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Fantasy Football Injuries – 11 Cautionary Tales for 2023

By Lenny Pappano | Updated on Wed, 10 Jan 2024 . 5:36 PM EST

How fantasy football injuries can destroy your season

We’ve all been there. You’ve planned your fantasy draft perfectly. And you’ve come away with the perfect team.

And you’re right. By Week 4, you’re in first place. You’re cooking, baby!! 

Then it happens: 

In a span of two weeks, you’ve lost three starting players to extended injuries. You’re done. Your team is getting smashed every Sunday thereafter. 

And every Monday morning, you’re drinking more whiskey than Morgan Wallen.  

 

Draft Sharks helped countless people avoid injury disasters in 2022… 

“Injury risk” is one of the 17 value indicators that goes into ranking players in our Draft War Room (a live-synced, dynamic cheat sheet).

How we calculate “injury risk” is a complicated but robust algorithm that considers more than 1,000 variables. And it's powered by the most comprehensive NFL injury database on the internet.

So aside from the “injury risk” feature integrated into the Draft War Room, we also posted an article last year warning people away from drafting specific players.

We hit on eight out of 12 players we highlighted with elevated injury risk (if you count Dalvin Cook being slowed by a shoulder injury most of 2022).

 

But how do we calculate injury risk? 

Data and lots of it.  

The Sports Injury Predictor model is actually three models that incrementally fit past variables to historical outcomes to (attempt to) predict the future.

The three models calculate injury risk, games missed, and durability & susceptibility. 

The models take 20 years of NFL data on more than 145,000 players and match them with more than 7,600 recorded NFL injuries.

The models then input 1,070 seasonal variables to look and see which ones had the most weight on the yearly outcomes. Things like collisions, snaps, height, weight, and age are highly correlated to injury history and are thus used to predict future injury. 

 

Top Injury Risks for 2023

Now that we have that out of the way, we can focus on the 11 players who could pose an injury risk to your team if you draft them: 

TIP

Injuries are part of the battle when building projections. See how predicted injuries impact our 2023 fantasy football rankings.

Quarterbacks

Justin Fields, Chicago Bears

89% chance of injury
12.2% chance of injury per game
2.50 projected games missed
5.00/5.00 durability score

Fields had a breakout year in 2022, thanks mostly to his 1,143 yards rushing.

The Bears added WR D.J. Moore this offseason, giving Fields a legit No. 1 WR. So that makes Fields a tempting starting fantasy QB prospect at his current ADP of 4.10. 

But the injury concern is real: Fields missed two games last year with a sprained A/C joint (shoulder) and a hip strain. Maybe that shouldn’t be too alarming for 2023. But Fields also dealt with two 2019 MCL sprains at Ohio State.

Posting big rushing numbers is nice for Fields' fantasy value, but all that running also subjects him to more hits -- and risk.

Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins

84% chance of injury
10.2% chance of injury per game
2.40 projected. games missed
2.15 durability score

We highlighted Tagovailoa in last year’s injury-risk article.

He wound up suffering two – maybe three – concussions. He was carted off in Week 4 vs. the Bengals (missed the next two games) and was concussed against vs. the Packers in Week 15.

As a result, Tagovailoa missed the rest of the regular season and didn’t clear concussion protocol until January 31, 2023.

His biggest red flag: Tua admitted that he considered retirement this offseason.

A major hip injury and tightrope surgery on an ankle also caused him to miss a lot of time at Alabama.

Tua's current ADP comes in at 8.8. That bakes in his injury concerns.

A smart fantasy football draft strategy might be to grab Tua in Round 8 or 9 – and then back him up with another solid starter like Kirk Cousins or Geno Smith.

  

Running Backs

Christian McCaffrey, San Francisco 49ers

82% chance of injury 
9.6% chance of injury per game 
3.00 projected games missed
2.92 durability score

Here’s a name that’s going to get drafted top-3 in 2023.

CMC stayed healthy last year but had various injuries limit him to 10 games between 2020-21.

It breaks down like this:

  • 2020:
    • high-ankle sprain (six games missed)
    • sprained A/C joint (four games)
    • thigh injury (four games)
  • 2021:
    • hamstring strain (five games)
    • ankle sprain (IR, final five games)

Another consideration is backup RB Elijah Mitchell. The Niners mixed him in plenty when healthy to give McCaffrey a break.

CMC’s scoring averages in five games with Mitchell would have ranked just seventh among RBs in PPR points and 12th in non-PPR.

That’s a lot of risk on such a high fantasy pick.

Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts

75% chance of injury
7.8% chance of injury per game
2.40 projected games missed
5.00 durability score

Turns out Taylor is not invincible.

A year after staying healthy for a league-leading 332 carries – plus the league’s most rushing yards, scrimmage yards, and total TDs – Taylor lost six games and nearly all of a seventh to an ankle injury in 2022.

Taylor originally suffered the injury in Week 4, missed time in three segments, and eventually needed postseason surgery.

He started training camp on the PUP list and remains sidelined as of mid-August. 

Taylor is a real “wait and see” case. But we have too many doubts – and our algorithm strongly suggests – that Taylor might yet again miss time in 2023. 

Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals

87% chance of injury 
11.3% chance of injury per game 
2.23 projected games missed 
4.44 durability score

Mixon has experienced two documented concussions that caused him to miss multiple games (two in 2017, two in 2022).

That’s not a great baseline for a workhorse RB entering his age-27 season.

