NFL Training Camps – The “Love/Hate” Relationship
By Leo Paciga – @FFHoudini
Ah, the start of training camps across the NFL, such a wonderful time filled with excitement and anticipation for the upcoming fantasy football season. For dynasty owners everywhere the start of training camp is like Christmas morning, but it’s a fleeting feeling, lasting only long enough for the reality of the first training camp injury to set in. You see my friends, there really isn’t a more dysfunctional relationship than the love/hate affair that exists every summer between dynasty owners and the beginning of NFL training camps. All during the off season, dynasty owners spend exorbitant amounts of time tweaking their rosters, strategizing for the future, trading for upside, acquiring depth and all of those off season labors culminate with the start of training camp. All it takes, however, is one injury to a key member of your squad during 7 on 7′s and your palms start to sweat, your heart immediately switches places with your Adam’s apple and you race to the computer in a frantic attempt to log onto WebMD. And truthfully, it’s not just injuries that can bring a grown man to his knees during training camp. It can also be caused by poor performances early in camp by the players you knew would break out this year; the players who had so much undeniable upside that training camp would surely be their time to shine and make you look like a dynasty genius. Even players involved in contract holdouts, or exhibiting poor attitudes can cause indigestion in the heartiest of dynasty owners. This past weekend a devastating reminder was sent out by the fantasy football gods – a proverbial shot across the bow, if you will – to remind all ecstatic dynasty owners out there that this is a very fragile relationship indeed. Let’s take a closer look at the training camp injuries that sent shock waves through the fantasy football landscape this past weekend.
Dennis Pitta, TE – Baltimore Ravens
Let’s face it, shrewd dynasty owners have been loading up on Dennis Pitta at every available opportunity during this off season. With the loss of Anquan Boldin (traded to the 49ers) and no truly tested WR depth after Torrey Smith, Pitta was heading into a perfect situation filled with targets galore. Well unfortunately this story doesn’t involve a happy 2013 for Dennis Pitta or his dynasty owners. According to The Baltimore Sun, Dennis Pitta’s hip was both fractured and dislocated on the third day of Ravens camp after colliding with a defensive back in the end zone. It’s a severe injury that will not only cost Pitta all of 2013, but could also impact his free-agent value in 2014.
So what will the Ravens do? The Ravens will immediately turn to tight end Ed Dickson, Pitta’s primary back up and a player who hauled in 54 passes in 2011 for 528 yards and 5 TDs. The Ravens also went out and signed 33 year old TE Visanthe Shiancoe to a one year deal. After watching Shiancoe’s 4 games – and zero receptions – in New England last season, it’s pretty easy to see he doesn’t have the skills he once had when he hauled in 56 passes and scored 11 TDs back in 2009. Shiancoe will serve as tight end depth and as a blocker while Dickson assumes Dennis Pitta’s role in the offense. Understand, however, that while Dickson may see his share of targets, he is simply not as talented or sure handed as Dennis Pitta. The true beneficiary of this terrible injury may be undrafted FA rookie Matt Furstenburg, a 6’3″, 244 lb. tight end from the University of Maryland who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.62 seconds at the NFL scouting combine in April. Baltimore Sun beat writer Aaron Wilson reported that, “through a few training camp practices, the former University of Maryland starter has made a sound impression by flashing across the middle to make himself a target and caught the football cleanly”.
As for the dynasty fall out, Dennis Pitta is a “hold” for the 2014 season and hopefully he can make a full recovery in time to be a factor a year from now. Ed Dickson sees a bump in value, but with a limited ceiling, he’s not a player I’m rushing to add through waivers and TE Visanthe Shiancoe is simply an afterthought and should be ignored in all formats. As I mentioned above, the one player dynasty owners should monitor closely this training camp is tight end Matt Furstenburg; he could be a diamond in the rough with plenty of opportunity if given the chance. The Baltimore Sun also speculated that 4th round FB Kyle Juszczyk could possibly spend some time at TE should the Ravens re-sign free agent FB Vonta Leach. Although he is somewhat undersized for an NFL tight end, the 6’1″, 248 lb. Juszczyk has some TE experience having played that position while at Harvard. Running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce will be counted on even more heavily in the passing game and quarterback Joe Flacco will have many a sleepless night without his security blanket at tight end.
