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Which RBs Can We Trust? Fantasy football Injury Analysis with Dr. Chona - Christian McCaffrey, Derrick Henry, Saquon Barkley, Travis Etienne

Christian McCaffrey - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Injury News

Drafting elite RBs requires owners to delicately balance the opportunity for consistent touches against high per-play injury risk.

Nailing this position often translates to wins, so which RBs can you trust? The real answer is nobody, but if you’re going to bet, here are the four whose risk levels are lower than you may think.

All four of these players are being valued lower in drafts due to frailty, either perceived or actual. Do we really need to be as worried as their ADP suggests? Let's take a look!

Featured Promo: Get any full-season NFL Premium Pass for 50% off and win big in 2022. Exclusive access to our Premium articles, 15 lineup tools, new Team Sync platform, Lineup Optimizer, Premium DFS tools and cheat sheets, and much more! Sign Up Now!

 

Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers

Yes, he missed time due to injury in each of the last two seasons. However, if you look more closely, those injuries don’t form a recurring pattern. Additionally, McCaffrey tends to be among the league’s best pass-catchers at the RB position. On a per-play basis, receptions pose a lower injury risk than carries, so from a touch distribution standpoint, he actually fits the prototype for the type of RB worth betting on early.

 

Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

Derrick Henry missed nine games last year due to a Jones fracture in his foot, which has led to questions about the health of this former workhorse RB. Luckily, Jones fractures don’t signify bad news to come. Re-fracture rates are less than 10%, and the injury does not appear to be a sign of future durability issues in the SportsMedAnalytics database.

What about the cumulative risk of 1,400 career carries? There is some data to suggest that Henry falls into a “high volume, high durability” category of RBs. These players tend to experience lower rates of injury per year than their peers at the position, and we don’t consider a single (now healed) fracture evidence that his categorization should change. High durability is relative, as these RBs still average approximately 2 missed games per year, but he’s about as safe as anyone early in the draft.

 

Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

Saquon has been rapidly rising up draft boards, with an increasing number of owners realizing that last year’s dip may have been predictable as the norm in year 1 post-ACL. In year 2, production tends to bounce back to pre-injury levels, which in his case included 120 yards and 0.8 TDs per game.

There’s not much evidence to suggest that he’s particularly prone to injury – his 2019 high ankle was caused by stepping on another player and his 2020 ACL by an awkward outlier tackle. That doesn’t point to any obvious pattern. Furthermore, Brian Daboll’s intent to utilize Barkley’s receiving skills bodes well for his 2022 injury risk. As we discussed with McCaffrey, receptions are safer per play than carries, so we would love to see Barkley catch more balls.

 

Travis Etienne, Jacksonville Jaguars

Etienne has the makings of a league winner. Yes, RBs tend to see an initial dip in production off of the Lisfranc injury. However, when factoring in his young age, 80th percentile athletic metrics, and 2nd round NFL draft price, the SportsMedAnalytics algorithm projects Etienne to start the season at 90 to 95% of his peak explosiveness.

Concerned about James Robinson stealing his touches? Data suggests that may be overblown, especially in the first half of the season. Although Robinson avoided the PUP list, the Achilles slows RBs down pretty significantly (take a peek at Cam Akers’s stats pre- and post-Achilles when he hustled back for reference). Robinson isn’t likely to be better than 80% of himself early on, which should lead to more work for Travis Etienne.



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