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Acquiring Injured Players

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We recently heard some news that shook many dynasty owners. News that altered plans for the 2013 season, even though it’s still months away. News that sent owners running to their waiver wires. Of course, that news I speak of was the Achilles tear suffered by 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree. Anytime a player is in the news, be it due to injury, an arrest or great on the field performance, it affects that player’s value and increases the trade offers involving them.

Specifically, when a player suffers a significant injury, dynasty owners have a difficult decision to make. If you own that player, you must decide if you should “sell low” or ride it out. For those who do not currently own that specific player, a choice must be made if they should “buy low” and what exactly is a low enough price to make it worth the risk.

I will leave the injury specifics to our own Dynasty Doctor, Scott Peak, but it is clear to even a novice that when a player suffers an injury, such as an ACL tear or an Achilles tear, that player’s risk is increased and his dynasty value is affected.

As dynasty owners in leagues around the country are deciding whether they should “buy low” or “sell low,” I wanted to dig deeper into those terms and look at some specific examples from the past couple of years.

When choosing to “sell low,” an owner is admittedly giving up a chance the potential for elite future production for an increased chance to win in the current year. This means when selling low on an injured player, a team usually acquires a less talented, but still startable player. If an owner is selling an injured player, yet only getting a draft pick or prospect in return, he is defeating the purpose.

On the other hand, an owner choosing to take a risk on the injured player and “buy low” is almost always just looking for a steal of a deal. While there is nothing wrong with that, it rarely seems to work. There are two team situations that are ideal for buying low on an injured player. If your team is in full rebuild, acquiring an “in their prime” injured player makes a lot of sense. After all, the team will likely not be a contender until the player is back to full strength anyway. This type of team is often looking to sell “win now” type players anyway, so this can often be a good match with a team looking to sell low. The other type of team that could afford to buy an injured player is a team filled with elite players and lots of depth. After all, if you have an above average WR5, Jeremy Maclin for example, you could afford to flip him for a Crabtree-type of player knowing you would likely not rely on either player until 2014 anyway.

Before we take a look at some prime examples from past seasons, here’s one reminder – it is not easy to buy low or sell low. Most owners who currently have these players will not be willing to take pennies on the dollar just to replace a player for one season, or less. Also, with so many other owners attempting to acquire the player with insulting offers, owners get frustrated and give up the idea of trading the player altogether. It is also not an easy task to buy the player. It is so easy to look at the current year and difficult to look beyond the present and assess what a player’s future value will be. Because of this, many owners are not willing to give up much value for an injured player. The marriage of finding the owner willing to sell low and the owner willing to give up enough value to take the risk is rare – however, I did find a few cases where that happened.

I focused on seven players who have suffered serious injuries over the past three and a half seasons. Each of these players had already established themselves as very good or, in most cases, elite fantasy talents. While there are many cases of middle of the road talents becoming injured and never returning, I chose to look at the players who were playing a prime role for their NFL team and dynasty teams. Some players who were not included in this study because of this reason are Demaryius Thomas, Ben Tate, Ryan Williams and Mikel Leshoure. Each of the example trades noted come from my database of executed dynasty trades found in established leagues (most are from PPR leagues). Each of the trades took place during the time the player in question was injured.

The Player: Wes Welker, WR DEN

Before the Injury: Longtime Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker, who has since signed with the Denver Broncos, was an elite receiver for the Patriots. In his five seasons prior to his injury, Welker had amassed 443 receptions for over 4,800 yards, including three consecutive 100 yard receiving seasons for New England.

The Injury: On January 3, 2010, Welker suffered a torn ACL and MCL in a week 17 matchup against the Houston Texans. With such a serious injury late in the regular season, the assumption was Welker would miss much of the 2010 regular season, possibly even being placed on the PUP list, which would keep him out until week seven. Instead, Welker returned to practice by June and was ready for the regular season opener.

After the Injury: In three seasons since his injury, Welker has totaled 326 catches for 3,771 yards and 22 touchdowns, which is more than he had in the five seasons prior to the injury.

Example Trades:

  • Welker/6th round rookie pick for Mike Thomas/2nd round rookie pick
  • Welker/Reggie Wayne/3rd round rookie pick/3rd round rookie pick for Miles Austin

The Verdict: Welker has come back as strong as ever and was clearly well worth the risk of the above trades, considering he did not miss any regular season game action.

