Injuries in football are inevitable. At the NFL level, it is almost a foregone conclusion a major injury will occur in every single game. In a redraft league, an injury can be devastating. There isn’t much to think about after the fact though. You drop the player and hope for better luck next season. Dynasty leagues are different. A player going down creates a decision and many times the decision comes down to trading or keeping the player. Injuries create a buying opportunity in dynasty leagues. The decision to trade for, or trade away, an injured player can make a huge impact down the road.
As an injury analyst, some of the most common questions I receive involve evaluating injured players and the long-term ramifications of those injuries. Dynasty players want to know who they should be investing in and who they need to steer clear of. Below are the five steps I believe every dynasty player should perform before buying an injured player. This guide is not meant to be a “who to buy this offseason” article, but rather an overarching process which can be applied to multiple situations.
Step One: Know Who You’re Getting
Each player is different; they need to be evaluated on a case by case basis. Perhaps the most important aspect of understanding the player is establishing their injury history. Previous injury is arguably the most important factor to consider when establishing a given player’s risk for getting hurt again in the future. Does the player you are trading for have an injury history dating back to pee-wee football? Perhaps they aren’t the player you want to invest in long-term in dynasty. If you can’t trust a player’s health now, you likely won’t be able to in the future.
Along with establishing a player’s injury history is evaluating them from a pure talent and age standpoint. Older players almost always have more extensive injury histories and take longer to return to their prior level of production. An injury to a player who is already past their prime can quickly derail their career. I rarely look to trade for aging players who sustain a major injury.
From a talent perspective, an elite player who has already broken out isn’t going to take a massive dip in value due to injury. Most dynasty players know injuries aren’t permanent. A less proven player could take a significant hit with a major injury. I find myself having more success trading for young, high-potential players post-injury than established veterans. Proven commodities will rarely have the injury discount you need to be looking for when making deals.
Step Two: Understand the Injury
Not all injuries are created equal. There is a pretty significant difference between a torn ACL and an ACL tear with LCL and MCL damage. Recovery times vary depending on the injury so before you go out and look to acquire a player you need to do some homework on what exactly went wrong. How long is the player expected to be out? Did the player have surgery or are they expected to have surgery at some point? What anatomical structures were affected? These questions all need to be answered to give you a better idea of how long you can expect to be without the player after they are on your team.
On top of recovery times, dynasty owners should be looking at the time it takes for players to return to pre-injury production levels. A player with an ACL tear may return to the field in nine months, but it usually takes a full year for them to reach their prior form. The average time missed for an MCL injury in the NFL is 2-4 weeks, but a torn MCL can take 6-8 weeks to fully heal. Players with injuries such as an Achilles tendon rupture are at risk of never reaching their prior production levels. The time it will take to get a player back to 100% needs to be factored into the evaluation process.
The final piece of knowledge dynasty owners need to be cognizant of in regard to the injury is the potential of it becoming a chronic issue. This is most commonly associated with soft tissue injuries. The average NFL player isn’t going to break a bone every year. They aren’t going to rupture their patella tendon four times in a career. They might, however, have recurring high ankle sprains. They may have trouble avoiding hamstring strains on a yearly basis. If the injury could be a career-long problem it might be worth digging a bit further into before investing serious capital to acquire them.
Step Three: Time Your Trades
As with all trades in dynasty, the timing of a trade can be the difference between getting a deal and overpaying. There are certain key points during the year when trading for injured players is the most cost-effective. When a buy-low opportunity opens up owners need to be ready. The biggest mistake I see dynasty players make when trading for injured players is either making a move too quickly after the injury or too late into the recovery.
Trading for players right after an injury may seem like a good idea, but this isn’t always the right move for maximizing value. First off, you are assuming the most risk in the trade. If something goes wrong at a later point in the player’s recovery you’re already on the hook for what you paid. You have the player, likely a sunken cost on your team, for a longer period of time as you wait for them to recover. Secondly, owners rarely lower the price of a player immediately. All dynasty players are at least partially attached to the players on their team. If they believed their player was worth rostering before the injury, they still will right afterward. If you want to maximize value on an injured player, wait for the initial buzz from the injury to wear off.
Almost as bad as buying a player too soon is waiting too long to make the move. Injured players take time to heal, but they almost always begin practicing a few weeks or even months before they actually return. Once a player returns, their value tends to rebound quickly. Any positive news can return a player’s value back to near pre-injury prices. Take a look at Andrew Luck’s ADP from this summer. Per DLF’s ADP data, news of Luck’s return to throwing raised his dynasty ADP from 118th overall in June to 79th overall by August. Waiting too long lowers the chance of snagging a player on the cheap.
I advise using what I have dubbed the “40% Rule” when evaluating when to make offers on injured players. The best time to invest is when a player is 40% through their recovery. If the recovery time is expected to take seven months, the 40% Rule tells us the best time to buy is around three months after the injury occurs. This allows the owner to get over the initial “honeymoon” feeling post-injury and really evaluate how they feel about the player. Once the love wears off, doubt begins to set in, and the player remains less than halfway done with their recovery. This period of limbo is the perfect time to strike a deal.
There are two other times during a player’s recovery which present buying opportunities. The first is if they suffer a setback. News of a setback can make national headlines but rarely do setbacks prevent a player from returning completely. Setbacks can create a dip in a player’s value which dynasty owners can then capitalize on. Another buying opportunity is the offseason. Trading ramps up during the offseason in most dynasty leagues and teams are more open to making moves. This is an excellent time to approach owners about injured players they may have held onto during the season in hopes they are itching to make a deal.
Step Four: Always Get a Discount
Dynasty owners should never pay what they would consider the full price for an injured player. You wouldn’t buy a phone with a broken screen without a discount, so why pay full price for a player who isn’t 100%? The whole point of trading for injured players is you expect them to return to their previous form. The key word here is previous. Injured players should not be valued as though the injury never happened.
Failing to get a discount when acquiring injured players opens owners up to future risk. Even if the injury carries a low chance for complications, there is no way to properly predict the future. Setbacks happen all the time. The last thing an owner wants is to acquire an injured player for their pre-injury value only to have their value depreciate even further during their recovery. Never, ever pay full price for an injured player.
The Final Step: Know Your Limitations
Injuries are complicated. No two players are the same and no two injuries are the same. The thing with injuries in the NFL is few people actually have the full picture. For the vast majority of dynasty players, injury and recovery knowledge is limited to what is reported by the media. NFL player health records are protected information. The truth is no one but the players themselves knows every single detail about their injury and recovery. Even individuals with extensive backgrounds in medicine can’t truly predict what will happen in a specific circumstance.
Dynasty players should recognize these limitations and seek multiple viewpoints on an injured player before trading for them. Fantasy football is just like medicine, you never want to get just one opinion. Looking for advice on injured players is easier now than it has ever been. A simple search will pull up multiple health professionals’ opinions of a player and their recovery. Twitter is an amazing tool to seek advice directly from professionals in the industry. There are so many avenues that can be utilized when making roster decisions in dynasty. Relying on just one person’s view is a surefire way to make mistakes.
So that is it, the five steps every dynasty owner should take before trading for an injured player. Obviously, there are a lot of factors that go into buying and selling players in a dynasty league, but by following these steps owners can assure they’ve prepared themselves to make smart investments.