September 08, 2015 - Dr. David Chao
2015 Fantasy Medical Draft Guide: Part 2 – Running Backs
This is the second article in a four-part series providing medical insight for fantasy drafts. I have already provided medical opinions on quarterbacks. Now we will discuss running backs with parts 3 and 4 focusing on wide receivers and tight ends. Below are my top fantasy medical issues for the running back position. Using the format of my previous top free agent medical issues column, the assessments are categorized into red, yellow and green light ratings. This is for simplicity but specific details related to medical implications of fantasy performance will be discussed. I have not examined any of the following players or seen their medical records. If I had, I would not be allowed to comment based on federal privacy laws. For these evaluations, I utilize public reports and injury video combined with my knowledge as a practicing orthopedic surgeon/sports medicine specialist and my almost two decades of experience as a NFL team physician. Like a traffic light, the ratings are subject to change. Follow me on twitter for updates as more injury/recovery details are revealed. I am medical expert, not a fantasy expert. This is a medical ranking only. I am not taking into account coaching decisions, depth charts, schemes, strategy, opponents or bye weeks. I am only providing a medical grade much like what I provided to team general managers for the NFL draft. Owners and GMs would factor in the medical grade as they made their final draft decisions, as should you as a fantasy team owner. RED Light issue: Indicates a serious medical issue that should cause a fantasy team owner to stop and reassess. These players aren’t all undraftable, but their draft position will likely be affected by their medical status. When a player is red flagged, it doesn’t mean he won’t play football this season. It just means there is an issue to cause you to stop and pause. You may want to take a red light player of your draft board or try to obtain a bargain in later rounds. Often the player is not available for early season play but easily could become available later in the season. Remember this is only a medical grade, I am not taking into account fantasy strategy or coaching decisions that will affect performance. Stop and reconsider these players before drafting; however, in lower rounds there may be value, especially for later in the season. Kendall Hunter, 49ers – Placed on IR for his knee coming off ACL surgery. San Francisco perhaps could have brought him back later in the year but he was not eligible for PUP. He will not play in 2015. Do not draft. James Develin, Patriots – Suffered a tibia fracture that was rodded and placed on IR. Do not draft, as he will not play in 2015. Dan Herron, Colts – Waived injured with a shoulder injury. Unlikely to play in 2015 unless his injury improves, and he is picked up by another team. Stevan Ridley, Jets – Was placed on PUP from a knee injury. Will not be eligible to return until Week 6 at the earliest. Second half of season consideration only for fantasy. Jay Ajayi, Dolphins – Earlier hamstring and recent rib fracture and was placed on IR /dfr. Although rib fractures usually heal before 8 weeks, he can’t return any sooner. The missed time for a rookie makes this a “red light” medical issue. David Cobb , Titans – Placed on IR/dfr for a calf injury. Calf injuries tend to linger and he will miss at least 8 weeks due to the designation, which justifies that any fantasy owner stop to consider before drafting. Karlos Williams, Bills - Hospitalized last month with an undisclosed illness/injury that required a procedure. Details have never been released. I am not saying he won’t be healthy and play this year (he may be ready soon) but the fact that we don’t know what the issue was makes puts him in the “red light” category where one has to stop to consider before selecting him. YELLOW Light issues: Indicates a significant medical issue that needs to be taken into account. As the color indicates, a fantasy owner needs to slow down and factor in the player’s medical assessment before selection. These players will be productive but their medical situation may affect fantasy production. Proceed with caution before drafting. Todd Gurley, Rams – Coming off November 2014 ACL tear, there was initial optimism, then pessimism and now optimism again. