- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 27, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Instead of my usual column on whom to avoid, I’m going to put a positive spin on the impact of injuries. It’s still foolish to use high draft picks on historically fragile players like DeMarco Murray, Rob Gronkowski and Percy Harvin, but there’s another side to injuries in fantasy football, one that you can take advantage of.

Heading into any season, fantasy football players get tunnel vision. That is, we tend to follow the logic of the ranking services, which have short memories. If you look at ESPN’s rankings, for example, there are a number of players either coming off injuries or who were greatly affected by injuries around them who are rated too low (Julio Jones and Randall Cobb retain their proper rankings).

If you target these players, you can acquire multiple value picks in a given draft.

QUARTERBACK

Aaron Rodgers: It’s not like he’s off anyone’s radar, but if my recent mock draft frenzy is any indication, he’s a distant third among The Big Three. Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are being selected before Rodgers in about 90 percent of drafts. In many of those, Rodgers is lasting until the third round. That lack of respect has to be related to the broken collarbone that cost him half of last season, but that was a fluke injury to his non-throwing side. There’s no reason to expect he won’t be the same guy who threw 84 total touchdowns in 2011-2012 and was on pace for his first 5,000-yard season before getting hurt last year.

Matt Ryan: As I mentioned previously, Ryan’s numbers last year were comparable to those of Matthew Stafford (for some reason the consensus No. 4 fantasy QB) despite his No. 1 wide receiver missing the last 11 games. In addition, while No. 2 wide receiver Roddy White played 12 games, he was an injury-riddled shell of his former self. Jones and White are healthy entering the season, and the Falcons remain one of the NFL’s most pass-happy offenses, all of which makes Ryan a great value among the second tier of signal-callers.

Tom Brady: Like Ryan, Brady’s numbers declined due to a decimated receiving corps. Gronkowski missed most of the season with multiple injuries, Danny Amendola was his usual fragile self, pass-catching running back Shane Vereen broke his wrist in the season opener and Aaron Hernandez went to jail. It didn’t help that rookie wide receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson were wildly inconsistent. Heading into this season, it remains unclear when Gronkowski will be ready, but reception hog and safety valve Julian Edelman returns, red-zone target Brandon LaFell was added in the offseason, Thompkins and Dobson will benefit from another year in the offense and the Patriots traded for athletic tight end Tim Wright on Tuesday. Brady will return to elite status if Gronkowski can play a dozen games, but even if he doesn’t, Brady is the top bounce-back candidate at the position.

RUNNING BACK

Shane Vereen: The all-purpose back has rightfully been moving up draft boards after catching two touchdowns in a preseason game against the Panthers. Before breaking his wrist in Week 1 last season, he had accumulated 159 total yards on 21 touches (seven receptions, 14 rushes). The hesitation surrounding any Patriots running back is understandable, but with Stevan Ridley still in Bill Belichick’s doghouse and LeGarette Blount having moved on, Vereen has little competition for touches. He is a legitimate second-round pick in PPR formats and should be given consideration as a mid-level RB2 in standard leagues.

WIDE RECEIVER

Michael Crabtree: In the past two years, Colin Kaepernick has had the opportunity to win the Super Bowl and NFC championship, respectively. He failed both times, but the important thing is that he chose to throw to Michael Crabtree both times. A torn achilles tendon last May cost Crabtree all but five regular-season games in 2013, but he’s fully recovered now and is my top value at the position. He caught 85 passes and nine touchdowns in 2012, with three of his four 100-yard games and six of his touchdowns coming after Kaepernick took over for Alex Smith.

Jeremy Maclin: You never know what you’re going to get with a player coming off an ACL injury. You could be drafting Adrian Peterson in 2012 or Robert Griffin III in 2013. Maclin had the “benefit” of being injured before last season began, so he’s had plenty of time to round back into shape. With DeSean Jackson no longer in Philadelphia, Maclin is one of the few No. 1 wide receivers who will be available in the later rounds of many drafts. I trust Chip Kelly to get the most out of a player who scored 22 touchdowns from 2010-2012.

TIGHT END

Dennis Pitta: A serious hip injury in training camp last year limited Pitta to four games in 2013 and was one of the primary reasons quarterback Joe Flacco had the worst season of his career. In those four games, however, Pitta caught 20 passes. That’s an 80-catch pace and makes him an intriguing option at a position that can no longer be ignored in putting together a fantasy lineup. Pitta caught seven touchdowns in the 2012 regular season and added three more in the playoffs. He’s a great value in the later rounds.

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