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Fantasy Football Injury Exam Room: Leonard Fournette, Cooper Kupp, O.J. Howard


In our new weekly feature in collaboration with Inside Injuries, we take a comprehensive preseason look into major injuries and their Fantasy Football implications.

The medical team at Inside Injuries breaks down each player’s outlook from physical perspectives. RotoBaller then provides in-depth fantasy recommendations based on the impact of every injury breakdown. It’s an unrivaled combination of medical and fantasy expertise, designed to help you gain a true advantage as you prepare for your 2019 drafts.

Inside Injuries predicts the impact of injuries on player performance by using data analytics, medical expertise, and statistical modeling. Click here for more Fantasy Injury Exams: Gurley, Sanders, D. Freeman

Editor's Note: Get any rest-of-season NFL Premium Pass for 50% off. Our exclusive DFS Tools, Lineup Optimizer and Premium DFS Research through the Super Bowl. Sign Up Now!

 

Leonard Fournette (RB, JAX)

Leonard Fournette had injury concerns coming out of college, and he hasn’t done much to quiet the negativity in his first two NFL seasons. Fournette suffered three separate ankle injuries in his final season at LSU. They involved a high ankle sprain and a bone bruise. While he felt healthy entering his first season in the league, high ankle sprains leave the ligaments stretched out. This means the player becomes more susceptible to future ankle sprains or other compensatory lower-body injuries. That’s exactly what happened early on. 

The first problem arose late in the summer of 2017 when Fournette injured his foot. He missed nearly all of the preseason recovering. Then he injured his right ankle during the season and played 13 games. The 2018 season didn’t go any better as Fournette suffered two serious hamstring strains, the second because he returned too early from the first. He ended up playing just eight games due to injury (and a one-game suspension) and didn’t look great when he was on the field. Fournette’s yards per carry went from 3.9 in his rookie year to 3.3 last year. His yards per game also dropped from 80 to 54.9. 

This seems like a make-or-break season for Fournette. He has the talent to be one of the league’s best backs, but his body may not be able to handle the grind of an NFL season. His ankle and foot injuries, which are related, will continue to be a red flag. These are tough injuries for a running back. On top of that, he now has a history of hamstring strains, another highly-recurrent injury. We don’t know what exactly he will injure this season, but it will surely be something. He falls into the High Injury Risk category heading into training camp.

Fournette is too risky to draft in the first three rounds, but if he somehow drops to the fourth or fifth round and is having a healthy preseason he could be worth the risk. Just don’t expect him to contribute each and every week.

Engel’s Fantasy Analysis

Fournette has quickly gone from possible promising star to a source of frustration. He has an ADP of 15 at RB in the FFPC, and is not going any higher than 12th at the position on any site. He certainly has appeal for when he is available, as an improved QB situation in Jacksonville should mean he will operate in a steadier offense and he may have consistent opportunities to score. He’s played well before even when he received a lot of defensive attention and is capable of performing at an RB1 level when healthy.

However, this report from Inside Injuries makes you simply want to steer clear of him and take the next guy on your cheat sheet or in your queue. Even spending a third or fourth-rounder on Fournette could turn out to be a wasted venture. He may not be available when you need him the most. Fournette is simply more of an injury risk than most other RB2s, and I personally don’t want to gamble on him. It’s not worth dealing with the high probability of missed time to get higher level, but inconsistent availability and production. 

 

Cooper Kupp (WR, LAR)

Kupp somehow avoided a season-ending knee injury when he suffered an MCL sprain in Week 6, but he returned less than a month later and suffered a torn ACL in his second game back. Because he returned too soon from the MCL sprain (this injury came with a four-week Optimal Recovery Time), his knee was weaker and more susceptible to a serious injury. Kupp underwent surgery in mid-November to repair the ACL, and there may have also been additional damage to the MCL as the ligament was already injured. 

Kupp spent the offseason focusing on his rehab with an eye on being ready to go in Week 1. When healthy, Kupp was one of the best and most consistent fantasy receivers in 2018. His injury comes with a nine-month Optimal Recovery Time, so our algorithm is indicating he won’t quite be 100% when the season starts. He is going to need a few weeks to slowly work his way back physically and to mentally trust his knee again. Even though the ACL should be fully healed by Week 1, he will be at a higher risk of suffering an injury such as a hamstring strain. Right now, his Overall Risk of injury sits at 16%, which is Elevated. Expect a slower than normal start from Kupp but a strong second half. 

Engel’s Fantasy Analysis

Kupp’s FFPC ADP is 23rd at WR, and his highest Average Draft Position on any site in PPR is 19th. That puts him in low-end WR2 territory, so there is some accounting for his recovery baked into his ADP. Because of the above scouting report though, Kupp may be viewed as a disappointment during the first half of the season as he possibly starts slowly. If he does not fare well during the first half it may be a good idea to try to buy low on him around midseason. But on draft day, you are better off taking alternatives he is being taken ahead of, such as Tyler Lockett or Calvin Ridley.

If Kupp slips to you as a WR3 should be more inclined to take the shot, but that will be unlikely in many cases. It seems smart to pass on him on draft day unless you can somehow get him at a great value and then see if you can acquire him later in the year if you still need WR help. Having Kupp back in any capacity will help Jared Goff, who was as high as QB2 overall before his injury. But the undervalued Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks should certainly and easily outperform Kupp for the first few weeks of the season. 

 

O.J. Howard (TE, TB)

After suffering foot and ankle injuries in Week 11, the Bucs surprisingly placed Howard on injured reserve. This injury sounded like a high ankle sprain, which can take 5-8 weeks to heal if it’s serious. Howard has now ended the season on IR in each of the last two seasons due to his ankle. He played 13 games in 2017, his rookie season, before getting hurt. 

Howard went for a second opinion on his ankle in November, and doctors determined that he did not need to undergo surgery. While that may sound like good news as it indicates there wasn’t anything too serious going on, it’s clear that the ligaments in his ankle are stretched out. With rest and rehab, this can improve, but it won’t go back to normal. That’s why Howard is a High Injury Risk entering the season. He has the potential to have a breakout season if he can stay healthy, but it won’t take much to roll his ankle again, leading to a lengthy absence and possibly surgery. 

Engel’s Fantasy Analysis

Howard is the fifth TE off the board in the FFPC and on several other sites. I really want to endorse Howard at that ADP, especially after he delivered seven double-figure PPR performances last season before getting injured. He’s a tremendous and highly-promising talent who could effectively operate as Tampa Bay’s third or maybe even second receiver this season. Of course, the TE position is thin on better top-level producers, so you may think it’s more acceptable to take the risk on Howard at his position. But that is only applicable to a certain point.

Howard is going ahead of Hunter Henry, Evan Engram and Jared Cook on many sites, and I especially see the latter two as prime TEs with no real health concerns. After that point, though, every TE becomes a big risk to not deliver reliable production on a regular basis.

So, while the above report does make me drop Howard a few spots, I would still be willing to take him as the seventh TE off the board. At that point, I will take what I can get from him when he may be available. If you miss out on one of the Top 6 or so TEs this year, you’re not getting anyone dependable.

For less than one dollar a day, get the edge you need to bet with confidence at Inside Injuries!

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