Injuries are an annual cause of torment for fantasy owners, but in the offseason, they're one of the best ways to find value in drafts.
Some owners are hesitant to invest an early pick in a player they last saw being carted off the field, creating an opportunity for those who can accurately predict the recovery times and performances of those potential fantasy stars.
Let's take a look at the top players who are on the mend and break down how to approach them heading into the season.
We start off with some good news, as Newton was cleared to resume throwing in OTAs, something that wasn't guaranteed following his shoulder surgery in January. Newton's recovery is coming along so well that the coaching staff has been able to work on his mechanics, a process that started last year but was halted by his injury. Barring a setback, Newton should be a full participant when training camp opens in July.
Fantasy prognosis: With Newton's rehab progressing better than expected, fantasy owners can breathe a sigh of relief while simultaneously taking advantage of a discounted draft-day price tag. Prior to having his season cut short in 2018, Newton had the third-most fantasy points among quarterbacks heading into Week 14, making him an absolute steal at his current ADP of QB12 in the ninth round. He was the first player mentioned on our list of risky picks to gamble on in 2019.
Wentz makes his second straight appearance in this article after a torn ACL and LCL brought an end to his 2017 campaign. This time around it was a back injury that sidelined the Eagles' franchise QB for the end of the regular season and playoffs. Wentz was a full go for OTAs, and Philly's front office showed its confidence in his health by signing him to a four-year, $128-million extension.
Fantasy prognosis: Back injuries can be problematic, but the 26-year-old shed some pounds in an effort to help avoid further issues. Wentz drew rave reviews from those in attendance at recent practices and he'll enter his fourth NFL season with the best supporting cast he's ever had. If you didn't read "7 players who will lead you to a fantasy title," let me spoil part of it for you - draft Wentz.
Garoppolo's season came to an abrupt end last year when he tore his ACL in Week 3. The 49ers limited his offseason work with their sights set on having him ready to suit up in training camp. Though he should be under center for the opener, we've seen quarterbacks with this injury take time to regain their form even after they've returned to the starting lineup.
Fantasy prognosis: If it weren't for the ACL tear, we might be talking about Garoppolo as a potential top-12 fantasy passer. That's the kind of upside he offers in Kyle Shanahan's offense. However, with the quarterback position as deep as it is, there's no reason to take a significant risk on an unproven player in his first year back from a serious injury. He's a low-end QB2 in my latest rankings and someone you should only consider as part of a late-round tandem.
Johnson's status for 2019 was never in doubt, even though he missed the final six games last year with a knee issue. The Lions often play coy when discussing injuries, but Johnson suggested he may have been available to play had Detroit made the postseason. With nothing holding him back, Johnson was moving well and looked sharp at minicamp.
Fantasy prognosis: As it stands, he's the unquestioned lead back in an offense preparing to be built around its ground attack. Ball carriers are among the league's most injured players, but Johnson will be as healthy as anyone as he tries to break out as a sophomore. He's a high-ceiling RB2 in new coordinator Darrell Bevell's offense.
Most running backs are in their prime at 27 years old, but the 5-foot-8, 206-pounder is showing signs of breaking down. His injury file has grown extensively the last two years, with MCL and PCL issues in the final month of 2017 and then foot, knee, and groin ailments that cost him 14 games this past season.
Fantasy prognosis: Head coach Dan Quinn said his star back is having an "awesome offseason" and was generally excited to welcome him back to the field for OTAs, but fantasy owners need to be concerned about Freeman's durability. In the third round, I'd rather focus my attention on Marlon Mack or Aaron Jones while keeping Ito Smith, Brian Hill, and Qadree Ollison on my radar as late-round picks or waiver wire targets.
Wrist injuries are worrisome for running backs - after all, we saw David Johnson miss almost an entire season with one. Lindsay suffered his in Week 16 and the team has been reserved about providing details on his recovery. Head coach Vic Fangio downplayed Lindsay being limited to individual drills during OTAs.
"It's a particular injury that they tell me it's going well, they just don't want it to get bumped on yet," Fangio said. "He could go out there and do everything, but they just want to use this time and the next five weeks to make sure he's ready to go."
Fantasy prognosis: It's hard for fantasy owners to feel good about Lindsay when they aren't seeing him stand out the way he did in last year's offseason activities. Coming off his stellar rookie season with 1,278 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns, Lindsay will face more competition for touches from Royce Freeman, whose skills are better suited to the Broncos' new system under Rich Scangarello. Don't avoid Lindsay entirely, but if he slips into the late fourth or early fifth round, he stills represents a value in PPR leagues.
The start of Guice's pro career has been a nightmare for the 21-year-old, who tore his ACL in the preseason and then needed three surgeries to deal with the ensuing infections. Everything seemed to be progressing well during the offseason until Adam Schefter reported in April that Guice's rehab was "coming along a little slower" than the team had hoped. Head coach Jay Gruden maintains that Guice will be ready for training camp, but the team's transactions indicate Washington may be hedging after re-signing Adrian Peterson and drafting Bryce Love in the fourth round.
