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2016 Fantasy Football Projections for NFL Players Who Went on Injured Reserve

Team owners should remember Le'Veon Bell injured his MCL instead of his ACL, so that should aid his recovery.

Team owners should remember Le'Veon Bell injured his MCL instead of his ACL, so that should aid his recovery.

Predicting the recovery time of NFL players has become a little easier in the past generation. ACL injuries have happened so often that the top-level doctors who work on NFL players know how to repair their patients. News sources are plentiful, but that’s part of the problem: fantasy football team owners have to bird dog a lot of information. It occurred to me that having all the information in one spot would be helpful to other fantasy owners than just myself.

In this article, I provide a list of the major fantasy contributors who’ve landed on IR in the 2015 NFL season. I include their injuries, along with a prediction of what fantasy owners can expect from them next season. For each player, I include the type of injury suffered, along with a quick reference about when the injury was suffered. Then there’s amount of time which will have elapsed when Week 1 of the 2016 NFL season rolls around, plus their rough age is going to be when it gets here.

Before I begin, let me say I’m in the middle of updating this list. Tony Romo, Joe Flacco, Jimmy Graham, and Thomas Rawls are a few of the players who need to be added to the list. For now, I’ll start with the player drafted 1st overall in the most fantasy drafts in 2015: Le’Veon Bell.

Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Injury: Torn MCL.
Injured On: November 1, 2015
Time Since Injury: Week 1 2016: A little over 10 months.
Age in Wk 1 2016: 24 years, 8 months.

Le'Veon Bell on IR

Le’Veon Bell should remain a 1st round pick in most fantasy football drafts in 2016.

The good thing with the Le’Veon Bell injury is it isn’t an ACL. The process of healing from an MCL does not take nearly as long, though it was long enough that the injury cost him the rest of 2015 season.

The nature of the injury leaves less doubt about a full recovery, including the 230-lb back’s ability to make cuts, as well as accellerate.

Le’Veon Bell should be able to make a full recovery by Week 1 next year. He’ll be entering the final year of his 4-year rookie contract. Since he lost over half of his 3rd season, he should be motivated and capable of a big season in what amounts to a contract year. If he can stay out of trouble during the long layoff, he is young enough and talented enough that this should remain a blip on the radar screen.

Quote: Steelers running backs coach James Saxon said of Le’Veon Bell, “He understands the process he is going through right now. Everybody understands it’s not an injury free game. You have to prepare for those things. He will come back stronger than he was before. He is very confident. I don’t think there will be any issues with him.”

2016 Prediction: I predict Le’Veon Bell will be the Steelers’ unchallenged #1 running back next season. He’ll be a 1st round pick in most every fantasy football format. Those looking to get ahead in keeper leagues and dynasty leagues should consider making a run at late-season trades, in hopes the owner is willing to sell at low cost.

Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans

Injury: Ruptured Achilles Tendon
Injured On: October 20, 2015
Time Since Injury in Wk 1 2016: 10 and 1/2 months.
Age in Week 1 2016: 30 years old exactly.

When the 2016 season rolls around, Arian Foster is going to be a 30-year old running back coming off an Achilles tendon injury. Foster has a lot of mileage for an NFL running back and a history of injuries. Besides the 2014 season, one can look at the last 4 seasons and see that his body is starting to wear down. I would not bet on him returning to his elite form upon his return.

In fact, I bet the Houston Texans spend a fairly high draft pick on a replacement in the 2016 NFL Season. At this point, any sober NFL front office is likely to assess the various factors above and say they need an insurance policy at the very least. More likely, they are going to want to move on from a total reliance on the 4-time Pro Bowler.

For the 2016 season, Arian Foster is going to be in the final year of a $43.5 million, 5-year contract. That normally would signal an effort to get one more big contract, but Foster is a smart guy. He knows no 31-year old NFL running back (not named Marshawn Lynch) is likely to garner such a contract. With the Texans apparently years away from competing for a Super Bowl, this team is likely to be in rebuild mode. He might prefer to have the Texans tear up his contract and waive him in the offseason, which is a possibility.

2016 Projection: Fantasy owners should follow the lead of Fantex, the company which pays athletes money upfront for a percentage of their salaries in future years. In 2013, Fantex paid the Texans runner $10 million for a 20% stake in his future earnings. On November 18, 2015, Fantex terminated its Arian Foster contract. They obviously think his better days are behind him.

Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

Injury: Torn ACL
Injured On: October 11, 2015
Time Since Injury: 11 months
Age in Week 1 2016: 29 years, 4 months

Jamaal Charles is a complicated case. In chronological years, he is only 8 months younger than Arian Foster. He’s had plenty of wear-and-tear, but he sat the bench for a significant portion of his first few years, so his wear isn’t quite what Foster’s was. He has not shown the kind of gradual breakdown you see from Foster, perhaps because Jamaal Charles is a little shiftier.

