RB, Atlanta Falcons
Let’s talk about a guy that many are high on this year (again) but he hasn’t been able to stay on the field enough the past couple of years – Devonta Freeman. Now in his age 27 season, Freeman was a Miami area high school product after helping his team win the 2010 Class 6A state championship where he secured the MVP after rushing for 308 yards on 36 carries (in 1 game)! Considered a four-star recruit by Rivals.com, he was rated the best running back in the nation, and attended Florida State. During his time at FSU, Freeman improved during each of his 3 seasons. His junior year he rushed for 173 times for 1,016 yards (5.9 YPC) and 14 TDs, adding in 22 catches for 278 yards and another TD.
Drafted in the 4th round by the Atlanta Falcons of the 2014 NFL Draft, he ran a 4.58 second 40-yard dash at the Combine. During his rookie season, he was part of a crowded backfield with Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers and Antone Smith but still managed to carve out a role where he accumulated 248 yards on 65 carries, adding another 225 receiving yards on 30 catches, with 3 combined TDs. Despite missing about 10 days of practice, and the entire preseason due to a hamstring injury, 2015 was Freeman’s breakout season. Then age 23, he rushed for 1,056 yards at 4.0 YPC and 11 TDs as well as caught 73 passes on 97 targets for 578 yards and another 3 TDs. That year he also missed one game with a concussion.
In 2016, Freeman played in all 16 games and had similar production to his 2015 season, combining for 1,541 rushing and receiving yards as well as 13 TDs. He suffered a hip pointer injury midway through the season but it didn’t cause him to miss any time. Before the start of the 2017 season, Freeman signed a 5 year, $41.25M contract extension to make him the highest paid RB in the NFL. Statistically Freeman took a step back this season, as his YPC dropped from 4.8 to 4.4, as he rushed 196 times for 865 yards, 7 TDs (down from 11 the previous year) and caught 36 passes on 47 targets for 317 yards and 1 TD. Injuries played a role in Freeman’s performance in 2017, as he suffered 2 concussions, one in the preseason, and a second in November, then suffered a Grade 2 (partial tear) of his right MCL and PCL. These are two of the major four ligaments in the knee. The MCL is commonly injured, usually by taking a hit to the outside of the knee. The PCL is the thick ligament that crisscrosses with the ACL, and is important in stabilizing the knee. It essentially serves to counteract the forces of the ACL, and is not commonly injured. Typically landing hard on the ground with a flexed knee is the most common way to cause a PCL sprain. Grade 2 PCL sprains rarely require surgery but take several months of rehab before the person is comfortable running again. The person may describe their knee as unstable, or ‘loose.’
Heading into the 2018 NFL season, Freeman spent the majority of the offseason recovering from his right knee MCL/PCL. Despite ending his season prematurely with the 2 major knee ligament injury, Freeman was being drafted in the mid-second round in PPR leagues, as the 12th RB off the board. In one word how did Devonta Freeman’s 2018 season go? Awful. It’s easy to forget that. Let’s review why. He suffered a right knee injury (the same knee as he injured about 9 months prior) in Week 1 and was forced to miss the next 3 games. In his first game back, Week 5 against the Steelers, Freeman sustained foot and groin injuries in that game. During the 2018 season many people’s mid-second round pick rushed for a TOTAL of 14 carries, caught 5 passes and then underwent season-ending sports hernia surgery in October. Wow. So now he has 4 separate issues that he is dealing with: a bum right knee, a foot injury, a groin injury, and sports hernia that required surgery. Don’t forget about his history of 3 concussions (that we know of).
The good news is that Freeman has since recovered from surgery and was able to fully participate in training camp and OTA’s, earned praise from head coach Dan Quinn for his “energy” and “mental toughness.” Looking at 2019, Freeman really doesn’t have to worry about his sports hernia, as those rarely get re-injured after surgery, but the same can’t be said about his right knee issues, foot injury as well as a history of multiple concussions. Those I’m concerned about. He is entering his age 27 season, and should lead the Falcons backfield ahead of Ito Smith, Qadree Ollison, Brian Hill and Kenjon Barner. There have been rumblings that 5th rd rookie Qadree Ollison will help out in the short-yardage situations, where the Falcons struggled without Freeman last year.
The problem I have with Freeman this upcoming season is that I simply don’t trust him and his right knee. Freeman is a classic boom-or-bust RB in 2019. On one hand, he is healthy and is the starting RB for one of the best-projected offenses in the league. The RB depth chart is favorable as just mentioned and he is just 2 seasons removed from finishing as the RB6 (PPR) and has fewer career touches than similarly aged players such as Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon. On the other hand, the pass-happy Dirk Koetter returns as the Falcon’s OC, the same position he held in 2014 during Freeman’s rookie season (and worst fantasy season, outside of 2018). Given the above, as well as his durability concerns, I don’t believe that Freeman can be trusted as an every week RB1. He is currently being drafted in the late 3rd round, in between Marlon Mack and Derrick Henry, before rookies Josh Jacobs, David Montgomery and Kerryon Johnson. Personally I’d rather have all 5 of those RBs before I draft the 27 y/o RB coming off 2 injury-riddled seasons.
RB, Houston Texans
Foreman is coming off Achilles tendon surgery from late 2017, yes so its been well over a year. I knew, because of the bad data with these injuries, that Foreman would NOT be very effective in 2018. I told everyone who would listen that. Maybe you’ll listen this time. So how did he do in 2018? He rushed a total of 8 times for 2 yards. Will he be better in 2019? Yes. How much better? That’s really anyone’s guess.
Achilles injuries. Let me rephrase that, Achilles injuries in NFL running backs. Bad combination. The data supports this statement. I really want Foreman to break the mold, and maybe he will. But until that happens, I want nothing to do with a RB coming off of an Achilles tear. Does he have a chance to be a sleeper in 2019? Yes, but it depends on what HOU does to its O-line. The good news is that the unexciting Lamar Miller is still on the team so Foreman doesn’t have much competition. Now he just needs to show that he got his ‘burst’ back. You’ve received a fair warning.
RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
RB, Washington Redskins
Alright, let’s talk about the talented RB who was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2018 draft out of LSU after falling out of the first round due to nebulous off-field concerns, including immaturity and being deemed ‘high maintenance.’ Oozing with talent, Derrius Guice is a physical, high-velocity runner that has drawn comparisons to Ezekiel Elliot (without the receiving abilities). Guice exited the Redskins’ 2018 preseason opener with what was initially called an MCL sprain, but unfortunately an MRI confirmed that he actually suffered a torn ACL. Ugh, and just like that his season, and potentially his career, changed. Ideally someone suffering an ACL tear either gets the surgery done within a day or two if there is minimal swelling, or more commonly waits a few weeks to let things calm down and then has the reconstruction done. Well, Guice’s journey wasn’t that straightforward. Unfortunately he suffered a infection that required 7 weeks of IV antibiotics through (likely a PICC line) in his arm. Infections complicate everything in medicine, especially reconstruction surgeries (after the graft has already been placed). This significantly pushed back Guice’s timeline and required a total of FOUR surgeries. This is SUPER concerning. This makes me question the integrity of the graft and also his timeline to return-to-play. If he had his reconstruction in late August 2018, then he would have been ready to return for preseason, as 9-12 months is a usual RTP protocol. However, with the additional complications and surgeries, his timeline has been pushed back and is much less clear.
Guice’s rehab was complicated by a hamstring strain that it sounds like he suffered in May/June, although it was not reported until July 12. The hamstring is a protective muscle group for the ACL, and unfortunately very commonly injured in NFL players (likely because they don’t regularly do eccentric exercises like Nordic hamstring curls). So not only does he need to rehab a strained hamstring, which takes 4-8 weeks in its own right, but he is still rehabbing his ACL, which realistically takes closer to 2 years to get back to ‘normal,’ especially in RBs. Further complicating the thought of drafting Guice as your team’s RB2 or RB3, is the fact that the Redskins resigned Adrian Peterson to a 2-year deal. The aging vet, who seems like he’s never going to slow down, managed a respectable 4.2 YPC in the 2018 season, rushing for over 1,000 yards (only 1 of 9 RBs to do so). I don’t blame the Redskins though, I wouldn’t be able to trust Guice either. Add in the fact that their only other RB depth is the oft-injured Chris Thompson, who is more of a receiving RB, and rookie Bryce Love, who is a coming off a torn ACL of his own.
