Ryan McDowell’s article a few weeks back is a perfect segway to this, but I’m going to take a bit of a different spin. I find that people are not taking advantage of the value proposition that injuries create as the general consensus and the natural inclination is to downgrade a player coming off an injury. The more I try and trade Andre Johnson in two of my leagues, the more this sinks in and the more I realize there’s an arbitrage opportunity for dynasty owners with Johnson or any other 2011 injured player.
I’ll start by detailing some reactions I’ve gotten for Andre Johnson offers over the past few weeks in two of my 14-team PPR leagues. I found most, if not all, puzzling. When considering these reactions, keep in mind that this is after Andre Johnson played in two playoff games and finished with 13 catches for 201 yards and a TD with the mighty T.J. Yates at the helm. If you don’t have that pocket calculator handy, that’s an average of 19.5 points per game in a standard point per reception league – that’s after missing nine games in the regular season.
Here are some responses to my offers:
- “The most I’ll deal for [Andre Johnson] is Sidney Rice.”
- “The only way I’ll deal for him is for Torrey Smith and Michael Crabtree.”
- “AJ is old and my team is on the young side. I’m not interested in dealing for an old WR.”
- “I might do Justin Blackmon for Andre.”
Sure, many will claim that Johnson is injury prone or old, but is that really true? Partially. To start, this is only his first season in four years without breaching 1,000 yards. Secondly, he finished as the WR1, WR1, and WR7 in standard PPR leagues from 2008-2010, respectively. Old? Yeah, he’s 30 years “old.” That’s become the dreaded WR age, but there’s no reason he can’t be a top 5-10 wide receiver for four more seasons. There are very few receivers who play at a top level well into their 30’s, but given his talent, there’s no reason to believe he won’t. He’s had some nagging injuries, sure, but only two of his nine seasons were tarnished with major injuries that resulted in a serious amount of missed game time. With all this said, Andre’s dynasty value is not really the specific point I’m trying to argue here, so I’ll table that for now.
The point is that these reactions to offers of Andre Johnson got me thinking. How many times do people devalue players because of injury, only to have them bounce back in a big way the following season or two? And, does this represent a buy low opportunity for a guy like Andre Johnson or other 2011 injured players?
Let’s take a look at some major injuries to some star players over the past few years and back test some trades that occurred over the past few seasons to see how they worked out:
Here are recent injured players who bounced back and proved to be tremendous value targets when injured:
Wes Welker, WR NE
In 2009, Welker ripped up his MCL and ACL. Many claimed, “he’ll never the same.” Owners panicked and fantasy experts downgraded Welker into the WR25+ range in dynasty rankings. In fact, he was drafted WR28 in a dynasty startup I participated in back in 2010 and I also saw him traded for Owen Daniels and Dustin Keller (1.5 PPR for tight ends league). Now, he’s being ranked by most as a top 10 dynasty WR coming off a 120+ catch and 1500+ yard season and Dustin Keller and Owen Daniels are, well, underperforming.
Matthew Stafford, QB DET
As we all know, shoulder injuries plagued his young career and after two repeated incomplete seasons as a result, his dynasty value fell off a shelf. Now, after a dynamite 2011 he’s widely viewed as a top 5 dynasty QB after being ranked and drafted around QB15 prior to the 2011 season. To give you an idea on where he’s being valued currently, he was drafted in round one of our DLF Mock draft. No one ever questioned his talent, just his ability to stay healthy, and those that bought low in the 2011 offseason were rewarded handsomely. There were plenty of signs in those incomplete injury seasons where he averaged well over 20 points per game, you just needed to hop on the train at trough value.
Demaryius Thomas, WR DEN
Thomas tore his Achilles working out in February of 2011 after a mediocre rookie season and went from being drafted as a top 10 rookie pick in dynasty leagues to an afterthought. He was immediately written off by most. As evidence of that, in a startup of mine in February 2011, he was drafted as WR61 and widely ranked in that area by many fantasy experts if not lower in the WR70 range. Fast forward to this year and he’s now ranked in the top 25 after finishing 2011 with a few stellar performances. This guy was dirt cheap and could have been bought for mediocrity like Steve Breaston, Davone Bess, Mike Sims-Walker and Robert Meachem a year ago. If you saw that playoff overtime play against the Steelers, you certainly saw this boy motor – he hasn’t lost anything due to the injury.
These three are a few of the most notables in the last few years. Are there others who were injured and clearly struggled to get back? Of course. Guys like Sims-Walker and Deuce McAllister were never the same. However, there are also many other success stories like Willis McGahee and Kellen Winslow.
As you can see, the three notable players above were traded at a serious discount. There are many other guys over the years who were traded similarly as a result of an injury. Injuries create perfect buy low opportunities that come with little risk given the discount that some of these players are traded at right now. The perceived injury risk and long-term effects impact owners’ value perception significantly.
With that, here are the potential injury targets this offseason for 2012:
Note that I’ve left off young guys like Mark Ingram, Jamaal Charles, etc. because they don’t seem to be trading at that much of a discount due to their injuries. Ingram is trading at a discount predominantly due to his performance and Charles is still high in the rankings from the majority I’ve seen.