At the same time, this is the second ACL injury the Chiefs stud runner has had in 5 seasons. In 2011, he tore his left ACL and missed 14 games. (This time, it’s the right ACL.) Even that is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, Charles knows the rehabilitation process and how to recover from such a major injury. On the other hand, this is a pattern which has developed and he’s 4 years older now. Those four years make all the difference for an NFL running back.

Even the idea his body is otherwise in good shape might not be true. The runner missed a month of action in 2014, when Knile Davis took over and looked like the future at RB for the Kansas City Chiefs. That might be the hard part of all of this.

In his 2014 and 2015, running backs have filled-in and looked pretty good. Knile Davis appears to be limited by his lack of pass-catching ability, a huge problem in an Andy Reid offense.

But Charcandrick West has shown he can run and catch and the coaching staff has praised his overall set of talents. Coming out of Abilene Christian University, Charcandrick West was overlooked. Chiefs running backs coach Eric Bienemy explained, “My whole thought process was, why wasn’t this kid involved in the (NFL) Combine? This kid is a unique kid. The thing is–the same things that he’s doing right now were the same things that he did in college. [I’m] not surprised, but impressed. [West] is just one of those kids–he has a unique way of carrying the football. He finds a way to make things happen. He’s doing a great job.”

2016 Prediction: In 2014, Jamaal Charles signed a 2-year, $18.1 million extension of his original 5-year contract that was signed in 2010. That means he is signed through the end of the 2017 season. Given he will still be at the tail end of his 20s and the team’s coaching staff remains so complimentary of Jamaal Charles, I expect him to be back with the Kansas City Chiefs for 2016 and perhaps even for the final year of his contract (a cap hit of $7 million in 2017). The team is unlikely to make him a centerpiece beyond that. Project out a year and he’s a 30-year old ball carrier with a history of knee injuries. The team planned for 2016 to be the end of his contract, extending him an additional year to keep from negotiating a new multi-year deal when he was 29. The team has a couple of young talents on the roster, along with two drafts before the 2017. Treat Jamaal Charles as a potential stud in 2016 redraft leagues, but do not depend on him in any keeper format. And handcuff him early, if you draft him, under any circumstance.

Dion Lewis, RB, New England Patriots

Injury: Torn ACL
Injured: November 8, 2015
Time Since Injury in Week 1 2016: 10 months
Age in Week 1 2016: 25 years, 11 months

Dion Lewis is one of those players cursed with injuries. He is shown talent at several NFL stops, but health concerns always get in the way. Granted, when he was averaging 7 yards a carry in Philadelphia, Dion Lewis was backing up a young LeSean McCoy and had zero chance of supplanting Shady. He won the starting job in Cleveland one year, only to tear up his knee late in preseason. So it was no surprise that Dion Lewis made an impact in his short time with the New England Patriots. It was also no surprise that he couldn’t make it through the season.

I have a feeling Dion Lewis is going to go down as one of those stories of untapped potential. After spending two seasons out of the NFL (cut by Cleveland in 2013, cut by Indianapolis in 2014), he finally seemed to have found his niche. Julian Edelman gave him cool nicknames like “Jitterbug” and “Little Dirty”, while he was filling a key role in the unbeaten Patriots’ powerhouse offense. Certainly, he’s shown enough to have signed a two-year contract extension on his original futures/reserve contract with the Patriots. The new contract gave him a $600,000 signing bonus with $1.8 million in incentives over 2016 and 2017. That is a very affordable contract by NFL standards, so expect the New England front office to show a lot of patience with Dion Lewis’s injury situation. Whatever amount of games they get out of him is going to be a bargain.

2016 Projection: Dion Lewis is going to be in the mix with the New England Patriots in 2016 and 2017. As far as running backs go, Bill Belichick has always been like a kid who can’t settle on a favorite flavor of ice cream: he tries them all. Belichick likes to mix-and-match, and Dion Lewis is going to be one of the main flavors which gets into the mix. In fantasy football, I would treat him the same way the Patriots are: get him for cheap or don’t get him at all. If you can add him in the mid-to-late rounds of a league, Dion Lewis is going to be a valuable pick-and-plug running back. You won’t be able to depend on him to finish the season, but he’ll help you win some games along the way. At 25 years of age and not much wear on the tires, he should still have several years of football left in him.

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers

Injury: Torn ACL
Injured On: August 19, 2015
Time Since Injury in Week 1 2016: 13 months
Age in Week 1 2016: 24 years, 7 months

Kelvin Benjamin Injures Knee in Practice

Kelvin Benjamin’s injury happened early in 2015, so he should be fully ready to rejoin his team by 2016 training camp.

