As the sands of time fall, so do the scheduled yearly NFL conversations of the day. Is it April? Draft stocks are rising, and players are being left entirely off draft boards. Is it early February? Someone said something absurd during Super Bowl Media Day. Engage.
When that chatter machine keeps churning and we reach the beginning of training camp in late July and early August, often the conversation turns to preseason injuries. Inevitably, there are a few notable and potentially crushing ones, so we wonder how those can be avoided, and how we can stop important players from ripping muscles in non-competitive environments.
We can’t, of course, because there’s always an injury risk any time a football player is on a football field, which even applies during spring OTAs. This past spring Michael Crabtree and Melvin Ingram went down, and a year ago it was Terrell Suggs. All we can do is brace for the chaos, and schedule all fantasy drafts as late as possible.
But this year seems different due to the concentration of crumbling at one specific position.
With Danario Alexander and Arrelious Benn the latest to rip ACLs yesterday, this isn’t a safe time to be a wide receiver. Here’s the carnage thus far and the list of receivers who will miss all or most of the coming season (avert your eyes if you still haven’t had your required morning java intake): Alexander, Benn, Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin, and Percy Harvin.
All of those injuries have taken place in practice, before (and in the case of Crabtree, long before) any appearance in a game situation. In fact, only one preseason game has been played. A single game, and since it was the Hall of Fame game, it was the most exhibition-y of all the exhibitions we see throughout the month of August.
For the fake football game, it really can’t be repeated enough that having drafts late is something smart leagues do for this reason. Hell, I’ve participated in drafts the day before the season in years past. The joy of drafting a Percy Harvin and then having him stripped from you a month before meaningful football happens is a conflict of emotions that’s just too much for the body to bear.
Although we feel for him as a human, Benn’s injury is much less significant than Alexander’s. However, it still carries some weight, as following Maclin’s own ACL rip the Eagles needed every avenue available for depth, and now the wide receiver position is further depleted in Philly. Any thought of cutting Riley Cooper is gone, and as a third receiver Damaris Johnson may become a deep sleeper to be wary of as an early-season add, while Jason Avant stays in the slot.
But what of Alexander’s impact? Let’s go exploring.
Impact: First, let’s pour one out for the loss of arguably every fantasy draft’s best risk/reward play. Prior to his injury, you were drafting Alexander at an affordable eighth round price knowing that with his duct-tape assembled knees, there was a good chance he’d break again. But for whatever time he kept it together, you also knew he’d be productive.
Alexander missed essentially seven games last year (he appeared only briefly in Week 8). Yet despite missing nearly half the season, he still finished with 658 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, good enough for 104.5 fantasy points. He’s just stupid fast, and in four of those games he averaged over 20 yards per catch while playing the lead role in Norv Turner’s vertical fun time. Five of his 37 catches were for 30 yards or more, highlighted by an 80 yarder in Week 10 against Tampa.
You’ll be missed, bro, especially by Phillip Rivers. The Chargers quarterback will be owned by someone in your league, but make sure that someone isn’t you, as he’s now surrounded by a whole lot of underwhelming. And were you thinking about being brave and gambling on a discounted Ryan Mathews? Stop that. Stop it now, because without a truly scary deep threat, eight men in the box will be a common occurrence.
Next man (men?) up: This question will be answered over the next month, but it’ll likely go in this order: Vincent Brown, Malcom Floyd, Eddie Royal. Though admittedly right now that’s just a guess, and maybe a hopeful one. This is a depth chart that could have many moving parts.
Brown is the most intriguing sleeper for the citizens of fantasyland. After missing the 2012 season with an ankle injury, he’s been widely pegged as a breakout candidate, though he’s already missed time in training camp with a hamstring problem. We’ve seen little of him due to frequent injuries throughout his first two seasons, but the speed and superior route running is evident, as is his versatility, and ability to play both in the slot and outside.
Meanwhile, Tom Krasovic from the San Diego Union-Tribune has observed Royal running around and away from everyone throughout camp. If he too can refrain from breaking, he could quickly emerge as a frequent slot target for Rivers due to the aforementioned awfulness elsewhere, and the aging Antonio Gates. Remember, long ago in 2008 Royal finished just 20 yards shy of the 1,000-yard plateau, with five touchdowns.
Gates, of course, will now be given his shot at a rejuvenation with his own increase in targets, however flailing it may be. He turned 33 in June, and he’s coming off his worst yardage season since his rookie year (538 yards), though he still scored seven times. Now without Alexander drawing coverage deep and opening up underneath areas, weeks when Gates doesn’t score will be weeks when you started a highly unproductive tight end.
With a weapon of some kind pointed in my direction, Brown is the receiver to draft right now. He has a 10th round ADP, so he won’t weigh too heavily on your pocket. He also has far more upside than Floyd, who has fed us little but a steady diet of disappointment, though with at least 800 yards and five touchdowns in each of the past two seasons he’s still suitable as a WR3 in deep leagues. Keenen Allen retains his deep sleeper status, but he remains little more than waiver wire fodder after new head coach Mike McCoy said the rookie has a “long way to go“.
Mostly, I’d just stay away from this dumpster fire entirely. Save yourself the mental anguish.