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Injury Analysis: Who's Worth the Risk?

Jeff Stotts

Jeff Stotts works as a Certified Athletic Trainer (MAT, ATC, PES, CES). He won the 2011 Best Fantasy Football Article in Print from the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

Being an injury analyst has its rewards, but it can have its drawbacks as well. For starters, I have trouble turning off my injury-slanted brained on draft day. Instead of seeing a player's yards per games or number of total touchdowns for the previous season, I see the number of games missed due to a hamstring strain or the time elapsed between knee surgeries. This mindset has burned me in the past as I have failed to invest in a player because I was too worried about his inherent injury risk. Still, more times than not I have saved myself the headache of owning a player continually on the sidelines on Sundays.

And that's really what injury risk assessment is all about, determining precisely when you are willing to gamble on an individual. If too many red flags exist, let someone else assume that burden and remain patient and opportunistic. Here's a look at players I'm avoiding this year and those I think are worth a flier.

Players I'm Avoiding Like the Plague

Sam Bradford:
The allure of Philadelphia's up-tempo offense is appealing, but nothing in Bradford's past suggests he's trustworthy. Since being drafted in 2010, Bradford has appeared in only 49 of 80 possible games, including just seven games since 2013. Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears in back-to-back seasons are the primary culprit, but he's also endured a nasty high ankle sprain and required shoulder surgery while in college. Bradford's injury risk is amplified by the presence of Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow on the depth chart. Neither player is a looming threat, but Philadelphia could have a quick hook if Bradford struggles in the preseason.

Victor Cruz:
It seems like I address Cruz every week as he attempts to bounce back from a ruptured patellar tendon, but his average draft position (ADP) remains surprisingly high. The Pro Bowl receiver is telling anyone who will listen that he's healthy and won't need to spend time on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, but I'm less than skeptical. The track record for injuries of this magnitude is not good, especially among receivers. Players like Austin Collie and Mark Clayton who had similiar injuries never returned to their previous levels of play, and it's hard to imagine Cruz breaking that trend. I would rather take a chance on several notable wideouts going in a similar range, including Torrey Smith, Larry Fitzgerald or even Terrance Williams.

Todd Gurley:
The Rams running back is entering the league with lofty expectations for a player who tore his ACL just eight months ago. The unprecedented return of Adrian Peterson has skewed the recovery timeline in some people's mind and an eager fantasy owner may feel compelled to reach on the rookie. As with Bradford, it can take as long as 12 months for the surgical graft to completely take on the biomechanical properties of the original ligament. While Gurley could easily be a solid play for the latter parts of the regular season, I expect the Rams to ease him into the role of primary running back. I'd roll the dice on a back like Latavius Murray or Joseph Randle before heavily investing in Gurley, especially in one-year leagues.

Jonathan Stewart:
There's hope that with DeAngelo Williams out of Carolina Stewart can finally live up to his full potential. Unfortunately, the move is coming several years too late as multiple lower extremity injuries have taken their toll on Stewart, limiting his speed and agility. He's endured a nasty knee sprain, surgeries on both ankles and lingering hamstring concerns. While he remains a difficult player to bring down, Stewart hasn't shown that big-play ability, and I don't expect that to change just because he's the top option.

Players Worth the Risk

Tyler Eifert:
The former first-round pick seems poised to have his breakout season after missing most of 2014 with a nasty elbow dislocation. He had the injury surgically repaired and also underwent shoulder surgery to address a torn labrum. However, both of these injuries appear to be the result of freak accidents and shouldn't lead to chronic, lingering issues. Eifert's physical tools could make him a dangerous part of the Bengals' offense, especially in the red zone. He's worth a late-round flier if you miss one of the bigger names or need a stopgap while Antonio Gates serves his four-game suspension.

Justin Forsett:
Some fear the 29-year-old running back coming off a drastic jump in carries could be in line for an injury-plagued campaign. While it would be unwise to suggest there isn't a degree of risk associated with Forsett, his ADP is fair and I like him better than Mark Ingram or Frank Gore, the other options going in the same range. The limited number of carries during the early portions of his career has helped limit Forsett's overall wear-and-tear, and he only has one major noteworthy injury, a fractured foot in 2013.

Jordy Nelson:
The Packers receiver has always been a reliable fantasy option despite a few bumps and bruises during the 2012 season. However, he joined the upper echelon of receivers last year with 98 receptions, 1,519 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. He needed offseason surgery to address a lingering hip injury, but it sounds like the procedure was a debridement and not a full labrum repair. Concerns about the surgery and his age may scare off other owners, but he's a solid wide out to build around after the flashier names are off the board.