What should we expect from Guice this year? Honestly, I don’t have much faith in him this season. Inherently there is a 30% risk of re-tearing his ACL again over the next 2 years, he already suffered multiple setbacks in his rehab, first the infection, now a hamstring strain. Based on where you would have to draft him, currently going in the early 7th round around guys like Rashaad Penny, Latavius Murray and Christian Kirk, I will happily let Guice be someone else’s problem this year. Dynasty leagues it’s a little bit of a different story, but he is still too risky right now for me to put too much stock in him. He has a better chance to have a significant impact in 2020 than in 2019.
RB, San Francisco 49ers
What do we know about Matt Breida? Well, first off he’s a 5’10”0-190lb RB. He played his college ball at Georgia Southern, and signed as an UDFA in 2019. He ran a 4.39 40-yd dash, so he’s got some speed (he actually recorded the fastest top speed last year at 22.09 MPH). He entered in 2017 as Carlos Hyde’s backup in SF. In 2018, with Hyde gone, he was set to back up veteran Alfred Morris, but actually looked better than him. Averaging 5.3 YPC, Breida only missed 2 games in his two years at San Francisco, and both games were last year. He suffered an ankle injury in early October that he ended up re-injuring (which is very common) in Week 15. Bear with me while I go into the medical aspect of this profile, trust me it will help you in the long run, especially when you hear about a guy getting an ankle sprain. The ankle sprain is the most common injury in all of sports, lateral ankle injuries in particular, usually due to accidentally rolling the ankle. The most commonly injured ligament is the anterior talofibular ligament (ATFL), and sometimes the calcaneofibular ligament (CFL) is also injured. There are 3 grades, 1 is mild, partial, 2 is moderate, more severe, and 3 is very severe, usually completely torn, sometimes off the bone (to which the ligament is attached). Why do these injuries linger and re-injure so easily? Because ligaments don’t heal well! Unlike bones or muscles, which if injured will heal back to 100% (or close), ligaments and tendons do not heal (think ACL, Achilles), they scar. Scar tissue doesn’t have the same tensile strength and flexibility as original ligament collagen, so once injured it will never be quite like the original. That’s why ankle sprains re-injure and linger so often!
Ok back to Breida. So he initially injured the ankle on October 8th, and an MRI confirmed a mid-ankle sprain, whatever the hell that means. There’s 2 options, high or low/regular, there’s no mid. So my suspicion is that he suffered a Grade 2 lateral ankle sprain. These usually take 3-6 weeks to completely heal. Likely to be shut down for at least 4 weeks. If you return earlier than that, it won’t be fully healed. Pretty simple right? Well, not to these guys. They think they are superhuman. Guess what? He played the next week, and he did ok, but as I just told you, the ankle isn’t even close to 100% yet, so it was a ticking-time bomb. Yes he pushed through for the next few games but he wasn’t very effective (2.6 YPC). But instead of just shutting it down for a couple weeks, he continued to PUSH IT. Bad idea. Finally on November 12 (hey look about a month like I suggested it would take), Breida had his best game of the year, 17 rushes for 101 yards, 1 TD and 3 catches for 31 yds & another TD, with a season-high 20 touches. Why? Because he had 11 days off between this game & the previous one. Go figure. Now healthier (still not 100%), he looked really good again in Week 12, he went 14 for 106 yds, 3 catches for 34 yds. Not RB1, but definitely RB2 or flex-worthy. But guess what injury came back? That’s right his ANKLE. Because he never really ever shut it down for the appropriate amount of time, the ankle injury never was allowed to properly heal. He continued to theoretically put duck tape on it and go back running on it, so of course it’s going to re-injure. The ankle plagued him essentially from Week 5 onward, that’s over half the season! If he had just shut it down and missed say Week 6, 7, 8 & maybe 9, he would have been ready to go weeks 10 onward and potentially could have put up monster numbers. But no, don’t listen to the medical staff that SPENT THEIR WHOLE LIVES TREATING ATHLETES JUST LIKE YOU. End rant.
Alright, finishing up, Breida broke out in 2018 and landed as a RB28 in PPR leagues, posting 1,075 total yards, and Breida’s six-yards per touch put him ninth among qualifying running backs. Not only is his yards per carry above-average, its actually top-tier, at 5.3. It was reported in May that Breida suffered a slightly torn pectoral (chest) muscle, which sounds like a Grade 2 pec major tear. He will have take off chest day for about a month, and shoulder day to a lesser extent, but since he’s not a lineman or someone who has to block, I’m not overly concerned about it. My main concern with Breida in 2019 is that he’s got some competition. McKinnon is returning off of a torn ACL, the 49ers also brought over Tevin Coleman in free agency, and still have Raheem Mostert (special teams), Jeff Wilson and Kyle Juszczyk (full back) in the backfield. Talk about a crowded backfield, that’s 6 guys! The talent’s there, there is no question about that. He’s being drafted in the 13th round, around guys like Dion Lewis and Chris Thompson, right where he should be going. If you are drafting based on talent, I would take Breida over the other 2. Playing time is definitely a concern though, my suspicion is that he will force his way onto the field.
RB, Washington Redskins
When Chris Thompson is on the field and healthy, he’s quite effective. The problem is that he can’t seem to stay on the field. He’s missed 6 games EACH of the past 2 years. After reading his injury history, the fact that he is still playing in the NFL is quite impressive. Let’s review his injuries. In 2011, while at FSU, he suffered a compression fracture of both T5 and T6 in the middle of his back while fighting for a first down. Crazy. Then in 2012, likely while still indirectly dealing with his fractured back, he tore his left ACL and missed 6 games. Despite the recent ACL tear & previous back fracture, the Washington Redskins still rolled the dice on him in the 5th rd of the 2013 NFL draft. He ended up recovering from his ACL tear in less than a year, but managed to tear the labrum (cartilage) in his left shoulder, causing him to miss the final 7 games of the season. Returning for the 2014 season, Thompson ended up being released by the Redskins only to be resigned to the team’s practice squad, where he stayed most of the year until December when he was lightly used in a couple games.
One thing you have to understand is that labrum in the shoulder is prone to injury, think of it like the meniscus in your knee, once you tear it, it can easily tear again, regardless of the treatments completed. In 2015, Thompson chipped in 35 receptions for 240 yards and 2 TDs, missed 1 game with a bruised back, and ended up reinjuring his labrum in his shoulder costing him 2 additional games before having surgery in late January 2016. In the 2016 NFL season Thompson did something he had never done before: play all 16 games. Always been known as more of a receiving back than rushing, he rushed for a 5.2 YPC clip for 356 yards, but was targeted 62 times, managing 49 catches for 350 yards and 2 TDs. I remember getting really excited about his potential in the 2017 season, particularly as a flex play since his targets were higher than most RBs (at the time). Well, the year started off great, in the first 10 games he catch 39 passes for 510 yards (13.1 YPC), 4 TDs, and added almost 300 yards rushing, that’s 800 yards in 10 games, pretty good (for a flex RB3)! Unfortunately in Week 11, he broke his leg (right fibula), missing the final 6 games and requiring surgery in December. So it was safe to say most people had a bad taste in their mouth as Thompson helped most teams to a nice record only to miss the end of the fantasy season & playoffs. But the team and memories were there. Last year, 2018, Thompson was being drafted in the 7th round, around guys like Will Fuller, Tevin Coleman and Cooper Kupp. Guess what? Thompson got injured AGAIN. This time he missed 8 more games with both a rib contusion and a knee sprain. Woah! So in total, Thompson has missed 33-games since 2012, his last year at Florida State. That’s over 2 full seasons!
