While the amount of available wide receivers can protect fantasy owners against any potential games lost to injury, shrewd decisions on draft day can help an owner maximize the low-risk talent on their roster. It's difficult to find a wide receiver without at least one injury in their past but there are varying levels of risk with each player based on multiple factors.
Low Risk Options
Sometimes being an unheralded draft pick can prove advantageous to the longevity of your career. Taken with the 195th pick in the sixth round of the 2010 draft, Brown played sparingly during the 2010 season. However he fought his way up the Steelers depth chart before assuming the top spot prior to last year. The low usage from his rookie season reduced his exposure to injury and as a result he's had relatively few injuries during his four-year career. An isolated high ankle sprain in 2013 is the biggest exception but the joint was not an issue last season and shouldn't be considered a problem moving forward.
It's hard to find a negative on Green. He's improved his productivity in each of his three seasons in the NFL, including an impressive 2013 campaign in which he finished in the top 10 for receptions, targets, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. He also has a very limited injury history, playing through a shoulder injury in 2011 and knee soreness last season. Overall Green has missed just one game in his brief career, a 2011 matchup against the Ravens in which a hyperextended knee kept him in street clothes. He's 25 years old and should remain an upper echelon wide receiver in 2014.
Mildly Risky Options
The Cowboys receiver earned his first Pro Bowl berth last year and has emerged as legitimate fantasy option. Despite a physical frame that makes him more imposing than others, his physicality may be a reason why Bryant has amassed quite the list of injuries in his four years in Dallas. A fractured ankle prematurely ended his rookie campaign and he needed offseason surgery on his index finger in 2012. He's also battled rib and back issues, the latter of which required injections during the season last year. While the sheer number of injuries is reason for pause, take some solace in knowing that most have been the result of an isolated incident or freak occurrences. He's shown no signs of a chronic or reoccurring injury and he should remain one of the first receivers off the board.
In terms of physical tools and productivity, Johnson is in an elite class of his own. However he's had issues with both knees over the past two seasons and was reportedly having his left knee drained prior to every game in 2013. He underwent offseason surgery to address the problem, though the true nature of the injury remains a bit of a mystery. He underwent an additional surgery to treat a significant finger dislocation but will enter training camp a full participant. Still Megatron's recent past just can't be ignored and his level of risk should be slightly elevated accordingly.
Marshall has been a model of consistency over the last few seasons, appearing in every eligible game since 2010. However the five-time Pro Bowler turned 30 during the offseason, the age at which most wide receivers begin to display signs of wearing down. Adding to the risk factor associated with age are Marshall's balky hips that have required offseason arthroscopic surgery at least three separate times. The emergence of Alshon Jeffery should help prolong his career but this could be the year Marshall's extensive mileage and previous injuries begin to negatively impact his productivity.
Since entering the league Harvin has established himself as an explosive talent limited by injury concerns. While with the Vikings, Harvin missed time with chronic migraines and an ankle injury. He also required shoulder surgery to address instability in his acromioclavicular (AC) joint. Moving to Seattle did little to improve Harvin's health, as he needed reconstructive surgery on his hip to repair a tear in the labrum, the cartilage ring that fortifies the femur and hip. He returned for a brief regular season appearance before the hip flared up and sent him back to the sidelines. He managed to play in the Seahawks' postseason run to the Super Bowl but suffered a concussion in the process. Harvin is the epitome of high-risk, high-reward and making him your top option at wideout is a serious gamble.
Johnson, once the face of the Texans franchise, enters the 2014 season with considerable doubts about his future with the organization. The All Pro receiver reportedly is seeking a trade and a hold out appears possible. He skipped mandatory offseason workouts and there have been little updates about his availability for the start of training camp. A holdout would be a big problem for an aging receiver with a history of lower extremities injuries. If he rushes his return to action to make up for lost time, Johnson would be opening the door for a potential injury, particularly on his left leg. He's twice needed surgery on his left knee and battled reoccurring left hamstring problems. A weakened kinetic chain for a 33-year old receiver is an injury waiting to happen making it risky to heavily invest in Johnson.
Welker found immediate chemistry with Peyton Manning, finishing 2013 with a career-best 10 touchdown receptions. However his regular season ended on a down note as he missed time after suffering multiple concussions. The effects of concussions are cumulative, meaning the symptoms with each head injury are often worse and last longer with each subsequent injury. The risk for a concussion is higher in receivers, particularly for a hard-nosed one like Welker that makes his living in the middle of the field. Factor in his injury history that includes ankle and knee problems and it's easy to see why the 10 year veteran may be a precarious pick on draft day.