Fantasy Football: Expectations for players coming off significant injuries

2GMKR58 Jacksonville, FL, USA. 19th Sep, 2021. Denver Broncos running back Javonte Williams (33) runs with the ball during 2nd half NFL football game between the DenverBroncos and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Denver defeated Jacksonville 23-13 at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fl. Romeo T Guzman/CSM/Alamy Live News

  • Young RBs looking to rebound: Both Javonte Williams and Breece Hall believe they can play Week 1, but what are the expectations given their significant knee injuries?
  • Dynamic duo in LA: In 2021, Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp combined to produce one of the greatest single-season QB-WR connections in recent history. How are their respective outputs tied to one another, and can they return to that level?
  • QB injuries and changing scenery: Amidst some coaching and personnel shuffles, Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson look to return to high levels of play from their respective injuries.
 Estimated reading time: 14 minutes

Injuries are an unavoidable variable of the game of football that can derail seasons and careers. While losing a few games a season can be planned around and mitigated, losing a player of a high caliber for an extended period typically spells disaster for NFL teams and fantasy managers alike. This past seaso saw highly talented and productive players such as Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson, Cooper Kupp, and others lose chunks of their season while their recovery spills into the offseason and potentially even into the 2023 season.

Making sense of where these players are at in their recovery timelines and what to expect from them this season is essential in setting up for fantasy success in 2023, as the trade off of targeting or passing on a player with a bit of injury history is often a calculated risk that could either pay dividends or leave you in a pool of regret. In this article, we’ll try to make sense of where some of these players are in their rehab coming into training camp and what to look for as we near draft season. Be aware that many of these are fluid situations, and as training camp and preseason get underway these situations are certainly subject to change.

QB Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals

After a relatively healthy start to his NFL career, Murray suffered an ACL tear in his right knee on a non-contact injury in Week 14 against the New England Patriots in what can only be described as the lowlight of the Cardinals 2022 season. Murray’s season was a marked step back from previous years, posting career-lows in average depth of target at 7.3 yards and big-time throw percentage at 2.2%, while also nearly matching his 2021 totals in interceptions (nine in 2022, 10 in 2021) and tying his rookie season in turnover-worthy plays with 18 — all in just 10 games.

Given the timeline, Murray has a bit of an uphill battle to be ready for Week 1, which would put his recovery on a much shorter track than many of his cohorts who have dealt with similar roadblocks. Most pundits are estimating a return closer to midseason, but Murray has remained optimistic about a quick recovery amidst the changing scenery in Arizona as new head coach Jonathan Gannon takes over while Murray’s favorite target in DeAndre Hopkins is now in Tennessee. Murray represents an intriguing buy-low in dynasty formats, but redraft managers may want more information before hitching onto the wagon for 2023.

RB Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos

Following a strong rookie season in which 76.3% of his total rushing yards came after contact and included 64 forced missed tackles, the hype around Williams was building as a potential workhorse and fantasy must-have heading into 2022. To start the season, he found himself in a puzzling timeshare once again with Melvin Gordon III, matching many of his advanced metrics from his rookie season amidst a frustrating offensive season for the Broncos, which ultimately went even further south when Williams went down with a torn ACL and LCL in Week 4 against the Las Vegas Raiders.

Recovery reports thus far are positive, with Williams offering optimism he will be full go for training camp and ready to suit up Week 1 against Las Vegas, but lower body injuries to running backs are always a reason for pause in the immediate future. A bit of positive regression for the Broncos offense will make him an appealing pick on paper, but the track record for backs hitting the ground running following an injury like this is not extensive. Williams is uber talented, but if he sees the field Week 1, do not expect immediate results for fantasy as knee injuries for running backs typically take an extra few months to fully work themselves out. Whether or not Williams ends up on your 2023 squad, consider targeting Samaje Perine in the later rounds who should be in line to swallow up most of the backfield snaps until Williams is back to 100%.

WR Cooper Kupp & QB Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams

In what was a disastrous 2022 season for the reigning Super Bowl champions, both Kupp and Stafford were shut down for ankle and head/neck issues respectively. In their one full season together, the duo proved to be absolute gold, resulting in 145 completions on 189 targets for 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns. Through 10 weeks in 2022, the duo remained potent despite the overall struggles of the offense, as evidenced by Kupp finishing as the WR23 on the season despite missing the last eight games while Stafford’s outputs were not as fruitful primarily due to failing to finish drives in the endzone along with some questionable decision making.