So how concerned am I about Thompson in 2019? I think a lot of these injuries have to do with his smallish stature, as he’s only 5’7”, and weighs 192-pounds. There’s not many RBs in the NFL under 5’8”. So which injuries may still linger for him? Predominately the shoulder for me. I’m not overly concerned about the ribs (freak injury), and leg fracture has been surgically stabilized. For the last two-seasons Thompson has been relied on as a flex option, because he is a good weapon out of the backfield. While he is reportedly still dealing with some soreness in his surgically repaired leg, he’s going to be relied on this year. While the Redskins drafted 2 RBs over the past 2 years with potential, both are coming off ACL injuries. I’m not sure how much Bryce Love will contribute this year, and if you’ve read my profile on Guice, you know that while the potential is there, the injury history scares me. That leaves future-Hall-of-Famer Adrian Peterson, who we know is not a receiving back. With Case Keenum, and eventually Dwayne Haskins at QB, there’s a good chance Thompson will get 60-80 targets this year. The best question with Thompson is IF he can stay healthy. The talent as a receiving back is there, think James White in 2018. For a late 13th rd pick, especially in a PPR redraft league, you could do worse. Personally I’m (likely) fading all the Redskins this year but for his cost, I don’t mind Thompson’s upside.
RB, San Francisco 49ers
Let’s discuss another 49ers running back (if you haven’t checked out my Matt Breida profile, read it after this). McKinnon was drafted in 2014 in the 3rd round by the Minnesota Vikings out of Georgia Southern. McKinnon was actually a QB starting his college career, but ended up being a much better RB than QB. He’s fast; he ran a 4.41 sec 40-yard dash at the Combine, which was the 2nd fastest among RBs at that combine, and lead all current NFL RBs with 32 bench press reps, so he’s impressively strong too. McKinnon gradually improved each of his first few years in the league with the Vikings, averaging 4.8 and 5.2 YPC the first 2 years. Then in 2016, McKinnon took over for Adrian Peterson after AD tore the meniscus in his knee in Week 2, playing in 15 games, finishing with 539 yards, 2 rushing TDs, catching 43 passes for 255 yards and another 2 receiving TDs. Then in 2017, after AD moved on, the Vikings drafted a guy maybe you’ve heard of: Dalvin Cook. The initial plan was for McKinnon to back up Cook, but when Cook went down in Week 4 with a torn ACL, McKinnon stepped up and helped the Vikings make the playoffs, rushing for 570 yards, 3 TDs, adding 51 receptions for 421 yards & 2 receiving TDs. So almost 1,000 combined yards, 5 total TDs, and 51 catches, is a decent RB2/flex guy. The 49ers signed him to a 4 year, $30M deal last offseason, with the plan on having him as the lead RB. Before he even stepped on field for a regular season game, McKinnon tore the ACL in his knee, immediately ending his season. He underwent surgery a couple weeks later and is approximately 10 months out from surgery now and will be about 1 year when regular season begins.
One important thing to note is that about 2-3 weeks before McKinnon tore his ACL in his right knee, he suffered a calf strain in this same right knee. Even the mildest of calf strains take about 2 weeks to heal. That is 2 weeks of REST, not babying it a little bit. Not only running 50%. That is shut it down for 2 weeks, then slowly ramp things back up. Guys, he tore his ACL about 3 weeks later. Was the calf a predisposing injury for McKinnon? Likely yes. While the calf isn’t as important of a protector for the ACL as the hamstring is, any muscular weaknesses or imbalances in the leg are going to put additional stresses on THAT leg and the other leg. This is similar reasoning why Kevin Durant was at increased risk coming back too quickly for his calf strain before he unfortunately tore his Achilles. Guys, this is preventable. Listen to the medical staff, listen to your body. I know he was trying to ramp up for Week 1, I get it. But here’s the problem, what good was he to the team after he tore his ACL? None. It created a whole new set of issues because of it. His job was secure, the 49ers aren’t going to pay you $30M and then cut you because you suffered a calf strain; it doesn’t work that way. I figured I would just bring this (likely) predisposing injury to light, because I don’t remember anyone talking about it. Maybe he will learn from it.
Also, something additional important to note, McKinnon reportedly tore ‘other stuff’ in his knee at the same time as the ACL. Am I surprised? No, not at all. Rarely does someone only tear their ACL? Most of the time there is at least some meniscal damage, and often the MCL is damaged too. By now you guys should know my thoughts on RBs coming back in their first year off ACL surgery, if not here’s my summation: AVOID THEM. Mentally most of these guys don’t trust their ‘new’ ACL. Hard cutting, stopping and going, pivoting, all require the ACL. Many post-ACL-reconstruction patients say that the recovery is 30% physical and 70% mental.
So for 2019, McKinnon is one to avoid if you’re looking to be risk adverse. He has hit the IR twice already in his career. The first was in 2014, his rookie season. A back injury while lifting weights forced him to miss the last five games of the season. We know McKinnon is talented, he’s a versatile back who is good at receiving but can hit the hole as well. Problem is, between competition around him and returning from injury, I don’t think the 49ers will use him enough to justify taking him at his current ADP of mid-10th round. Add in the fact that he’s at higher-risk for lower leg injuries this year, just let someone else worry about him.
RB, Indianapolis Colts
Alright let’s talk about one of the up and coming RBs in the NFL that many are excited about this year. Rightfully so. Marlon Mack was a 4-star recruit coming out of high school in the Sarasota area of Florida. He was drafted after 3 successful seasons at the University of South Florida just a couple months after I started my Sports Medicine Fellowship there, where I would have taken care of him as part of the medical team, instead I got to take care of guys like Quinton Flowers and Marquez Valdes-Scantling (maybe you’ve heard of him). Either way, his junior season at USF was very successful, he rushed for 1,187 yards at a 6.8 YPC rate with 15 TDs, adding 28 catches for 227 yards. In his rookie season he was slated as the 3rd RB behind veteran Frank Gore and Robert Turbin. In an awful season for the whole team (this was the year that Luck missed), with the Colts going 4-12, Mack finished with 93 carries for 358 yards, 3 TDs, and chipping in 21 receptions for 225 yards (10.7 YPC) and 1 TD. An additional thing to note is that Mack suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder in Week 2, rehabbed it, missed 2 games, and powered through for the rest of the season. He had surgery on it in the offseason, and should have considered it 100% for the start of the 2018 season.
The start of the 2018 season didn’t exactly start off as planned, as Mack suffered a grade 2 hamstring strain in the preseason opener (August 9). These take roughly 4-8 weeks to properly heal and allow the body time to get back to 100%. The issue with hamstrings is that if you don’t allow them to fully heal, and then push it too quickly, you will re-injure the same hamstring, possibly worse than the first time (hello Leonard Fournette). So he came back in 5 weeks, within the appropriate timeline, but I guess he wasn’t ready yet, as he re-injured the same hamstring and missed an additional 3 games (sound familiar?). He returned in Week 6 (about 8 weeks after the initial hamstring injury), and averaged 6.2 YPC over the next 3 games (before the bye), rushing for 347 yards and 3 TDs, adding another 5 receptions for 54 yards and another TD. Impressive.
Mack suffered the second concussion of his career (as far as we know) in week 12, his first was in college, but thankfully was able to play in the next game and did not miss any time. So what does the 2019 season look like for Mack? Well it appears that Colts head coach Frank Reich wants Mack to ‘carry the load’ and serve as the bell-cow for this offense. Mack’s performance in 2018 instilled confidence in the coaching and managerial staff of the Colts, allowing them to ignore Le’Veon Bell even though they had plenty of money to bring him in. Mack’s 905-yards on 195 carries (4.7 yards per carry), and 17 receptions in 12-games was a solid contribution. We know that Nyheim Hines will be the passing down back, so you will lose Mack on some downs, and Jordan Wilkins, Spencer Ware and Jonathan Williams are all competing basically as Mack’s backup. Mack averaged 16.3 carries for 75.7 rushing yards per game and 10 TDs in an injured-shortened season.
