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October 06, 2020

Have fantasy football injuries ever been worse?

Fantasy football NFL
Saquon-Barkley-Hurt_092120_usat Jeffrey Becker/USA TODAY Sports

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) is helped off the field after suffering a knee injury Sunday.

So far in 2020, nearly half of the top 25 fantasy football picks, by ADP (average draft position) have missed or will miss a game due to injury, heading into the fifth week of games. Yes, this seems like more big name injuries than usual, but is it?

With just four weeks in the books, it seems like there are more high profile injuries than ever before and it kind of makes sense. With less time for teams to practice, less time for live hitting, no preseason whatsoever and an overall lacking in preparation, injuries are taking a toll as COVID continues to rampage through our country.

Teams like the Eagles and 49ers have lost nearly an entire starting lineup's worth of players to injuries, and it's been just four weeks. There seems to be an indirect trickle down effect. 

  1. The lack of reps and live-hitting in the offseason has hurt the offensive and defensive lines, a lot, in terms of conditioning and injury resistance.
  2. The more hurt starting offensive linemen get, the worse an offense performs (with crappy backups). More hits in the backfield can cause more injuries.
  3. The worse a defensive line performs, the more pressure is put on defensive backs, who in turn get hurt too.
  4. Less practice time = less chemistry = being in the wrong place.
  5. All of this leads to skill players being more at risk of injury.
This seems to have manifest itself this season, and has had an impact on almost everyone's fantasy team. Here's a look at the current status of the top drafted fantasy football player this season. If they're healthy, we threw in their positional ranking:

2020 Top 25 Fantasy by ADP

Christian McCaffery1.02 GP, IR (will miss 4-6 wks)
Saquan Barkley2.02 GP, IR (torn ACL)
Ezekiel Elliott3.0 RB4
Michael Thomas5.01 GP (out with ankle)
Alvin Kamara5.0RB1
Derrick Henry6.0RB22
Dalvin Cook6.0RB3
DaVante Adams8.52 GP (out with hamstring)
Joe Mixon10.0RB8
Tyreek Hill11.0WR7
Julio Jones12.53 GP (out with hamstring)
Nick Chubb13.04 GP, IR (will miss 4-6 wks)
DeAndre Hopkins16.0WR2
Clyde Edwards-Helaire16.5RB12
Josh Jacobs16.5RB9
George Kittle17.02 GP (had sprained knee)
Kenyan Drake17.04 GP (out with chest injury)
Travis Kelce17.5TE1
Patrick Mahomes18.0QB4
Chris Godwin19.02 GP, (out with hamstring)
Lamar Jackson19.0QB8
Aaron Jones20.0RB2
Austin Ekeler21.04 GP, IR (will miss 4-6 wks)
Miles Sanders22.03 GP (missed Week 1)
Kenny Golladay24.52 GP (had hamstring)

So what does this all mean?

For comparison sake, the top 25 players drafted in 2019 fantasy drafts missed a combined 48 games due to injury. That's 12%. (Barkley 3 missed games, Kamara 2, Hopkins 1, David Johnson 3, Adams 4, LeVeon Bell 1, James Conner 6, Jones 1, Todd Gurley 1, JuJu Smith-Schuster 4, Hill 4, Cook 2,  Mahomes 2, Evans 3, Adam Thielen 6, Damien Williams 5).

So far in 2020, the top 25 picks have already combined to miss 17 games (easy math, 25 players, four games each, that's 17%). However, if you add in the 12 other games Barkley will miss with his torn ACL, the low end of the projected additional missed games for McCaffery (2), Chubb (4) and Ekeler (4), you are already at 39 games lost to injury. And that doesn't include the current injuries to Thomas, Drake, Adams and Jones, all of whom are likely to miss more games.

We wanted a little more context, so we went back one year to 2018 where Devonta Freeman and Leonard Fournette were among players who had season ending injuries. That year, top 25 picks by ADP missed a combined 58 games. The top players missed 14.5% of their games.

Here's an easy to interpret table:

Top 25 fantasy ADP injuries

Season% G's missedInjured players

*2017-2019 stats are through 16 games, 2020 through 4

So are we on pace to exceed all of these numbers in 2020? The simple sheer volume of injuries at every position, not just fantasy relevant ones suggests that the carnage could continue. It has never been more important for fantasy owners to be savvy in acquiring backups in a timely fashion. Nor has it been more elusive for them to squeak by without the injury bug decimating a roster.

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