When Kelvin Benjamin returns, he should be in the best of all positions. He’ll be returning to a team which has established itself as an elite NFL team, yet without a real challenge to his position as #1 receiver emerging. In today’s NFL, it’s a bizarre set of conditions which allows a team to go 9-0 without a stud receiver on the outside.

Yet there the Panthers are, winning with a combination of good quarterback play, a pretty good running game, and great defense. Greg Olsen seems to be Cam Newton’s go-to receiver. When Kelvin Benjamin returns, he’ll naturally step into the lead role and the other targets, including Olsen, will naturally fill-in around him. It should be a fairly seamless transition.

According to Benjamin himself, he has been “attacking rehab full speed” since his surgery on September 10. Coach Ron Rivera says he has been impressed with the growth Benjamin has shown, both before and after his injury. Rivera told reporters in September, “I walked in this morning and there he was at his locker. I just kept thinking, ‘Golly’, It’s interesting how much he’s matured. I know there was a little thing in the spring about his weight (gain). And he came back to training camp ready to roll.”

The one good thing about Benjamin’s torn ACL is it happened early. Not only did it allow the Panthers to adjust to life without their top receiver, but it gives him a full calendar year to recover. When 2016 gets here, Kelvin Benjamin should be ready to roll. At 24 years of age, he’ll be entering his prime years.

2016 Prediction: Kelvin Benjamin should come through this injury without trouble. While cutting ability is important to any receiver, Benjamin’s big frame and ability to beat defensive backs on 50/50 balls is his real strength. If he takes the 2016 offseason to study the game and build his core strength, then he should return to the field as a better receiver than ever. As Coach Rivera noted, Kelvin Benjamin has had a bit of the bonehead mentality in the past, so there is a bit of a danger that he gets bored or frustrated in his long layoff and has a setback. From everything that’s been heard, that isn’t the case. It probably helps with motivation to see his team at 9-0, because he’ll want to do everything he can to get back on the field and rejoin a winning program. Cam Newton and his teammates should embrace his return, because it’s still obvious they need a playmaker like Kelvin Benjamin to be a top NFL franchise.

Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers

Injury: Torn ACL
Injured On: August 22, 2015.
Time Since Injury in Week 1 2016: Almost 13 months
Age in Week 1 2016: 30 years, 4 months

If Jordy Nelson were a running back, I’d be warning you to stay away from him. Since receivers have a few more years of production, he should be a solid contributor in 2016 and 2017. Beyond that is anybody’s guess. Whether Nelson’s days as a Top 5 fantasy wide receiver have ended is another matter. The wide receiver death spiral takes longer than the running back death spiral, but it follows a pattern. The pass catchers who use to be Top 10 guys suddenly slide down into the Top 20 or Top 25. They stay there a handful of years, then just fade away. If they don’t retire outright, you’ll see them listed #83 on a cheatsheet a few years later.

Jordy Nelson’s 2016 evaluation should go hand-in-hand with how you evaluate the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers. We’ve all seen the offense struggle in ways we aren’t used to seeing. Is it an aberration? Is it an accumulation of injuries? Will things be suddenly better when Nelson returns and Eddie Lacy gets over whatever injury/conditioning concerns he has? Is it the offensive line, or has Aaron Rodgers slipped?

Until this becomes a multi-year phenomenon, I’m going to dismiss the current patchiness of the Packers Offense as a one-year aberration. The team is still bringing along young receivers like Davante Adams, Ty Montgomery, and Jeff Janis. Until they mature, Aaron Rodgers has to make due with Randall Cobb and James Jones, which simply isn’t as formidable as in years past. One overlooked factor is the receiver with one more year of experience, Davante Adams, also suffered a significant injury. Now that he’s returned, Adams is starting to pick up some slack, though his talents are still a work in progress. And while James Starks has supplanted Eddie Lacy for now, the team drafted Lacy because Starks wasn’t elite. The Packers need their elite weapons back, and Jordy Nelson is one of the main missing pieces.

The front office no doubt sees it that way. In 2014, Jordy Nelson signed a four-year extension worth $39 million. The contract runs through the 2017 season and gave him a $11.5 million signing bonus. In all, he has a guaranteed $14.2 million, which amounts to about $3.5 million per year added onto his base salary for its salary cap impact. If Jordy Nelson is still a cornerstone receiver in 2016 and 2017, expect him to be on the team.

