A year ago, Matthew Stafford was an injury prone mess. Now he's awesome.

One of the 86 fantasy leagues I’m involved in this year had its draft last night, and while there’s a monetary reward in this league and it’s certainly competitive, there was also a lighter feel to the proceedings. That’s because it’s a more friendly league, and those involved in this particular league are primarily amateur and inexperienced players just getting started.

There was a chillin’, relaxed vibe, which was helped by the lack of clothes I was wearing. Good times.

What happens when you draft with the common man is that a window opens, and on the other side is a sometimes grisly view of the impact stereotypes can have on a player when they’re taken to their furthest extreme. For example, there’s an odd hatred towards Tony Romo among many for some reason, likely fueled by the perception that he’s some kind of clutch coward and late-game loser. The experienced fantasy player ignores such stereotypes rooted in fabricated narratives, and assesses Romo’s value based on past production, and the potential for future production. That word — production — is the primary and sole motivation behind all thought.

So how did the layman’s perception of Romo affect his draft value? Normally, the absolute lowest Romo would fall is the fourth round, and maybe even the fifth in a rare case. In this draft he didn’t come off the board until the 11th round.

Laugh, because I did, and I can only assume that it was the aforementioned perception of Romo’s late-game awfulness that led to the irrational hatred. But all fantasy football players — and to some extent I include myself in this — are guilty of another form of stereotyping that can also cause irrational behavior, and it can make a players’ stock drop to an unnecessarily low level.

We assume the injured will remain injured, when in fact injuries are often a random, sudden event.

To be fair, few playing fantasy football are medical professionals. And to be fairer, many of the players slapped with the injury prone label have proven to be deserving of such treatment. Ryan Mathews is the most recent example after he exited his first preseason game with a broken collarbone after one carry, and Darren McFadden routinely leaves games due to all of the injuries.

We as fantasy owners and drafters are motivated by things that are scary, and things that are comforting, and we can only compartmentalize and establish those two categories through assumptions based on recent events. And as the Fantasy Douche — or for the more formal, Frank Dupont — writes in his excellent post, that limited mental frame creates a problem of logic.

We separate players into being either “risky” or “safe” regarding their injury proneness, and we base that only on recent events. While referencing psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s notion of “what you see is all there is,” Dupont explains the recency effect and its impact on our perception of players and their injuries.

He used Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford as a case study:

Prior to the 2011 season the most common analysis of Detroit Lions quarterback Matt Stafford focused on his injury proneness.  Stafford had missed 18 of his first 32 NFL games due to injuries.  The quarterback was then drafted in the 9th round of fantasy drafts last year due to the fear that it wasn’t possible for him to stay healthy.  But after one season of health Stafford is now going in the 2nd round of drafts.  The talk of injury proneness is gone.  A reasonable question to ask is which of the following is most likely to be correct as to Stafford’s injury proneness?

  1. Stafford has been cured of his injury proneness.
  2. Stafford is still injury prone but just happened to string together a season of consecutive starts without becoming injured.
  3. Our collective perception of Stafford as injury prone was simply wrong to begin with.

It doesn’t matter which is correct because they’re all problematic for the discussion of injury proneness.  Both the second and third possibilities are essentially acknowledgments that we don’t have the ability to perceive injury proneness in a way that will be helpful in forecasting the future.  The first possibility, that injury proneness could be cured, is essentially an acknowledgment that it doesn’t even exist because if injury proneness is anything, it is a difference in physiology.

The instinct to approach certain players with extreme caution is understandable, and again it’s one that we’re all guilty of in every draft. Sometimes we may even know that we’re being irrational, but in this instance irrational thought is too comforting to resist. If you’re deciding between McFadden and Matt Forte in the second round, you’re selection is down to a running back recovering from an injury, and one who’s recovered from multiple injuries and is therefore injury prone. Often, the choice there sides with Forte due to the fear associated with Run DMC.

Surely some players have bodies that can’t sustain the pounding of football effectively, and therefore their pain threshold is lesser than that of their peers. But fantasy football is a game largely based on luck, and its role in either preventing or causing the snapping of bones and ripping of muscles. The role of the fantasy player then is to see through that luck, and realize when poor luck has led to multiple injuries, and conversely when a pattern may be developing that warrants legitimate concern.

Most often, you’ll prefer the safe approach just because it feels right, and it feels good.