Fantasy: Draft Injured Running Backs Arian Foster and Todd Gurley
Draft injured players. Not advice you hear often, but right now, it could win you a championship.
Arian Foster and Todd Gurley are two potential fantasy football steals in this year’s draft. They are going to be out for varied amounts of time to start the year (Foster is expected to return sometime from week three to eight, while Gurley is expected to play sometime before week six and ease into the role of the feature back).
This should, and does, hurt their average draft position (ADP) in fantasy football. You’ll have to be without them for some time, and there’s always the risk of the injury causing them to be a less effective player upon return. However, in most league formats, these players are underrated.
How so? The goal of fantasy football is to win the championship. Not to be good, not to have a winning record, and not to make the playoffs. You’re in it to win it all so you can take home the cash and brag to your friends all year, and all that matters is who has the best team in Weeks 14/15 through 16/17, depending on your playoff format.
Doctors and coaches don't expect Foster's groin injury and Gurley's torn ACL to impact their ability upon return, so they can be valued just about how they normally would be for your playoff run. Obviously, you have to make the playoffs first, but if your team isn’t good enough to make it without Foster for the first few weeks, it probably wasn’t good enough to win it all anyway. The same can be said for Gurley.
League sizes range from eight to 14, and playoffs range from four to eight winning teams, but for the majority of leagues, half of the teams, give or take, will get in. Assuming the rest of your team is of a championship caliber, not having one of these guys for the beginning of the year won’t keep you out of the playoffs. If not, the team probably wasn't going to win consecutive playoff games against other great teams.
It’s an advantage to have the higher seed for easier match-ups, potential byes, etc., and yes, it may be a burden to stash a player or two and use up a roster spot. But if you’re the best team, you should be able to beat anyone and overcome the inconvenience of one or two stashed injured players on your roster.
With the injuries and unpredictability of fantasy football, the quality of opponent may not even align with the seed of the team anyway. If the first seed's best player gets hurt before the playoffs, or the eighth seed gets a premier player back for the playoffs, the seeds become less relevant.
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Now we can almost judge these players just by their outlook for while they're on the field. It’s tough to tell this early in the year which defenses will be good and bad to face, so for now let’s just take them for what they are: great players. Yahoo projects Foster to score over 14 points in standard scoring in weeks 14 through 16. He’s projected in the top five running backs each of those weeks. They project Gurley at 12, 13 and 10. That puts him as a near top-10 running back in projected points throughout that span.
Right now, Yahoo has Foster projected as the 34th best running back and Gurley as the 28th best running back. If what we value is fantasy playoff greatness, these guys are incredibly undervalued.
Every fantasy football analyst, NFL scout, and coach acknowledges Gurley’s potential once-in-a-generation physical talent. We saw him run through, over, and right past SEC defenders on hand-offs, tosses, screens, and kickoff returns:
We’ve seen what Foster can do fantasy-wise for years. Why wouldn’t you want that kind of talent in your lineup for a playoff game? In the overall Yahoo rankings, Gurley is at 66 and Foster’s at 97. The three guys on the board before Foster are Tevin Coleman, Delanie Walker, and Devin Funchess.
Foster's value is clearly way higher than theirs. If healthy, Foster would be taken in the top five to 10 picks, and Gurley likely in the top 25. Taking into account the expected value owners lose from the injuries for the first few weeks, Foster should be valued around pick number 30, while Gurley should be taken around pick number 35.
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But where should you take him if you have a draft this week? It's all about maximum value you can get out of your draft. Don't take these guys in the 30s just because they're worth it, when you can grab a guy like Jimmy Graham or DeAndre Hopkins there and still get these guys later.
Foster's ADP in Yahoo is 65.9. Gurley's is 72.2. In ESPN, Gurley's is 50.7 and Foster's 58.2. This could be due to ESPN's higher ranking of the two, with Gurley at 46 and Foster at 54. Adjust accordingly by your site of choice's rankings, as they clearly affect ADP. In general, the 40s should be safe, but try to take them as late as you can, taking into account who you are drafting with.
If you live in Houston, everyone wants Foster, and he'll be overvalued. If you're drafting with first-time fantasy football players who are scared off by any injury they see, you can probably still get him in the 50s.
If it's an auction draft, even better. See how the draft is going, and adjust accordingly. If everyone is afraid to spend at the beginning, nominate Foster or Gurley and get them as cheap as you can. If the big spending is happening right away, just make sure you have enough for when they get nominated later on, and you get him even cheaper.
It will be worth the investment to draft at least one of these guys, if not both. If you want to draft both, you've got to be a little more careful. If four teams out of 14 make the playoffs in your league, you can't afford to fall too far behind in the standings, so maybe settle for one of these guys, unless the other falls into your lap late. If eight out of 14 make it, by all means stash the talent early, and I'll see you and your stacked team in the playoffs.