Weighing the likelihood of injuries
Posted Jul. 05 at 03:32 PM
Adrian Peterson’s knee, Arian Foster’s hamstring, Darren McFadden’s general fragileness, and the big workloads carried by the likes of LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice and Chris Johnson. Durability is more of an issue at running back than any other position.
That’s the overall feeling, but seldom does anybody actually get the numbers out and look at them carefully. But in these dogs days of June/July, when not much is going on, it’s the kind of issue I have more time to explore.
And after spending a few hours pushing around the numbers, I concur. When you select a high-end quarterback, wide receiver or tight end, it’s with a higher degree of confidence that they’ll stay in the lineup for all 16 games.
For this study, I looked at all players who started at least 10 games in this century (since 2000) and then separated out those who also ranked in the top 10 at their position. That’s on a per-game basis, using the scoring system of 6 points for touchdowns, 1 for every 10 run/rec yards and 1 for every 20 passing yards; 4 points for TD passes.
For starters, note that there’s more attrition at running back from the git-go. Since 2001, only 47 percent of top-10 running backs (47 of 100) have started all 16 games. The number is 62-63 percent for the other three positions. Clarifying: this is when looking at points per game, and only considering those who started at least 10.
I will state the same kind of stat a different way. I’ve got 100 players at each position (a top 10 for 10 years). At running back, 29 of those 100 are guys who started only 10-13 games. At the other position, the fewer starts numbers are 12 (wide receivers), 16 (tight ends) and 21 (quarterbacks).
But more notably, we’re interested in what happens the next year.
When a player ranks in the top 10 and starts 14-16 games, for example, what is the probability that will happen again? What are the chances that he’ll at least stay in the lineup the next year. Is the injury concern enough with Foster, Rice or McCoy that we instead should be selecting Calvin Johnson or Aaron Rodgers?
In terms of durability, the best players are at wide receiver and tight end. Among those who started 14-plus games (and ranked in the top 10), 80-82 percent of those players came back and started 14-plus games again the next year. Quarterbacks are down at 71 percent, and running backs are down at 66 percent. In a rough sense, in other words, take a running back and there’s a one-in-three chance he’ll miss at least three games.
You may want to set the bar higher. You may want to look only at players starting 15-plus games and then again starting 15-plus games. Brady, Brees, Rodgers, Foster, Rice, Jones-Drew, Gronkowski, Graham, Cruz, Fitzgerald – which players in this group are most likely to miss games?
68 percent of quarterbacks who started 15-plus games and ranked in the top 10 came back and started 15-plus games again.
Only 60 percent repeats. The lowest rate of the four positions.
The best repeat number – 75 percent of those who started 15-plus games did it again.
Similar to quarterbacks, 67 percent.
Some of this data is presented in more a graphically appealing format on the Facebook page (www.fantasyindex.com).
For all positions, starts aren’t official NFL starts (determined by whether a player is on the field for the first offensive play). Those are my in-house numbers. If a guy was expected to be used extensively and was used extensively, I called that a start. If a player, for example, missed a curfew and didn’t play in the first series, then came on and filled his usual role, I called that a “start”. I’m not charting injuries; maybe a guy is suspended, benched, retired or moved into a reserve role.
Overall, the numbers suggest there is more risk with selecting running backs.
This is all accounted for with the projections on our board. With quarterbacks like Brady, Brees and Eli Manning, those guys are projected to start over 15 games. (There are decimals you don’t see, but we’ve got those guys at about 15.5 “starts”.) With tight ends and wide receivers, we tend to just forget about any chance of injury with most of the guys and list them at 16 games.
With running backs, there are a lot more guys projected at about 12-14 games.
If anybody has followup questions on this topic, now is a good time to ask, when I’ve got a lot of these numbers in a sortable, workable spreadsheet.
Posted by Geoff Maleman | Jul. 06 at 08:51 AM
So, this is a long-time debate I've had with other fantasy football players ... do you go with the guys who will have a greater likelihood to start 16 games and thus have a higher point total for the year or do you go with the guys who will put up higher per-game numbers, even if they miss three or four games?
Posted by BILL REHOR | Jul. 06 at 11:13 AM
Thanks for this Ian. Can we drill down on the running backs any further? For instance, are backs over a certain age more likely to break down? Does the number of carries from the previous year have any effect? Just looking for a way to make this actionable. Thanks!
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