By Kyle Allen

The 2020 football season is fast approaching, and many questions about what it will look like are looming. Outside of concerns and protocols surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the biggest questions that I have is: how will the lack of preseason games and abbreviated offseason training programs affect player health over the course of the season?

This question was raised after a twitter debate with my fellow Ride or Dynasty writer Tussin McShay (@TussMcShay). I came across an article published in Sports Health outlining how overexertion correlates with injury risk in professional football players. This inspired me to dig a little deeper into the topic.

The article mentioned above concluded that, “Soft tissue injuries in professional football players were associated with sudden increases in training load over the course of a month” (Li, et al., 2020). Simply put; the cancellation of the 2020 NFL preseason indicates a potential uptick in early season soft tissue injuries.

This conclusion is supported by the results of a study performed in 2018 by researchers at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. They analyzed NFL injury occurrence before and after the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiation. The study found a 38% increase in “conditioning dependent injuries” in 2011 (Binney, et al., 2018). These injuries include any non-head, non-illness related injuries that caused players to miss games.

Photo courtesy @FBInjuryDoc (Twitter)

Why is this important?

In 2011, there was a player lockout during which the NFL did not have a training camp and did not allow players to use team facilities or interact with team medical personnel while the CBA was being negotiated. This lockout lasted from March 12-July 25, 2011. This 135 day lockout led to a steep increase in player injury.

Who is most at risk for injury in 2020?

According to the Folia Media article, “Risk Factors for Injuries in Professional Football Players,” the biggest risk factors that have increased injury rates among football players include previous injury, increased age, and years of playing. They found no correlation between BMI and injury prevalence, and indicated no correlation between previous workload and injury prevalence.

Based upon this information, players I am keeping an eye on include: Carson Wentz, Cam Newton, Dalvin Cook, Leonard Fournette, Todd Gurley, Sony Michel, AJ Green, Will Fuller, Sammy Watkins, Alshon Jeffrey, Greg Olsen, Evan Engram, and Jordan Reed. Each of these players has either a long injury history or has been in the NFL for a long time. Players like Green, Newton, and Olsen are especially concerning because they fit multiple criteria for increased risk.

Photo courtesy Black & Teal

What does this mean for fantasy football in 2020?

For 2020 there are a lot of unknowns. Will we have a full season? What happens if the season gets shut down? What should my league do about bench and IR spots? These are all valid questions, and highlight the importance of communicating with your fellow managers and your league’s commissioner before the season begins. If you need suggestions for how to handle this season’s oddities, take a look at Blair Peirroz’s article, “COVID Contingency Plans: Commissioner Perspective,” on our site!

With that said, you can only control your team and your lineup. Make the moves that you feel good about, but keep these things in mind. Players have been away from team facilities and staff for an extended period of time, there are always injuries in the NFL, and this season will be no different, if not worse.

Depth is more important than ever. In my drafts, whether it be a dynasty startup, best ball league, or a redraft league, I am saving at least one or two picks in the late-middle rounds for a handcuff to my stud RBs, i.e. Tony Pollard if I have Ezekiel Elliott or Alexander Mattison if I have Dalvin Cook. I usually look for high upside depth adds in these rounds, but with concerns for season long health, handcuffs could end up becoming starters at a higher rate than we are used to seeing.   

For more on handcuffs, check out our newest writer, Blake Koppen’s Reddit post, “Value Handcuffs: Who Could Help Win Your League at a Low Price?”

Photo courtesy CBS Sports

If you cannot secure your starter’s handcuff, or if you have one handcuff already, look for later round steals at the same position. Players I’m targeting for this role include: Tevin Coleman, Phillip Lindsay, and Matt Breida. They aren’t starters, but they have a role and a clear path to some meaningful playing time. While they are not the most exciting picks, the security of an RB3 with upside is much better than scrambling to the waiver wire to replace your studs with scraps.

At the other positions, I would encourage you to look into drafting or acquiring a few bench players who may not be huge home run hitters, but carry a safe floor that you can feel good about rolling out if your team is struck by the injury bug. Players that come to mind: Jamison Crowder, Golden Tate, Jarvis Landry, Jordan Howard, and Jack Doyle. These guys are almost all going to be available after you have drafted a full slate of starters, and can provide you solid depth options for the 2020 season and have the potential to become decent trade pieces in dynasty if you do not wish to hold onto them for the future.  

 Photo courtesy The San Diego Union-Tribune

As always, we do not wish injury upon any player, but it is an unfortunate reality of the game of football. Due to that reality, it is important to be prepared as a fantasy manager. If you have any thoughts, comments, or questions, let me know! You can reach out to me via twitter @kallen_4 or leave a comment on the site, thanks for reading! Don’t forget to check out the Ride or Dynasty Podcast, available on Podbean, Spotify, and anywhere else that you stream music or podcasts!

Kyle Allen – Injuries/Dynasty
Ride or Dynasty
Twitter: @kallen_4

One thought on “The Hindsight is 2020: The Year of Health Questions and Handcuffs

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