You'll want to avoid one of these guys on draft day (hint: it's the guy on the right)
Photo Credit: Peter Martorano
With draft season underway, it’s time for your favorite physical therapist to chime in on which players we should be leery of drafting due to risk of injury. That’s right kids, it’s the official Don’s Do Not Trust List ®: Fantasy Football Draft Edition. I’ve got a number of players to discuss, some of whom I will endorse and some of whom will be placed on this dreaded list. God has granted me a wonderful combination of medical expertise and fantasy prowess, and if baseball season was any indication you should pay close attention to my words here. There are too many injuries and players for me to address everyone, so I’m sticking with players found in the majority of leagues. If there’s a player in particular I don’t address and you’d like some advice, or if you just want to thank me profusely for being your fantasy draft guardian angel, please feel free to drop me a line in the comments section or send me an email, I’ll help a brother (or sister) out.
This edition will focus on Quarterbacks (RB can be found here, WR here, TE here). I’ll preface this piece by saying that ALL quarterbacks are at great risk for injury, it almost goes without saying, so while I endorse a number of guys here don’t blame me when a 320lb. D-lineman squashes your QB and he misses some time. It happens. Don’t hate the player, hate the game. With that, let’s get it on!
Matthew Stafford Another year passed and another season ended early for Stafford and his throwing arm. Stafford had reconstructive surgery (performed by the great Dr. James Andrews) to repair the acromioclavicular joint (AC) joint and “shave down” the clavicle (collarbone) in his right shoulder. What’s the AC joint you ask? Well, if you put your hand on one of your collarbones and follow it all the way up to your shoulder, where it connects to the point of your shoulder (acromion) is your AC joint. There are ligaments that hold this joint together, and Stafford tore them, resulting in the clavicle and acromion separating. Your clavicle actually rotates every time you elevate your arm overhead, thus activities such as throwing a football are nearly impossible until the joint has healed. Typical recovery time is 4-6 months, and all reports regarding Stafford’s recovery have been positive and he appears right on schedule.
Generally speaking, this injury and resulting surgery should have little to no long term effects on Stafford’s ability to throw the football. There were no muscles torn and thus no concern over loss of arm strength (he won’t be the next Chad Pennington). In fact, often the athlete will have improved arm strength having undergone the extensive rehab program that will encompass not only the surgical area but the entire upper body as well. While pre-season injury reports should be taken with a grain of salt, reports of Stafford’s workouts have been glowing to say the least. Is Stafford a big injury risk? In short, yes. He’s had two season-ending injuries to his throwing shoulder, he has a less-than-stellar o-line blocking for him and he has a tendency to sit back and take hits that he could perhaps avoid with a little more pocket awareness. Oh yeah, he also plays QB in the NFL, and unless your last name is Favre or Manning there’s a good chance you’ll get hurt.
Advice: You’ll no doubt read all over the web that you shouldn’t draft Stafford because of his injury history, but I’m telling you not to pass on Stafford in drafts because of his surgically repaired shoulder. The shoulder should be fine, he’s at no greater risk because of the procedure and the majority of the risks he faces are no different than any other NFL quarterback. Remember, the injury he suffered is of the somewhat “fluky” variety in that it involved an awkward impact of the arm with the ground. This could happen to anyone who gets hit in such a fashion. Just as he was tabbed as a big sleeper going into last year’s drafts, I’ll be targeting him this year as well. There’s a ton of potential with his tools and all the weapons at his disposal. While some players just can’t seem to stay healthy, and Stafford may end up being one of those people, it’s too early in his career to officially designate him as that guy. I’m probably going out on a limb a bit with this call, but I’m leaving him off the list and saying he's safe to draft this year.
