The common training thread between The Two Best Wide Receivers of the past 10 years

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The wide receiver position is in the spotlight with fantasy football now after taking down the running back position as the most important fantasy position, but what will they do with it.

With week one ending with at least three of the top 20 wide receivers being injured, will this position be able to hold its advantage over the running backs who were shunned due to poor reliability. While the wide receiver position holds a lower injury risk with contact injuries, it seems that the dynamic nature of the position may be neck and neck with running backs when it comes to non-contact injuries.

This made me look a little closer to find trends to these injuries. I initially went with my usual thought process which is valid but can be trumped. I typically believe that Freaky Talented players are at a higher risk for injuries as their bodies endure so much force from their above average size and/or speed. I thought I would find that the receivers were just getting so talented that injuries were increasing with that talent.

This hypothesis led me to the most recent, best wide receivers I could think of….

Calvin Johnson retired last year as the best wide receiver in the league. His production faded a little toward the end of his nine years, but I can win the argument that he was the best when he left.

NFL: Detroit Lions-Training Camp

The best argument to Johnson being the best when he left would have been the current best receiver in the league Antonio Brown. I am sure some of you will point to Julio Jones as an argument, but I will simply sit this link right here and in my most manly voice say “boy, bye!”


These two wide receivers are clearly the two best receivers of the last decade or so, but they are like night and day if you just glance at them. Calvin Johnson stands 6-foot and 5-inches tall and weighs in at 236 when he retired and Antonio Brown is a pedestrian 5-foot 10-inches and weighs in at 186 lbs.  Physically I could find no comparison to explain why both receivers who played nearly every play for their team were able to stay on the field and avoid injury.

At first glance I would have expected ligament and joint injury from Calvin Johnson, considering he moved that 236 lbs around faster than nearly every wide receiver in the league with a 4.35-40 yard dash time. Johnson was rumored to have bad knees but they couldn’t have been that bad as he only missed 9 games in 9 years and is scheduled to hit the “Dancing with the Stars” stage this season.

At first glance with Antonio Brown, I would have expected a DeSean Jackson type wide receiver who has missed 17 games in 8 seasons as his small frame appears to make him vulnerable to injury. Brown defies this logic as in six seasons, he has only missed three games due to injury.

In essence Calvin Johnson should have been getting beat up by his body and Antonio Brown should be getting beat up by other bodies.

This has not been the case, and it makes sense when you study each player closely. I have always been a proponent of functional training that incorporates balance and control. I value eccentric movements more than concentric movement, as eccentric usually protects from injury, while concentric many times causes injury. This is why I frown upon players who seem to only focus on becoming more explosive. Like many things in life, the best decision is to have balance be the goal.

The best way to avoid an injury is to be in control. Almost every non contact injury you can think of stems from losing control. If your body moves in a direction too far, something gets injured. If something moves too fast, something gets injured. Control is the key, and it seems that Johnson and Brown both understand this.

Both of these star wide receivers incorporate Pilates into their training, and I believe this is one of the primary reasons they enjoyed such healthy careers.

The three factors I like to look at first when I analyze a players injury profile is their weight, speed, and training regimen. Often times I get to the training part and see the same thing over and over. Players are focused on more speed, more strength and more explosion. I have nothing against these areas of focus when there is a need, but sometimes I feel like athletes are trying to put more water in a glass that is already full. This reminds me of the guy in the gym who only bench presses, despite the fact that his chest is huge, his max is 500 lbs, but his calves look like toothpicks. In this scenario, the explosive skill set that players are striving for represents the chest and the lack of control that some of these athletes have are the toothpick calves.

I hate to see a player coming back from injury show off these crazy fast twitch muscle fiber drills as a sign that they’re back. I usually want to jump through the screen and encourage them to meditate, do yoga, join a Pilates class, or focus on some eccentric contraction activity. 

I am glad to see that some of them get it, when it comes to how to train a body and skill set that has been blessed with talent. Sometimes talent just needs to be controlled.

If players like Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. follow in the footsteps of Calvin Johnson and Antonio Brown with training regimens that are conducive to preservation and progression in a balanced way, we all win by getting to watch their greatness for longer.


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The tide has officially turned! Many fantasy football owners are shying away from taking running backs as their first round picks. As much as I generally hate being a part of the crowd, I think I will side with the masses on this one. Unless I am picking late in the first round and David Johnson or LeVeon Bell fall to me, I will be waiting until the second or third round for the running back position.

Although average draft position for running backs is falling, we all have to take a running back at some point. For most of us, our running back will be the second priority which still makes it a decision that you must do well with to win.

