Fantasy Football Draft Theory: Bargains On Injured Players

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Do not forget about those players who finished on IR last year. Recency bias has a way of pushing a player’s value down, but those players could be the key to your Championship run!


Fantasy Football drafts are all about finding value. There will be highly ranked players that crater their owner’s seasons through injury or poor play, but nobody wins their league with the best first-round pick. Tons of points are expected from your first round pick. Getting someone elite in the first round is the norm. The vast majority fantasy football champions win by accident. Of course, the reason you are here is to learn to create those happy accidents. One way to do that, particularly in leagues that draft early is by selecting players that finished last year on injured reserve.

This has been one of the methods I have used in the leagues that I want to win. Yes, there are some leagues I get pulled into with coworkers or relatives where I don’t really care. I usually try some different draft strategies out in those. This, however, is a tactic I use religiously in money leagues. I like to push for early drafts and this is one of the reasons why.

Recency bias is a very strong driver for rankers. Most fantasy experts live in a three or four-week window during the season. What a player did in week three has little or no bearing on what they will do in week fifteen. Fantasy football is all about right now. What a player did two seasons ago might as well have happened in the late Cretacious period in the paradigm of the fantasy football pundit. For that reason, early rankings tend to reflect very closely what players did last year. A player that went on IR in week three isn’t someone the rankers have been thinking about in a very long time.

Of course, this does not always work out. For every Keenan Allen, who I picked up last year in the tenth round of a draft, there is a DeAndre Levy. Sometimes a player never comes back to form. The key is to not start doing this too early in the draft. This draft occurred in May. There had been reports that Allen’s rehab was on track. Nobody had actually seen him play football in practice or otherwise, however. He excelled in the preseason and his rankings skyrocketed.

By September 2, 2017, Allen was ESPN’s number 36 player. He was my wide receiver four. Because I had taken him at a point where I did not need him to be anything but a reasonable flex option, the fact that I got the number three wide receiver in ESPN standard scoring in the tenth round all but won me that league. I had Antonio Brown, Keenan Allen, and Marvin Jones Jr. starting in a 3 WR league.

Antonio Brown doesn’t win you that league. Taking Keenan Allen early in this year’s draft doesn’t win you any league. It’s finding the players who exceed expectations that wins leagues. There is a science to this, like any gambling. One of the ways to cheat the system is to pick up players returning from IR that are in a good position to excel, at least on the offensive side of the ball.

Andrew Luck is the tenth ranked quarterback on Matthew Berry’s list at ESPN.com right now. If you’re holding off on drafting a quarterback until everyone else has one and taking multiple gambles, Luck is your lady in 2018. IF, and I capitalized that for a reason, Luck returns to form: he is a top-five fantasy quarterback. He has no running game, a bad defense, and an offensive head coach. At the worst Luck will put up fantasy numbers like Matthew Stafford and Blake Bortles have at points in their careers. Garbage time is the friend of the fantasy owner taking gambles at quarterback.

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How that works for IDP

The defensive side is a little different, at least for linebackers and defensive backs. For linemen, use the same principles as offensive players. to produce fantasy numbers the big guys need to be healthy. Because tackles are such a huge stat for IDP, it isn’t the players who come back all that way that you want necessarily on the back end of the defense. It is those who will definitely have the opportunity to come back, but might not, that are the good gambles. Richard Sherman is a player I will be likely to draft this year. I would never have previously taken him in any round in any year.

The reason I will be taking fliers on Sherman in 2018 is that he is coming off an Achilles injury at a position that relies on explosive short area quickness and long speed. Richard Sherman has been relying on length, violence, and short area quickness for his entire career. If he loses that quickness, he is a smart enough player to stop wide receivers from getting behind him, because giving up touchdowns on a contract like his gets players cut.

Sherman has been a poor IDP choice at defensive back. Teams have not challenged him if they could avoid it so his scoring stats have been middling at best. Until he proves he is back they may do so now. Sherman plays against efficient quarterbacks early.

In the first four games of the season, he faces Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford, and Phillip Rivers. If he has to give his receiver an extra cushion to keep them from getting deep on him because of his injury, those quarterbacks will rip him to shreds underneath. He could get an incredible number of tackles by giving up those receptions. He is likely to still be a very good tackler for his position.

The other quarterback he faces in the first four games is Patrick Mahomes. If there is a tendency Mahomes has shown, Sherman will know it. He is legendarily a student of the game. Even with a reduction in speed, Sherman could do terrible things to a young quarterback that has not been schooled to avoid him. If Sherman has not been playing well, the stars could align there.

Nobody Loses in the Last Few Rounds

I am not taking Sherman as one of my starting defensive backs, just like I was not taking Allen to be one of my starting wide receivers. But I am definitely looking for him as one of the defensive backups I tend to carry early in a year.

Sherman is ranked outside the top 30 defensive backs on fantasypros.com the day I am writing this. He will likely be available in the final round of every IDP league I play in. He wins my award for “Most Likely To Suck Unexpectedly” in 2018. The 49ers secondary is not all that good which may allow Sherman to go completely untested during the preseason.

Even late into the draft period, he could be a solid haul in the final round of your draft. If not, it was the last round, you’re team will be fine.

Follow Ash Thompson on twitter @a5hcrack and join in the fantasy football community.


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I have been playing fantasy football since before you could do it online. I have actually lost friendships over commissioner score tabulating fraud. I have a league that would be old enough to vote in the United States of America.