Ranking Fantasy's 1st-Rounders by Injury Risk

By Jared Smola 1:07pm EDT 7/20/18


You can’t win your fantasy football draft in the 1st round, but you can certainly lose it. And when 1st-round picks disappoint, it’s usually due to injury.

Just last year, the top 12 players in ADP missed a combined 32 games with injuries. A dislocated wrist ruined David Johnson’s season. Odell Beckham’s year ended in Week 5 with a fractured ankle.

You should be factoring injury risk into your fantasy rankings — especially at the top of the board.

So let’s rank this year’s 1st-rounders from safest to riskiest. We’re ranking by Chance of Injury and breaking ties with Projected Games Missed.


1. Kareem Hunt, RB, Chiefs

Chance of Injury: 39.4%

Projected Games Missed: .2

Surprised to see Hunt as the safest 1st-round pick? So were we.

Young RBs projected to see heavy workloads tend to come with elevated injury risk. But not Hunt. Across the last 2 seasons — 1 at Toledo and 1 with the Chiefs — he’s played 29 games and amassed 628 touches without suffering an injury.


2. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans

Chance of Injury: 40%

Projected Games Missed: .5

One of the best reasons to go WR in the 1st round of your fantasy draft is the position’s depressed injury risk relative to RBs (and TEs). And Hopkins is the safest of this year’s three 1st-round WRs.

When he sat out last season’s finale with a strained calf, it was the first game he’d missed in 5 NFL seasons.

It’s worth noting that Hopkins has sustained 2 concussions, but the last occurred back in September of 2015.


3. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Cowboys

Chance of Injury: 41.7%

Projected Games Missed: .3

Zeke has yet to miss a game due to injury through 2 NFL seasons. (He sat out 6 last year on suspension.) In fact, Elliott hasn’t even appeared on the injury report a single time.

The only significant injury on his medical history is a broken wrist suffered at Ohio State in 2014. Elliott required 2 surgeries but didn’t miss any games.


4. Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers

Chance of Injury: 41.7%

Projected Games Missed: .6

Brown missed 2 games last year with a partially torn left calf. Prior to that, he hadn’t missed a game due to injury since a high-ankle sprain cost him 3 contests back in 2012.

Brown was knocked out of a playoff game in January of 2016 with a concussion, but that stands as the only known concussion of his career.


5. Odell Beckham, WR, Giants

Chance of Injury: 47%

Projected Games Missed: 2.3

Beckham's injury-risk profile is interesting. He has the 5th lowest Chance of Injury among these 1st-rounders but the 2nd highest Projected Games Missed.

That’s due largely to his long history of lower-body muscular injuries, which have a high rate of recurrence. Dating back to college, Beckham has suffered 4 separate hamstring injuries and 2 hip injuries. That’s on top of the high-ankle sprain and fractured ankle he suffered last year.


6. Todd Gurley, RB, Rams

Chance of Injury: 48%

Projected Games Missed: .9

The pock mark on Gurley’s injury history is a 2014 torn left ACL.

Since returning from that in Week 3 of the 2015 campaign, though, he’s missed just a single game with injury. That was due to a case of turf toe.

Gurley has racked up 664 touches over the last 2 seasons without missing a game due to injury. (He was a healthy scratch for last year’s meaningless regular-season finale.)


7. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Steelers

Chance of Injury: 51%

Projected Games Missed: 1.1

Last year was just the 2nd time in 5 tries that Bell didn’t miss a game with injury. His history includes a Lisfranc sprain, a hyperextended knee, a torn MCL and a core muscle injury that required surgery. Bell also sustained a concussion back in 2013.

With another heavy workload on tap, Bell is about even money to miss time with injury in 2018.


8. Melvin Gordon, RB, Chargers

Chance of Injury: 55%

Projected Games Missed: 1.6

Gordon just strung together a 342-touch, 16-game season. Prior to that, though, he missed the final 2 games of the 2015 season with torn cartilage in his knee that eventually required microfracture surgery. And he missed the final 3 of 2016 with a strained hip and a sprained PCL.

A massive 2018 projected workload elevates his injury risk.


9. David Johnson, RB, Cardinals

Chance of Injury: 55.3%

Projected Games Missed: 1.9

Johnson’s season has ended with an injury in 2 straight seasons. It was a sprained MCL in Week 17 in 2016 and that dislocated wrist in last year’s opener.

Our model assigns Johnson the highest Chance of Injury and Projected Games Missed among the “Big 4” RBs in fantasy drafts (behind Elliott, Gurley and Bell).


10. Alvin Kamara, RB, Saints

Chance of Injury: 55.7%

Projected Games Missed: 1.7

Kamara sustained a Week 14 concussion last year — the 1st known head injury of his career — but was cleared for the following game.

Note, though, that he redshirted at Alabama in 2012 due to a knee injury and missed 2 games at Tennessee in 2016 with LCL and meniscus damage to his left knee.

Increased volume in Mark Ingram’s absence for the first 4 games of the coming season would increase Kamara’s injury risk.


11. Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants

Chance of Injury: 60.5%

Projected Games Missed: 1.8

Barkley’s elevated Chance of Injury is due largely to the fact that he’s a rookie. Our research has found that injury risk is inversely correlated with NFL experience.

The good news for Barkley is that his busy college career included just a pair of relatively minor ankle injuries that cost him a total of 2 games.


12. Leonard Fournette, RB, Jaguars

Chance of Injury: 65.2%

Projected Games Missed: 2.9

Not only does Fournette sport the highest Chance of Injury and Projected Games Missed among fantasy’s top 12 picks — he’s tied for the 2nd highest Chance of Injury and the 5th highest Projected Games Missed among all RBs.

Fournette dealt with a high-ankle sprain and bone bruise throughout the 2016 season at LSU, aggravating it 3 separate times and missing 6 games. Then he missed a game apiece with a sprained ankle and quad injury as a rookie last year.

Combine that history with his relative lack of NFL experience and a big projected workload, and you get 1 of the highest injury risks in fantasy football.


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