Mack suffered a hip injury in the playoffs but this appears to have been mild and it sounds like he is over it. Overall, I really like Mack to take that next step forward in 2019. It sounds like he rushed back too quickly from his hamstring injury last season and it cost him a couple extra games. I hope Mack has been doing his Nodic curls and ‘Good Mornings’ to help prevent any further hamstring strains, which are notorious in the preseason as guys are ramping it up back to 100%. Personally I really like Mack this year. The Colts could have a pretty scary offense, with Luck, Mack, Hines, Hilton, Funchess, Ebron and Doyle, there will be plenty of points scored. If you’re drafting in late-August, make sure Mack hasn’t suffered any new hamstring injuries early in camp. If not, he’s definitely someone I would draft. He’s currently going after Leonard Fournette (please draft him before Fournette) at 3.06. If you’re in a PPR league he’s going to dip a bit because of Hines, but overall Mack could have a very good season and I’m not overly worried about his lower leg injuries.
RB, New York Jets
Set to be a top 5 fantasy pick in 2018, Le’Veon Bell destroyed early drafters’ hopes with his eventual season-long hold out. Let’s briefly talk about this decision before we move on to his injury history and outlook for the 2019 season. So the careers of most running backs in the NFL are short compared to QBs, WRs – hell most other positions. They take a beating, every Sunday, and comparatively don’t get paid their fair due. I get it. Not many people can afford to give up $14M to not play a game. However, financially speaking this may have been a stupid decision, but let’s speak in hypotheticals here. What if Bell tore his ACL in Week 14 of the 2018 season? Yes he collects his $14M in 2018 salary, but how much would this new injury in an RB with lots of ‘miles on his legs’ affected his future earning potential as a feature RB in the NFL? Knowing how ‘little’ free-agent aging RBs get paid (comparatively speaking), how much guaranteed money would Bell have gotten if he was set to miss some, if not most of the 2019 season and likely not truly be 100% for 18-24 months after the date of injury? $5M? Well, that brings us back to Bell signing onto the Jets with a guaranteed salary of $27M on a 4-year deal. Listen, not all running backs have nine-lives and are genetic freaks like Adrian Peterson (the guy continues to amaze me). You have to strike while the iron is hot, because once a major injury occurs, it’s likely all downhill from there (particularly for RBs). Bell did what was financially best for him & his family & I can’t blame him for that (and now we are seeing it with Melvin Gordon).
So, Bell sat out a year, which as long as he didn’t get too lazy/sedentary & injure his body, should end up benefitting him in the long run. There was a very good chance that the Steelers were going to run Bell hard in 2018, maybe between 350-400 touches. Doing that annually takes a toll on these guys, even if they are still in their 20s. Bell averaged 28.1 touches per game in 2016, and 27.1 in 2017. There were only a handful of RBs that had over 20 touches per game in 2018 in the NFL – never mind close to 30 touches. Injury-wise, for the most part, Bell has been pretty healthy (for an NFL RB with his level of use), which is especially impressive given the workload that he has carried. In 2013 he suffered a Lisfranc sprain (scary foot injury) that cost him 3 games, and also a concussion, which he was able to clear without missing any games. Then in 2014 Bell got lucky, and instead of tearing his ACL, he simply sprained it (think stretch as opposed to tear) in Week 17 against the Bengals, causing him to miss the Wild Card Playoff game. During the 2015 season, Bell suffered a grade 3 sprain of his MCL. The MCL is an important and commonly injury ligament in the knee. It runs north-to-south on the inside of your knee, is attached to the meniscus, and prevents the knee from collapsing inward, and is usually injured when getting hit on the outside of the same knee. A grade 3 is a full thickness tear, and nearly always requires surgery. This injury happened in Week 9 (November) and he missed the rest of the season. Bell’s only other reported injury was a groin injury that never actually caused his name to pop up on the injury report. Instead, he played through some (most?) of the 2016 season with it. He re-injured it (because he didn’t allow it to properly heal without missing any time) and he missed most of the 2016 playoff loss to the Patriots. The good news is that he had surgery in mid-March 2017 and this shouldn’t affect him anymore.
Let’s talk about Bell’s potential in 2019. He’s 27, should be fresh after taking 1.5 years off since his last official in-game snap. In his last full season with the Steelers, Bell played in 15 games, rushed 321 times for 1291 yards, 9 TDs, added 85 (!) catches on 106 targets for 655 yards and another 2 receiving TDs (he lead the league with 406 touches). Very impressive season. While I don’t expect the Jets to get Bell 400+ touches, between 275-325 would seem realistic. That’s the definition of a bell-cow. How many RBs topped 300 touches in 2018? 5. Zeke (381), Saquon (352), CMC (326), Gurley (315), DJ (308). Out of those 5, only Gurley is unlikely to repeat. Several others could join them, but it seems like a combination of injury plus shared-backfields, 300+ touches is becoming a thing of the past. For playmakers, the Jets have Darnold, Bell (with Elijah McGuire, Ty Montgomery, and Trent Cannon backing him up), Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa, Jamison Crowder and Chris Herndon (now suspended 4 games). Bell’s going to get his if the Jets want to win in 2019.
I think Darnold is going to rely on Bell, Enunwa and Crowder, with flashes of Crowder to take a big leap forward in 2019. The one wild card I haven’t mentioned yet is new Jets HC Adam Gase. Previously with the Dolphins, it is known that Gase wasn’t really on board with the Bell signing but he doesn’t have much a choice now. Let’s briefly talk about Gase’s tendencies as a HC in Miami. In 2017, the Dolphins were LAST in rushing attempts with 360 and in 2018 they were 25th in rushing attempts with 371. So there is a good chance the Jets will find themselves in the bottom 1/3 of rushing attempts if Gase’s tendencies hold true. Use that data as you will. Bell is currently going as the 7th RB, at the 1.10 position, I think this will rise as the draft season rolls on. IMO Bell should be drafted before Melvin Gordon (hold out?), Todd Gurley (knees), but in the same tier as David Johnson, Joe Mixon, James Conner, and Dalvin Cook, which is a good spot for him. I’d draft him as my RB2, or RB1 if I decided to go WR first. I’m not overly concerned about his injury risk in 2019.
RB, Detroit Lions
Detroit Lion’s Johnson has top 10 RB, three-down, potential. However, he has faced several injuries coming into his rookie season of 2018. Johnson had shoulder surgery in January of 2016 after injuring the shoulder late in the 2015 season at Auburn. It is unclear exactly the nature of his injury. Options range from shoulder dislocation to rotator cuff to labral injury. During the 2016 season at Auburn he missed a game suffering a mild right ankle sprain, overall not concerning. Then in 2017, Johnson’s final year at Auburn, he missed 2 games after suffering a hamstring injury on his right leg, and also a minor re-injury of his surgically-repaired shoulder but was able to play the next week in the SEC Championship game. The Lion’s must not have been overly concerned with Johnson’s medicals because they ended up trading for him in the second round.
Now let’s look at his rookie season with the Lions. Johnson was being drafted in the 6th round of PPR drafts in 2018, around the same range as Chris Carson and Corey Davis. The 22nd year old RB was a monster for an 8-game stretch in the middle of last season, where he amassed 751 yards from scrimmage yards and 4 TDs from Weeks 3 to 11. He was averaging 5.5 YPC and 16.1 touches per game over that stretch before he unfortunately suffered a knee injury that ended up costing him 6 games. Even in the midst of that 8 game stretch he was limited with an ankle injury that first started in Week 5. We know he has a history of ankle injuries from his days at Auburn, but let’s talk about this knee injury more.
Johnson suffered a left knee injury in Week 11 and was diagnosed with a sprained knee. This is essentially a wastebasket term, meaning that there could be several things that this diagnosis is referring to. Likely he suffered a sprain to one of the supporting knee ligaments, probably the MCL, as that is the most common in football. This must have been at least a pretty severe grade 2 injury, because he gave the knee about 4 weeks to heal (usually an appropriate amount of time) and he still wasn’t able to get strong enough to where he was comfortable running and cutting on the field. The good news is that as far as we know he didn’t suffer an ACL injury, and he didn’t knee surgery (nothing was reported). A meniscal injury is also a strong possibility (think Sony Michel). Given the state of the Lions at the time, there was a good chance he could have suited up if they were in the thick of a playoff race.