The Player: Matthew Stafford, QB DET

Before the Injury: In one full season as the Detroit Lions starting quarterback and three games in the 2010 season, Matthew Stafford passed for just over 2,800 yards and 19 touchdowns, to go along with 21 interceptions. While he had been chosen first overall by the Lions, he had yet to live up to the hype.

The Injury: Stafford suffered a shoulder injury in week one of the 2010 season. He returned six weeks later, but took another hard hit to the same shoulder in his second game back and missed the remainder of the year. With his lackluster rookie season performance combined with the injury, many owners were starting to give up on him.

After the Injury: In the two seasons after his shoulder injuries, Stafford has not missed a start for the Lions and has thrown for over 10,000 yards, along with 61 touchdowns. He has finished as a top ten fantasy quarterback in each of the past two seasons.

Example Trades:

  • Stafford for Felix Jones
  • Stafford for Shonn Greene

The Verdict: Stafford is a player who many clearly gave up on too quickly. This could be due to his relative lack of production in year one, meaning he had not established himself like some of the others on this list. In each of the above trades, we saw owners use lackluster running backs to acquire Stafford and take a risk on him becoming elite. Obviously, that paid off.

The Player: Peyton Manning, QB DEN

Before the Injury: In the first 13 seasons of his career, former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning established himself as one of the all-time greats, throwing for nearly 55,000 yards and 399 touchdowns, leading the Colts to a Super Bowl title along the way.

The Injury: Manning’s injury is a unique one in that he played through pain for over a year. The initial date of the injury is unknown, but some estimate it to be as early as week one of the 2010 season. Over the next several months, Manning would undergo multiple surgeries to repair that neck injury. The end result was that Manning had as many as four surgeries and was ultimately deemed unable to play at all in the 2011 season.

After the Injury: Although many dynasty owners and likely some NFL executives gave up on the prospect of Manning returning at full strength, he did just that. After signing with the Denver Broncos, Manning led the team to a playoff berth while throwing for almost 4,700 yards and 37 touchdowns. The latter is the second highest single season total of his illustrious career.

Example Trades:

  • Manning for Matt Schaub
  • Manning for 2nd round rookie pick
  • Manning for Josh Freeman

The Verdict: The above trades are evidence that dynasty owners had given up on the chances of Manning returning and were simply cashing out. It’s hard to blame them, even in retrospect. Neck injuries are serious business and there were multiple reports of Manning considering retirement. In the end, he proved once again why he is considered one of the greatest while posting yet another top five fantasy performance.

The Player: Jamaal Charles, RB KC

Before the Injury: From 2008 through 2010, Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles had established himself as one of the most exciting players in the game. His rushing totals over those three seasons included almost 3,000 rushing yards and twelve scores. He had also rushed for back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons prior to his injury.

The Injury: On September 18, 2011, the Chiefs played the Detroit Lions and two carries into the game, Charles had a hard out-of-bounds collision. That resulted in a torn ACL, costing him the remainder of the season.

After the Injury: In his first season back from the injury, Charles set a career high mark for rushing yards with 1,513, to go along with five touchdowns. Those numbers were good enough to make him a top ten fantasy running back. With new head coach Andy Reid now in Kansas City, expectations are at an all-time high for Charles in 2013.

Example Trades:

  • Charles for Frank Gore
  • Charles for 1st round rookie pick
  • Charles/1st round rookie pick for Maurice Jones-Drew/4th round rookie pick

The Verdict: Considering he had nearly a full year to recover, it should not be a surprise to see Charles come back strong. The Gore and Jones-Drew trades above are clear cases for looking for current production to replace the loss of Charles. While both deals seem poor now, both had short term payoffs for the owner. Moving a young running back for an unknown draft pick though, seems very unwise.

The Player: Kenny Britt, WR TEN

Before the Injury: Titans wide receiver Kenny Britt started the 2011 season on fire. In the season’s first two games, he totaled 271 receiving yards and three touchdowns and dynasty owners were immediately treating him like a top five dynasty wide receiver. His career totals up until that point included 101 receptions for 1,765 yards and 15 scores.

The Injury: In the third game of the 2011 season, Britt went down with what was later diagnosed as a torn ACL and MCL. This would cost the young wide out the remainder of the season and reportedly lingered throughout the 2012 season as well.

After the Injury: Like Charles, Britt had nearly a full year to recover from his knee injury, but unlike the Chiefs running back, he did not come back strong. Dynasty owners had high hopes for Britt, who was routinely a second or third round startup draft pick prior to the 2012 season. He disappointed though with only 45 catches for 589 yards and four scores. As I mentioned, reports surfaced that Britt was still dealing with side effects from his knee injury and that was one cause for his poor season. With the addition of Justin Hunter, the 2013 season seems to be Britt’s last shot in Nashville.