Michael Vick Vick does not come into this season with any off-season injuries to contend with, so perhaps it’s a bit odd for me to address him here. But anytime a QB is being drafted in the first round (or even the first pick), it’s worth discussing. We all know what Vick is on the football field, he’s a terror to defend with a rocket arm and blazing speed, a true dual-threat. In my opinion he has the biggest scoring potential week in and week out of any player in the NFL. If anybody will drop the fantasy nuke on any given week, it’s this guy. Unfortunately, his style of play leads to injury, and we saw a glimpse of this last year when he injured multiple body parts including ribs, quads and ankles. Philly runs a very pass-happy attack, to say the least, and Vick will be utilized heavily for as long as he remains on the field. I couldn’t fault anyone for drafting this guy early, but you can bet your ass I won’t be one of them.
First round picks need to be pillars of stability. Scoring potential, upside and opportunity are great, but I want a rock solid player that I can count on. You can’t say that about Vick. He will get hurt, it’s practically inevitable. Last year he may have caught some teams by surprise, but this is the NFL, adjustments will be made. Vick is a smaller guy, he's not built to take the beating he’ll receive every week and he’s not a young man anymore either. While Vick showed huge improvements as a pocket passer, he still tucked it and ran more often than a typical QB and he took a lot of big hits trying to make something happen. Even as a passer, Vick was hit more often than the average QB (Vick 1 hit per 4.5 passes, league average 1: 7.3) and the Eagles in general allowed the 3rd most QB hits in the league last year (even Kolb was hurt playing behind that line). I love watching him play, but I have a feeling he’ll not only be a nightmare to play against but a nightmare to own as well.
Advice: Vick gets a spot on Don's Do Not Trust List ® (DDNTL) this season. In his 8-year career Vick has NEVER made it an entire season without missing time due to injury. While he’s healthy going into the season I would be shocked if he didn’t miss time or have to deal with nagging injuries that will hurt his production. If he was there in the 3rd round he’d be worth the risk, but if you want him you’ll have to take him in the 1st or 2nd round, and I’m not using a top 30ish pick (or huge auction dollars) on a guy I know will not play 16 games.
Peyton Manning Manning enters this season having undergone minimally invasive neck surgery in May to fix a bulging disc. It’s the second consecutive off-season that Manning has had a surgical procedure to his neck, and news recently surfaced that Manning may miss some if not all of training camp as his recovery has been somewhat slower than anticipated. I can only speculate on what procedure Manning had done to his neck as no specifics have been released (that I’ve found). It sounds like he had some form of discectomy, where a piece of intervertebral disc (the shock absorbing pads between your spine bones) that was pinching on nerves and soft tissue is removed. Typical recovery time for such a procedure is 6-8 weeks, which is exactly what the Colts anticipated back in May. If Manning’s symptoms were truly caused by the disc material that was removed, he should have a full recovery.
Unfortunately, without specifics it’s hard to say definitively what Manning’s outlook is. With this being his second procedure, is this injury to the same level as his previous surgery? If it’s the same level, that would indicate to me that the original surgery last season was not successful and that his symptoms didn’t resolve, thus he had additional surgery to try and fix it. If that’s the case, there’s reason to worry, because if surgery didn’t fix it the first time, there’s a chance it won’t fix it the second time either. I’ve personally seen far too many cases of people with multiple failed spine surgeries and it’s not pretty. If the surgery was to a different level of the spine then perhaps it’s just a mechanism of wear and tear, in which case I’d feel much better about it as it represents two isolated problems that can be fixed in relatively routine fashion.
Manning’s recovery has been “slower” than anticipated because the lockout has forced him away from the team’s facilities (and thus his team doctors and physical therapist). Of course Manning can afford to literally buy his own personal PT, but when you’ve worked with a therapist who you know and trust and who knows you just as well, you want to stick with that person. Manning doesn’t want to ramp up his activity level until his therapist gives him the green light to do so, and that’s not unusual. What will be important to watch is how he responds when given clearance to begin football activities. Are his symptoms gone? Is his arm strength there? Is he able to maneuver his head and neck to survey the field and maintain pocket awareness while wearing a heavy helmet?
