round.