When you consider that this entire wave of demoting the running back in fantasy football can be traced back to the position proving itself to be high risk based on the durability and injury issues that running backs face, it would make sense to use that exact thought process to further rule out certain running backs. This is where I come in. There are three running backs that are being ranked in the top ten that I not only would move down, but I would completely take off my board based on Injury Science

Mark Ingram – I wrote a recent piece on players returning from injury and I completely forgot about Mark Ingram. I guess this gives you a hint of how I feel about Ingram being on my fantasy team. Someone on twitter asked about his injury outlook and I suddenly remembered that he existed. Subconsciously I think I block out certain players who I know I can’t depend on, and Ingram would be near the top of this list. Ingram’s career game logs prove my case with ease, as you will notice that he only has one season (in 2012) during which he played in all 16 games. Although Ingram is only 26 years-old, he may as well be 35 years-old as far as I am concerned, as he finds a new way to be injured every year.

Ingram’s most recent injury is a pretty significant one as he underwent rotator cuff repair surgery in December of 2015. I have rehabilitated many rotator cuff repairs and trust me, a lot of things that can go wrong during rotator cuff recovery. The most important thing to know about the rotator cuff muscle group is that they are always working. The four muscles that make up the rotator cuff are at work 24/7 with the job of stabilizing the humerus (the upper arm bone). This is important to note as it allows you to imagine the type of endurance these muscle must achieve to function. I often see people (not my patients) doing rotator cuff exercises with heavy weights and low reps and it always causes me to give this dissertation on how the cuff muscles are very small and all about endurance. For any of you who have trained for muscular endurance, you can appreciate that this takes time.

At the start of the season Mark Ingram will be about 8 months status post surgery, which is on the early border of an appropriate return from this procedure. I believe his shoulder will come into the season at less than 100 percent, and likely end the season at less than 100 percent. The repetition in his position mixed with the role of the rotator cuff simply don’t give a favorable outlook for optimal use of that arm throughout the entire season. The average patient with a rotator cuff repair has to deal with bouts of inflammation, stiffness, and sometimes impingement that causes pain and weakness; these risk are only multiplied with a football player playing the most physically intense position on the field. Look for a short peak of productivity in the middle of the season for Ingram that will be sandwiched by a sub par beginning and sub par ending to his season. Furthermore, his history strongly suggest that it is not his shoulder that you need to be worrying about, as he is likely to have a brand new injury for 2016.

Ezekiel Elliot – I know this is one of those players that I will not be able to convince many fantasy owners to take off their draft board, but I think Ezekiel Elliot will become the poster child for not drafting a running back in the first round. I not only believe that fantasy owners will be disappointed if they draft Ezekiel Elliot, but I believe that the Dallas Cowboys will be disappointed as well. Elliot is definitely what I would classify as a “Freaky Talented” athlete. There are many ways to identify these athletes but I will tell you an easy way that doesn’t require any real research. I discovered this method early in my high school football career by playing against a running back named Eddie Gaskins. When you see a guy with a chubby face and a six-pack for abs, you are in trouble. I think this is some type of “Freaky Talented” trait that I don’t understand yet, but it is one of my unofficial ways of designating these athletes. As for the official way of designating these types of athletes, I simply look at the measurable’s. Ezekiel Elliot is 225 lbs, which is considered big for a running back with the average running back in the NFL weighing about 215 lbs. Despite his size, his 40-yard dash time is an impressive 4.47 seconds. That combination of size and speed is really all he needs to get the “Freaky Talented” designation from me. If that is not enough for you, just watch any of the Ohio State Buckeyes games from the past 2 years and you will be convinced. I can definitely see why my arch-enemy Dallas Cowboy fans are excited about their new addition. However, those Cowboy fans may not be as excited about this next part.

Part of projecting how someone will perform is to find comparable players. Player that are the same speed, body type, and position is a good start in evaluating what a players injury risk may be. I evaluated my 2015 SEP Reliability Ratings for the running backs to see which running backs compared most favorable to Ezekiel Elliot and then looked at their rookie year’s to make sure the comparison still lined up. After reviewing all the current NFL running backs, the two that compare most favorably to Elliot were Ryan Matthews of the Philadelphia Eagles and Chris Ivory who is now playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Matthews came in the league at 218 lbs and running a 4.46; and Ivory came in the league at 222 lbs and running a 4.48. They both have a style like Elliot where they choose to run defenders over rather than go around; and the absolute clincher was that they both have the chubby face trait with body builder bodies to match (although Ivory has put on a few since his rookie year). While these are pretty good comparisons for Elliot, as both these players are at least still in the league as productive players, the injury profile of their first three seasons combined look like this:

Injuries (between both Matthews and Ivory) – ankle sprain, calf strain, concussions, broken clavicle, MCL sprain, hamstring strains, Lisfranc fracture, sports hernia, etc.

