"No one ever got fired for buying IBM."
That old IT saw seems to hold true in fantasy football. Picking the first round isn't that tough, but a few years ago, a choice between Larry Johnson, LaDanian Tomlinson and Clinton Portis was a big debate. Two were good, and Portis, well, he was injured. This year, there's sure to be someone in that tight first tier of fantasy stars who will end up being your first-round nightmare.
There's no way to predict injury; I'm not Miss Cleo. What I can tell you is that risk really matters in the NFL and in winning your fantasy football league. If you want safe and secure, there are some guys like that, but you're either going to have to buy those blue chips in the first round or wait and get "good value" later. With others, you have to balance risk and reward. Which Randy Moss are you getting? Which Vince Young? LenDale White was considered a "buy" at an ADP of 75 last year. That might have seemed like good value, but you know now that it wasn't. Ryan Grant was a steal, with many having him as a late RB2 or even RB3 pick. Injuries are a big factor in assessing how risky a player is, so know it and use it when putting together your own draft list.
Today we'll look at the quarterbacks. and as Keith Jackson might say, boy, howdy there's some big names here. Let's get to it:
Colts fans just gasped. Manning, who exemplifies the term "franchise quarterback" as much as anyone in the NFL, and who's on a consecutive games streak that could catch Brett Favre someday, wouldn't seem to be the lead guy on an injury risk list. But if you can take the emotions out of it, Manning is a massive risk. It's not just a "his number's up" thing -- it doesn't work that way and his quick release makes his line look better than it is -- but a real problem in front of him.
Jeff Saturday anchors a line that has trouble on the edges. With Saturday heading for surgery and no help on "The Blind Side," a normal QB would be planted Hoffa-style in the concrete below Lucas Oil Stadium. Manning will just move along, until he doesn't. I live in Indianapolis, so I hate to say it, but the Colts are one bad hit away from facing a Curtis Painter season. Just ask Tom Brady and the Pats about what can happen. Saturday will be back after minor knee surgery, very likely in time for Week 1, while Manning is much more likely to put up MVP numbers than ending up on the IR. But I'm just saying, remember that no player is no risk.
The Texans think that Schaub to Andre Johnson could be like Manning to Harrison, Young to Rice, or Marino to the Amigos. To do that, though, they'll have to stay on the field for 16 games (or 18 ... don't get me started) at the same time.
Both have had some flukish injuries, but with Schaub, enough flukes become an indication. Someday, players will get tested at the combine and some gene matrix will tell you that durability is a recessive trait.
For now, Schaub's first injury-free season since 2006 has people excited. With an ADP of 45, Schaub is at the top of the second tier of QBs, with Philip Rivers and Jay Cutler. That ADP is based on 16-game numbers, and if you average out his last three season ... you'll miss the point. The average is meaningless. Is he an 11-game guy or a 16-game guy in 2010? Prorate his numbers to 14, which is still a bit aggressive, and you'll find him down in the third tier on value. I'm not saying don't pick him. I am saying don't pick him as your QB1.
An NFL coach told me this week that he thought the style change from Donovan McNabb to Kolb could cause some problems. It's an interesting theory, since blocking schemes often change depending on the QB's skill set.
McNabb was known as a scrambler, but because of that, he made a conscious effort to stay in the pocket, and as he aged, he didn't have the speed he once did. Kolb, on the other hand, looks like a pocket passer, but Football Outsiders' Mike Tanier reminds us that "Kolb can run a little." Then again, it's tough to tell. Kolb got blitzed a lot, and running for your life is a lot different than having a solid pocket.
Kolb's a bit of a wild card when it comes to fantasy. He had an unbelievable first two starts when you realize the first was against a Saints D that ended up holding a trophy. Plus, he's significantly more accurate than McNabb at this stage. The risk is that his inexperience costs him some hits and he ends up watching ... umm ... who the heck is Mike Kafka? Most fantasy teams will have a better backup than the Eagles.
The Redskins brought in McNabb after his Philly tenure ended, but is this one of those Joe Namath or Johnny Unitas things, a tack-on that we'll forget when we remember a career? That depends a lot on whether McNabb can do what those guys didn't -- put up numbers.
McNabb appears to have kept most of the skills he has had over the past couple seasons, but durability has never really been a McNabb trait. As he ages, that's sure to decline.
If you think comparing McNabb to two all-time greats is a stretch, here's a fact: McNabb is 34 this year. Namath was 34 when he went to the Rams. At 34, Unitas took his Colts to an 11-1 record. McNabb's somewhere in between, but that range shows you the risk. Add in a line that's reconfigured and a core of skill players with even more question marks, and McNabb becomes someone that's likely too high on your draft board.
Everyone remembers the devastating knee injury Palmer suffered in the playoffs a few years back, but what about all the other dings he's taken? Palmer takes hits, largely because of line play, but also because he holds the ball just a tick long. He's got more weapons now than perhaps any time in his career, but the line ... well, it doesn't look much better right now.