While his availability for Week 1 should not be in question, concerns around Stafford’s neck injuries have circulated even dating back to last offseason and are absolutely worthy of hesitation when projecting for 2023 and beyond. For a guy who is 35 years old and has taken a lot of hits in his career, he still plays behind an offensive line that is very much a work in progress, giving him an extremely low floor in a worst-case scenario. Likewise, Kupp is well on track to play Week 1, and his role as the target hog in L.A. is not in question. Kupp can reasonably be drafted as a mid-to-high-end WR1 without hesitation for 2023, but be aware that the ceiling of both Stafford and Kupp are directly tied to one another, with an emphasis on whether Stafford can remain healthy for the duration of the season.

QB Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins

Amid a true breakout season in 2022, Tagovailoa set career highs in most passing categories, including average depth of target, yards per attempt, big-time throw percentage and fantasy points per dropback. Despite the clear jump in performance, Tua dealt with head and back injuries that brought a major spotlight to decision-making surrounding head and neck injuries in the NFL amidst returning to a Week 3 game against the Buffalo Bills after clearing concussion protocol despite suffering what appeared to be a clear head injury. Next week, Tagovailoa started and played the majority of the first half before suffering another clear head injury, one which saw him miss the next two games. Later in Week 16, Tua banged his helmet off the turf resulting in a third concussion yet was trotted out to finish the remainder of the game, throwing three second-half interceptions before being finally shut down for the season.

Tagovailoa has an enviable job in Miami with Mike McDaniel calling plays and the most explosive duo in the NFL to throw to in Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, and a second year together could see them reach even greater heights on the field. However, for the most cerebral position in team sports, three concussions in less than 14 weeks is certainly cause for concern moving forward not to mention Tua’s shaky durability history prior to 2022. By all accounts, Tagovailoa will be 100% going into training camp and is well in line to continue his ascent if he can stay on the field. With an ADP just on the cusp of QB1 territory, a calculated risk to ride with Tua for 2023 could pay major dividends but make no mistake that tying yourself to him is certainly just that: a calculated risk.

RB Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts

Following his massive 2021 season where he finished as the overall RB1, Taylor was a victim of nagging injuries on top of major instability for the Colts offense in 2022. The offensive line significantly regressed, and despite not starting Carson Wentz at quarterback, the Matt Ryan-led passing attack did little to lighten defensive boxes for Taylor’s benefit. Despite indisputable workhorse usage (20 touches per game), Taylor’s inefficiency was souring for many fantasy players, as he ranked outside the top 40 RBs in both fantasy points per snap and fantasy points per touch, finishing as the RB31 overall with 152.4 points in 11 games before his season was ultimately cut short with his lingering ankle injury catching up to him, leading to a significant high ankle sprain in Week 15. What was deemed to be a Grade 3 sprain ultimately resulted in a cleanup procedure with no structural damage, but Taylor was placed on injured reserve to finish the season and has been precautious through early offseason rehab.

As with the other running backs on this list, lower body injuries are certainly worthy of careful consideration before fully buying into an immediate return to form, but comparing a high ankle sprain, Grade 3 or otherwise, to multiple torn ligaments in the knee is quite an apples-to-oranges contrast. The Colts have overhauled their core with Shane Steichen stepping into the head coaching job alongside rookie first-round draft pick Anthony Richardson and veteran journeyman Gardner Minshew, who look to compete for the starting QB job. Meanwhile, the Colts did little to offset any potential missed time by Taylor, drafting Evan Hull in the fifth round while Zack Moss remains as the primary backup. With Taylor set to be full-go by Week 1 and a shift in offensive philosophy that should see him featured just as much as previous seasons, drafting him at his current ADP can’t really be discouraged with the acknowledgment that it may take a few weeks for the Colts to really fire him up.

TE Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons

After enjoying a solid rookie season in 2021, hopes were high for Pitts before seeing major regression in 2022, which saw him post worse numbers in essentially every major receiving category while efficiency dipped as well. In Week 11, Pitts suffered an MCL tear that caused him miss the remainder of the 2022 season. While the recovery timeline for Pitts appeared to have him on track to play Week 1, he has struggled with some lingering hamstring issues stemming from the MCL that has put some of his late summer availability into question. Pitts is a special talent, and the Falcons offense has been retooled with rookie Bijan Robinson and second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder stepping into starting roles, offering a lot of upside for a player of Pitts’ profile to get back on track and build off his successful rookie campaign.