2016 Projection: I expect Jordy Nelson to be a cornerstone receiver. Look at the Packers without him and they don’t look nearly as dangerous. 2015 has proven one thing: Randall Cobb is a #2 receiver. From a fantasy perspective, that hasn’t always been evident. While Jordy Nelson posted better numbers over the course of the season, on any given week, Randall Cobb would be the star. But that was with Jordy Nelson on the other side of the field, taking the bulk of the double coverage. Without Nelson to draw attention, having to fill the role of #1 receiver and get the corresponding double-teams, Randall Cobb has faltered. The Green Bay front office sees all of that and knows how valuable Jordy Nelson is. He’ll be back and installed as the key receiver. It would take someone emerging in a dramatic way over the last 7 weeks of the season for that to change. I don’t see it. The only factor which could really change this equation is if Mike McCarthy was fired in the offseason. A bit of grumbling has started, though I assume the Packers make the playoffs and McCarthy stays. If he doesn’t, then it’s hard to say what the Packers Offense would look like. While you might dismiss that notion, look at what the Detroit Lions and Matthew Stafford looked like after the Jim Caldwell regime took office. Whatever kind of offense they’re running in Detroit, the Lions Offense is nowhere near as high-powered.

Steve Smith, WR, Baltimore Ravens

Injury: Torn Achilles
Injured On: November 1, 2015
Time Since Injury in Week 1 2016: A little over 10 months.
Age in Week 1 2016: 37 years, 5 months

Steve Smith is a freak of nature. He’ll be pushing 38 years old when the 2016 NFL season rolls around. He’s not that big and he’s always uses his speed, quickness, and fire to succeed in the NFL. Those traits should be diminished by now, but he seems to have the passion and drive to stay on the top of the game. While any rational analyst is going to say he’ll retire or hit the wall, it’s hard to entirely dismiss Steve Smith.

The thing is, it’s hard to predict what Steve Smith will do. In the days after he sustained the torn Achilles injury, Steve Smith retired. A few days later, he un-retired. When the player himself isn’t real sure what his plans are, then it’s hard to make projections. They say when you don’t know if you’re retired, then you’re retired. If so, then you should dismiss Steve Smith at this point.

The Baltimore Ravens do not appear to be dismissing him, though. Before the trade deadline, NFL teams made inquiries about Smith’s availability. The Ravens said he was not on the trading block. That tells you the Ravens still see value in him, while at least one NFL team out there sees the same thing. The truth is Steve Smith was (by far) the best receiver Joe Flacco had. Ozzie Newsome realizes that. Everyone does. But that is NFL value, where experience and know-how can help a team, even if the on-the-field production wanes. It’s hard to bet on an aging receiving to give you much of anything in fantasy football.

2016 Prediction: When you have a 37-year old smallish receiver coming off an Achilles injury, you don’t want to put much stock in that player. When you have a receiver who’s already retired out of resignation and disgust once before, you probably don’t want to rely on that guy. But if you’re sitting there late in a draft and Steve Smith is still on the board and he’s gotten decent buzz in the preseason–and you don’t have to rely on him as your franchise player–I’d draft him. Do not overspend on Steve Smith, because 90% of the factors are against him.

Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers

Injury: Lacerated Kidney
Injured On: November 1, 2015
Time Since Injury in Week 1 2016: A little over 10 months.
Age in Week 1 2016: 24 years, 5 months

Keenan Allen was placed on Injured Reserve with a lacerated kidney in early November. He should make a full recovery, given he has 10 months to recuperate. When he returns, Keenan Allen is still only going to be 24 years old. He is a young stud who should be a huge part of the San Diego Chargers’ plans in the coming years. He’ll be the franchise receiver when he returns. His quarterback, Philip Rivers, might seem like he’s ancient in NFL terms, but he’ll only be 34 next season.

2016 Projection: Don’t let the brevity of this writeup fool you into thinking I’m dismissing Keenan Allen. I’m being short, because this is a no-brainer. Those who’ve had Keenan Allen on their team the last couple of years (and I have) know he has the talent to be a Top 5 receiver. If he can stop getting these injuries for any length of time, he’ll ascend in the NFL fantasy football world. Since the injuries are a mixed bag and no one ailment, I’ll give him a pass.

Jimmy Graham. TE, Seattle Seahawks

Injury: Torn Patellar Tendon
Injured On: November 29, 2015
Time Since Injury in Wk 1 2016: 9 and 1/2 months
Age in Wk 1 2016: 29 years, 9 months

Jimmy Graham signed a 4-year, $40 million contract with $21 million guaranteed in 2014. He therefore has two more years left on his contract in Seattle. Before he was injured, Jimmy Graham was showing signs that the Seahawks were finally starting to figure out how to use him. If you projected his stats to a full season, his receptions were about 15 lower than they had been on average the previous 4 seasons. His targets were down about 30. Interestingly, his yardage numbers were commensurate with his 2012 and 2014 totals, though 200-300 yards less than his 2011 and 2013 stats. His yards-per-catch was actually the 3rd-best of his career.