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Gurley will play this year, but not Week 1. The question is when he does enter a game, how effective will he be? There is no doubt that his next season will be better than this one, as typically the second year back is the full strength year (Adrian Peterson is exception). Research shows 95% of ACL tears return to the same level but Gurley is also being asked to jump to the pro level. He perhaps has more value in keeper leagues - but use caution this year - especially at the start of the season. Arian Foster, Texans – The most talked about groin injury in sports. Prior to his surgery when there was much doom and gloom, I wrote about the Top 10 things to know about Foster’s injury and the majority of it has come true. Indeed, the surgery was a sports hernia type procedure and his timeline is much faster than the original IR or IR/dfr worries. I didn’t buy into the projected long absence and I don’t buy into the speculation that his recovery has been much faster than expected. Typical recovery is 4-6 weeks, and Week 1 is 5 weeks from surgery. The groin is vital for acceleration and cutting, which makes it harder on a running back to return. Add to that the Texans desire to make sure their bell cow RB will not relapse, I always expected Foster to return a few weeks into the season. Now, that end of September estimate seems to be coming true. The “yellow light “ caution here is for the fact that no one can be sure which week he comes back, but I am quite sure he will come back strong after only a few games missed. LeSean McCoy, Bills – Hamstring injury August 18th has been described as a “small tear”. With the injury reported to be high, this casts doubt of being full-go a little less than 4 weeks later. My bet is he won’t play Week 1 due to either not being ready or not wanting a setback. Even if he plays, will he be effective? Use caution here, but McCoy should return to full form shortly. Joique Bell, Lions – Offseason knee and Achilles surgery and was just recently activated off PUP. Two lower extremity surgeries and a late start on the season, caution seems in order here. CJ Spiller, Saints – Had surprise knee scope on August 14th. No details of the procedure were released. If the surgery involved articular cartilage damage, he could be in for an up and down year. With such little information available and only the team expectation of being ready Week 1, the “yellow light” rating is certainly justified. Vick Ballard, Colts – Recently had his second hamstring injury this camp. Coming off two consecutive season-ending injuries (Achilles and ACL), he can’t seem to catch a break. This injury history should say caution to any fantasy owner. Are the hamstring injuries compensatory and will they recur? Lorenzo Taliaferro, Ravens – MCL sprain had him out for end of training camp. The Ravens have not released the severity, which leaves me to think it may be higher grade. He is likely to recover fully, but it may be a few weeks. Chris Johnson, Cardinals – Suffered a mild hamstring injury and will only be out 1-2 weeks. However, he just joined the team and thus won’t be able to learn the offense. The injury is minor but the timing of the injury puts him in the caution for drafting category. GREEN Light issues: Indicates a reported medical issue, but one that has healed or should have minimal effect on the season. Despite public reports, these player are deemed healthy with only minimal, if any effect, on their potential fantasy performance. Don’t be afraid of the public reports of injury in selecting these players. Demarco Murray, Eagles – Has missed some practices, which has caused injury speculation. Murray has been a “victim” of sports science, not injury. He has been held out due to fatigue and workload as a precaution only. I do not believe he has any current medical issues. Le’Veon Bell, Steelers – His season ended by missing the playoffs with a significant knee injury. The injury appears to be behind him. Bell is a “green light” from a medical perspective, but does have the two-game suspension to start the season. Darren McFadden, Cowboys – Training camp hamstring issues are resolved. No current health issues and no indication the hamstring injuries will be chronic. Tre Mason, Rams – Left 3rd preseason game with a hamstring injury, did not play in the final tune-up and is questionable for opener. The strain appears to be mild and with extra time before Week 1, I expect that he will be fine and won’t miss the chance to start with Gurley out. Duke Johnson, Browns – Concussion has him sidelined, but I would expect clearance before Week 1. Had an earlier hamstring injury that is also behind him. The rookie should have minimal health issues going forward. Although this list is short, there are plenty of healthy “green light” running backs. Adrian Peterson, Jamal Charles, Eddie Lacy, Marshawn Lynch and many others are free of medical issues. I only list players here if there are reported injuries or question marks. Next up, wide receivers will be analyzed in the third installment of this four-part series. Follow David on Twitter: @profootballdoc Dr. David Chao is a former NFL head team physician with 17 years of sideline, locker and training room experience. He currently has a successful orthopedic/sports medicine practice in San Diego.