By: Kyle Allen
This article serves to shed some light on the fantasy-relevant players that you sent into us on twitter, plus a few that the rest of the Ride or Dynasty crew asked me to check out. If you have a question about a player’s status or want to know if their injury history should impact your decision to draft or trade a player, hit me on Twitter @kallen_4. So, without further delay, here is the 2020 Preseason Injury Review!
Ben Roethlisberger (PIT):
Big Ben underwent “Tommy John” surgery in September on his throwing elbow. Tommy John surgery repairs a damaged ulnar collateral ligament (UCL), which connects the inner aspect of the ulna (larger of the two forearm bones) to the inner aspect of the humerus in the upper arm. This surgery is far more commonly seen in baseball pitchers than quarterbacks, but thankfully is not a career-ender in most cases.
It generally carries a 12-18 month recovery period, but Big Ben seems to be ahead of schedule. Roethlisberger is already throwing at full speed. As Mark Kaboly of The Athletic reported, he’s been practicing at full speed, making cross body throws, and looking like his old self. Ben himself said in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, “I’m throwing without pain for the first time in years.”
These words are music to fantasy managers’ ears as he finished as the 3rd ranked QB and scored a career-high 340.86 fantasy points in his last full season in 2018. Big Ben may not be a “sexy” pick for a dynasty QB, but his teammates will benefit from his veteran presence. While he may not have the security blanket of Antonio Brown anymore, look for JuJu Smith-Shuster and Diontae Johnson to improve from their 2019 performances with a more stable QB situation.
Tua Tagovailoa (MIA):
Tua suffered several injuries in college, including a dislocated hip, which caused a fracture of the posterior wall of the acetabular component (socket of the “ball and socket” joint), two ankle injuries (which required surgery), and a broken finger on his throwing hand (also requiring surgery).
DO NOT PANIC!
Instead, ask yourself what do his notable injuries have in common? The answer is that they were all contact injuries, both ankle injuries were suffered after someone either rolled or stepped on his leg, and the hip dislocation and fracture occurred when two linemen landed on top of him.
These are all tough-luck kinds of injuries, and we should not rush to label him as injury prone or fragile. You should love the talent and the upside that Tua brings to the table in dynasty formats. He has young targets, including Mike Gesicki, Devante Parker, and Preston Williams, and the Dolphins have four picks in the first two rounds of the 2021 draft.
He should be the second rookie QB off the board in rookie drafts this year. Focus on the present, remember his talent, and, most importantly, don’t worry about his past.
Todd Gurley (ATL):
The offseason overflows with questions about Gurley knees’ health and, more importantly, his value in dynasty leagues. He has finally passed his team physical and is available to participate in all football-related activities. He is in Atlanta on a one year deal, so I expect the Falcons to rely on him to carry a large workload this season.
Chris Carson (SEA):
@goatsmilkffb on Twitter asked for an update on Chris Carson’s hip situation. Carson is currently rehabbing his fractured hip, for which he did not undergo surgery. After reviewing his imaging, the team physicians deemed surgery unnecessary. Avoiding surgery raises questions about recovery time.
According to HC Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider, recovery is on schedule, and Carson will be ready for week one but may be limited in camp and the preseason. Carroll is notably optimistic about his players’ prognoses, but the confirmation from Schneider is undoubtedly encouraging. The optimism, along with Rashaad Penny’s ACL rehab, would explain the signing of free agent Carlos Hyde.
I expect Hyde to absorb most of the preseason running back snaps to give Carson and Penny time to rest and continue their recoveries, but not impact Carson’s season-long value. Hyde has already stated that “Everyone knows [Carson] is the guy,” and Carroll has a history of sticking with one bell-cow back. Expect Carson to have another great season in 2020.
Rashaad Penny (SEA):
As mentioned before, Rashaad Penny is recovering from an ACL tear and subsequent surgery following his week 14 injury. @AlexRas0223 (Twitter) asked if he’s worth holding or if he should explore trades. I operate under the theory that anyone has a price tag, so it depends on what you can get in return and your team’s needs.
According to Alistair Corp of SB Nation’s Field Gulls, GM John Schneider has already hinted that Penny will begin the season on the PUP list, meaning he would not be available until Week 8. Depending upon your league rules, you can always place him in an IR spot, but do not bank on having him to start your season.
James Conner (PIT):
I had multiple questions on James Conner, one from @FantasyTTT (Twitter) & one from @MortyNiners (Twitter) asking for a comparison between Conner and Dalvin Cook’s injury history (we’ll get to that in a minute.)
Despite a breakout campaign in 2018, Conner still missed time at the end of the year with a high ankle sprain. He suffered a knee injury in week 2 of 2019, which didn’t cause him to miss any games, but a Week 8 shoulder injury hampered the rest of his season. He missed several games and was significantly ineffective in the few games in which he was active. The best ability is availability, and Conner certainly lacked that in 2019.
While the Steelers have Jaylen Samuels, 2019 draft pick Benny Snell, and 2020 draft pick Anthony McFarland Jr. behind Conner on the depth chart, don’t expect Conner’s workload to change. HC Mike Tomlin prefers a one-back system, and that shouldn’t change for 2020.