The torn patellar tendon can be troublesome, but Jimmy Graham should be ready to go in Week 1. I expect the Seahawks should be better prepared to utilize their massive tight end in 2016. Doug Baldwin has had a breakout year, so Graham should get less attention from defensive coordinators, once they have an offseason to scour game film of Baldwin’s highlights.

Still, the team needs to find ways to get Jimmy Graham involved in the offense. The Seahawks could be entering a transitional phase, though. Marshawn Lynch is well beyond 30 and starting to show signs he’s breaking down. Russell Wilson is entering his prime years, so the team might ask him to take on added responsibilities in the offense, to wring the most mileage out of the Beast Mode. And the team will have another offseason to replace Max Ungar and repair the offensive line, which should free Jimmy Graham to run routes more often. If so, then Russell Wilson-to-Jimmy Graham could become like the connection between Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski in 2016 and 2017.

2016 Projection: I’ll never like Jimmy Graham in Seattle as much as I liked him in New Orleans. I’m not sure he’ll ever match the 2013 season again. But he could return to being a Top 3 tight end in 2016, if the Seahawks really are entering a transitional period.

Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys

Injury: Broken Left Clavicle
Injured On: November 26, 2015
Time Since Injury in Week 1: 9 and 1/2 months
Age in Wk 1 2016: 36 years, 5 months

The Dallas Cowboys are crazy if they assume a quarterback going on 37 and sporting a long history of back and collarbone injuries is the man to take them to the Super Bowl. Of course, Jerry Jones is a little crazy when it comes to Tony Romo. When asked after Peyton Manning’s MVP first year with the Denver Broncos whether he (Jerry) considered pursuing Manning in free agency that previous year, Jerry Jones claimed he was only vaguely aware that Peyton Manning was a free agent, because he had Tony Romo as a starter and that’s all he needed. If I believed that statement (and I don’t), that in itself would be enough to damn Jerry Jones’s football knowledge. But it might be true.

As a Cowboys fan, I have seen nothing that indicates Jerry Jones has any other plan than building a Super Bowl team around Tony Romo. The team sits at the #4 pick as of December 29 (update). With teams like the Titans and Chargers ahead of them in the draft, that puts them in a position where they might be able to draft the #2 quarterback prospect (Paxton Lynch, Jared Goff). Now, the prospects are reputed to be less-than-stellar this year, but that’s what they said the year Blake Bortles was drafted. I would be ecstatic to have Blake Bortles to build around right now. While you can’t guarantee anything with a draft pick, the idea that you might not have a pick this high for a long time (hopefully) tells me the Cowboys should draft a QB high, if a decent prospect is there. I’d bet a lot of money Jerry Jones won’t. Instead, he’s likely to draft a defensive back. You know, those high draft picks DBs have been so successful for Jerry lately (Morris Claiborne, Roy Williams).

2016 Projection: In 2013, Tony Romo signed a 6-year extension worth $108 million. That contract gave him $54 million in guaranteed money and $25 million in bonuses. It’s a massive deal and he still has 3 years left on it, so expect Jerry Jones to try to build around Tony Romo again in 2016.

Hopefully, he invests in a good backup quarterback. Tony Romo is getting to retirement age, and he can’t stay healthy — even behind an elite offensive line. Part of it is Jerry’s fault. Romo was rushed back to the field this year, because bones don’t break in the same place, unless it wasn’t fully healed to begin with. Tony Romo is concerned enough that he’s considering having a steel plate put on his collarbone (http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2015/12/29/tony-romo-may-have-plate-surgically-attached-to-collarbone/), to assure he doesn’t break it a fourth time.

Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens

Injury: Torn ACL and MCL
Injured On: November 22, 2015
Time Since Injury: 9 and 1/2 months
Age in Wk 1 2016: 31 years, 8 months

Joe Flacco is not my favorite quarterback. He’s definitely not my favorite fantasy quarterback. Flacco is a so-so backup QB on a fantasy team. The best things that can be said of him is he is the definite starter, which is better than some, and that he has the potential for 1 or 2 huge games every year. Otherwise, the Ravens are a run-first, play-action team that limits Flacco’s fantasy stats.

2016 Projection: Joe Flacco gave an interview with CBS Sports recently in which he said he was already riding a stationary bike and he is planning to make a Week 1 comeback. Given the injury, the bad 2015 season, and his general lack of big production in fantasy football, I’d say you could get Joe Flacco late-late in 2016 fantasy drafts. Whether you’ll want to is another matter. He still has 3 years on the 6-year deal he signed after the Super Bowl performance, so he is certain to be the Ravens’ starting QB, when healthy.

