Answering the Fantasy Football Players Injury Dilemma

All fantasy football players have had this dilemma:

Player X is my best option at WR 2 but he’s coming off of that groin injury and took limited reps in practice this week… should I start him or go with my backup who averages a couple less points?

The real question being asked is: what effect does being on the injury report have on average weekly performance when a player is still active for game day?

To analyze this question in an objective way, we need to look at the numbers. Specifically – we need to contrast the average or expected output of Player X when healthy (defined here as not-listed on injury report or full-participant in weekly practice) vs average or expected output of Player X when injured (defined here as listed on official injury report for the week and/or limited practice reps). But Player X is a pretty small sample size so lets aggregate the differences across the league by position and injury type. The goal is to get a better overall understanding of whether certain positions are affected more by injuries, or if certain types of injuries have a more noticeable impact on fantasy football performance.

For this information – I downloaded the full offensive stat list for each team from and grabbed what I could for injury report data from which, unfortunately, was limited to the 2017 season only. As you’ll see from the data, even an entire NFL season boils down to a pretty small sample size but there are still relevant insights to be gained.

The criteria which we used for the analysis is as follows:

Hurt: Injury listed on injury report but player active and took snaps in game

Healthy: Full practice participant with no injury specified, or not listed at all on injury report

Aggregated by player average points (standard league) when healthy vs player average points when hurt. (weeks that a player left game early and did not return the following week were removed so as not to distort the ‘healthy’ averages)

Since different players obviously average different hauls in points, we need to look at the average difference in points, isolated by player. We can then combine these across the league by position group and injury type to get a better look at the overall picture.

I’m working on creating an unbiased metric for opposing defenses so that we can more fairly drill down to how different injuries may affect specific players, however for now this will serve as a good overall indicator in the average change in production (points) between healthy vs hurt – as it would be highly improbable that all weeks when players ‘played hurt’ aligned with weaker defenses and/or all weeks when players ‘played healthy’ aligned with better ones (or vice versa).

You might have noticed that I refrained from using the word ‘drop’ or ‘decrease’ when referencing the average change week-to-week when healthy vs. hurt … and the reason for that is the available evidence is inconclusive that you should expect any change as long as said player is listed as active.

The overall distribution is pretty normal (both positive and negative) and most of the data are well within the standard margin of error week to week for each position type (about 4.18 points overall). Additionally, in most cases the higher frequency injuries (larger sample size) were closer to the healthy averages when aggregated – meaning there’s a correlation between less data and a greater deviation from the norm, and vice versa.

Avg Standard Deviation of weekly Fantasy Points by position: (Standard League, from this dataset)

QB  +-  6.49
RB  +-  4.64
TE   +-  3.08
WR +-  4.01

This further suggests that the more extreme deviations (in the data) may just be one-offs. In fact every data point outside of the 4-point margin had only 1 or 2 occurrences in 2017 to draw from and probably don’t qualify as hard evidence of any trends.

I think that may be  interesting in and of itself. This suggests that there shouldn’t be any expected change in production as long as a player is active. This also makes sense from the team’s standpoint, if you consider that by the time they allow a player to participate on gameday they expect his performance to be close-to-par. We also know that essentially every player is ‘hurting’ somewhere (from normal wear-and-tear) so ‘playing hurt’, as defined here, may be closer to the norm than most fans realize.

The net was about a 0.40 point overall reduction on average, but again with plenty of examples where players performed better than normal. It’s certainly not conclusive, however, and would be very interesting to see if this holds true over a 10 year period or more – or if the NFL has gotten better over time at diagnosing when a player is ready to come back.

Avg Change in Standard League Points (Healthy -> Inj) by Position, 2017 season

Position FantasyPoints SampleSize
RB -1.19 25
TE -0.65 18
WR -0.13 51
QB +2.74  4

Avg Change in Standard League Points (Healthy -> Inj) by Injury, 2017 season

Injury FantasyPoints SampleSize
Right Shoulder -4.66 1
Foot -4.23 1
Neck -3.97 3
Illness -3.08 2
Rib -2.92 2
Shoulder -2.80 8
Thumb -2.79 1
Groin -2.35 6
Knee -1.75  16
+0.43 1


Stay tuned for the other side of this as we take a look at defensive players in a future post. One thing I’m curious of is the potential case that offenses attack a defensive player (or his side of the field) more often when they are known to be injured – which may lead to an increase in opportunities to make plays and accumulate points.

For reference, here is a link to the NFL’s official personnel injury report policy for the 2017 season.

