Fantasy Football: Should you draft or fade these high-profile players returning from injury?

By Adam Hutchison, 4for4

Special to Yahoo Sports

We are in the thick of it at this point — it is fantasy football draft season. A significant part of preparing for fantasy football drafts is understanding average draft positions (ADPs) and utilizing them to your advantage when constructing your team. There are multiple variables that make up a player’s ADP: Offensive scheme, past success and new arrivals/departures.

Another key factor is injuries.

Below I discuss some of my favorite values and as well as players I am avoiding based on their injury history that is likely baked into ADP. I believe these are players that you should examine for yourself and decide if they are worth targeting in your draft(s).

Fantasy Football Buys

Derrick Henry - Yahoo ADP: 5.3

King Henry might feel like a strange player to be discussing here but even as the fifth or sixth player being selected in fantasy drafts, I still feel like the Titans' RB is being disrespected. There is a notion that Henry is finally starting to show signs of “breaking down” — exemplified by his 2021 Jones Fracture that caused him to miss the last nine games of the regular season.

What’s not often discussed, however, is how quickly Henry was able to return to play after his injury.

Jones Fractures return to play timelines in NFL. (Photo by
Jones Fractures return to play timelines in NFL. (Photo by

Henry came back sooner than expected and tried to help Tennessee in their playoff game versus the Bengals.

There is certainly a discussion to be had regarding Henry's workload. However, at 6-3, 250lbs, this is not your average RB. In my opinion, this injury was indirectly related to Henry's workload. When you touch the ball as often as he does, injuries are bound to happen. Prior to 2021 Henry only missed two games due to injury over his entire NFL career. After Jonathan Taylor and Christian McCaffrey, I am personally finding it difficult to find another player to draft ahead of Derrick Henry.

Saquon Barkley - Yahoo ADP: Round 2, Pick 20.6

Saquon Barkley has universally been labeled as “injury prone” which is why, despite his immense upside, he is still essentially a second-to-third-round pick. It’s understandable. After a slow start to the 2021 season, Barkley sustained an ankle injury that cost him four games in the middle of the season. Coming off ACL reconstruction (ACLR) fantasy managers tend to lump these two injuries together but Barkley's ankle injury was merely poor luck when he stepped on a defender's foot after the play was over:

Prior to the ankle injury, Barkley was a top-12 RB in PPR leagues despite not cresting 90 percent of the Giants' snaps.

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I discuss this in more depth below, but typically the year after an ACL reconstruction yields a subpar fantasy performance for NFL running backs. Combine this with an ankle injury and Barkley’s disappointing 2021 season can be rationalized. With Brian Daboll arriving in New York and another year removed from his ACLR, look for Barkley to return to form, which would merit more than his current ADP suggests.

Chris Godwin - Yahoo ADP: 94.4

When news broke that Chris Godwin would not start the preseason on the PUP I fully expected his ADP to skyrocket. But two weeks from the start of the 2022 NFL season the Buccaneers' slot receiver ADP remains unchanged.

It’s important to know that, should Godwin start in Week 1, he would be quite an outlier. Since 2013, NFL WRs have 48 weeks from their ACL surgery till they return to action the following season. This timeline does not specifically show when the player could have returned. In theory, some of the WRs in that dataset were ready prior to the start of the season. Taking this into consideration, WRs need roughly 40 weeks from surgery to get back to action. Should Godwin start on September 9 that would put him at just over 35 weeks from his surgery date. Early, but not impossible.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin (14) is a fantasy star
Chris Godwin would shock the fantasy world if he comes back in Week 1. (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Because of Godwin's timeline, it’s very likely he starts the season slowly and it's possible Tampa holds him back. However, if the medical staff had any reservations about Godwin being ready he would have started the season on the PUP. If we use the 40-week time frame mentioned above then we could expect Godwin to return to his pre-injury form after the first quarter of the season and return immense value. Based on his current ADP, Godwin would likely be a flex/WR3 for most teams, providing fantasy managers the flexibility to stash him for a bit and use him during his surge along the back half of the season.

Fantasy Football Sell

J.K. Dobbins - Yahoo ADP: 55.3

I have been vocal about my skepticism of J.K. Dobbins heading into the 2022 season. Back in early June, Dobbin’s Injury Profile highlighted my concerns. Even with the former Buckeye coming off the PUP, starting in Week 1 is far from a slam dunk.

The doubt surrounding Dobbins for 2022 is focused on two important points. 1) RBs typically struggle the first year after an ACL tear 2) The RBs that do not are prolific receivers … or named Adrian Peterson. In 2020, J.K. Dobbins’ season-high receptions were 20, not to mention Lamar Jackson is not well known for targeting RBs out of the backfield. This leaves us with a less than inspiring receiving profile for the Ravens' RB. Without receptions providing Dobbins a solid floor, there’s real risk his season bottoms out.

Ken Walker III - Yahoo ADP: 105.3

Rookie running back Ken Walker had hernia surgery last week and it is very likely the Seahawks’ second-round pick misses some time. Historically, NFL skill position players that have had core/abdominal surgery have missed a minimum of three weeks (average 7.3). For a rookie, this will mean valuable time lost. Although the specifics of the injury are different this is a similar situation to what derailed Rashad Bateman’s 2021 season. Core injuries are difficult to recover from.

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Not too long ago Rashaad Penny and Walker were being drafted next to each other but as Walker’s injury has become more common knowledge, we are starting to see them separate. Penny currently is the 32nd RB drafted, while Walker is at RB37. Even though Penny himself has never been the epitome of health (and dealing with some soft tissue injuries himself), I am much more likely to take him a full round earlier than Walker and have guaranteed production to start the season.

Miles Sanders - Yahoo ADP: 78.9

After two disappointing seasons and rumors of being a timeshare, or at worst falling second fiddle to teammate Kenneth Gainwell, Miles Sanders cannot afford to get off to a slow start in 2022. It would appear that the Eagles’ RB is at serious risk of falling behind as he was recently diagnosed with a hamstring strain. Looking back all the way to 2017, on average RBs miss three weeks with hamstring injuries and have a 22% dip in fantasy point production their first game back. For the first three weeks following the return from a hamstring strain, RB fantasy points per game are 4% below their healthy average (indicating that the player still has lingering effects from injury).

As I write this on August 21, the extent of Miles Sanders' hamstring injury is unknown, and based on the mean weeks missed, he would still return by week 1. But there is some data suggesting that the start of Sanders' fantasy season could be sluggish. I’d look elsewhere in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts for more immediate production.

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Adam is a licensed Physical Therapist from Jacksonville, FL. He received his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of Dayton and has a Bachelors in Biology from Purdue University (Boiler up!). He has several years of clinical experience treating a variety of athletes, both amateur and professional. Newly inducted into the Fantasy Sports Writer Association (FSWA), Adam has been breaking down sports injuries for fantasy football enthusiasts since 2019.

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