Johnson was cleared for OTAs and claims he is fully recovered from last year’s knee sprain. The Lions now have a new offensive coordinator in Darrell Bevell. Bevell is a strong believer in running the ball first, as witnessed by when he using running Beastmode in Seattle. He likes to set up the pass by forcing the safeties and linebackers in to cover the run. This makes sense with the horsepower the Lions have at running back in combination with Stafford’s capability of throwing it up for his wide receivers (think Kenny Golladay). This is great news for Johnson. He caught 32 passes in the ten-games played in 2018, and Johnson can realistically catch over 60 passes in 2019, depending on how much Theo Riddick gets involved.
Johnson lacks the ideal size to be a bell-cow, which may be contributing to some of these soft-tissue injuries, but he has the pedigree, running style, and coaching to become a top 5-10 RB in 2019. However, I am concerned about a couple things: his injury history. While not significant, I feel like Johnson will end up missing a couple games in 2019 due to injuries. There’s a good chance the hamstring will flare up again. He is at a higher-risk of tweaking the knee and re-spraining it, but overall his injury risk is on the lower side compared to some RBs (Gurley, Fournette). Look for Johnson to get more than the 15 touches he got each game in 2018 to increase this season. The Lions only have C.J. Anderson on their roster as a threat. I would personally draft Johnson as an RB2, especially in PPR formats, as his upside in 2019 is incredible. Be sure to protect yourself by taking C.J. Anderson in the later rounds if/when Johnson were to miss a few games.
RB, Seattle Seahawks
RB, Los Angeles Rams
RB, Los Angeles Chargers
Let’s talk about a guy whose name has been in the news a lot lately. Of course we’re talking about Melvin Gordon, who is currently stating that he is willing to hold out the 2019 season if he doesn’t get a new contract. This seems to happens every year to some high-profile player, but usually the player gives in and shows up sooner or later – well up until last year when Le’Veon Bell actually held out the ENTIRE season, and then got paid in the offseason. Proving his hold-out was worth while. So the first question we have about Melvin Gordon, before we discuss his injuries, which play a role in this decision, is will he actually hold out if he doesn’t get a new contract? It’s a very difficult situation. A recent tweet by Warren Sharp helped demonstrate how many teams utilize a running-back-by-committee (RBBC) approach. Or a better way to phrase it, how rare bellcows (RBs who run for 300-350+ touches a year) are. It simply doesn’t happen much anymore.
Back to Melvin. Just like Julio Jones and Todd Gurley, two other top 15 NFL talents, Melvin Gordon was not only a star on the football field, but also on the track as well. Currently 26, Gordon grew up in Wisconsin, and was a two-sport star (football and track) in high school, where in his senior year he ran for 2,009 yards and 38 TDs. Gatorade named him their Football Player of the Year for Wisconsin. In addition to football, Gordon was quite impressive on the track too, where he took second in the 100-meter dash at the 2011 SEC Outdoor Conference. Ya he was a stud. As a four-star recruit (Rivals.com) coming out of high school, Gordon was ranked the #24 RB in the country and best football player in Wisconsin by ESPN.com. Gordon decided to stay close to home and attend University of Wisconsin-Madison for college.
Gordon only played in 3 games in his first season at Wisconsin after getting medically redshirted after suffered a groin injury. In 2012, Gordon was 3rd string RB behind 2 guys you might have heard of : Montee Ball and James White. Gordon rushed 62 times for 621 yards and 3 TDs during the 2012 season. Gordon had another strong season in 2013 (1,609 yards, 12 TDs), while competing for touches with Corey Clement and James White. Melvin entered the 2014 season as the favorite for the Heisman Trophy, finally the lead RB, despite dealing with an early season hip flexor injury, in November he set the FBS single season rushing record with 408 yards versus the #16 Nebraska Cornhuskers. Competing with a couple of current NFLers Amari Cooper and Marcus Mariota for the Heisman, Gordon ended up finishing second behind Mariota. Finishing a MONSTER season, Gordon gained 2,587 yards, 2nd in FBS history only to Barry Sanders’ record in 1988.
Gordon ran a 4.52 second 40-yard dash at the 2015 NFL Combine, and was selected by the San Diego Chargers with the 15th pick, signing a traditional 4-year deal with 5th year option. Gordon rushed 184 times for 641 yards (3.5 YPA) in his rookie season, chipping in another 33 receptions for 192 yards receiving, before he suffered torn cartilage in his left knee in late December that ended his season early. In January of 2016, Gordon underwent microfracture surgery on his knee. What is this? This is a procedure on the knee where the surgeon goes in and essentially drills a bunch of holes in the bone to help stimulate cartilage regrowth. Depending on the severity of the cartilage damage, the results are often mixed. The good news is that Gordon was able to start only 8 months later and became the lead Chargers RB after Danny Woodhead tore his ACL in Week 2. Having a solid season but he was definitely banged up. He suffered a hip strain and a sprained MCL in his knee in December, causing him to miss the final 3 games of the season. In 2017, Gordon’s third season, he played all 16 games, rushing for 1,105 yards on 284 carries, 8 TDs, and caught 58 passes on 83 targets for 476 yards and another 4 TDs. At this point Gordon established himself as a top 10 RB, and was drafted as the 7th RB off the board in fantasy drafted ahead of the 2018 season.
Gordon’s 2018 went well but he failed to fill drafters’ high expectations, as he suffered a hamstring injury that caused him to miss Week 7 (which is not very common this late into the season, usually occur much earlier). Then in Week 12 Gordon sprained his the MCL in his right knee – the same knee he had microfracture surgery on just 2 years prior, causing him to miss another 3 games. In total, Gordon played in 12 games in 2018, rushed 175 times for 885 yards (5.1 YPC) and 10 TDs, adding another 50 catches for 490 yards and 4 TDs. Despite playing in only 12 games, he finished with 1,375 combined yards and 14 TDs (an impressive 115 yards/game). When he’s on the field, he’s a stud, and over the past 4 years Gordon has played in 86% of the games. However in 3 of his 4 NFL seasons he suffered an season-ending injury in December (fantasy playoffs).
I completely understand wanting financial security, and wanting to get paid like the player that you are. The problem is, the NFL owners and general managers seemed to have realized that premier dual-threat (rushing and receiving) RBs are not only rare but also usually have a very short lifespan in the NFL, may be 5-6 years, if not less. Gordon his entering 5th season, while I believe he has plenty left in the tank, the Chargers’ managerial staff may not want to pay Gordon a $50M contract over 4-5 years if he only has 2-3 years of elite RB1 status left. If Gordon decides to play this year, he will be splitting touches with Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson; if he holds out, there the majority of the touches will likely be split between those 2. Personally, I still believe that Gordon is a top 10 RB. If he’s on the field, he’s getting 300+ touches. Yes I understand that he may miss a few games but I’ll take a bellcow playing 12 games if those 12 games are RB1 production. I’ll update this profile over the next few weeks as the contract situation hopefully becomes clearer.
RB, Minnesota Vikings
Dalvin Cook and Devonta Freeman actually went the same high school in Miami, although Cook essentially waited for Freeman to leave, waiting until his sophomore year to join the football team. Cook was a two-way player (RB and DB), and in his season year he rushed for 1,940 yards, 34 TDs (11.0 YPC) and 3 INTs on defense. Like several other top NFL athletes, Cook ran track, and was one of the state’s top sprinters. He was a five-star recruit by Rivals.com, and played his college ball at FSU. In his sophomore year, Cook averaged 7.4 YPC at FSU, breaking Warrick Dunn’s FSU single-season rushing record of 1,242 yards in only 10 games. Cook ran a 4.49 second 40-yard dash at the Combine/FSU Pro Day, and ended up being selected in the 2nd round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings.