While tempering your dynasty expectations due to Conner’s propensity to find injury trouble in the NFL (and long term durability concerns), don’t expect the Steelers to be scared to put him to work before he becomes an unrestricted free agent after 2020.
Dalvin Cook (MIN):
After comparing James Conner’s injury history to Dalvin Cook’s, I’m intrigued by their situations. In a similar situation to Conner’s 2019, he finds himself coming off a stellar season in which he stayed mostly healthy but suffered an injury near the end of the season. Conner’s previous injury did not interfere with his 2019 campaign, and I do not expect Cook’s 2020 to be affected by his 2019 shoulder injury.
While Cook has a history of right shoulder injuries, this AC joint sprain is not related to the labrum tears he has suffered in the past. The AC joint (acromioclavicular joint) is the point where the acromion, the highest point of the shoulder blade, and the clavicle (collar bone) meet on top of the shoulder. A sprain occurs when there is tearing of the ligament that holds this joint together. It can take anywhere from a few days to up to 6 weeks for these injuries to heal.
For Cook, this injury is not of concern for 2020, and he proved last year that his past ACL tear is not holding him back. I expect Cook to continue to thrive in Minnesota with Gary Kubiak calling plays this season.
There has been some discussion of a possible hold out by Cook entering this season, but I think it would be better for him to prove he can string together a full season of work before he tries to force that issue. If Cook holds out or misses any time, look for Alexander Mattison and Mike Boone to jump right in and contribute. Both of these players showed they could be explosive playmakers in 2019 and make for great dynasty pickups in the latter half of your draft.
Derrius Guice (WAS):
Rounding out our running back section is Derrius Guice, per the request of our very own Ryan Bickerstaff (@thedevydirtbag on Twitter).
Guice has a long documented history of knee injuries. He missed all of 2018 with a torn left ACL. In his first NFL game in 2019, he tore his right meniscus, requiring surgery and costing him another eight games. After the Week 10 bye, he returned to the field for a mere four games before spraining his left MCL and landing on season-ending IR.
For a running back, knee injuries are not uncommon, but they can also spell disaster. Disaster may not be the case for Guice. While his first two seasons may not have produced anything of note, the MCL sprain may be a blessing in disguise. The break gave Guice four weeks to rest his legs, plus an entire offseason to recover and rehab his ailing knees. He now enters his third year in the league fully healthy, well-rested, and looking to prove his worth.
Guice will only be 23 years old by the time the season starts, meaning he is younger and has less mileage than Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, and many other top tier backs. While there is some inherent risk in drafting a running back with well-documented knee injuries, savvy managers might be able to cash in on a late-round steal in the Washington rusher.
Will Fuller (HOU):
This question comes from my brother via Twitter (@wallen_13). He raised concerns for Will Fuller’s longevity. Fuller has suffered a laundry list of injuries, including a broken clavicle, rib injuries, and a knee injury in 2017, a hamstring injury that hampered his 2018 production and an eventual ACL tear cut 2018 short. In 2019 he suffered a core muscle injury that led to double groin surgery to repair those injuries in January.
Since recovering from his off-season procedure, he is a full participant in the Texans’ virtual workouts (as well as his rehab program). Fuller is a physical receiver that can make the big plays and break off huge RAC plays. With Deandre Hopkins gone to the Cardinals, the #1 receiver spot in Houston is wide open. While the history is concerning, and I expect him to miss some time again this season, he may be worth a look in later rounds as a spot starter or bye-week replacement, but I would not bank on him being a 16-week player.
One final note, this season is the final year on contract with Houston, and he has yet to play all 16 games in a season. He will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, which could spell a significant extension or a new contract elsewhere. Keep this in mind when drafting Fuller in dynasty startups.
Parris Campbell (IND):
As you may have heard on Episode 52 of the podcast, our @michaelsklos asked for an update on Parris Campbell. Campbell’s 2019 was marred by four different injuries, which only allowed him to play in 7 games.
Coming into 2020, Campbell says he’s 100%. He expects to be the Colts slot receiver, which should spell plenty of opportunity for him with Phillip Rivers under center. Last season, Zach Pascal gained attention as one of the Colts’ most consistent receivers and figures to line up in 3 receiver sets, but I do not expect that he will surpass Campbell on the depth chart. (ed. Note: Pascal is a JAG)
Jarvis Landry (CLE):
Jarvis Landry is not a name that comes to mind when I think of the injury report. However, his hip surgery in February has raised some questions. He had a procedure to remove bone fragments from his labrum (the cartilage ring that helps to fortify the socket part of the hip joint).
Landry takes pride in his durability and approaches his recovery seriously. He has never missed a game in his career and has proven his ability to produce wherever he goes, averaging 94 receptions/year over his first six years. Last season he played through his nagging hip injury and states that he is ahead of schedule in recovery. He hopes to be on the field in August and ready to go by the season opener.
Preston Williams (MIA):
Preston Williams is a popular name amongst dynasty managers as a potential breakout candidate in 2020. Although he tore his ACL in November of 2019, he looks to be on track to return for the season opener.