Jeremy Maclin, WR – Philadelphia Eagles
Over the weekend Jeremy Maclin suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. It’s a very disheartening injury for a player who has disappointed dynasty owners during each of his first 4 NFL seasons. Jeremy Maclin is one of those “cusp” players, a player with obvious natural ability who is always on the cusp of a major spike in production and value. In fact, Jeremy Maclin reminds me of this decade’s version of Lee Evans, another WR who had a seemingly endless supply of skills, but could never quite apply those talents between the hash marks on a consistent basis. Heading into 2013 (a contract year), Maclin was once again on the verge of a breakout year under the direction of new HC Chip Kelly, but after suffering the torn ACL Jeremy Maclin now finds his future with the Eagles in question. Where Maclin calls home next year is anybody’s guess at this point, but with his injury happening so early in the 2013 season, it should be all systems go for Maclin come 2014.
What will the Eagles do? The Eagles have some wide receivers on the roster that have seen limited success at the NFL level. Players like Riley Cooper and Jason Avant are likely to get first crack at replacing Maclin and speedy youngsters Damaris Johnson and Russell Shepard should see more opportunities in the passing game as well. At 6’2″, 220 lbs., Arrelious Benn could be the guy to make a difference, but the 4th year wide receiver has been a walking infirmary despite showing glimpses of talent in those rare occasions when he’s been 100% healthy. The FA market is also a possibility for the Eagles although the pickings are pretty slim with Brandon Lloyd, Austin Collie and Laurent Robinson being the only WRs worth taking a look at.
As for the dynasty fallout, just like Dennis Pitta, Jeremy Maclin is a “hold”. Again, the injury happened early enough in the season that Maclin should be full go by 2014 and if the Eagles decide to let him walk, Maclin could be a great buy low for a receiver needy team like New England or Baltimore next summer. The other wide receivers on the Eagles’ roster offer little in terms of fantasy production and I doubt DeSean Jackson will be able to carry the load by himself. LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown should be in line for a ton of action in 2013, although they’ll be trying to avoid stacked defensive fronts at every turn.
How to Handle a Season Ending Injury
So how can you avoid this love/hate relationship that exists between dynasty owners and the start of training camp? Sadly, you can’t avoid it completely, but you can prepare for it so that a key injury is less crippling to your dynasty success. Using the waiver wire and building roster depth are just two aspects of dynasty fantasy football that can help lessen the blow of a significant injury. My fantasy football brother Jeff Melbostad (Co-Owner, Senior Writer here at DFW) wrote a timeless article on maintaining dynasty roster depth and you can find it here – The Importance of Depth. With the events that transpired this weekend and with a full course of training camp still ahead of us; this is a great time to review how to survive, replace or buy an injured player. Here are some pointers from an article I wrote after the Micheal Crabtree injury during OTAs earlier this year that are still applicable today and/or whenever a season ending injury strikes during training camp.
The first step in handling such a significant blow to your dynasty squad is to evaluate your current roster. You simply cannot move forward without assessing the overall damage to your squad after losing a key contributor to a season long injury.
In evaluating your roster, ask these types of questions:
- How does losing this player impact my chances on winning a title? On being competitive?
- Does losing this player shift my focus to building for the future?
- How deep is my roster at that position? Do I have a player on my bench that is capable of filling that role?
- Do I need to trade for a starting player at that position?
- Can I afford to roster my injured player for an extended period of time with little or no production?
- If I can plug in a player already on my roster, do I need to then acquire additional depth at that position?
- To achieve my goal for this season, do need to acquire a high ceiling player or a high floor player?
- Do I have to include the injured player in a deal or do I have enough pieces to put something together without him?
- Can I digest selling a key member of my squad at a discounted rate due to injury?
- How many owners in my league are rebuilding their teams with an eye on the future?
- Is there an owner in this league who has expressed an interest in this player before the injury?
Once these questions have been answered, it’s time to move on to an action plan to either replace the injured starter or begin building for the future. Ultimately, losing a key member of your dynasty squad to a season long injury will force you to decide one of three things – trade the injured star for a replacement, package multiple pieces together for a replacement or start building for another day. If you decide to trade your injured star for a replacement, you’ll have to get comfortable with the idea of moving a star player at a discounted value. No other owner will pay full price for a player they’ll have to shelve for an entire season regardless of how good that player may be when healthy.
