Breaking news: Your whole team is injured this year.
In September, The New York Post projected that around 75 million people will play fantasy football this year. Even with the margin of error, I am willing to bet there is somebody somewhere who drafted this team and had high hopes of taking the championship:
QB: Tony Romo, RB1: Jamaal Charles, RB2: Justin Forsett, WR1: Jordy Nelson, WR2: Julian Edelman, TE: Jimmy Graham, K: Cody Parkey, DEF: Eagles
"I'm going to slaughter everybody this year," you mutter under your breath while staring at your draft buddies across the table like prey; smiling like the Joker.
(Two weeks later) Injury alert.
(Three weeks later) Injury alert.
(Four weeks later) Injury alert.
*Repeat process every week and cry.
If this is you, my condolences. I will pour some of a 40-ounce on the floor and take you to dinner. The first three players in that lineup were literally my team, so I can relate at least 37.5%.
This is the reality of year-long fantasy sports. Every year (this one especially), roster management skills are put to the test as high draft picks disappear like Ja Rule. This is what separates the men from the boys, the playoff contenders from the consolation bracket contenders, and the headliners from the opening acts.
If you didn't handcuff your studs and build depth early, you might already know where you stand in your league by now. If it's a keeper league, then have no fear. Keep your injured studs and prepare for next year. It's never too early to plan ahead.
The beauty of enabling keepers is it gives everyone first dibs on players they've invested in the previous year. If someone gets hurt, it gives a sense of hope next year for him. Here are the top 15 studs injured for the fantasy season that you shouldn't cut ties with yet in keeper leagues. These rankings are in descending order from why-not's to must-haves.
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15 Steve Smith Sr.
As of right now, Smith has already played his last professional game since announcing his upcoming retirement in the beginning of the season. Who's to say he won't change his mind now? The fiery 36-year-old deep threat just does not have an off button. Until his Week 8 injury, he averaged 83 reception yards per game. He did have a monster 186-yard game against the Bengals that may skew this average, but this just shows that the man has not declined yet. A guy like him wants to leave on a high note, so expect the Ravens to push for Smith to reconsider. Keep an eye on the not officially retired veteran.
14 Arian Foster
Sadly, we do not know Foster's future in the league anymore. It almost feels like the letters "IR" are the suffix of his name. Foster has only played two full 16-game seasons in his six-year career as a starter. Chances of Houston retaining him next season are lower than ever. But if he stays in the league and joins a new team, there's no reason against keeping him.
The Texans running back has always been a top-five in his position when healthy. In his brief four-game comeback this year, he averaged 19.25 fantasy points in PPR scoring. His combined talents in both rushing and pass-catching have made him a longtime stud. Don't give up on Foster until we get a clearer picture of his future.
13 Justin Forsett
Forsett's gruesome broken arm suffered in Week 11 has left holes in some starting rosters at the worst time of the season. He has been a decent RB2 in most PPR leagues, averaging double-digit points. But because of his banged-up offensive line, he had only two 100-yard rushing games this year. The Baltimore Ravens are one of the better organizations in football from management to players, so expect them to address their many issues they've had in this awkward injury-ridden season. This will help the 30-year-old running back live back up to his potential, possibly having a good year or two left in him.
12 Marshawn Lynch
See the trend yet? These first handful of players have an uncertain future ahead of them, but are game-changers when on the field. Lynch is no exception to this bunch. To say he is a monster when healthy is an understatement. Until this year, he has been one of the most consistent players in the game. Lingering injuries combined with the emergence of backup Thomas Rawls have put Lynch's future with Seattle in the air. But given his record of consistency, his ceiling is too high to brush off. NFL's Ian Rapoport reported to expect him back in Week 17. If the Hawks make the playoffs, tune in to watch his audition to stay in Seattle.
11 Tony Romo
This aging veteran isn't appreciated much until he is on IR, which means he's getting more appreciated the longer his career continues. Despite his age and health, he is still the most important Cowboy on the roster and almost always a Top-12 fantasy play when healthy. Don't judge him too heavily based on his performance against the Panthers on Thanksgiving. He was playing one of the top defenses in a team that was hungry to stay undefeated on national television. In the two games he played at 100% this year, Romo threw two TDs in each. Health might be declining, but talent is still there.
No matter what Jerry Jones decides to do in the draft, Romo will be the starter until he is hurt, traded or retired. If you have room to keep a quarterback, there's still no argument against him.
10 Carlos Hyde
The second-year Ohio State Buckeye exploded in his season debut against the Vikings - rushing for 168 yards and a pair of touchdowns. That was his best game of the year and it may have set the bar a little early. Hyde's fantasy performance has been mediocre since then, but it's not all his fault. The 49ers have imploded as a team and it's hard to discredit a player when nobody around him is helping.
Plus, he's also been dealing with a lingering foot injury, which eventually sidelined him since Week 8. Hyde's status for the rest of the season is still in question, but do not give up on him next year. A young starting running back with his talent is a keepsake in the fantasy world.