Cook suffered a couple of injuries during his time at FSU, although the stat-sheet doesn’t seem to reflect it much. In his rookie season he tripped in the weight room and tore the labrum in his shoulder. Then in a spring practice in March of 2016, he reinjured the same shoulder. It is unclear if he underwent surgery, but unlike quarterbacks (this is the same type of injury that Andrew Luck had), running backs don’t require as much range of motion and arm strength that a torn labrum would require. So in the long-run not overly concerning. In his first NFL game, Cook set the Vikings’ rookie debut rushing record (set by Adrian Peterson) by rushing for 127 yards on 22 carries. Unfortunately, 3 games later, in Week 4, Cook left the game with a torn left ACL. Based on reports Cook got lucky in that any additional damage to the knee, which can include other ligaments or meniscus, was minimal. Famous orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews completed the ACL reconstruction surgery in early October, only 4 days after the injury.
A typical recovery for an NFL running back returning from a routine/simple ACL reconstruction (meaning no additional meniscal tears or other ligaments) is 9-12 months. Remember, most NFL running backs recovering from an ACL tears seem to take about 2 full years until they finally look ‘100%,’ and ‘back to their old selves.’ This newly built ligament, usually taken from either the patellar tendon or a hamstring tendon, is never really as strong or as perfect of a fit as the original ACL, but for most people they hold up quite well. An additional comment to note that studies have shown that there is a 9% re-tear rate (of the new ACL graft) and 21% tear rate of the opposite ACL over the next 2 years. You’re probably wondering, well why would I care about the opposite ACL? Well, that’s what happened to DeShaun Watson; he tore one ACL in college and the other ACL in the NFL less than 2 years later, it happens.
Upon returning in his first season after ACL reconstruction surgery, Cook struggled with hamstring injuries. He suffered a mild, grade 1 hamstring strain in Week 2. These usually take at least 2 weeks to start to feel better, ideally closer to 3 for an NFL running back. Cook returned from the injury in less than 2 weeks later, definitely too soon, and suffered a worse reinjury to the same hamstring, causing him to miss an additional 4 games. Cook managed to finish the season strong though, accumulating 520 yards from scrimmage, adding 21 catches and 3 TDs in 5 December games. Similar to Leonard Fournette and his hamstring struggles, I feel the primary difference between the two is that Cook was able to return in Week 9 and post similar YPC as his rookie season (4.6 vs. 4.8 in 2017) despite a poor offensive line. Whereas Fournette, who has a long list of multiple lower leg injuries to both legs, seems to be more stubborn and rushed back too early, and then posted poor YPC when he did finally return (3.3).
Looking forward to 2019, the Vikings made it a point to improve the poor offensive line in order to try help (Cook) run the ball better, using their 18th overall pick on center Garrett Bradbury. It appears that the Vikings will be running a West Coast-type offense, placing an emphasis on running the ball and play-action passing. The Vikings drafted Alexander Mattison in the 3rd round, who has strong potential to steal some goal-line carries from Cook, and should be considered Cook’s handcuff, as Latavius Murray is now with the Saints. Currently being drafted as the 11th RB off the board, in the middle of the 2nd round, Cook finds himself in that 3rd tier of RBs going off the board along with Joe Mixon, Damien Williams and Nick Chubb. I think this is Cook’s breakout year. He should be 100% back from his ACL injury, and as long as he continued to strengthen his hamstring in the offseason, with a bolstered Vikings O-line doesn’t hurt, he should be good. Draft with confidence.
RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
It’s been quite a year for the Steelers’ James Conner. Going from expected backup to Le’Veon Bell to rushing 215 times at a respectable 4.5 YPC clip and scoring a combined 13 TDs. Like in most professional sports, it’s all about opportunity. Conner rose to the occasion, and he’s looking to repeat that this year as the now #1 RB for the Steelers. Let’s bring it back a little bit and find out who James Conner really is. Conner grew up in Erie, PA, playing RB and defensive lineman (scary combo) for his high school team. In his senior year he rushed for 1,680 yards on 155 carries (10.8 YPC) and 26 TDs, which got him invited to the University of Pittsburgh.
In his rookie season at Pitt he played in 12 of 13 games, led the team in rushing with 799 yards and 8 TDs. In his sophomore campaign he led the ACC in rushing yards (1,765) on 298 attempts (5.9 YPC) and set an ACC record with 26 rushing TDs. During his junior season at Pittsburgh he tore the MCL in his right knee. This must have been a Grade 3, which means that ligament is torn completely off the bone, because he required season-ending surgery. Luckily Conner managed to avoid any further damage, including possible ACL tear which often accompanies an MCL tear. In the long run, these injuries aren’t overly concerning.
This part of the story is crazy. In the process of rehabbing from his knee surgery, Conner was struggling with his rehab due to excessive fatigue. He went to the doctors to get evaluated, they did a chest X-ray and they found a large tumor in his chest. If this tumor wasn’t found, which eventually was diagnosed as Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, there was a good chance Conner was going to actually die quite soon. The tumor was surrounding his heart, and if it hadn’t been caught, the doctors said he probably had about a week left to live. What? Damn that’s crazy. So what is Hodgkin’s Lymphoma? Essentially it’s cancer of the lymphatic system (the body’s drainage system) that starts with persistent fatigue, fevers, night sweats, unexplained weight loss and enlarged lymph nodes around the body. You’re probably thinking I’ve never heard of the lymphatic system before, well yes you have. Ever hear of the spleen, or the tonsils & adenoids? Well those are part of the body’s lymphatic system to help clean and trap diseases. Thankfully for Conner, this spreading cancerous infection was caught, just in the nick of time. He underwent 12 rounds of aggressive chemotherapy over the next couple of months, and by May of 2016 he was deemed cancer free. So you’re telling me that while his body was slowly being infiltrated with cancer, Conner was setting the ACC record for rushing touchdowns? Yup, now that’s impressive. There are some really good videos on YouTube about his journey if you’re interested.
The hardest part about getting back to reality after surviving cancer and subsequent chemotherapy is usually the rebuilding of muscle, strength and power that was zapped by the cancer-killing medicines. Impressively, Conner was able to not only regain his lost weight, energy and strength, but he managed to play in Pittsburgh’s season-opener less than 3 months after being deemed cancer-free. Warrior. Playing in 13 games his senior season, Conner averaged 5.1 YPC, rushing for 1,092 yards, 16 TDs, and reeling in 21 passes for 302 yards and another 4 TDs. Conner ran a 4.65 second 40-yard dash at the Combine and was expected to go in the 5th or 6th round. Exceeding expectations, Conner was drafted by the nearby Steelers in the 3rd round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Conner only contributed a little during his rookie season, and actually suffered the same exact knee injury that required surgery just 2 years prior, a torn MCL in his right knee. Just like the last time, Conner underwent surgery in December and headed into the 2018 season with a lot of question marks. He not only injured his right knee once requiring surgery, but managed to reinjure the surgically repaired MCL and required surgery to fix the ligament a second time. Heading into the 2018 season, Conner was expected to backup Le’Veon Bell. However that all changed in training camp when Bell decided he was holding out over a contract dispute. Like many other premier NFL players in training camp vying for a contract, most expected Bell to play once the regular season started. Bell was being drafted 3rd pick overall, despite the swirling rumors about his contract; Conner on the other hand wasn’t being viewed as much, going in the 14th round as the 168th pick in PPR drafts. Man did the people that drafted Conner in the 14th round get a steal! As we now know, Bell held out the ENTIRE season, handing the keys to the powerful Steelers offense/backfield to Conner, and he literally ran away with it. Conner rushed 215 times for 973 yards (4.5 YPC), 12 TDs, and added 55 receptions for 497 yards and another TD. 1,470 yards over 13 games is 113 yards per game, not bad for a 14th round pick! Conner suffered a concussion in Week 10 but was able to clear it before the next game, and then a high-ankle sprain in Week 13, usually taking about 4-6 weeks to return-to-play, which caused him to miss 3 weeks but he was able to return in Week 17.