Example Trades:

  • Britt for Marques Colston
  • Britt for Michael Turner
  • Britt/4th round rookie pick for Jonathan Stewart/2nd round rookie pick

The Verdict: Considering Britt’s performance in 2012, the above trades do not look good for the team acquiring him. All hope is not lost, though. Britt is still just 24 years old and has stayed out of trouble this off-season, which is an accomplishment for the former Rutgers star. Britt’s price tag prior to the injury was unreal, so these owners likely looked at this as their only chance to acquire him at all, which is often the case with injured stars.

The Player: Darren McFadden, RB OAK

Before the Injury: In 2010, Raiders running back Darren McFadden finally had his breakout year, rushing for over 1,100 yards and scoring ten times. This made him a very highly sought dynasty asset entering the 2011 season and he didn’t disappoint with almost 400 rushing yards and four touchdowns in the season’s first three weeks. His career totals prior to his injury were 3,817 total yards and ten touchdowns.

The Injury: In week seven of the 2011 season, McFadden suffered a foot injury. Though it was thought to be minor at first, the injury lingered and was later diagnosed as a Lisfranc injury. McFadden missed the rest of the 2011 season.

After the Injury: Although McFadden was able to play much of the 2012 season (missing four games) his fantasy numbers were disappointing. He totaled 822 yards and just three touchdowns. Some of his struggles were later attributed to the run scheme and there are some with high hopes for improvement in 2013 under a new offensive coordinator Greg Olsen.

Example Trades:

  • McFadden for Hakeem Nicks
  • McFadden for Jamaal Charles/Mikel Leshoure/1st round rookie pick

The Verdict: Like Britt above, McFadden’s poor 2012 performance further deteriorated his dynasty value and made trades completed during his injured period look questionable at best. Owners were counting on McFadden returning to full strength and performing as he had in 2010 and 2011, and he still could, but the above trades are not good examples of buying low.

The Player: Adrian Peterson, RB MIN

Before the Injury: In his five seasons prior to his injury, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson established himself as one of the best playmakers in the NFL, totaling over 6,700 rushing yards and 67 total touchdowns. There was almost no reason for dynasty owners to question the stud running back.

The Injury: In the final week of the 2011 regular season, Peterson suffered a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee. Due to the timing of the injury, there were immediate concerns that his 2012 season could be in jeopardy.

After the Injury: All Peterson did was return better than ever from the severe knee injury, rushing for over 2,000 yards (a career high) and finishing as the top running back in fantasy football. This was truly a remarkable recovery that will be talked about for years.

Example Trades:

  • Peterson for Ryan Mathews
  • Peterson for 1st round rookie pick
  • Peterson/Brandon Pettigrew for 1st round rookie pick

The Verdict: Following the injury, Peterson owners were desperate to get rid of him, as evidenced in the above trades. To put things in perspective, Ryan Mathews was the up and coming running back a year ago, similar in value to Giants running back David Wilson this off-season. Regardless, owners who sold Peterson at any price are likely regretting that decision now.

SUMMARY

After looking at each of these cases, it remains difficult to assess when we should buy low on an injured player. After all, some of these players came back strong in their first year back from injury and some (Welker and Peterson) did not even miss any regular season games thanks to their miraculous recoveries. Of the seven players I studied, there were only two who have yet to regain their pre-injury prominence – Britt and McFadden. However, both are still young and could surprise in 2013. Based on what we see here, it is safe to say (and maybe an obvious statement) the better the player, the less risk there is in buying while injured. Manning and Peterson were in the midst of Hall of Fame careers and returned as good as new. Charles and Welker were multiple time 1,000 yard gainers and staples in fantasy lineups. Although Stafford was less than established, he has risen to prominence and is now considered one of the top fantasy quarterbacks, though it is important to note his injury was less severe than the others on the list.

What does all of this tell us about 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree? Following three mediocre seasons, he finally enjoyed a breakout 2011, gaining over 1,100 receiving yards. It should not be ignored that this coincided with the rise of Colin Kaepernick as starting quarterback. Crabtree also did not have an extensive injury history, missing five games in his first four seasons. Based on all of this, I would recommend Crabtree as a player to buy low during his time away from the game – that move could really pay off in 2014.