Fantasy prognosis: If Love redshirts his first year, which is a possibility, Guice will still have to battle Peterson for early-down work and Chris Thompson for passing-down snaps. Even with that risk baked into his now-sixth round ADP, Guice is a player I'm shying away from. The Redskins' offense as a whole is worth steering clear of on draft day.
Green finally graduated to individual drills during minicamp, catching passes from Andy Dalton on the field for the first time since his December toe surgery. It's an encouraging development for a player who missed seven games, including the bulk of the second half of the season with toe and foot issues. The problem for Green will be how much those ailments linger and hamper him at a position that relies on pushing off the toes to change direction on every play.
Fantasy prognosis: Green is an elite talent and will remain the focal point of the Bengals' passing attack as he enters his age-31 campaign. This injury can't be understated, though, and could cost him future games. Knowing that, I'm still willing to bet on Green in the third round.
Kupp missed time after injuring his knee in Week 6 before eventually tearing his ACL a month later in mid-November. The coaching staff says the goal is to have Kupp on the field for the opener, but on a team with aspirations of returning to the Super Bowl, there's no reason to rush him back.
Fantasy prognosis: Playing most of his snaps out of the slots, Kupp's game is built around agility, short-range speed, and the ability to create separation. A slow start to the 2019 season might be in the cards, making Kupp more of an October trade target than someone you should be reaching for in drafts.
The speedy Fuller has missed 15 outings over the last two years, stunting his otherworldly production with Deshaun Watson. The midseason ACL tear puts his Week 1 availability in doubt and dramatically increases the odds of soft tissue injuries - something that's plagued him in the past.
Fantasy prognosis: Fuller's numbers with Watson are enticing, but it might be best to look elsewhere and avoid the injury report headache that this situation could become. Keke Coutee, who missed 10 games due to hamstring problems as a rookie, would be the beneficiary if Fuller's return was delayed, and he can be drafted three rounds later.
With the Lions not in playoff contention, the decision was made to shut Jones down for the year due to his knee injury. While that may have hurt some fantasy owners last season, it allowed the 29-year-old to get a head start on his rehab. The team cautiously kept him limited in OTAs, with the expectation that Jones will be fully healthy when next month's training camp kicks off.
Fantasy prognosis: Before being placed on injured reserve following Week 10, Jones was a top-27 fantasy receiver, with 50 yards and/or a touchdown in eight of his nine games. He has excellent route-running ability and outstanding ball skills, especially around the end zone, which had him on pace for his second straight nine-score season prior to the injury. His biggest impediment to productive fantasy stats will be the Lions' run-heavy approach, but his touchdown upside can offset that.
A 32-year-old receiver who suffers a torn Achilles late in the year carries a massive red flag in the fantasy community. Sanders faces an uphill climb just to stay off the early-season PUP list, which would sideline him for the first six games. Head coach Vic Fangio is shockingly optimistic his veteran wideout will return sooner than people think and Sanders is doing everything he can to prove he's on track.
Fantasy prognosis: The positivity surrounding Sanders' recovery is great to see, and yet it doesn't move the needle for me one bit. If he makes it into the lineup early in the year, Sanders will struggle to recapture his form and will carry a high risk of re-injury. Even in the 11th round, I'd rather go younger and healthier with Dede Westbrook or Curtis Samuel.
Don't be foolish and overlook Howard's 2018 production just because he missed the final six games with foot and ankle issues. Howard was the TE6 through 10 games and was on pace for a 904-yard, eight-touchdown campaign.
Fantasy prognosis: This one is simple. Howard has recovered and should be the first name on your list of tight ends to target after the big three of Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Zach Ertz. The only thing that can stop a breakout season here is another injury.
Walker's 13th NFL season was unfortunately over in Week 1 due to a broken ankle that can only be described as gruesome. Seriously, don't go look up the video. The 34-year-old has been cleared for seven-on-seven drills and claims he's 85 percent healthy, but didn't participate in OTAs. As a well-respected veteran starter, Walker will be given all the time he needs to get right.
Fantasy prognosis: Walker's age and the quality of competition behind him - Jonnu Smith and Anthony Firkser - lead you to believe his days as a high-end fantasy option are nearing an end. However, if he's healthy, I'm more than willing to spend a late-round pick in re-draft leagues on a tight end who had four consecutive 800-yard seasons prior to last year.
Like Walker, Olsen is a 34-year-old tight end fighting to overcome injuries and extend his career. It's slightly more surprising with the longtime Panther, given the mutual interest between him and the networks that are hoping to sign him as a color commentator once his playing days are done. For now, Olsen seems dedicated to rehabbing the foot issues that have limited him to just 16-of-32 games the last two years.
Fantasy prognosis: Foot problems are often the beginning of the end for aging skill-position players, so whether Olsen is ready or not, there's a chance we see him in a broadcast booth before the season's over. While Walker is worth an investment in the double-digit rounds, Olsen's foot injuries push him much further down my rankings to the low-end TE2 range where I'd go with younger upside talent like Mark Andrews or T.J. Hockenson.