Let’s see what is in store for Conner in 2019. Heading into the season as the clear-cut #1 RB, but the offense around him has changed a bit; as Antonio Brown is now with the Raiders, and Le’Veon Bell with the Jets. Big Big, Conner and Juju Smith-Schuster are expected to lead to the Steelers, who finished 4th in total offense in 2018, 2nd in passing but 31st in rushing (not good for Conner). Pittsburgh had the second highest pass-to-run ratio, and ran the lowest percentage of play action plays in the league, 12%. Health-wise, Conner has suffered 2 major knee injuries (to the same right MCL), a concussion, high-ankle sprain and oh ya, CANCER. I’m not overly concerned about any of those injuries going forward. The high-ankle sprain should be fully healed, the cancer is in remission, the concussion is what it is, and his knee injury was surgically addressed (twice). There have been some rumblings that Jaylen Samuels and rookie Benny Snell could eat into Conner’s workload, and Conner is unlikely to repeat his 72% snap-share in 2019. While Conner is decent as a receiving back, Samuels, a converted tight end, seems to be the better receiving back, as he caught over 200 passes for 1,851 yards and 19 TDs in his college career at NC State. Currently going as the 7th RB off the board at the end of the 1st round in PPR drafts, Conner has the talent and opportunity to be a top 10 RB in 2019.
RB, New England Patriots
Sony’s parents emigrated from Haiti to South Florida just before his older sister was born. Sony attended American Heritage School in Plantation, FL and was the star RB starting in 8th grade. Like many other now NFL offensive stars, Sony also ran track and field in high school, winning both the 100-meter and 200-meter dash in his sophomore year at Districts. Just before his sophomore HS football season Michel tore the ACL in his left knee, causing him to miss the entire year. In his senior HS season he rushed for 1,833 yards and 24 TDs. Ranked as a five-star recruit by Rivals.com, the 3rd best RB in the country, Michel chose to attend the University of Georgia.
Michel didn’t exactly have the cleanest bill of health in college. He sprained his ankle, managed to fracture his shoulder blade (not the easiest thing to do) in September of 2014 and missed 4 games. Despite these injuries Michel still managed to play in 8 games his freshman year. Michel enter 2015 as a backup to another RB you may have heard of, Nick Chubb, but took over the lead RB role after Chubb was injured. He reinjured the same shoulder as well as played with a ‘small’ fracture in his hand. Just before the 2016 season Michel fractured his forearm in an ATV accident over the Fourth of July weekend. Posting another respectable rushing season as a junior, Michel entered his senior season in a rushing heavy approach offense, and Michel had a breakout year: 1,227 yards and averaging a stellar 7.8 YPC despite missing 1 game with a sprained ankle. Michel sprained his left knee in December of 2017 (same knee as the previous ACL injury) but managed to play in the SEC Championship game less than a month later.
At the NFL Combine, Michel ran a 4.54 second 40-yard-dash and despite the extensive injury that I just listed, the New England Patriots felt comfortable drafting Michel at the end of the 1st round in the 2018 NFL Draft. After injuring his left knee early in training camp, likely suffering an acute injury to the meniscus, Michel had to have fluid drained from his knee (quite common actually). This caused him to miss all of the preseason as well as the Patriots’ season opener. Michel played well in weeks 2-7, rushing for 422 yards (4.4 YPC), 4 TDs but not playing much of a role in the passing game.
In Week 7 versus the Chicago Bears Michel reinjured this same dreaded left knee after the leg twisted while he was being tackled. This is the classic mechanism for a meniscal tear. The meniscus is a thick cartilage in between our upper and lower leg bones that serves as the shocks, and protective barrier for the knee. Think of it like the shocks for your car, but instead for your knee. The meniscus is vital to the knee. It’s important in any twisting motions, like squatting and grabbing something low from a shelf, getting in & out of a car, and going up or down stairs. The meniscus is classically torn during an ACL tear (about 65% of time), and is usually repaired at the same time if possible. The meniscus doesn’t heal well; it has a poor blood supply and has a tendency to fray, kind of like a piece of rope that is partially cut. The good news is that Michel was able to have a minor procedure on his knee (‘knee scope’ – google it) where the surgeon goes in and trims out the torn meniscus. Does this fix the pain and swelling? Temporarily yes. The problem is, these are prone to tearing again. My suspicion is Michel has partially torn bits and pieces of his left meniscus ever since his tore his left ACL in high school.
It sounds like Michel required an additional knee scope after the season. Which is not completely surprising since he managed to rush a total 209 times in the regular season, and another 71 rushes over only 3 games in the playoffs, helping the Patriots win another Super Bowl. How concerned should you be about Michel’s knee (his left one in particular)? Not overly. I mean yes he’s going to be babied along this preseason, but that’s just the Patriots medical staff being smart with him. He’s going to have additional flare-ups in this knee, that’s almost guaranteed. In the long-run (think 3-4 years), I’m concerned about the integrity of this knee, but between now and then, he should be a very dynamic back with some minor hiccups along the way.
The Patriots always adapt their gameplan according to their personnel. They want to run the ball (3rd in rushing attempts in 2018), play up tempo (6th in pace in 2018) and play tons of play action (they lead the league). Their goal is to get the ball out of an aging Tom Brady’s hands, and will likely use a combination of Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, N’Keal Harry (rookie), maybe Josh Gordon, Ben Watson, James White and then run the ball with Michel, Damien Harris (rookie) and Rex Burkhead. I think drafting Damien Harris stresses the importance that the Patriots plan to have a very run heavy approach and keep teams off balance with short quick passes. If you told me that you could draft the main (rushing) RB on one of the most-run heavy teams, a team that is expected to win over 10 games (so they should be leading more than they will be losing) after posting a season of 4.5 YPC and even better in playoffs in the 5th round, you should be interested. Currently going in the middle of the 5th round in PPR drafts next to another non-receiving RB in Chris Carson, I think that is a really good spot for him. Ideally I’d like for him to fall a couple rounds but overall I’m not overly concerned about his knee.
RB, Cincinnati Bengals
Joe Mixon just turned 23 years old and he already has 2 years under his belt in the NFL. Born in San Francisco, he went to high school in Oakley, CA where he played both football and basketball. A three-year starter at RB, his senior season he rushed for 1,704 yards (7.5 YPC) and 23 TDs. Ranked as a five-start recruit and the top RB in the nation by Rivals.com, Mixon had 47 offers to play football in college. 47! Ultimately he chose the University of Oklahoma (over Alabama). During his sophomore year at Oklahoma, he rushed for 749 yards on 110 carries (6.8 YPC), 7 TDs, and added 25 receptions for 345 yards (13.8 YPC) and 4 TDs. In his junior year he rushed 187 times for 1,274 yards (6.8 YPC), 10 TDs, and added 37 catches for 538 yards (14.5 YPC) and 5 TDs. He accumulated over 1,800 yards in only 12 games, over 150 yards per game.
Choosing to forego his two final years of eligibility in college, Mixon ran a 4.45 second 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, and deemed him to be a first-round talent but was expected to fall to the 3rd or 4th round due to an assault charge while at Oklahoma. Entering the draft he was ranked the 5th best RB by NFLDraftScout.com & 3rd by PFF. The NFL declined to invite him to the Combine. The Bengals drafted Mixon in the 2nd round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Due to the assault charges, many teams completely avoid Mixon, and some people even boycotted the Bengals picking of him. How quickly we figure someone’s past issues (Tyreek Hill?) when they are filling seats, selling jerseys, and scoring touchdowns.