Ryan McDowell

Ryan McDowell

Senior Writer at Dynasty League Football
In addition to his role as Senior Staff Writer here at DLF, Ryan is also a husband, father of three and second grade teacher. Ryan is the commissioner of multiple dynasty leagues, most notably the HyperActive Dynasty Leagues. Here at DLF, Ryan’s focus is on identifying, monitoring and analyzing player value. Check out Ryan’s work on the Weekly Impact Events and Dynasty Stock Market, as well as our dynasty ADP data.
Ryan McDowell
10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Jacob Feldman

    June 13, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    Boy, whoever received Charles, LeShoure, and a 1st for McFadden while McFadden was hurt received a heck of a deal!

    • AfroPicks

      June 16, 2013 at 4:33 pm

      I trade Eli Manning / Titus Young / and rookie 1st (1.05) for Jamaal Charles last off-season. Worked out well for us since we had Drew Brees and Young was a headcase.

  2. Chris_R

    June 13, 2013 at 6:36 pm

    You could have included Demaryius Thomas in this as well. He tore his Achilles not only were people calling him injury prone but were questioning was he worth anything at that time. A few years ago I never wanted to take on the risk of giving up quality assets for an injured player for fear of them returning not as explosive but that seems to never happen anymore.

    • Ryan McDowell

      June 13, 2013 at 7:38 pm

      I mentioned Thomas in the introduction and chose not to include him because he suffered his injury before he had really established himself in the league.

  3. Scott Peak

    June 13, 2013 at 11:45 pm

    Wow. Those deals for Welker and Stafford are crazy. In hindsight, those are fairly awful. But, it’s easy to pass judgement retrospectively I suppose.

    I have to say, I wouldn’t touch Crabtree. There is very, very little evidence of wide receivers returning to have same or better production after a complete Achilles tear. Demaryius Thomas is often cited, but he had a partial tear. I keep hearing that Achilles tendon ruptures aren’t as bad as they used to be. Yet, I’d like to get names of wide receivers who have returned from a complete Achilles tear with the same or better level of production. I do agree rehab and surgical techniques will improve over time, but I think that improvement is vastly overstated at the moment. Clearly, it didn’t do much for Leshoure, for example. We will see how Fred Davis, Kendall Hunter and Crabtree recover. That will answer the question for sure. Until then, trading for Crabtree is a risky proposition. Notably, Crabtree also had a Jones fracture on his left foot, and that sounds like the same injury plaguing Ahmad Bradshaw. Of course, Bradshaw is dealing with non-union of bone, and Crabtree seems to have escaped that issue. Still, we are talking about a WR with a torn Achilles on the right foot and a Jones fracture on the left foot. Too much risk for me. I hope he returns healthy, and I admit it is possible. Problem is, presently available data just do not give much reason for optimism. I guess we will see how it turns out. Proof is in the pudding, and Crabtree, Hunter and Davis will tell the tale for good. I hope they do recover well, but current evidence would suggest no reason for optimism.

    I like the article Ryan. Looking back on these injuries and trades is a really cool idea.

    • nicaragua

      June 14, 2013 at 5:22 am

      when did conclusive evidence come out that Thomas was only a partial tear? it’s been batted around, but last I recall reading is that the Broncos never said officially.

      I did also read/hear however that Thomas referred first-hand in interviews to his Achilles injury as a “rupture”. I’m no Dr. but I was further told that in medical jargon, “rupture” means “full tear”. Now the only variable is whether Thomas knew what he was talking about when he said that.

      I’ve been scouring the net for something one way or the other but have yet to find it. If you have something that says 100% it was a partial tear, please do share!

  4. SJ

    June 14, 2013 at 1:46 am

    Thought provoking article.. very interesting Ryan

    Also nice comments Scott – I share your outlook on Crabtree and am not particularly intent on buying at this time given the complete tear nature of the injury and history behind it.

    But after looking at the article, I am inclined to inquire on maybe getting Britt in a few leagues. His injury, lack of production, current QB plan and shaky future with the team all play towards him coming down in peoples minds… where as in reality, all of these situations are remediable and are minor if he just outputs a great year. As we’ve seen here with others – production settles a lot of concerns. And it appears Britt could quell those concerns.

    I’d also nominate Nicks for this list, as well. Given how terribly injured and unproductive he was last year, I wouldn’t be shocked if he made quite the comeback. I’m by no means big believers in he or Britt…. but again, the article provokes some of these thoughts to mind.

    I’m sure there are other players out there that come to mind that I’m not thinking of (and no R.Mathews doesn’t count – he never counts for anything anymore)

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