Andre Johnson, WR HOU
See above for explanation on why he’s a target. While I received those responses to my offers, there are still many who have him in their top 10. He’s was drafted at WR6 in the DLF Mock Draft. However, if the owner in your league doesn’t value him there anymore and is freaking with the injury like many seem to be in my leagues, he’s a perfect buy target. It’s worth a poke around to see if the owner in your league is looking for “safer” options.
Rashard Mendenhall, RB PIT
He wasn’t phenomenal in 2011 and lost a number of snaps to Isaac Redman in passing situations, but Mendenhall will only be 25 at the start of the 2012 season and still averaged more than 4.4 yards per carry in before the injury last season. Sure, he may start 2012 on the PUP list, but he’s still a very young back. Patience will be key here with this soon to be 25 year old, but now is a perfect time to enter at the ground floor with the PUP speculation.
Darren McFadden, RB OAK
McFadden was just drafted as RB11 in the third round of the DLF Mock draft. For a guy that finished in the top five two years ago and had outscored the likes of Ray Rice through six weeks of 2011 prior to his injury, that’s some nice value. Like Mendenhall, he’ll only be 25 at the start of next season, so he’s still young. However, given his injury history you’ll need to accept that he comes with obvious injury risk. When healthy, McFadden is a fantasy difference maker and well worth a shot at RB11.
Steve Smith, WR PHI
His value can’t get any lower with a second consecutive season ending injury. He was recently dropped in one of my deep dynasty leagues and I quickly scooped him up. He’s dirt cheap. He only signed a one year deal with the Eagles, so he’ll likely sign on elsewhere this offseason. He’s worth the current asking price of a bag of baseballs given his talent as a possession wide receiver. Don’t forget that two years ago he finished with over 100 receptions at WR8. Even if he never plays again, do you really need that third or fourth round rookie pick that he’ll cost? Smith is a much better gamble with more upside given his prior production than a pick like that. He didn’t appear to be completely healthy last year, either, so it’s quite possible 2012 is a different story.
Leonard Hankerson, WR WAS
In week 8 of 2011, Hankerson finally started seeing snaps at receiver. Unfortunately, he tore his labrum in week ten during a breakout performance against the Dolphins. Washington has nothing at wide receiver other than Santana Moss, which leaves a starting spot wide open for Hankerson. He needs to improve on his concentration and improve on his drops, but that is something that can be worked on. He was just drafted in the tenth round of the DLF mock draft, which will likely be higher than he’ll be drafted in most leagues. It’s a perfect time to pitch an offer to the Hankerson owner and steal a potential 2012 starter with great upside.
David Gettis, WR CAR
In Gettis’ rookie season, he finished with 37 catches for 500 yards and three touchdowns. After his solid play down the stretch, he was a popular sleeper headed into last season. Of course, he tore his ACL and was dropped like a box of rocks in fantasy leagues across the globe. He is still sitting on the wire in some leagues and with how Cam Newton produced last year along with the lack of talent at wide receiver in Carolina, this guy is a nice pickup or cheap buy.
Alex Green, RB GB
Ted Thompson was impressed with this kid – that’s all you need to know. He is the perfect size for a running back and is a solid receiver out of the backfield. Green Bay’s running back situation is in flux with an unimpressive Ryan Grant and James Starks, which leaves opportunity at the position headed into 2012. Buzz was building around Green after the draft last year, but ended with a torn ACL mid-season. Not many people are talking about him for right now and they should be. He may not be ready for the start of the season depending on how quickly his recovery goes, but even if he isn’t, late 2012/2013 may be when he gets his opportunity.
Tony Moeaki, TE KC
Moeaki is a forgotten man. In his rookie year, he finished at TE17, which is impressive given that tight end production for a rookie has historically proven to be challenging. He lost the 2011 season as a result of a torn ACL leaving him on the wire in some leagues and at the end of benches in others. Moeaki was also just selected in the fifteenth round of the DLF Mock draft making him an excellent buy low candidate. He’s a great target with his pass catching ability on a team without a solid option at tight end.
Danny Amendola, WR STL
He’s not sexy, but he produces. As a result of his 2011 injury, many quickly look past his 85 catches and 690 yards he posted in 2010. He started week one of 2011 in a similar fashion when he tore his triceps, which ultimately cost him the season. The bottom line is that Sam Bradford trusts him – Amendola is his security blanket. Even if they bring in a big time receiver to St. Louis through the draft or free agency, Amendola is still going to work underneath in a Welker type role. He’s one of those guys that you can get as a throw in to a deal and work him into your lineup as your low end third or high end fourth wide receiver come next season. It’s unlikely he’ll be on the wire in your league, but as a result of the injury he’s a forgotten player who is very likely to outperform his current value.
Marcus Easley, WR BUF
Unless you’re in a league with me, I’d be willing to bet Easley is not rostered in your league. Well, he should be. Looking back to last summer, Stevie Johnson told me Easley was looking good before he was diagnosed with a heart ailment. Fast forward to today and that heart ailment issue is quietly a thing of the past as the condition is “completely solved”. That hasn’t made its way around the fantasy community much yet. Easley was a raw receiver coming out of UConn with limited experience at wide receiver, but he has speed (4.40 speed) and tremendous size at 6’2”, 225 pounds. Neither David Nelson nor Donald Jones has been impressive enough to hold of Easley headed into 2012. Don’t look past his solid preseason performance last year as well; he’s a perfect stash right now.
Editor’s Note: Steve Wyremski can be found on twitter @SteveWyremski