In his rookie NFL season, Mixon played in 14 games, rushed for 626 yards on 178 carries (3.5 YPC), 4 TDs, and caught 30 passes on 34 targets for 287 yards (9.6 YPC). He suffered a concussion that caused him to miss 2 games, and then suffered a mild ankle sprain but was able to return the following week. Heading into the 2018 season Mixon was being drafted at the end of the 2nd round of PPR drafts, as 14th RB off the board. He hit the ground running, rushing for 179 yards on 38 carries (4.7 YPC), 1 rushing TD, catching 6 passes for 57 yards through the first 2 weeks before leaving Week 2 with a right knee injury. Based on reports, it sounds like Michel likely suffered an acute injury to his meniscus (check out my full description of meniscal injuries in Sony Michel’s profile) as it was reported that he had a ‘loose particle’ in his right knee. This was likely a piece of the meniscus that was torn and now floating around in his knee, which can be painful, cause repeated swelling as well as instability and even further damage in the knee (if not removed). These usually take about 2-4 weeks to recover from and return-to-play. He returned in week 5, just about 3 weeks later, just on schedule. Mixon had a strong sophomore campaign, rushing 237 times for 1,168 yards (4.9 YPC), 8 TDs, and caught 43 passes on 55 targets for 296 yards (6.9 YPC) and another TD. Mind you this was without A.J. Green for about half of the season who suffered a season-ending toe injury, Andy Dalton who was out with a thumb injury and a sub-par offensive line.
Looking at the upcoming season, the Bengals finally moved on from Marvin Lewis, who went 16 years without a single playoff win. Yikes. New head coach Zac Taylor, from the Sean McVay coaching tree, is looking to change that, and Andy Dalton has plenty of weapons around him. Star aging WR A.J. Green is coming off season-ending toe surgery (and now a preseason ankle injury) along with Mixon, Boyd, potential breakout John Ross, Tyler Eifert, backup RB Giovanni Bernard, and two rookie RBs with potential (Trayveon Williams and Rodney Anderson). The Bengals drafted a LT in Jonah Williams in the first round to help upgrade their awful offensive line but unfortunately he suffered a shoulder injury that will require season-ending surgery. Further diminishing their O-line, their fixture at LG, Clint Boling chose to retire after 8 solid seasons secondary to a blood clot in his leg. One step forward, two steps back.
Expect the Bengals offense to attempt to resemble the Rams’ offense from last year, predominately using the 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR). Mixon would play the (younger, healthier) version of Todd Gurley. Mixon is one of the few young RBs in the NFL who is a complete back, he can do it all both rushing and receiving. He is expected to get the volume needed to justify picking him in the first couple of rounds (350 total touches?), especially in PPR leagues where 60-80 targets is a realistic possibility. I am not overly concerned with the knee injury that briefly sidelined him last year, and compared to someone like Sony Michel, who is only a year older, Mixon has a much shorter injury history and much less wear and tear on his knees. Currently being drafted as the 9th RB off the board in PPR leagues, in the 2nd round, if you happen to miss out on the top 5 RBs (Saquon, CMC, Kamara, Zeke, DJ), then I think Mixon is very appealing. I would personally draft him over Bell (concerned about Jets slow pace), Gordon (contract?), and Gurley (knee). To me, Mixon is less riskier than Dalvin Cook with a higher upside. Yes the poor offensive line scares me but Mixon has top 5 RB potential in 2019.
RB, Green Bay Packers
RB, Houston Texans
Lamar Miller’s been in the league since 2012 after playing 2 years at the University of Miami. Surprisingly he has only missed a total of just two games (due to injury) since 2013, his rookie year, playing in 92 of 96 games since 2013 (96%). Miller hasn’t been a top 10 or 15 RB over the past couple years but has been a reliable, healthy RB2/flex. His rushing attempts have decreased each of the past 3 years (268 to 238 to 210), but posted his best YPC in 2018 (4.6) since 2014. Miller was targeted 35 times in 2018, catching 25 passes for 163 yards. This preseason the Texans traded for receiving specialist Duke Johnson, which may bite into Miller’s playing time.
Injury-wise, Miller has been able to remain very healthy, which is quite hard to do as an NFL RB. He missed 2 games in 2018 with an ankle injury that forced him to miss the last two games of the year. He did return in Wild Card game against the Colts. Lamar Miller is a rock, a player that most strive to be like when it comes to health. However, Miller has picked up a variety of dents along the way. Miller has ankle sprain, knee contusion, pectoral strain, concussion, foot contusion, AC joint sprain, quadriceps strain, and shoulder strain. Bumps and bruises to him, as he always seems to suit up the following week.
Miller is just 28-years old and has never really been a sexy choice when it comes to fantasy football, but has benefitted owners whenever they draft him. Seasonally, he has put up RB2 numbers but sold at RB3 discount. For instance, Miller has four consecutive top-20 finishes, and he finished 22nd in 2018. Miller also had his first Pro-Bowl selection after finishing with 973-yards and five touchdowns. For some reason, the Texans don’t like to utilize him in the passing game. Miller has caught only 92 passes in three seasons there.
The Texans upgraded their offensive line, and he is expected to serve as the primary RB in a potential top 8 offense this year. Watson will be slinging the rock to Hopkins, Fuller, and Coutee, then add in Duke Johnson out of the backfield. Miller will get his chances at the goal-line and has a chance to be an unexciting top 25 RB again in 2019.
RB, Cleveland Browns
Chubb, currently 23 years old, grew up in Georgia, and was, like many other top NFL athletes, a two-sport athlete: football and track. As a junior in HS, he led the state of Georgia in rushing yards with 2,721 yards and 38 TDs. He followed that up with 2,690 yards and 41 TDs in his senior year…beast. Chubb was also a stud in track & field, competing in shot put, long jump, 100 and 200-meter dash. A 4-star recruit heading into college, he chose to stay in-state & go to University of Georgia. As a freshman he was backup to stud Todd Gurley, eventually taking over for him after Gurley was suspended. In October of 2015 Chubb suffered a significant knee injury and missed the rest of the season. The following year he began splitting carries with the now Patriots’ Sony Michel. Instead of skipping his senior year at Georgia for the NFL, Chubb decided to return and averaged 6.0 YPC for 223 carries (proving his knee was healthy) and 15 TDs. Chubb finished his college career 2nd in all-time SEC rushing yards, only to Herschel Walker, to show you how dominant he was.
Chubb ran a 4.52 second 40-yard dash at the Combine, leading the Cleveland Browns to draft him at the 35th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. He started his career behind Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson, but by mid-October (when Hyde was traded to JAX) Chubb took over the backfield. He finished his rookie season with 192 carriers for 996 yards ( 5.18 YPC), 8 TDs, 20 receptions, 149 receiving yards & 2 more TDs. There were points during late 2018 season when he was the most dominant player on the field.
Injury-wise it appears Chubb suffered only 2 injuries of note throughout his college & NFL careers. An ankle sprain in the 2016 season that sounds like it was a Grade 2, taking about 6 weeks to fully heal, but the details are limited. His most concerning injury occurred in October 2015 when Chubb dislocated his knee, causing him to tear his PCL, MCL and LCL along with articular (& likely) meniscal damage. These are very significant injuries and many athletes never return to the playing field. I’m astonished that Chubb did not tear his ACL at this time, but he basically tore the other 3 major ligaments of the knee. The great news is that with how productive he has been since the injury you would never know that he suffered such a significant knee injury. Chubb has had 2 solid seasons (2017 in college, 2018 in NFL) where he has proved that his knee can tolerate the wear and tear and that he is still dominant (5.2 YPC in NFL). In the long-run I will be concerned about his cartilage & the development of osteoarthritis (like Todd Gurley) but the good news is that so far, so good.
With how dominant the Browns offense has the potential to be in 2019, with Chubb as their lead back, he could easily finish as a top 10-15 back. Baker’s arm slinging it to OBJ, Landry, Higgins and Njoku, and Duke traded to Houston, this is Chubb’s backfield. Hilliard will likely fill in for him if he needs a breather but overall I really like Chubb this year. The talent is there, the volume is there. Currently he has minimal injury concerns and if you can grab him in the late 2nd or early 3rd round, do it. Ideally he’s a better RB2 but if you go elite WR in the first, Chubb has the potential to be an elite RB1 in 2019. Draft him with confidence.