Justin Forsett, RB, Baltimore Ravens

Injury: Broken Right Arm
Injured On: November 22
Time Since Injury: 9 and 1/2 months
Age in Wk 1 2016: 30 years, 11 months

Justin Forsett comes into the 2016 on the second year of a 3-year, $9 million contract. He went on IR with a broken arm, which should be healed by the time offseason workouts start. Forsett is a cheap NFL starter, which is a good thing. He’s also a 30+ running back, which is a bad thing. He might eventually give way to Javorius “Buck” Allen, who showed he could be a fill-in when Forsett went out for the year.

Notice I didn’t say Buck Allen showed he could be a starter. He looked awful in preseason, when everyone was relatively fresh. Cut to late-November and December and he looks good, but that’s when the defenses are worn down and Javorius Allen is fresh. I’m saying it’s not a slam-dunk that Buck Allen takes the starting job next year.

It might look that way, and it might look that way to a lot of fantasy football owners. Maybe that’s how it pans out. But if there are doubts in 2016 Training Camp and the consensus is Buck Allen eventually takes the starting job, I’d draft Justin Forsett in the middle rounds on a flier.

Keep in mind that the Baltimore Ravens are not as far away from contention as you might think. They lost a lot of games in 2015, but look at the scores of those games. Besides the Seattle Seahawks game when Jimmy Clausen was starting, the Ravens’ losses were by less than 7 points. This team could rebound quickly and, with Ozzie Newsome in the front office, should rebound quickly.

2016 Projection: Justin Forsett is a 30 year old running back, so it’s a bad bet to assume he’ll be a starter much longer — if at all. Only draft him if you can get him at a backup price.

Breshad Perriman, WR, Baltimore Ravens

Injury: Strained PCL
Injured On: September 27, 2015
Time Since Injury: Almost 1 Year
Age in Wk 1 2016: 23 years

Breshad Perriman is one of the great football mysteries of the 21st century. His strained PCL should have cost him his rookie season. Perriman should not have gone on the IR.

John Harbaugh seemed mystified by Perriman’s situation. When asked by reporters about his 1st round pick’s injury, Harbaugh deadpanned, “It’s probably one of the all-time slowest healing sprained PCLs ever.”

One of the weirder parts of the story is Perriman seemed to be hiding from his head coach. Or at least that’s how it kind of sounds, when you learn that John Harbaugh didn’t discuss the injury with his receiver until November 16. He said, “You couldn’t talk to him. You’ve seen him around. He was just so down about the whole thing. He seemed a little more at peace with his future, and he was excited about the progress he’s making.”

The Ravens’ head coach was asked whether the lack of progress was a sign that the knee was a degenerative condition, and Harbaugh said, “Not that I’ve been told. To me, it’s still a hard one to understand. [There are] better people to ask than me about that. I’m just disappointed.”

So with that in mind, Breshad Perriman is going to be one of the forgotten players heading into 2016 fantasy drafts. Remember this: he was a big, fast, physically talented receiver who had questionable hands. Everything else was supposed to be in place. Also remember that Steve Smith is going to be 38 and coming off a major injury. Breshad Perriman is supposed to be a #1 NFL receiver.

2016 Projection: The injury is weird. It has to put doubts in your mind. The trouble catching the ball is also concerning, but remember, Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice were supposed to have questionable hands coming into the NFL. The great thing about Breshad Perriman is he should be a cheap investment. Add this guy as a late-round flier and see what he can do in his 2nd year. If he turns out to be a wimp who can’t deal with pain, then it won’t hurt to cut him.

Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints

Injury: Torn Rotator Cuff, MCL Sprain
Injured On: November 15, 2015
Time Since Injury: Almost 10 months
Age in Wk 1 2016: 26 years, 9 months

In 2016, Mark Ingram is going to be coming into the 2nd year of a 4-year deal with the New Orleans Saints. In one of my main leagues, he was the #6 running back in the league at the time he was placed on Injured Reserve. I know that, because he came into the year as my 2nd runner behind Jamaal Charles. (See the theme? I still made the finals, despite the IR guys.) Mark Ingram actually played several weeks with the shoulder injury which put him out for the year, showing a toughness you might not attribute to him. He was Top 5 until the injury began to limit him somewhat. Only when the Saints fell out of the playoff chase was he placed on IR.

All of that is to say Mark Ingram is still in his prime and should be a solid fantasy contributor these next 2 to 3 seasons. He put up Top 5 fantasy RB numbers on a team which had serious limitations. People forget that the Saints were in “Salary Cap Hell” in 2015. That’s a term for when a team has so much dead money that it has a hard time putting a representative unit on the field.

To make up the difference, the Saints had to trade Jimmy Graham and start a defense with 3 or 4 rookies at any given time. Put a unit full of rookies with complicated Rob Ryan defensive scheme and you get the NFL’s 32nd-ranked defense. That meant Drew Brees and Mark Ingram had to stand on the sideline a lot while opposing offenses drove the field. Despite that, Mark Ingram showed elite fantasy potential.

