Risk is scary, and unless you’re the daredevil type who treats skydiving into a volcano as the average Tuesday, most humans try to manage risk. Example: a long weekend is starting in a matter of hours here in the great nation of Canada, and to ensure that I don’t have to make multiple trips, I’ve purchased many boxes filled with beer. All risk is now gone.
At its most basic level, fantasy football is rooted in risk management. But that doesn’t mean risk should be entirely avoided, because doing so is impossible. There are no guarantees, or entirely safe picks.
Embracing a certain degree of risk is how quality draft value is found. Wherever there’s an opportunity for value, there’s also often a flaw. The two are linked, but the chance for value needs to be far greater than the likelihood of the worst possible scenario (usually, injury) becoming reality.
Right now, that’s especially true with two players, one of whom is at a position where scarcity is a significant concern.
ADP: ESPN (27.9), Fantasy Football Calculator (18.4), My Fantasy League (29.5), Yahoo (24.0)
Aggregate ADP: 25.0
I understand why you’re scared of Maurice Jones-Drew. First, there’s the obvious: his Lisfranc injury that kept him from running until early July after a January surgery isn’t one that’s kind to running backs. It’s an injury that sidelined him for all but six games last year, and both Jones-Drew and then Jaguars head coach Mike Mularkey toyed with your fragile emotions when the running back would practice lightly, and the coach would then say optimistic things about a late-season return following said practice. Unfortunately, Jones-Drew could only reach a certain barrier in his rehab work, and then acceleration became difficult.
There’s also the Arian Foster syndrome. Earlier this week I summoned the bravery to look back on the history of running backs of a certain vintage who have endured exceedingly high workloads, and specifically 400-carry seasons. Though in many cases the blinding fantasy fear is justified (see: Larry Johnson, Jamaal Anderson), and in many more there was an abrupt drop-off in production the following season, the running back in question didn’t always completely evaporate. Often, there was good or even great production, just maybe not elite production.
If we treat last year as a lost season for Jones-Drew and look at the three seasons prior, between 2009 and 2011 he averaged 361.3 touches per season, highlighted by a 386 touch year in 2011 (343 of which came on the ground). That’s a lot of pounding for a 28-year old. But unlike Foster in Houston where Ben Tate is there to ease the burden, and there’s a competent passing game to spread the abuse around, Jones-Drew is in the unique situation where his touches will remain high. You can argue that’s not a good thing, and fair enough. But I think sheer volume during a contract year will make the reward of accepting his injury risk easier.
Justin Blackmon is gone for the first four games of the season, and Jones-Drew will be leaned on heavily to support whichever supremely underwhelming quarterback Gus Bradley chooses (likely Blaine Gabbert, so hahaha). Although the burden on MJD will be eased slightly, another 350-touch season would be greeted with little surprise.
So if we assume touches in that vicinity, and we assume that he continues to progress in camp and his health improves (he’s been a full participant in every practice while making cuts, and he’s talking about getting 20-25 carries per game), then you can look at those ADPs above again and begin to feel great joy.
The aggregate ADP makes Jones-Drew the first pick in the third round in 12-team leagues. Getting a featured back who will receive high-volume touches after logging three straight 1,300-yard rushing seasons prior to 2012 at that price is simply absurd.
Even at the lowest ADP there, a very realistic scenario in a year when running backs have reclaimed their thrown atop the draft hierarchy is alive and well. Here it is: in a 12-team league, you have the sixth overall pick, and you’re choosing between Marshawn Lynch and C.J. Spiller (there’s no wrong choice there, but I’d go Lynch). Then in the second round, Jones-Drew is there at 18, meaning you’ve formed a backfield tandem of two running backs who rushed for a combined 3,196 yards during their last healthy seasons.
ADP: ESPN (71.0), Fantasy Football Calculator (55.3), My Fantasy League (60.3), Yahoo (64.3)
Aggregate ADP: 62.7
Making peace with the fact that there are so very few certainties in this fake game we play applies to Jones-Drew in the same way that it does to Garcon here.
Like Jones-Drew, Garcon was dealing with a lingering injury last year, and throughout the offseason. A foot injury, but no worries guys, he’s all better now, and from those who have been observing Redskins camp, (and that’s pretty much everyone with a keyboard, because Robert Griffin III) Garcon has been the most reliable receiver thus far, and he’s making all the plays all the time.
There’s obviously still a slight reason for concern. He admitted that since receivers essentially turn into running backs after the catch and need to cut and shift quickly, the effect of his torn ligament last season won’t go away entirely, which is why he’ll wear a protective boot. Last year, he opted to postpone surgery until the offseason, and manage the injury.
And what happened when he did that, even at less than optimal condition? Including the playoffs, 683 yards on 51 catches with four touchdowns happened, all despite missing six games. What’s even more remarkable is that even with the minimal receptions which resulted from his absence, Garcon still had 10 catches of 20 yards or more, which is nearly a quarter of his overall reception total (22.7 percent). Two of those catches were for 59 and 88 yards.
When he was finally fully healthy starting in Week 12, Garcon quickly become a frequent target for Griffin. Over that seven-game stretch to end the season (all wins, pushing Washington to the playoffs), Garcon was targeted 55 times, which was 32.7 percent of the throws attempted by Griffin and Kirk Cousins (Griffin missed Week 15).
So now we have that connection, and we have a receiver atop a depth chart that features an aging and slowing Santana Moss, and a disappointing Leonard Hankerson who’s still dropping a lot of footballs. Knowing what we know, if you warmly embrace the mild injury risk Garcon presents, you won’t hesitate to buy low on the steal of the wide receiver position, and you’ll be doing it, oh, about 30 picks after the likes of Roddy White, Andre Johnson, and Vincent Jackson come off the board. A healthy Garcon for a full season has a very realistic shot at matching their 2012 production.