RotoWire Partners

Injury Analysis: Risk and Reward when Drafting QBs

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.

Quarterback can be one of the more intriguing positions on draft day. The league's shift to a more aerial attack has increased the fantasy value of the league's top signal-callers with players like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady putting up record-breaking performances. Dual threats like Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick have also emerged as fantasy weapons who can score in a multitude of ways. While running backs and receivers will still dominate the first few rounds of most drafts, grabbing a reliable quarterback is a must. The position is inherently scarce and an injury to a quarterback can be particularly difficult to overcome. To help combat this problem let's take at look at the riskier and more reliable options available.

Low-Risk Options

Tom Brady
Since taking over for Drew Bledsoe during the 2001 season, Brady's only missed games occurred during the 2008 season, the year Brady tore his ACL in Week 1. Excluding that lost season, the two-time NFL MVP has started in each of New England's 192 possible regular season games. Like most players he hasn't completely remained injury free, but his issues have all been manageable during the season and treatable in the offseason. Even his knee has shown little signs of wear-and-tear in the five seasons since the incident. Keeping Brady on the field and out of the athletic training room is an elite offensive live that is consistently in the top 10 for fewest sacks allowed. Brady did show signs of regression last year but he remains a reliable option.

Drew Brees
Brees has never missed a game to injury since joining the Saints in 2006. The one time he did not start was Week 17 when he was rested before the team's eventual run to the Super Bowl. Like Brady, Brees plays behind a stellar offensive line that does a great job of keeping him off the New Orleans turf. He doesn't take risks, rarely leaving the pocket and taking off up field. In his 13 years as a pro, Brees has 333 career rushing attempts, three less than Cam Newton has attempted in his three year career. Bree's productivity is already widely respected but his ability to remain healthy further enhances his value.

Mildly Risky Options

Robert Griffin III
I've previously touted the potential for a monster season out of RGIII. He's now two-years removed from his ACL surgery and has already shed the protective brace. However his track record of injuries cannot be ignored and multiple knee surgeries raise numerous red flags. His level of risk only elevates when these warning signs are coupled with his propensity to leave the pocket and make himself vulnerable to big hits. Players with similar playing styles, including Michael Vick and Daunte Culpepper, have struggled to stay healthy for extended stretches. Griffin is still worth considering but the necessary steps to procure a suitable backup should be taken.

Peyton Manning
It may be a bit of a surprise to see Manning make this list given his previous durability. However the neck injury that cost him the entire 2012 season is a difficult injury to manage and his own team is well aware of the severity. The Broncos included clauses in Manning's contract that require him to get the area reexamined annually to insure it remains structurally sound. He completed the exams in March but one awkward hit could prove to be a significant setback. Nerve injuries require considerable amounts of time to heal and if an injury were to occur in the previously affected area, it could easily sideline Manning for multiple weeks. His record-breaking 2013 campaign will likely put him into first-round consideration in some drafts but it may be wise to remain patient and invest in a slightly less risky quarterback.

Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers' risk has little to do with him and is primarily the result of the men employed to protect him. Green Bay's offensive line has been surprisingly porous given the team's success. Over the past five seasons the Packers have finished no better than 19th in the league in sacks allowed including a league-worst in 2009. As a result Rodgers has been taken down 189 times, including the hit last year that fractured his collarbone and cost nearly half the season. Rodgers is more than capable of putting up fantasy friendly stats but the Green Bay front line elevates his level of risk.

Risky Options

Jay Cutler
The Bears quarterback posted a career-high quarterback rating last season but only appeared in 11 games as a high ankle sprain and a severe groin strain kept him on the sidelines. The injuries occurred despite an improved offensive line that has previously struggled to keep him safe. Cutler also comes with a laundry list of injuries including a neck injury, a Grade 2 MCL sprain, fractured thumb, and a history of concussions. The appeal of Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall may lead to some reaching on Cutler but given his track record I'd look elsewhere.

Tony Romo
The Cowboys understand the importance of keeping Romo healthy and have heavily invested in their offensive line. Their last two first round picks have been spent on o-line man and they brought in several free agents to add depth. However the fact remains that Romo has required two back surgeries in the last 18 months, including his most recent procedure to address a herniated disc. Given that Romo turned 34 in the off season, it's easy to understand why the Cowboys took the steps they did to protect their $108 million investment. Owning Romo is a roller coaster ride in and of itself but now the related risk is markedly higher.

Ryan Tannehill
The injury bug has plagued Tannehill since a fractured fifth metatarsal kept him from participating in the 2012 NFL Draft Combine. His problems continued over the next two years as he was limited by shoulder, knee, and thumb problems. Furthermore Tannehill was sacked a league-high 58 times last season and Miami is still searching for a reliable rusher to pair with him in the backfield. Tannehill won't be many fantasy team's first option and his associated amount of injury risk leaves him as a precarious backup with minimal upside.