Previewing potential injury issues heading into 2007
In his recent book The Black Swan, author Nassim Taleb takes his title from a David Hume quote. "No amount of observations of white swans can allow the inference that all swans are white, but the observation of a single black swan is sufficient to refute that conclusion." It's a good lesson to think about with fantasy football and injuries. Just as you know the schemes, the strategies, the dollar values, and that one thing you just know no one else does, you'd better know risk.
Everyone knows that LaDainian Tomlinson is the top pick in nearly every league, but most of us were just as sure last year that the next two should be Shaun Alexander and Larry Johnson. Injuries are a risk and a certainty, something that we have to account for, but can never really be sure about. That Alexander spent much of 2006 fighting injuries while Johnson spent much of 2006 making touchdowns doesn't make the decision to pick one or the other a coin flip. In fact, you could say that the opposite of what many would expect is true -- Johnson, not Alexander, is the more likely to be injured in 2007.
Over the course of this season, I'll be along to help you understand how injuries are affecting teams on the field and on your fantasy team. Luckily, injuries affect both pretty much the same way. The Colts are hosed if Peyton Manning goes down; so is your fantasy team. What you might not expect is that while Walter Jones won't show up on anyone's draft list, his injury last year affected Alexander, Matt Hasselbeck and Deion Branch -- who I assume are on a lot of draft lists. Looking at the game through the lens of player injuries and team health is a new way of looking at football, but it just might be your edge. With camps opening next week, let's get to it:
370. It's a number you're going to hear a lot this season when we discuss Larry Johnson. It's the magic number for running backs, or rather it's the reverse of magic numbers, the "cursed 370", because once a back passes that number of carries, he's in for a quick, precipitous decline. Research done by Aaron Schatz and Doug Farrar of Pro Football Prospectus shows that almost no one comes back from a 370-carry season with anything approaching their previous level of effectiveness.
The aggregate for an elite group that include John Riggins, Jerome Bettis, Earl Campbell and Terrell Davis was down over 30 percent the year following the heavy workload. Unless you're convinced that Johnson is the second coming of Eric Dickerson (the only player for whom the 370 bell didn't toll), then you're signing up for 30 percent less of Johnson at the same high pick or auction price.
Worse, his line has grown even thinner, and with the likelihood that Brodie Croyle opens the season under center, defenses are likely to stack the box, gambling that Croyle can't beat them and that Herm Edwards will intractably run, as he did in the Chiefs' playoff loss. Even a lengthy holdout doesn't figure to give Johnson enough rest to overcome the cursed 370, although Priest Holmes' reporting to training camp could put pressure on Johnson to report. Still, I fear we'll be talking about Johnson a lot in this column this season.
As if the Falcons didn't have enough worries, they'll now be without Warrick Dunn through at least all of training camp. Dunn had what the Falcons called "minor back surgery." Of course, any back surgery is minor when it's not your back, but this procedure, likely a microdiscectomy, is as minor as back surgeries go. It's still back surgery, still requires at least six weeks to recover from, and worse, I can't find any comparable players who have had this type of injury or surgery and returned. It's more the fullback, blasting in bent down, that have this style injury. Dunn didn't do this on the field, so again, it's not the same thing. He's eminently risky at this stage and until we see him run and cut, I'd stay away. Jerious Norwood is likely to be the big beneficiary.