Last season I wrote a piece called Trade Julio Jones. I wrote it a day before the Atlanta Falcons took on the Washington Redskins in their 5th game of the season. From the time of that post through the end of the season (12 more games), Julio Jones on scored four touchdowns and only eclipsed the 100-yard mark in receiving six times.
Considering that most people drafted Julio Jones in the first round last year, this is far from what you expect from your star fantasy wide receiver. Many of you who did not listen to my advice, likely loss your league solely because week after week Julio Jones gave you pedestrian statistics.
Now that I have taken two short paragraphs to say “I told you so”, I will double down by saying that you can’t trust Julio Jones on your fantasy team! If the world were to right itself and somehow he became a second or third round pick, then I would consider Jones as my receiver. Even with Jones limping into the season, most ranking still put him in the top three for wide receivers and nearly everyone who drafts him will draft him as their number one pick. I think this is insane for a player who I think is a lock to be hampered by injuries all season long. Some may be encouraged that Jones started every game last year, but I would contend that his health was at less than average for his position for about 75 percent of the season.
Injury Science continues to lead me to the belief that Julio Jones simply has too much Freaky Talent and has yet to find a way to harness his abilities so that they do not tear up his body. Julio Jones has a history of missing games with multiple hamstring injuries, bone fractures, hip pointers, and a number of minor lower extremity conditions that he has played through. The things that I have mentioned are only the main stream injuries that the public has access to, but who knows what other injuries he has that we don’t hear about. I am betting on an abbreviated season for Jones during which the Atlanta Falcons learn to diversify their targets to other wide receivers now that Roddy White has moved on and Mohamed Sanu has and Aldrick Robinson have moved in.
I am even more sure than I was last season when I said to trade Julio Jones despite him coming into the season with 478 yards and 4 touchdowns in his first four games. I don’t know if it will be the ankle, if it will be a hamstring or groin, or if he steps his injury game up to a more serious level this year; but I think it’s coming early this season and many Julio Jones owners will see their seasons flushed down the toilet.
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 – 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.
You can find comparisons of players all over the internet. Some give you the experts opinions; some crunch a bunch of data based on past and projected numbers; and some just lay the information in front of you for you to decide for yourself. My goal with my “versus” breakdowns is to give you the most important ability of your prospective fantasy player, and that is his availABILITY! I can’t take credit for this line as I have heard Herm Edwards say it many times, but I can attest to its truth. With many years in this fantasy game, I have learned that availability definitely matters most. No matter how great of a team you pick, it is about the team you can actually roster on game day. I will consider each players injury risk floor using various data, as well as their production ceiling. Ultimately I will useInjury Science to make a final recommendation on which player you can count on most!
Odell Beckham Jr.
The wide receiver position can be different for each player as some receivers travel to the middle of the field often to meet up with linebackers and safeties, while some are always down the field or near the sidelines to limit their injury exposure. Odell Beckham Jr. is so special that I really don’t know that he fits either group. He seems to avoid the big hit over the middle with pure speed and quickness. If anything, I fear that Beckham Jr. will injure himself with his own talent rather than another player injuring him. I often use the term “Freaky Talented”and this describes OBJ to a tee. He can run, jump, and cut at a ridiculous rate, and in many cases this type of ability can cause injury if not managed and controlled well. The fact that Beckham has suffered multiple hamstring injuries during his NFL career and a groin injury in college, tells me that he is as much a danger to himself as others are to him. Muscular injuries are usually a symptom of your body not being able to keep up with your own talent. This tendency with Beckham worries me, if I am to consider using no lower than a second round pick on him. Furthermore, Beckham Jr.’s recent training suggest that he is focused on becoming even more explosive. I know being explosive is the name of the game on the football field, but at some point I think a bomb shows that it has enough explosiveness to blow up anything. Upon achieving a bomb with a maximum explositvity, I think I would start thinking about finding ways to contain that bomb if needed. I do not claim to be an insider to Beckham’s workouts, but the publicized videos and descriptions seem to be all about explosion, speed, and quickness. Fantasy owners who plan to invest in OBJ should hope that containment is at least a secondary focus in his training, and that maybe it is simply not as publicized.
With Beckhams injury history, eccentric exercises, muscle balancing exercises, as well as dynamic flexibility activities would be the type of approach which would likely avoid another muscle strain or worse.
Antonio Brown has staked his claim as one of the best wide receivers in the league. From a profile standpoint, Brown almost looks like a more mature version of Odell Beckham Jr. From the standpoint of injury history, Brown shows a much more favorable past. Aside from a concussion that came from a dirty hit last year, Brown has not been injured since 2012 with a high ankle sprain. Considering the volume that he gets as Ben Roethlisberger’s number one wide receiver, this is very impressive. When I looked a little into Antonio Brown’s training regimen, it helped me understand how he stays off of the injury report. It doesn’t take long to find images of Brown holding difficult Pilates poses, and it appears that this has been a staple in his training regimen for some time. Unlike Beckham Jr., I did not hear the word explosion much and the overriding themes were Pilates and field work.
I believe Antonio Brown to be very talented, but I have always put him more in my “Supremely Skilled” category. This category is usually for players who rely more on their skill than their talent, and in looking at Brown’s training; you can see that this is reflected. A player who relies on skill will often do more field work and focus more on things like body control, techniques, etc., while their “Freaky Talented”counterparts are often trying to keep their talent bag filled to the top. At 27 years old, I consider Antonio Brown to be near his physical prime and consider his risk for injury low.
As you could probably pick up on my breakdowns of each player, I consider Antonio Brown the clear choice. The production ceiling is clearly higher with a Pittsburgh Steelers offense that is likely the most aggressive offense in the league. The injury risk floor for Brown and Beckham is about even as the age advantage and weight advantage go to Beckham. Antonio Brown’s sub 190 lb frame will always be somewhat of a risk, as a big hit could likely cause him injury. However, this injury risk factor is somewhat offset with his supreme skill to set up his routes, get in and out of cuts, and get down or out-of-bounds rather than take big hits. Either of these players is capable of the 10 catch, 200 yard, 4 TD game; but Beckham is the most likely one to miss a few quarters or maybe a few games because he blows out a tire from going too fast. The notorious and recurrent nature of hamstring injuries and the appearance that explosiveness is the top priority for Beckham, seals the deal for me. I would not be surprised if Odell Beckham Jr. missed 1-3 games this season. My guess is it would again be some type of soft tissue injury that occurs in direct response to his explosiveness. Hopefully for Odell Beckham Jr. owners, he will not miss any big time spots for you, as it is very difficult to overcome losing such a high pick late in the season.
Pick Antonio Brown over Odell Beckham Jr. with confidence this season and feel comfort that you will likely have a star receiver who will produce for you every single game.