Games missed (between both Matthews and Ivory) – 34 games in 3 years (plus extra time missed during the games they played in)

If an average of almost one and a half injuries per year and more than five missed games per year is even close to what Ezekiel Elliot is in for, I don’t think Jerry Jones and Cowboy fans will be too happy. The fact is that a big body with that much speed in todays NFL is an injury waiting to happen as lots of mass and lots of speed equals lots of force (literally: force = mass x acceleration squared). I don’t wish injuries on anyone (even Dallas Cowboy’s), but it is very likely that Elliot’s body will not be able to keep up with his talent which will cause something to eventually fail. If Elliot’s own body doesn’t get him, he has all the high-speed collisions with linebackers and safeties to play clean up. This may not be enough to truly call him a bust, but what do you think the San Diego Chargers think about drafting Ryan Matthews now? Does anyone even remember that Chris Ivory played for the New Orleans Saints?

Just like Las Vegas, I could be wrong. Buster Douglas did knock out Mike Tyson and Ronda Rousey almost got her face kicked off by Holly Holm in huge upsets; but those buildings in Vegas are big for a reason. They use data and processes to figure these things out, in other words they use science. The Injury Science here definitely points to Ezekiel Elliot having an injury plagued career, which seems to have already gotten underway with his recent hamstring injury. I don’t think I need to preach about the difficulties of the infamous hamstring injury as I believe most fantasy owners dread hearing those words about one of their players.

jamaal charles back

Jamaal Charles – I feel like I short-changed Jamaal Charles in earlier post, as I did not explain myself well enough. Let’s take all the emotion out of it, and lets ignore the near fantasy legend that Charles has been in recent years and simply look at the facts.

A 199 lb running back (average running back weighs about 215 lbs) approaching 30 years-old this season who is recovering from his second ACL repair and has a full season completion percentage of only 37.5% for his career. Add in the fact that he will get no game reps in the pre-season and has two hungry young running backs itching to replace him. Do you really want to draft the guy I just described?

Either I am missing something and am very wrong on Jamaal Charles or the countless ranking that unanimously put Charles in the top ten are crazy. I guess it is easy to say there was a train once it hits you, but I hope many of you are like me and want to see the train coming. I strongly suggest to stay away from Jamaal Charles in your upcoming drafts. I will take a quarterback before I take Jamaal Charles and we all know how long we are supposed to wait for quarterbacks.

I know how hard it is when a big name is just sitting there and it’s almost like muscle memory to draft someone who the data says you shouldn’t. Let some one else in your league make the mistake of drafting one of these three running backs and thank me later.


How Injury Science can give you an edge in your fantasy football draft

With fantasy drafts quickly approaching, many of us are looking at various types of data to decide who to draft and when to draft them. In my opinion, Injury Science is one of the most underrated angles that can be used pre-draft to help decide the value of a player. Being able to decipher which injuries to stay away from vs. which injuries to ignore could be the difference between winning and losing. Some people will fade players that will return to the field playing at a high level; and some will draft players who have little chance of playing to their full potential due to the lingering effects of an injury from last season. Here are some players recovering from injury that you might be interested in:

Steve Smith Sr. (ruptured Achilles)- This is in no specific order, but I will admit that Steve Smith Sr. is easily my favorite player in the league. With that said, I don’t expect him to be nearly as productive as his normal self and I think we may get a Kobe like farewell tour out of the Allen Iverson of the NFL. I fear that Smith will have very little explosion from what was termed a “double rupture” of his Achilles, and the only way I am playing Smith Sr. is in daily fantasy and on a week where his motivation has been heightened. I believe Smith Sr. has one or two good games left in him. Otherwise, fantasy owners should completely fade him as this injury is a career closer for an explosive position such as wide receiver.

Jordy Nelson (ACL tear)– Many of these ACL cases will sound like a regurgitation of my feelings. I don’t want any skilled players with ACL tears that are less than two years removed from surgery on my fantasy team. That is my rule and Jordy Nelson is no different. The latest news has him suffering from a left knee injury, which is not surprising considering he is not at his one year mark for the ACL tear he suffered last pre-season. I don’t fear the ACL repair failing with these guys, but I fear the delayed return of their normal body mechanics and the compensations that occur when the mind does not trust the body. Nelson is likely to play most of the season; but I am betting that the combination of being 31 years old and being one year removed from ACL repair means that we see the pre-2013 Jordy Nelson who you do not want on your fantasy team.