Advice: Peyton Manning has not missed a start in his 13 year career and I don’t expect that streak to end now. Yes there’s cause for concern given the nature and uncertainty of his injury/surgery, but I’d anticipate a full recovery given the information we have. Peyton Manning doesn’t need a full training camp to be Peyton Manning; the guy is practically an offensive coordinator. He’s not going on the list, but we'll monitor the reports in the preseason for indicators of problems I mentioned earlier.
Ben Roethlisberger Big Ben is coming off a fractured foot that caused him some trouble last season. Ben (I will call him “Ben” because his last name is a big pain in the ass to type repeatedly) apparently has had this fracture since childhood. He had a “fibrous union” at the fracture site, meaning instead of the fractured ends of the bone healing together, fibrous scar tissue healed between them creating a less stable union. In the average person this would probably not be an issue, but for a professional football player who needs to run, cut, jump and get whacked by huge men, this can cause problems if disrupted. Apparently what Ben did last year was aggravate this pre-existing fracture, but he was able to play with the injury after having custom cleats with metal posting and supports made.
Reports this off season state that Ben is feeling fine, however Ben himself admits that if his symptoms creep up again there’s a chance he’ll need surgery to fixate the fracture. Ben will likely play this season (and perhaps forever) with the specially made footwear to improve the stability and safety of the fracture site, but it’s possible this issue creeps up again in the future if stressed. That, my friends, is a problem. Ben admits that there were times towards the end of last season where he wasn’t sure he could even walk let alone play, and you really don’t need a medical degree to know that your foot is a necessary body part to play in the NFL.
Ben has been told by doctors that surgery will be his only course of action if he re-aggravates the injury and his symptoms return to the level of last season. Surgery to fixate a foot fracture will put Ben out of commission for a number of weeks, and that's not something you want to hear. We also have to factor in Ben’s style of play. Much like Michael Vick, Big Ben makes a lot of plays with his legs and takes a lot of hits. While he was able to play the entire season (suspension excluded) last year, he always seems to be nursing one nagging injury or another. The more running around he does and the more big hits he takes, the greater the chance for re-injuring his foot.
Advice: Big Ben joins Vick on the DDNTL. While it’s entirely possible that Ben’s foot woes are behind him (he played for a number of years without ever having an issue with it), foot injuries in general can be very tricky to manage and can be very debilitating for athletes. The fact that Big Ben has a known fracture that’s not fully healed (and never was) is a cause for concern, and if the fibrous tissue holding the fracture site together is disrupted or aggravated Ben will require surgical fixation to resolve the issue. He’s not a high draft pick and if you can couple him with another solid arm I can’t fault you for drafting him, but I’m seeing him on a lot of QB Top 10 lists and there’s no way I’d rank him that high when there’s a chance a major surgery will be needed. Draft him at your own risk and be sure to pair him with another serviceable QB if you do.
Don’s Do Not Trust List: Fantasy Football Draft Edition
Quarterbacks Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger
Runningbacks MJD, A.Bradshaw, P.Hillis, K.Moreno, P.Thomas
Wide Receivers M.Colston, S.Rice, M.Crabtree, A.Collie, K.Britt, MSW
Tight Ends Antonio Gates, Chris Cooley, Kellen Winslow
Tony Romo Romo broke his clavicle last season. He almost returned at the end of the year and like Stafford’s AC joint surgery Romo’s broken clavicle is not a muscular issue, he should be fine. The Cowboys o-line doesn’t inspire much confidence and Romo is no stranger to injuries, but I don’t see him as any greater risk than usual for this year. He’s another guy I’d try to get at a discount on draft day.
Tom Brady I refuse to even attempt a thorough injury analysis on any member of the New England Patriots. Tom Brady has been on the injury report every week for four straight years but still makes it out there just fine. I’m sure Brady will be ready to roll entering the season following foot surgery, but as I mentioned with Big Ben, foot injuries can be tricky business and it wouldn’t be a total shock to see Brady hobbled a bit. Also, Bill Belichick can kiss the fattest part of my ass for being such a prick with injury reports.
That’s all for now kids, again, feel free to get at me in the comments section, hope you learned something!