2016 Projection: The great thing about Salary Cap Hell is it only lasts one year, usually. All that dead money goes off the salary cap in 2016 and the Saints should be in a much better situation to compete. All those rookies will have a ton of experience. The team found Willie Snead as a solid possession receiver. Whether Sean Payton returns or not, the Saints should be better. I expect Payton to return, because the front office and ownership knew this year was coming. As much as optimism takes over in August and September, they planned for it.

Thomas Rawls

Injury: Fractured Ankle
Injured On: December 13, 2015
Time Since Injury: 9 Months
Age in Wk 1 2016: 23 years, 1 month

Thomas Rawls proved in his rookie year that he has the chops to play running back in the NFL. Despite playing in only 7 of the 13 games due to injuries and filling the role of backup, Thomas Rawls collected 700+ yards. He was on a pace to easily collect a 1000-yard season. While a thousand yards isn’t what it was in the time of O.J. Simpson, it’s still a nice total for any NFL running back — especially in the age of specialization.

The big problem for Thomas Rawls owners is his ability to get on the field. Marshawn Lynch is the Seahawks heart-and-soul, or he has been in these Super Bowl years. If Marshawn Lynch is healthy, he’s going to receive the bulk of the carries for the forseeable future. That relegates Thomas Rawls to fantasy backup status, even if he goes into 2016 as one of the best and most highly-touted handcuffs. Dynasty owners with Marshawn Lynch must procure the services of Thomas Rawls, or they might as well trade Marshawn Lynch to the owner who does have him (for the right price).

2016 Projection: The fractured ankle should not be a problem, in and of itself. Thomas Rawls has a physical running style and he has gotten injured in his short career (at Michican and Central Michigan). That should be considered moving ahead. That being said, he is going to be 23 years old and should have a solid 5-year window of production, unless he proves to be injury prone. Rawls still has a couple of years on his rookie contract, so he should be in a nice place in 2016. I would expect him to be the undisputed backup heading into next year.

LeGarrett Blount

Injury: Left Hip Injury
Injured On: December 13, 2015
Time Since Injury: 9 months
Age in Wk 1 2016: 29 years, 9 months

LeGarrette Blount is an unrestricted free agent in the 2016 offseason. He’ll be turning 30 next season and has shown limitations in fantasy football, at least. Those who think Blount was a spotty player in fantasy football this year should remember he likely has more real world value to the Patriots, as he had 700 yards rushing for the Patriots when he was placed on IR. That means the team could see him as a valuable banger on a team with Super Bowl ambitions. With that in mind, LeGarrette Blount could be back with the Patriots. He was a valuable contributor in the team’s playoff run and Super Bowl championship in the 2014-2015 season.

I don’t see much here to get excited about from a fantasy perspective. LeGarrette Blount does not catch many receptions. Even if Dion Lewis does not return to the Patriots, someone like Dion Lewis would be splitting time with Blount. (Read above to remind yourself Lewis almost certainly will be back in New England next year.)

2016 Projection: Given the lack of receptions, LeGarrette Blount is entirely reliant on yardage and touchdowns. He’s had nice games this year that did not translate to fantasy football, because they would include only yardage stats. If he doesn’t score a touchdown or more, you’ll struggle most weeks. Add LeGarrette Blount as an injury and bye week fill-in, but do not rely on him as an every-week-player to win the league championship.

Martellus Bennett

Injury: Rib Injury
Injured On: December 6, 2015
Time Since Injury: 9 months
Age in Wk 1 2016: 29 years, 6 months

Martellus Bennett will be entering the final year of a 4-year contract in 2016, where he’ll be playing for his final contract. After the 2016 season, Marty-B is going to be 30, so 2016 will be an especially pivotal time for the tight end. If he falters, Bennett could be relegated to backup status. Even if he does well, one can only expect to see him sign a lucrative contract for another 1 to 2 years.

The 2015 was a mixed bag for Martellus Bennett. On the one hand, he was leading the team with 53 receptions when he was injured. On the other hand, he only had 436 yards on those receptions. Some would see that as a marked sign of decline at age 29. Others would say he was facing tighter coverage, because he didn’t have Brandon Marshall or Alshon Jeffrey (much of the year) to draw the defense’s attention. Faced with fewer viable passing options, Jay Cutler checked down more in 2015, and defenses knew that.

2016 Projection: Between age concerns and his drop in production in 2015, I would not make Martellus Bennett a top priority in 2016 drafts. Those with him in dynasty leagues need to find a younger 1st option at tight end. Two years removed from a 90-catch, 900+ season, Martellus Bennett will be a talented backup fantasy tight end, but a risky starting TE.

