This is a vindication year for all those who scoff at Fantasy Football success being built on a foundation of luck. It’s injury luck, or the lack thereof, of which they speak. But all is not hopeless for those bitten by 2017’s particularly brutal injury bug.
So far this year, we’ve lost directly or indirectly about a dozen of the top 50(ish) players. This list includes No. 1 overall pick David Johnson, who didn’t make it out of Week 1, Odell Beckham, Jr., depending on appeal judges probably Ezekiel Elliott, electrifying rookie running back Dalvin Cook and potential bounce-back WR Allen Robinson.
Now Aaron Rodgers is out perhaps for the rest of the year with a broken collarbone leaving not only his teams depleted at quarterback but the owners of receivers Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb veritably hopeless — and the same for anyone who drafted Ty Montgomery or speculated on his electric backup Aaron Jones.
Similarly, in Indianapolis, the extended absence of Andrew Luck has made T.Y. Hilton and unreliable option at wide receiver. And the Vikings uncertain QB situation since the spectacular Week 1 of Sam Bradford has prevented owners of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen from reaping the rewards of excellent drafting.
So you could say it’s not how you draft but how healthy your players end up being.
But these injuries shake what Yahoo colleague Scott Pianowski calls the NFL snow globe, which will surely keep shaking. So this doesn’t mean that the teams that suffered injuries are dead in the water. Sure, you’re hurt. But the next wave of injuries may enable you to replace some of your lost players. The entire quality of the league goes down so it’s all relative and the same rules of player picking that were operational on draft day now simply shift to the waiver wire and trading. That process is usually 1/3 to 1/2 of winning anyway.
You also have randomness working for you in the long run. The playoffs are a long way away. Many things can happen. Even the strongest teams can run into a spate of bad days that cripple their chances and allow a weaker opponent, perhaps one who limped into the postseason as an underdog due to injury woes, to emerge. And those teams that skated through the season relatively unscathed can lose a key player in the first quarter as happened this week to Rodgers’ owners.
By Week 13, at this pace, half the top 50 picks will be impacted by injuries to themselves or their quarterbacks — never mind offensive linemen.
Right now, if you lost David Johnson and have been limping at running back, go for the upside of Alfred Morris with Elliott seemingly set to finally serve his six-game suspension. Darren McFadden is another option but I view him as a useful screen for rostering Morris; McFadden has been inactive and Morris has looked good in impressive Dallas coaches since the spring. I get that the NFL insiders are saying that McFadden is the guy they’ll want to use but then why haven’t they used him?
Note that Morris has averaged 4.4 yards on over 1,000 career carries. That’s 38th all-time.
No quarterback injury is crippling in standard formats. But what are crippling are the ripple effects from the quarterback injury. The Nelson owner is in limbo now. He or she has to play Nelson but what can they expect? The Rodgers owner simply hops on the next QB bus.
The key move for owners with an injury-depleted roster is trading a high-flying player for multiple assets. Basically, you’re trying to grind out wins with a boring, spread-the-risk type of team and hope you get lucky in the postseason (or get injured players like Johnson back in the fold).
The best example of this right now is trading Leonard Fournette for multiple solid parts. I get keeping Fournette, hoping this outrageous ability to score half of his team’s touchdowns holds. But if you have little else besides him, recognize that not only does he have 7 of his team’s 14 touchdowns, but Blake Bortles is a tire fire. The odds of any RB surviving a bottom-five passing environment are still 10-20 percent, tops. Last year Blount led the league with 18 rushing TDs but the Patriots scored 52 that’s 34.6%, not 50%. Fournette is better than Blount, you say? Fine. But he’s not better than David Johnson, who scored 20 of his team’s 48 TDs. Plus, the Jaguars have earned less touchdowns. Currently, their yardage total predicts 30 less points, according to the league average of a point every 15.3 (an average that is constant in NFL history, at least since the merger).
Okay what if you have injuries but don’t have Fournette? Look, I’m teaching you to fish here. Apply it now or in future weeks with your hottest player. Last week, it was Alvin Kamara, who a friend of mine traded for Larry Fitzgerald as a Stefon Diggs/DeVante Parker replacement. You can grind out wins with guys like Fitzgerald. The Kamara owner bought my argument last week that the Saints ground game is going to be mostly a Mark Ingram show (and he owned Ingram).
This week, you can probably trade Adrian Peterson for a Tyreke Hill, who was quiet last week but who is a playmaker in a good offense, or even a Chris Hogan, who was practically invisible vs. the Jets. As Warren Buffett says, no one ever went broke making money.
Bottom line: You can’t set it and forget it this year. You’re going to have to try to dominate the often-overlooked phases of our game, the waiver wire and especially the trade market that’s typically the most neglected aspect of fantasy.