Trading for a Replacement
If the decision is made to actively peruse trading for a replacement player, the next step is to identify potential targets. In a perfect fantasy football world, I would tell you to only look for low risk players on prolific offenses with high caliber quarterbacks and innovative coaches. Unfortunately, dynasty owners don’t live in a fantasy football utopia year round. In fact, skilled dynasty owners learn to thrive in difficult situations – managing injuries, overcoming roster challenges and turning inevitable disasters into golden opportunities. Sometimes that means taking risks on players or stepping outside of the deafening “group think” mentality. In this case, however, replacing an injured starter is all about targeting players in the dynasty “sweet spot”. The dynasty “sweet spot” refers to players just old enough to slip right by the “youth” hungry wolves in your league – veteran players that are under appreciated, undervalued, but still have the potential to be very productive in a two year window. In order to narrow down your target search, I suggest making a list of possible replacement players and the reasons why they’re on your radar.
Once a target list is finished, it’s time to move on to the deal making aspect of the process. It may seem like an unnecessary step for some dynasty owners, but I think it’s crucial to take the time to study the entire rosters of the players I’m targeting. The key, especially when looking to replace an injured player, is to craft a deal that benefits both sides and studying the rosters of the other owners in your league will help you pinpoint their areas of need. The other owners in your league also know that you’ve just lost a major asset and that can make negotiations even more difficult from a value perspective. Going into negotiations with a well crafted deal in hand will set a positive tone right from the start.
In the end, it’s all about plugging production back into your line up. The void left by a season ending injury can be substantial and as a competitive dynasty owner, you’ll have to address it one way or another. Whether you trade away an injured star or you decide to package some lesser players together in a deal; you’re goal is still to minimize the impact on your team’s weekly production. You’ll also have to be prepared to revisit and monitor this situation through NFL training camps and the start of the season. Just because you complete a deal to replace an injured starter doesn’t mean you can put that roster spot on autopilot; it still may take a follow up deal to get your squad to “Title Town”.
Buying an Injured Player
Talk about coming at a situation from the other end of the spectrum. Buying or trading for an injured player is an interesting aspect to managing a dynasty football squad. Owners that practice risk aversion as a second religion will find this idea completely appalling, but I’m all for acquiring talent for pennies on the dollar – as long as due diligence is done. When you’re dealing with the type of risk associated with buying an injured player; you really have to do your homework and use every resource available even though transparency can often be limited. Modern medicine has come such a long way in the past decade that there are no longer any injuries that really scare me off except for head trauma and/or concussions.
Before acquiring an injured player, ask these types of questions:
- What was the severity of the injury?
- What is the normal recovery time for this type of injury?
- What does the rehab for this type of injury entail?
- Are there any potential complications with this type of injury?
- Are there other players who have returned from this injury without any loss of ability?
- Does the injured player have a history of injuries?
- Has the injured player shown to be a “slow” or “fast” healer?
- Has the injured player shown dedication and commitment when working back from previous injuries?
- How does this NFL team historically handle injured players and their rehab? Do they rush players back too soon?
- If healthy, how much does acquiring this player improve my roster?
Most likely trading for an injured player will ultimately depend on the discount the buying owner is able to receive, but I know if my roster is deep enough to trade for (and stash) an injured player, or if I’m rebuilding – then I’m usually interested. It’s also much easier to negotiate a trade for an injured player because you can start off pretty low in value and work your way up until the asking price surpasses your comfort zone. There are no guarantees when it comes to buying an injured player, but that’s the trade off for getting a “buyers discount”.
Waiver Wire Magic
The waiver wire can be your best friend after losing a player to a major injury since players with upside and opportunity can appear almost out of thin air during training camp. As long as dynasty owners stay alert and plugged in to all the camp happenings around the league they’ll have a chance to strike and add production back to their respective dynasty squads. Staying active, alert and informed throughout the season will allow you to work some waiver wire magic and build roster depth and upside, usually at a reasonable price.
Well, hopefully this article provided some insight into navigating the rough waters usually associated with surviving, replacing or buying an injured player. In a dynasty league, injured players can often be “trade catalysts” – a player whose value or prognosis has changed enough to drive trade discussions and negotiations……and the great thing about dynasty fantasy football is that owners are dealing with a longer time frame – a bigger window – to take advantage of these types of situations. So while you may or may not agree with my analysis, hopefully you’ve at least enjoyed the article. I encourage everyone out there to take the time to research players, watch some film and continue to actively improve your dynasty rosters. The tools and opinions provided here at DFW can certainly help take your teams to the next level. Feel free to contact me on Twitter @FFhoudini with any questions or comments.
Read more DFW articles by: Leo Paciga