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Elite Players Returning from Injury: Fantasy Impact

The 2017 season was just plain tough on fantasy owners. In a year littered with fantasy studs suffering season-ending injuries, the fantasy landscape at the end of the year looked drastically different than last draft season. This past year left most fantasy owners with broken hearts thanks to injuries to players like perennial star Aaron Rodgers, exciting rookies Deshaun Watson and Dalvin Cook, and many other lineup staples. Below I will review some of the elite fantasy players returning from injury at each position and a glimpse of what you can expect from them this upcoming season.

Quarterbacks

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Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone in Week 6 against the Vikings and didn’t play again until Week 15. He later returned to the sideline the final two weeks after The Pack were eliminated from playoff contention. Before his injury, Rodgers was the #5 ranked QB in total fantasy points, throwing for over 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns, and adding over 120 yards on the ground. Rodgers is back to full health and will be ready to roll for fantasy owners in 2018.

Given his ADP (26th overall), fantasy owners seem unconcerned with his injury and are eager to take him as the first QB off the board. This season offers some challenges for Rodgers, however. He has the second toughest schedule for QBs and will have to find a new trusty target after WR Jordy Nelson signed with the Oakland Raiders. With the likes of Davante Adams, Jimmy Graham, sleeper Geronimo Allison and an improved rushing attack, the premier fantasy QB will still have the weapons he needs to light it up all season. Rodgers is the best fantasy option at the position, consistently producing big numbers year after year. He is worth the top QB pick but people may reach for him, so be ready to use an early pick if you want him on your roster.

Deshaun Watson

After taking the NFL and fantasy leagues by storm, Texans QB Deshaun Watson tore his ACL in practice leading into Week 9. Watson put up monstrous numbers prior to the injury; throwing for 2+ touchdowns in five of his seven games. In three of those games, he threw for 4+ touchdowns. Before going down, Watson was #2 in total points at his position behind only Alex Smith. He boasted nearly 1,700 passing yards, 19 passing touchdowns, 268 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns.

With QB magician Bill O’Brien (i.e. Christian Hackenberg – I’m a Penn State Grad) now confident in Watson over Tom Savage, Watson will get to lead the offense from Week 1.  He’ll look to replicate his stellar fantasy performance for an entire season, which is no small feat.

Fantasy owners hold lofty fantasy expectations for Watson and they should be aware that his small sample size, while impressive, isn’t representative of the level he will perform at all year long. For example, Watson’s TD rate from a year ago of 9.3 percent is completely unsustainable. But with the third easiest QB schedule, DeAndre Hopkins outside, and his dynamic rushing ability, Watson still figures to be an elite fantasy QB. At the right value, I’d be happy to have him as my QB1 but he is going off the board at ADP 39, which is too much of an investment for me given his inexperience.

Running Backs

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David Johnson

David Johnson suffered a wrist injury in Week 1 of the season and never saw the field again, though rumors of return gave fantasy owners false hope all the way through the season. The star running back of the Arizona Cardinals was the top running back in 2016 by more than 80 points over Ezekiel Elliot in PPR format. Twenty TDs and 2,100 all-purpose yards from 2016 will be hard to match, but the Cardinals will still run their offense through Johnson. He should end the season with one of the highest touch totals of all running backs (373 in 2016).

This season, Johnson takes the hand-offs from a new face: either game manager Sam Bradford or rookie Josh Rosen. Given the uncertainty at the position, the Cardinals might lean even heavier on Johnson compared to two seasons ago. Arizona looks like they could be playing from behind a lot this season, so Johnson should see plenty of receptions out of the backfield. In 2016, he received 120 targets and caught 80 for 879 yards and four TDs. After his legs enjoyed a year off, the duel-threat workhorse is fresh and ready to perform as a top 5 RB in 2018. I have Johnson as my #3 RB behind Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell.

Dalvin Cook

The rookie from Florida State saw a promising start to his rookie season cut short by a torn ACL in Week 4. Cook was the bell cow back prior to his early injury with 74 rushes and 11 receptions through three games. Jerick McKinnon, who rushed 150 times and had 51 receptions last year in Cook’s absence, left for San Francisco in the off-season. He left behind over 200 touches and 1,000 yards for Cook to snatch up.