Kelvin Benjamin (ACL tear)– Kelvin Benjamin has the benefit of being younger than Jordy Nelson as he enters his 3rd season in the NFL, but my rule remains the same. I expect him to struggle to get back into game form and likely show his normal skill set late in the year. Benjamin may be a consideration for daily fantasy during the latter part of the season, but I wouldn’t draft him in season long leagues as he is another player that is hovering around that one year mark. Just in case you missed it earlier–No ACL repairs that are less than two years removed from surgery on my fantasy team!

Keenan Allen (lacerated kidney)– Keenan Allen is on this list because he missed half the season, but in truth I would completely ignore the lacerated kidney that finished off his season last year. The chances of him having a recurrence of this type of injury is very slim and as a fantasy owner, my hope is that others are deterred them from picking him. Allen is someone I would keep my eye on, especially in PPR leagues as I believe he picks up exactly where he left off with a high volume of catches and the potential for some huge games. At the age of 24 years old and with very little injury history prior to last year, Keenan Allen may one of the best values on this list.

Kevin White (lower leg stress fracture)-Kevin White is a perfect example of why I use caution when investing in “Freaky Talented” athletes. When you are 6-foot-3 inches, 216 lbs, and run a 4.35 40-yard dash; there are consequences. The stress fracture to White’s tibia is a sign that his body is not likely to keep up with his level of talent for long durations. This injury basically says that White’s muscles are creating so much force and speed that his bones simply can’t withstand it. Ruling White in or out based on his injury alone would be very difficult. However, when I consider that his coach wants balance, he is a clear number two option to Alshon Jeffery, and that his quarterback is Jay Cutler, the risk/reward equation definitely tips in the risk direction. I would fade White this season unless the injury prone Alshon Jeffery goes down and White becomes the top option for the Bears at receiver. White definitely has the talent to be a fantasy superstar, but I don’t think his body will hold up for him to realize his full potential.

LeVeon Bell (MCL tear)-I have made my feeling about LeVeon Bell very clear on a few occasions. I believe he will enter the season at 100% and if he keeps his weight down, I consider him no lower than the second best fantasy players earth. As a fantasy owner, I am far more worried about Bell’s pending suspension and his weight than I am about his injury status.

Jamaal Charles (ACL tear)– I read an article earlier this summer that made the case that Charles may be the most under-valued back in fantasy this season. I would like to tell that writer that YOU ARE WRONG! By the time Charles recovers from this ACL injury he will be staring 30 years old dead in the face; and for a running back I translate these facts to mean it’s over. I believe the Jamaal Charles that was a fantasy beast for so many years is officially gone, and at best we get a player who is a solid contributor to a running back by committee duo or trio. Those who use a high pick on Charles will definitely regret it. The injury wrap sheet for Jamaal Charles is too long for me to rattle off here, but trust me, it’s over!

Tony Romo (collarbone fracture) – I’m not really sure Romo is worth talking about. He has the best offensive line in the business and somehow manages to fracture bones on a yearly basis. With the Dallas Cowboys being a running team and Tony Romo’s injury floor being pretty high, I’m not sure why anyone would take Romo as more than a situational fantasy start. Tony Romo doesn’t strike me as being a gym guy beyond what is required of him, but he might benefit from adding a bit more muscle to absorb these hits that are causing him fractures. I doubt much will change with Romo’s body and I think we can expect another abbreviated season from him.

Joe Flacco (ACL tear)– Joe Flacco comes closest to making me break my ACL rules, but not quite. Flacco plans to wear a brace to protect his plant leg and despite his big arm, I believe this will have a negative effect on his performance this year. With the Baltimore Ravens offense being inconsistent at best, I see no reason to trust Joe Flacco who will only be about 10 months out of surgery when opening day comes around. I expect Flacco’s production to decline some and his fantasy value to stay in the basement.

Andrew Luck (shoulder sprain/strain)– I have already detailed why I may be targeting Andrew Luck as my top quarterback and this has not changed. I think Andrew Luck enters the season at 100% and despite last years issues, he continues to present as one of the least risky players in fantasy football. By nature the quarterback has a low injury risk, but add in the fact that Luck is 6-foot 4 inches and over 230 lbs, and no quarterback outside of Cam Newton has a better body to body ratio when it comes to taking on defenders. As Luck continues to mature, I think we will see a quarterback who will be difficult to injure. All of the injuries from last year are of little concern with the exception of the right should subluxation, which I consider to be a low risk to recur. I am hopeful that many will sleep on Andre Luck and allow him to fall in drafts as I expect him to be the top fantasy quarterback of the 2016 season.