According to head coach Arthur Smith, Pitts is still on track to be healthy for Week 1, but the hope is that this is not a situation that is being rushed, as hamstring injuries have the potential to linger which would be a significant blow to his 2023 upside. Dynasty players should not be discouraged from the 22-year-old, but the fluidity of the current situation raises questions about early in 2023. Draft him with tempered expectations for his early season performance, potentially streaming the position if the snaps and usage are not there. However, the further removed from these injuries Pitts gets, assuming they are properly managed, production will follow, and his week-to-week ceiling is certainly worthy of the swing at his current ADP.

QB Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens

After losing the last several weeks of the 2021 season to an ankle injury, Jackson found himself on injured reserve to finish the 2022 season as well following a PCL sprain suffered in Week 13. Prior to the injury, Jackson was relatively consistent and playing a much cleaner version of football, posting just a 2.3% turnover-worthy play percentage and scrambling less often, all while maintaining his rushing upside and solid big-time throw percentage at 5%, finishing third behind only Jalen Hurts and Justin Fields with 0.65 fantasy points per dropback.

Looking to 2023, Jackson is due to be fully healthy come training camp and Week 1 and with a new scheme headed by Todd Monken in addition to a revamped receiving corp that brought in Odell Beckham Jr. and rookie first-rounder Zay Flowers, he should be poised to continue to take leaps as a pocket passer in Monken’s field-stretching up-tempo offense while maintaining most of his rushing upside. Alongside guys like Hurts, Fields and Josh Allen, Jackson is one of just a few quarterbacks capable of truly game-breaking ability both through the air and on the ground. Draft Jackson with confidence in all formats as his continued transition to a more pocket-based approach should mitigate some of the durability concerns associated with his play style.

RB Breece Hall, New York Jets

The first running back selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, Hall was an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate on the cusp of showing his true capabilities prior to suffering a torn ACL and meniscus in Week 7 against the Denver Broncos. From Weeks 2-6, Hall never finished below RB16 in a given week, peaking at RB4 and RB6 in Weeks 5 and 6 respectively while showcasing his creative ability (4.2 yards after contact per rushing attempt, 16 runs of 10-plus yards) and receiving upside (19 catches for 218 yards and one touchdown) throughout his first seven games. Heading into 2023, hopes are high not just for Hall, but for the Jets as a whole as Aaron Rodgers steps into the starting quarterback position alongside a multitude of other additions and tweaks to the roster and coaching staff.

By all accounts, Hall’s recovery process has been smooth, and he was on the field during OTAs. Hall himself has been adamant about being ready for Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills while head coach Robert Saleh remains optimistic as well. Amid a strong and versatile running back room that includes Michael Carter and Zonovan Knight, Hall is the clear top dog if and when he is healthy. In a similar boat as Javonte Williams, asking Hall to step onto the field Week 1 and post worthwhile fantasy numbers seems like a bit of a stretch. Drafting Hall at his current ADP for 2023 could lead to some disappointment for fantasy managers, particularly early in the season, but a draft and hold until he shows he is capable of a full workload could pay massive dividends down the stretch of the 2023 season.

WR Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints

Once heralded among the greats at the wide receiver position in the NFL, Thomas has struggled with a rash of injuries since 2020 that have cost him the majority of the last three seasons. After missing the entirety of the 2021 season after a setback during rehab for his ankle injury, Thomas was on the field for the first three weeks of 2022, appearing much like his former self before going down with a nagging toe injury that would cost him the next five games before being placed on injured reserve before Week 9. Prior to his dislocated toe, Thomas led the league in contested catches with 9 and had found the endzone three times on 22 targets.

It is understandable that Thomas’ extensive history over the past few seasons keeps most fantasy managers away but with an ADP firmly in WR4/FLEX territory, he is a swing that may be worth taking. There are no indications that Thomas should be hampered by any of his previous injuries, and even when dinged up, he has always performed when on the field. With Chris Olave establishing himself early in his rookie season, expectations do not need to be sky-high for Thomas, and with little else in the way of competition, he could be in line to far exceed his draft position, particularly with the overtly appealing schedule the Saints face this season. Many will be firmly out on Thomas with no recourse, but those willing to take the swing in the later rounds may be nicely rewarded.


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