Add that he looks to have the third easiest schedule for running backs and a highly potent offense surrounding him, Cook certainly will have plenty of opportunities to produce significant fantasy impact. Cook participated in OTAs and training camp and looked healthy and ready to go for 2018. He has the makings of a Top 10 RB in his sophomore season and is worth a late round first pick in 12 team leagues.

Wide Receivers

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Odell Beckham, Jr.

Beckham Jr. broke his ankle in Week 5 against the Chargers, devastating many fantasy owners and Giants fans alike. Since then, he’s engaged in off-season contract/trade talks for the Giants due to his rookie contract expiring after the 2018 season. The contract talks are a good thing to hear from an injury perspective, as it seems that he has recovered well and is ready to go for the season.

Using stats from the first four weeks of last season and projecting them out over a full 16 games, Odell would have finished as WR3 overall. With over 130 targets, 90 receptions and double-digit touchdowns in each of his first four seasons, it’s safe to say that Beckham Jr. is elite and will be a top fantasy WR1 again this year.

Odell will lose touches to RB Saquon Barkley, undoubtedly, as the number two pick can literally do it all. The Giants have not had a good running back to take pressure off Eli and Odell in a long time, so they will look to get Barkley the ball often. In what could be a high-powered Giants offense, you can safely lock Odell into your WR1 slot and leave him there until his bye week. I have him ranked behind Antonio Brown and DeAndre Hopkins and virtually ranked as a tie with Michael Thomas and Julio Jones.

Allen Robinson

Allen Robinson, another Penn State product like Barkley, suffered a season-ending ACL tear on his third snap of 2017 for the Jaguars. Now, Robinson finds himself on a new team, the Chicago Bears, with another unproven QB, Mitchell Trubisky. The Bears have a new offensive-minded head coach in Matt Nagy, which should bode well for Robinson and the rest of the Bears offense. The previous Kansas City OC hopefully brings success with him but Robinson also needs Trubisky to take a huge step forward in his sophomore season (threw only seven TDs in 2017).

This could actually be the best on-paper offense Robinson has been a part of with players like Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen and Trey Burton lining up alongside him. Robinson could fly slightly under the radar amongst fantasy owners heading into their drafts, so pay attention to his ADP. Robinson was the 6th ranked receiver in 2015 with 80 catches, 1,400 yards and 14 TDs and the 25th in 2016 with only 883 yards and 6 TDs. In 2018, he looks to end up closer to his 2016 numbers and has high-end WR2 upside given his WR1 talent; however, iffy quarterback play could hurt him throughout the season.

Julian Edelman

Injured for all of 2017 and now suspended for the first four games of 2018, Julian Edelman will be drafted below his real value this season. The Patriots’ receiver tore his ACL in a preseason game last summer and is now suspended for PEDs. It appears to be a dim outlook for his 2018 fantasy impact on the surface, but Edelman offers great upside at his ADP. When he returns, he will be at 100 percent and should slide in as the favorite receiving option given both Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola is gone. This means Edelman will be the top target on a team that usually has 4-5 fantasy relevant players not named Tom Brady.

Edelman’s draft stock is falling due to his suspension with a current ADP of 87, around WR 30. In the past four seasons when he has played at least 13 games, Edelman caught over 90 receptions and over 950 yards per year. In 2016, Edelman was third in the league in targets and had over 1,00o receiving yards. Brady clearly loves getting the ball in his hands, which translates to consistent fantasy performance (particularly in PPR). Getting someone who receives that many looks as the 30th receiver off the board equals a tremendous value. That is if you are willing to wait for him to get back from suspension. Keep an eye on Edelman this year as he could become one of the better fantasy picks of 2018.

 

Players returning from injury can be daunting in fantasy–just make sure you know which ones to invest in more than your opponents come draft day!

If you have questions or feedback or just liked what you heard and want to see more, follow me on Twitter @TravisFinkel.  I’ll be covering redraft for TFA this season, so keep an eye out for more tweets and posts!

Statistical Sources

Rotoworld Football

FantasyPros

Fantasy Football Calculator

 

 

Travis Finkel is a fantasy football writer covering Buy and Sell for The Fantasy Authority and QB,TE,D/ST Streaming Options for The Scorecrow. He is also a News Desk Correspondent for FantasyPros. I like stashing defenses.

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