Victor Cruz

Injury: Calf Injury
Injured On: November 8, 2015
Time Since Injury: 10 months
Age in Wk 1 2016: 29 years, 10 months

Victor Cruz has reached that point in his career when I’m not sure if it even matters whether he’s injured or not. I would not trust Victor Cruz on my fantasy team, unless he’s a late-round flier. With the frequent injuries and lack of production when he is on the field, I’m not sure what he brings to a team, except cool dance moves.

2016 Projection: In 2013, Victor Cruz signed a five-year, $45.879 million contract. That means he has two more years under contract with the New York Giants. I imagine he’ll be installed at the second receiver again next year opposite of Odell Beckham Jr., but I wouldn’t recommend it of the Giants. He has taken the Miles Austin path to stardom: one really huge year (and contract) followed by chronic injuries. Maybe it’s bad luck, but don’t draft this bad luck charm onto your fantasy team.

Colin Kaepernick

Injury: Injured Left Shoulder
Injured On: ???
Time Since Injury in Wk 1 2016: 10-11 months
Age in Wk 1 2016: 28 years, 10 months

Colin Kaepernick signed a six-year contract extension worth a potential $126 million. $13 million of that money was totally guaranted, while an additional $41 million were potential guarantees. The extension came after 3 years of his initial 4-year rookie contract, meaning Colin Kaepernick is under contract to the San Francisco 49ers for another whopping 5 years.

All the speculation is that Colin Kaepernick is likely to be traded or waived. The Philadelphia Eagles are one of those teams mentioned, because Chip Kelly likes read-option quarterbacks and because Sam Bradford has been a disaster in Philly. With a huge contract which stretches another half-decade, I’m not sure how feasible it is that the Niners could trade him or cut him. While it is possible the team outright waives Kaepernick, do not expect to see any teams trade for his huge contract. That simply doesn’t happen in the NFL (see: RGIII).

2016 Projection: I would expect Colin Kaepernick is going to be back to the Niners in 2016, simply because of his prohibitive contract situation. If that’s the case, the team is likely to give him one more chance to start — likely competing against either Blaine Gabbert or a high round draft pick. He might be relegated to backup status for the next year or two. The other option is for the Niners to waive Kaepernick, take the huge cap hit, and view 2016 as the total rebuilding year it is likely to be, anyway. That’s like the best option, but GMs like Trent Balke isn’t likely to do that, unless he has a concrete promise from the owner he’ll have a job in 2017, and I’m not sure if such promises exist in the NFL.

Reggie Bush, RB, San Francisco 49ers

Injury: Torn Meniscus
Injured On: November 1, 2015
Time Since Injury in Week 1 2016: A little over 10 months.
Age in Week 1 2016: 31 years, 6 months

In the most bizarre injury on Black Sunday, Reggie Bush tore his meniscus when he stepped onto the exposed concrete circling the artificial turf field at St. Louis’s Edward Jones Dome. Anytime you are threatening to sue a whole city for your knee injury, a player has entered into the twilight of their career. At this point, he seems to be doing a bit, instead of focusing on football.

Reggie Bush always has been injury-prone. This is a new level of injury prone, though. That’s what happens when you’re a brittle NFL back and you enter your 30s. Suddenly, your suing a city because you do the NFL equivalent of stepping off a curb.

2016 Prediction: You may have known this already, but Reggie Bush is finished in fantasy football. Bush might hang on in the NFL for another couple of seasons. He might occasionally have a semi-productive game. As a factor that can help you win championships, Reggie Bush is done.

2016 Fantasy Football Projections for 2015 Injured Stars

Well, when you’ve reached Reggie Bush on the list, that’s probably a sign that the talent pool has thinned out. I should mention a few players who haven’t gone on IR, but might as well have. Andrew Luck battled through injuries in 2015. If he returns to full health in 2016, expect to see him be the force he was in 2014. This is a blip on the radar screen for a talent like Andrew Luck, so use his hiccup to get him in a trade in your dynasty league.

I might add to this list of 2016 projections for fantasy football players who went on Injured Reserve as the current NFL season continues. As lousy as it is to think, I’m sure a handful of top fantasy football stars are likely to go out for the season between Week 11 and the Super Bowl. If so, I only hope it’s early enough they can make a full recovery before the 2016 NFL season begins.

4 Comments

  1. Scott

    Jimmy graham?

  2. Ryan

    “If he turns out to be a wimp who can’t deal with pain, then it won’t hurt to cut him.” – that was a little harsh.

    • John Clifton

      Yeah, it seems harsh, but reread John Harbaugh’s quotes on Breshad and he’s saying the same thing I did. There’s something suspicious about the rookie sitting out the entire season for that injury and he’ll have that tag until he disproves it.

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