Week 9 Fantasy Disappointments

Fantasy football is a fickle beast. In Week 9 of the NFL season, three names had particularly poor outings considering what was expected of them.
Christine Michael
Michael is the guy for the Seattle Seahawks, at least for the time being. With Thomas Rawls due back in Week 11, Michael’s time as the bell-cow back could be coming to an end. That is especially true after a disastrous Week 9 performance.
Entering the game, Michael was projected as a top-10 player at running back and thus a must-start in all leagues. He finished the game against the Buffalo Bills with five total touches for one total yard! Luckily for owners, Michael found his way into the end zone to salvage what could have been a death sentence in weekly matchups.
Michael and the Seahawks have the Patriots on the schedule this week, and then Rawls is due back. The Patriots have one of the premiere rush defenses in the NFL. Michael’s usefulness as a fantasy starter may be over for good.
Charcandrick West
West was the biggest waiver pickup in the league between Weeks 8 and 9 because of the injuries around him. With Jamaal Charles hitting IR and Spencer Ware set to miss the game, West was due for a major workload in the matchup against Jacksonville. He did indeed dominate touches, but West did nothing with them. He had 16 total touches while no other Chief had more than five. He got 39 yards on the ground and 35 through the air; that was it. Ware is due back in Week 10, so West will once again be relegated to the bench.  He can safely dropped and disregarded at this point.
Dez Bryant
Though the Dallas Cowboys dominated the Cleveland Browns, Bryant did not partake in the festivities. He entered the week as arguably the number-one fantasy wide receiver because of the matchup. Instead of keeping pace with the likes of Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham, Bryant was a complete zero.
He caught one pass for 19 yards and never factored into the offense. This was a scary development for Bryant owners. Dallas had been playing so well without him, turning to the likes of Cole Beasley. Bryant returned to the field, had one good game and then disappeared again. Moving forward, it is hard to have confidence in him being a key in this offense that relies on running the football and the underneath passing tree.
Next up are the Pittsburgh Steelers, who boast a threatening offense but a defense that can be exploited in the passing game. Dak Prescott has little rapport with Bryant so who knows how often the latter will be targeted, let alone what he will produce.

Week 8 Fantasy Disappointments

Week 8 of the NFL season held lots of disappointment for fantasy owners. No player is ever a lock to have a monster day, but that guy you drafted in the 2nd round (We’re looking at you, Mark Ingram) wasn’t supposed to put up a negative number. Here are 3 of the most disappointing fantasy performers from this week.
Julio Jones
Julio was the consensus pick by experts to be the top fantasy receiver heading into Week 8. With a juicy matchup against the Green Bay Packers’ depleted secondary, everyone expected another monster performance from the star wideout. His speed and explosiveness should have been unmatched against a bunch of second-string corners. Instead, Jones only had 3 catches for 29 yards, good for just 2.9 standard fantasy points.
The game turned out to be a shootout just like everyone expected, but most of the fantasy production went to number 2 Falcons receiver Mohamed Sanu, who had 9 receptions for 84 yards and a touchdown. Even Taylor Gabriel had a better fantasy day than Julio, posting 68 yards and a touchdown on 3 receptions. Jones should certainly rebound next week against the Buccaneers, who are still fighting for playoff contention.
Mark Ingram
Ingram had a less than stellar matchup against a stout Seattle Seahawks rushing defense, but he was still considered a low end number one fantasy back heading into the contest. Ingram had seen at least 15 touches in 4 straight weeks, and he had been fairly productive.
Instead of seeing his usual volume, Saints head coach Sean Payton benched Ingram in favor of backup running back Tim Hightower, who went on to record more than 100 yards on the ground. This would have been a little easier to swallow for his fantasy owners if he hadn’t only had 5 yards on 3 carries when he got benched. In a standard league that scores a -2 for a fumble, Ingram left his owners with an abysmal -1.5 score.
DeAndre Hopkins
Hopkins was a sure-fire top 10 pick in fantasy drafts to start this season. After finishing last season with 1,521 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns, Hopkins was due for another monster season. Instead, he’s on pace for a measly 860 yards and 6 touchdowns this year. While this isn’t terrible, it’s a far cry from what owners expect from a first round pick.
Everyone expected Hopkins to turn things around against a terrible Detroit Lions defense that was to be without top corner Darius Slay. Instead, Hopkins only recorded 44 yards on 4 catches, good for just 4.4 standard points. After this most recent abysmal performance, Hopkins can now safely be considered a bust. With quarterback Brock Osweiler under center, things only appear to be getting worse for the star receiver.

Week 5 Fantasy Disappointments

The NFL and fantasy football are filled with surprises and disappointments. Something shocking is almost guaranteed to happen every week. The potential of chaos at any moment is one of the things that makes fantasy football so much fun to play. These are the three players that disappointed their fantasy football owners the most during Week 5.
Julio Jones
Julio Jones was coming off the sixth best receiving game in NFL history, so he was always going to have a hard time living up to expectations in Week 5. He was also stuck playing against the great cornerbacks of the Denver Broncos that have been able to shut down every great receiver they have faced this season. All of the fantasy football experts had Julio Jones ranked much lower than normal heading into Week 5, but he still managed to disappoint his owners. Jones only had two receptions for a total of 29 yards against the Broncos. The future should be a lot brighter for Julio Jones, but he may struggle to meet his lofty expectations on a weekly basis as the Falcons feature a much more balanced offense than last year.
Lamar Miller
Lamar Miller entered the 2016 season as the consensus 10th overall ranked player in fantasy football. While he has never lived up to this ranking, Miller still produced solid stats in his first four games thanks to a large number of carries each week. While the Vikings have one of the best defenses in the NFL, fantasy owners were still expecting a solid game from Miller thanks to his impressive workload. He severely disappointed by only gaining 20 rushing yards on eight attempts against the Vikings. Despite the horrible start, the upcoming schedule is very favorable for Lamar Miller. If the Texans continue the commitment to the running game they showed in their first four games, then Miller should be one of the more valuable running backs the rest of the fantasy football season.
Eli Manning
Eli Manning had three straight unimpressive games entering his Week 5 contest against the Green Bay Packers. Fantasy owners were still expecting big things from Manning because of the great matchup. The Packers have a great rush defense, but they showed no ability to stop the pass before their game against the New York Giants, who many believed would have one of the most potent offenses in the league this season. Manning only tallied 199 passing yards and one late touchdown against the depleted secondary of the Packers. Unlike the other two players on this list, it is hard to trust Manning in the near future. The terrible play calling of Ben McAdoo will probably limit Manning’s upside the rest of the season, so he is only a desperation play at this point in the fantasy football season.