9 Jimmy Graham
Graham suffered a torn patellar tendon on Week 12, placing him on season-ending I.R. He seemed sort of misplaced in Seattle's system, averaging just 55 yards per game with single-game stats bouncing all over the place. These numbers are obviously not even close to his days with Drew Brees, but he's still Jimmy Graham. Everybody learns from their mistakes and Pete Carroll will hopefully decide to treat him like the all-pro tight end he is. Going forward, I would rather keep tight ends that have been utilized more, but wouldn't be surprised if next season is Graham's year. He simply cannot be ignored in an offense with not many other stars in the passing game.
8 Dion Lewis
Running backs are scarce, and scarce is an understatement when addressing fantasy RBs in New England. Nobody would have guessed that one on the Patriots would dominate like Lewis, given Bill Belichick's dreaded RB-by-committee approach that is toxic to fantasy. Averaging 4.8 yards per carry with the workload he received, the 25-year-old from Albany has emerged as a top-15 play in almost every match-up. ACL tears always leave owners in caution going into the next season, but he is a young player that will be coming off the best season of his career. Lewis's fantasy stock shouldn't decline unless somebody else rivals his numbers, which has yet to happen.
7 Kelvin Benjamin
With Carolina on fire in all three phases of football, it's sad to see Kelvin Benjamin hurt so early in the preseason. We can only imagine what his fantasy numbers would be like with 2015 MVP candidate Cam Newton throwing to him. As of now, the Panthers still do not have a clear WR1 (unless we can consider tight end Greg Olsen one).
This just helps Benjamin's case to be retained as a keeper, especially in PPR scoring. His rookie year consisted of 1,008 receiving yards, and will be going into next year as a third-year receiver. We all know the trend with third-year WRs in fantasy. Don't think, just keep.
6 Julian Edelman
Being Tom Brady's favorite target that doesn't own a party bus, Edelman is always the man among slot receivers. He scored at least one touchdown in five out of eight games played this year, and the pass-catching machine had PPR numbers rivaled by very, very few. If in a PPR league, don't hesitate to keep Edelman as your WR1 (depending on league size). According to Albert Breer of the NFL Network, his foot injury is not necessarily season-ending and may be back in time for the 2015 playoffs, so his health for next year should be nothing to worry about.
5 Jamaal Charles
After injuring his ACL for the second time, it's wise to raise your eyebrow now. But, it's still Jamaal Charles. The man had only two seasons with less than 1,000 rushing yards from 2008 to 2014. In the four games Charles played healthy this year, he averaged 23 points per game in PPR scoring. He will continue to be one of God's gifts to fantasy until he's on a team that doesn't turn to him for everything. And do not let the emergence of Charcandrick West fool you. The talent differential between the two is too large of a gap to alter their long-term roles.
4 Andrew Luck
Can we just forget this season never happened? With hidden injuries and being "blocked" by a notoriously non-existent offensive line, one of the only three elite QBs (yes, still elite) is getting no love from the football gods in 2015. His 12 interceptions and countless sacks have punched owners in the gut who invested a first or second rounder on him. But, you guessed it, he's still Andrew Luck. There is no problem in keeping him if you want stability in the quarterback position with a guaranteed 18-plus fantasy points per game. Luck will get healthy and people will still Instagram pictures of their food. Those are two things we can count on.
3 Keenan Allen
Given the astounding season Keenan Allen had been having, this blow to the fantasy world hurts the most. He had three games over 100 reception yards which accounted for 166, 133, and 157 individually. In PPR scoring, Allen had only one game with single-digit points and three with at least 29. Had he remained healthy, it wouldn't be surprising if he ended the season as the receiving leader, or at least in second-place behind DeAndre Hopkins. That being said, next year Allen will continue his clear WR1 role in both San Diego and your fantasy team. Keep him or watch him float away in the second or third round.
2 Jordy Nelson
Never draft until the last week of preseason! Nelson took his knee and his season down into the graveyard during the 2015 preseason. Collateral damage included Green Bay's offensive rhythm and the hearts of a few premature fantasy drafters that invested a second-round pick in him. Aaron Rodgers's awkward roller-coaster year shows how important the KSU receiver is to him. When on the field, White Lightning had only one season less than 1,000 receiving yards since emerging as Green Bay's top receiver. If you want to be ahead of the game, there is a very high chance he is on your waiver wire. Snatch and stash him for next season.
1 Le'Veon Bell
The elite running back suffered another knee injury Week 8 against the Bengals. Prior to that game, three out of the five games he played in accounted for over 100 yards and a touchdown on average. This is the reason why he was drafted early in the first round even while set to serve an early season suspension. While 16-game seasons for Bell have not been guaranteed yet, he alone can win your fantasy match-ups when healthy. As long as you always handcuff him, it's a no-brainer to bring Le'Veon Bell with you into the 2016 season. At least this time he should be good to go for the season opener.
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