The biggest issue is his elbow, which is still "hanging by a thread" and cost him much of the 2008 season. Palmer's choice of routes seemed to take his elbow into account, which kept him in the game, but didn't help his fantasy owners. I'm not sure the talent upgrade at WR is going to counteract the age-and-injury decline that Palmer's started.
No QB was hit more last year than Garrard. My pals at Football Outsiders were able to tell me that Garrard took 85 hits, which is above and beyond the insane 42 sacks. That is 19 more hits taken than the next closest and we've already talked about how risky Schaub (66 hits) is this season. If you believe Ron Jaworski -- and I do -- that says more about his release and feel for the pocket than it does about his line.
Garrard is big, built like a running back and often will accept contact to make a play. He'll run when necessary and has good vision in the field, but back in the pocket, not so much. He's had a lot of problems in front of him, but last year's line was healthier than the version he had in '08. With Luke McCown available and ticket sales as big a problem as the Jags have, Garrard won't get a long leash. An injury -- especially one to his legs -- would send this franchise a step closer to Los Angeles.
There are a number of things that make figuring out Henne's draft position tough. Sure, he threw the ball a lot after taking over for Chad Pennington last season, but the Wildcat was already broken by Ronnie Brown's injury. With Brown back, Henne will lose some opportunities, but that means less hits, right? Not really.
Henne will be in for "obvious passing downs" when speed rushers can pin their ears back. The Wildcat and its variants are still rare enough to make any point about them come with sample size issues, but the QB in the non-Wildcat situations seem to lose some goal line opportunities and take a few more hits on a play-by-play basis than "full time" QBs. It's a matter of play selection. Henne threw a lot of passes in his games last year, something that will change. While we don't know that Henne can stand up to a full season of hits, his line should be average or better. I loathe unknowns, so while I wouldn't take Henne, you shouldn't move him too far down on your draft board.
Favre finally saw Dr. James Andrews about his ankle Thursday, according to NFL.com, not last week, as was initially reported when there were rumors that he'd "retired." The delay in seeing the doctor isn't anything more than another of Favre's delaying tactics. Sources tell me that Favre's agent, Bus Cook, is handling the scheduling rather than the normal handling by the team medical staff. This isn't unique, though Favre's situation isn't normal by any stretch.
The ankle surgery that Favre had is a pretty minor procedure, though key for a QB. The timing of his return, which everyone always expected to come late in the pre-season might be shifted back even further. Peter King points to the Week 4 bye the Vikings have. I agree, but for a different reason: Favre's consecutive games streak. Favre's buying time to make sure the ankle is 100 percent, I believe, and coming back in late September would help. That's three fewer games of abuse and risk. Sure, there's timing concerns, but this is Brett Favre versus Tarvaris Jackson. I think they can figure things out. All this uncertainty, age, and the rest of the circus surrounding Favre's return is enough to take him off my board entirely, but he could be a nice waiver wire pickup if we start getting more certainty on his schedule.
Everyone understands that Roethlisberger is going to miss between four and six games to start the season. That will cost him points and a draft slot despite relatively consistent production in the second tier of QBs. Will it cause any problems with injury? It's tough to get a read on this since there have thankfully been few cases like this in the NFL. Most QBs coming back from missing the first month also missed training camp, and all of those were coming back from an injury.
He's allowed to practice, so there isn't a timing issue. There are some who think Roethlisberger is a good QB2 pick since fewer games equal fewer hits, but Roethlisberger takes hits and plays well, recovering from injuries quickly, so I think any effect here is small at best. There are some concerns about the line play in Pittsburgh this year, but most of the risks that Roethlisberger has are things the Steelers have to worry about, but your fantasy team doesn't. Durable and productive should outstrip likeability.
The injury to Dominique Foxworth devastates the Ravens pass coverage. Ed Reed is already out for the start of the season, so the Ravens D has to figure things out in a hurry. Maybe they use pressure or maybe they're not in the top tier of defenses this season. They're a risky pick, so you might pass and take a second-tier defense a bit later ... The Panthers are still being careful with Jonathan Stewart during practices. His Achilles is still an issue, but sources tell me it's "significantly better than last year" ... Reports from Colts camp are all positive for Anthony Gonzalez and for Bob Sanders so far. I'm not convinced on either yet ... I'm reading Tim Layden's Blood, Sweat and Chalk right now on the iPad and it's well worth your time. It's a great read and I'm learning a lot, which is a great combination ... Dez Bryant is making good progress with his high ankle sprain, but it's unclear if he'll get in enough practice time to be an early season factor at WR3 ... Darren McFadden is starting with the leg problems early this season. That's not a good sign ... Lynell Hamilton was a sleeper for many in the New Orleans offense, but a torn ACL has put his 2010 season to sleep.
Be sure to follow me on Twitter @injuryexpert for quick updates on the big NFL injuries. Come Week 1, that feed will help you avoid those traumatic zeroes.