If he remains healthy, I expect him to outperform his current ADP and push for a 1,000-yard season. If he maintained his pace from weeks 1-8, he would have ended the season with roughly 60 receptions for 850 yards and 6 touchdowns, not bad for a rookie receiver on a bad team.
He also returns punts, taking three back for touchdowns in those eight games, and compiling 428 return yards. If your league counts punt return yardage, lock Williams in as a prime candidate to break out with a healthy 2020 campaign.
Chris Herndon (NYJ):
Our resident Jets fan @JJWenner, has expressed some concern with Chris Herndon’s “Houdini Act” in the 2019 season. After having a promising rookie year, his second season was nothing short of disastrous.
Herndon started the year on a four-game suspension, then suffered a Grade 1 hamstring strain in practice before even stepping on the field, which cost him three games. He finally returns for one game, makes one catch, and breaks a rib, ending his season.
TE is a physical position, and one rib injury after a string of bad decisions and tough luck is not an indication of Herndon’s future. With a much improved offensive line and another season under QB Sam Darnold’s belt, expect Herndon to be a strong bounce-back candidate in 2020 and beyond. I know JJ is excited to see if this guy can meet his potential, and savvy fantasy managers should be on the lookout in startup leagues for a TE that could become a star, especially in TE premium leagues.
Evan Engram (NYG):
Evan Engram is a fascinating TE. When he is on the field, his numbers are comparable to some of the best, but he cannot shake the injury bug. He has missed 14 of 48 career games (nearly 30%) in his first three seasons.
Most recently, he is recovering from a Lisfranc injury that cost him eight games last season. A Lisfranc injury is one of the midfoot in which one or more of the metatarsals (long bones of the foot) are displaced from the tarsus (the group of 7 small bones that allow the foot to move multi-directionally at the ankle joint).
Recovery time varies by case due to the incorporation of multiple bones and ligaments, but most Lisfranc injuries that require surgery result in 6-12 weeks in a walking boot and up to a year of physical therapy. The Giants’ TE has shared videos of himself already running on the treadmill via his Instagram (@eazyengram) and looks to continue rehabbing through the offseason.
There is no doubting Engram’s prowess as one of the most dangerous TEs in the game, and that paired with new OC Jason Garrett’s propensity for highlighting the position (see 10x Pro Bowler Jason Witten), is enough to excite any fantasy manager.
Engram was on pace to be the Giants leading receiver last season before going down and showed good rapport with QB Daniel Jones. The Giants have picked up his 5th-year option, which tells me that they want him to be a big part of their offense. I love the volume and potentially massive ceiling that Engram carries, but I urge you to draft him with caution. And if you do draft him, do not be afraid to pick a few more TEs––just in case.
Keanu Neal (ATL):
Last, but certainly not least, per the request of our very own @thedevydirtbag, we have a few IDPs to review. Up first is Falcons safety, Keanu Neal. In 2018, Neal suffered a torn ACL in the season opener, and he is now recovering from a torn Achilles tendon suffered in week 3 of 2019.
The hard-hitting safety will enter the season at 25 years old, only having played in 34 games over his 4-year career. Fortunately for fantasy managers and Falcons fans alike, he seems to be coming around. Per Sports Illustrated’s Malik Brown, Falcons HC Dan Quinn gave an encouraging update in May, stating that his safety is making strides towards his goal and, “‘looks like himself in terms of speed and change of direction.'”
Neal is a monster when he is on the field, being voted to the Pro Bowl and recording career highs in tackles and turnovers in his 2017 season. You can expect Neal to bounce back in 2020 if he remains on the field to help the Falcons’ shaky secondary put together a much better season.
Roquan Smith (CHI):
Smith is coming off of a torn pectoral muscle, which he has said has fully recovered. He stated in a media Zoom call stating, “Others may have different opinions, but I definitely feel like I’m 100 percent, and I’m excited for where I’m at right now. I feel like I can pretty much do any and everything.”
I have high hopes for the third-year linebacker after he put together back to back 100 tackle seasons, despite missing four games last year. With the addition of Robert Quinn alongside Khalil Mack, opposing offensive lines will have their hands full scheming to stop the pass rush. Smith looks to break into the top tier of LBs in 2020, and I expect him to feast with this strong front seven.
JJ Watt (HOU):
The oft-injured defensive end has taken his lumps over the past four years, missing a combined 32 games. Watt currently has two years left on his contract in Houston but has no more guaranteed money. Watt has stated that he wants the opportunity to prove his worth again, and prove that he can stay on the field before he asks for an extension.
He has suffered a long list of injuries, including multiple knee injuries, a tibial plateau fracture, and, most recently, a torn pectoral muscle. That injury cost him eight regular-season games, but he was able to return the Texans 2 playoff games in 2019.
He is entering his 10th year in the league and is still playing at a high level despite his injury history. If he can stay on the field in 2020, expect big things. Watt has been voted to the Pro Bowl and voted All-Pro in the last five seasons in which he has played a full 16 games. Before his pectoral injury last season, he led the league in pass-rush pressures and forced a career-high seven fumbles in 2018. He’s not slowing down any time soon.