It’s also worth considering that the Bengals RB missed 10 games in 2020 with a foot sprain, ending his season on the IR. He has only started 16 games once in his career, in 2021. 

The Bengals haven’t backed up Mixon with any reasonable talent, meaning they likely want to feed the ball to their veteran.

That workload should be good for Mixon's fantasy production but also raises the injury risk.

 

Wide Receivers

Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals

89% chance of injury 
12.2 % chance of injury per game 
2.5 projected games missed 
5.00 durability score

We love Higgins’ talent. He fits nicely next to Ja’Marr Chase and could be a WR1 on most other teams.

In fact, he’s been super consistent since coming into the league. Check out these numbers:

  • 2020: 108 targets, 67 catches, 908 receiving yards, 6 TDs, 12.2 PPR points per game (WR28 overall)
  • 2021: 110 targets, 74 catches, 1,091 receiving yards, 6 TDs, 15.6 PPR points per game (WR24 overall)
  • 2022: 109 targets, 74 catches, 1,029 receiving yards, 7 TDs, 13.8 PPR points per game (WR19 overall)

The only concern with Higgins is a recurring hamstring issue he’s dealt with since entering the league. It hasn’t caused him to miss significant time to date, but it affected his weekly performances a year ago.

His injury risk according to our model is a bit troublesome. There’s an 89% chance he’ll get injured (causing him to miss at least two quarters).

And the hamstring risk, in particular, plays poorly at WR.

Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

91% chance of injury
13.2% chance of injury per game 
2.50 projected games missed 
5.00 durability score

Godwin blew out his ACL in Week 15 of 2021 and missed the rest of the season. He made it back for Week 1 of 2022 but missed the next two games with a hamstring injury.

He finished the year with career lows in yards per catch (9.8), yards per target (7.2), and yards per route (1.73).

The injury algorithm doesn’t bode well for Godwin managers in 2023. 

Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers

92% chance of injury
13.8% chance of injury per game 
3.30 projected  games missed 
1.34 durability score

Deebo has had major hamstring injuries in college and the NFL. He has also had calf, groin, and ankle injuries. 

Sure, he’s a talented WR … but he’s also pretty much a lower-body nightmare.

Last season, Samuel missed Week 8 with a hamstring injury, and then Weeks 15 through 17 with MCL and ankle sprains. He was also limited in the regular-season finale, with the 49ers having little to play for (a total of four games).

Samuel was a major fantasy disappointment last year – beyond his injuries: 

He saw his efficiency tank, and lost a little work after RB Christian McCaffrey arrived.

Durability and McCaffrey remain problems heading into 2023.

On the plus side, there have been numerous reports about Samuel improving his offseason workouts and rebounding. That can only help his durability for 2023 -- and can't. be measured by the Injury Predictor algorithms.

 

Tight Ends

Darren Waller, New York Giants

79% chance of injury 
8.8% chance of injury per game 
2.50 projected games missed
2.76 durability score

Waller, 30, watched a hamstring injury disrupt his 2022 season.

He has now missed 6+ games in back-to-back seasons: 

  • six with an ankle injury in 2021
  • eight last year with the hamstring

The move to the Giants helps his overall fantasy value, as he should see an increase in targets from a passing game that lacks stud WRs. But keep the injury risk in mind.

Pat Freiermuth, Pittsburgh Steelers

91% chance of injury 
13.8% chance of injury per game 
2.40 projected games missed 
1.34 durability score

The Penn State product put up solid numbers in 2022.

Freiermuth really took off after WR Chase Claypool was traded to the Bears. From Week 9 on, he led the Steelers in targets per route run rate (23%), ranked sixth among all TEs in targets per game (6.2), and ranked seventh in target share (20.9%).

Yes, he stayed relatively healthy. However, Freiermuth did pick up the third concussion of his career and sustained a pretty scary MCL sprain. Fortunately, that didn’t require surgery.

Freiermuth lands as the highest injury risk among starting TEs for 2023. Yikes!

George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers

89% chance of injury
12.2% chance of injury per game
3.41 projected games missed
4.56 durability score

Kittle has a long list of injuries.

In fact, he has injured nearly everything on the right side of his body: shoulder, groin, knee, hamstring, and ankle.

Kittle has only had one season in which he missed more than three games. But the bruising nature of his play and history make him risky.

At time time of this writing, Kittle has an adductor strain and will miss another week of practice. Not a great way to start the season.

 

What happens in fantasy if a player gets injured?

What typically happens in fantasy when a player gets injured depends on the severity of the injury. If it’s a minor injury, you’d simply wait for him to heal. If it’s a major injury, you’d likely drop that player and replace him with a suggested player from the Draft Sharks Free Agent Finder. 

  

Don't let fantasy football injuries ruin your season

Check out the full Sports Injury Predictor database and 2023 injury-risk numbers BEFORE you draft.

Better yet -- get a customized cheat sheet to have injury-risk factored into every draft pick you make.

Create your Draft War Room.

 For more on potential 2023 fantasy football injuries, check out the video below ...

Lenny Pappano Author Image
Lenny Pappano, Co-Founder
Lenny is a pivotal industry player, co-founding Draft Sharks back in the infancy of fantasy football (1999). He also established the World Championship of Fantasy Football in 2002, receiving the inaugural Matthew Berry “Game Changer Award” in 2018 for its profound impact. Additionally, as a founding Fantasy Sports Writers Association board member, he has helped shape fantasy sports journalism.
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