And then there are the wounded warriors left by the side of the road many fantasy weeks in the past. Once shiny new draft picks offer hope and then, too soon, those hamstrings tear, shoulders pop, and knees do things that no knee should ever do. Maybe just running untouched at the time. They land on injured reserve and are quickly forgotten because you ain’t collecting football cards, you need a team of contributors.
So here we are on the brink of fantasy championships for one person in every league. But next year should already be in your head. The changes from one year to the year are extensive and dramatic, even if we draft like the previous season is going to repeat.
Like every year, there were plenty of fantasy starters left behind during the season. And you cannot assume they repeat the past year (at least hope they don’t). Here are my top six injured players and what to think about them entering next season. I do not include Dameon Pierce or Cooper Kupp who will continue to be taken highly in drafts.
- RB Javonte Williams (DEN) 2022 ADP = No. 11 RB, Pick 3.05
He was the No. 17 running back when he was injured in Week 4, and oddly was No. 17 overall as a rookie in 2021. He still has two years on his rookie contract but will return to an entirely different backfield. He started the year with a near-even split with Melvin Gordon who has since left. Latavius Murray ended up as the primary back but the 32-year-old back was just signed to a one-year deal and is almost certainly gone. Denver will be looking for a new coach and the team will be in transition again. Williams’ role is safe, and his ACL injury will be almost one year past when the season rolls around. Most telling will be who the new No. 2 running back is and if the new coaches will use him heavily or just build a committee.
- TE Kyle Pitts (ATL) 2022 ADP = No. 3 TE, Pick 2.12
He won’t go nearly as high next summer but where he ends up in fantasy drafts will depend on how the offense looks to start the summer. The second year of Arthur Smith coupled with Marcus Mariota inexplicably under-used the elite talent. He tore his MCL in Week 11 and underwent surgery to repair it. The Falcons moved on to Desmond Ridder well after Pitts left, so there’s no playing time in common to judge. Assuming that Arthur Smith survives his worst season, there still will be questions as to how they intend to use him. His health will be the primary concern, but the offense needs to change.
- RB Breece Hall (NYJ) 2022 ADP = No. 21, Pick 4.05
He was the No. 6 RB when injured in week 6 and was a revelation in their backfield. He had already recorded a 100-yard performance as a rusher and a receiver. He had just broken off a 62-yard run when he was lost for the season. The Jets defense has been great this year and their quarterback situation was livable as long as Hall was tearing up opponents. His progress from the ACL tear will be tracked, and if it is positive and the quarterback woes are resolved, Hall will return as a coveted fantasy draft pick next summer – with the small added risk returning from the injury.
- WR Darnell Mooney (CHI) 2022 ADP = No. 22, Pick 5.10
He was blocking during Week 11 when he was rolled up on and injured his ankle which needed surgery. Mooney had just started connecting with Justin Fields at the time with two scores over the final three weeks. He’s in the final year of his rookie contract so there’s everything to win by performing well in 2023. The limiting factor will continue to be Justin Fields as a passer. Mooney will likely be downgraded next summer knowing what impact Fields had on the passing stats but he needs that new contract and will again be their No. 1 wideout.
- WR Michael Thomas (NO) 2022 ADP = No. 28, Pick 5.06
There’s no way around this problem. Thomas was the No. 1 wide receiver in 2019 and then has been a dud for two years while fighting ankle and toe injuries. Thomas is only 28 years old and signed through 2024. He is due $16M next year and $20M the following season. If the Saints wait until after June 1 cuts, they could trade him with about $12M in dead money but finding a trade partner for a constantly injured receiver is a tall order. Possible is a restructuring of his contract. He should show up healthy for next year, but what does that mean for him anymore? He was already downgraded to a WR3 in drafts last year. 2019 seems like a long time ago.
- WR Allen Robinson (LA) 2022 ADP = No. 24, Pick 5.01
The ex-Bear turned in a disappointing first year with the Rams and then suffered a stress fracture in Week 11, leading to injured reserve. Robinson signed through 2024 but there is an out after 2023. He will return next year with a cap hit of $18M so there is no chance he isn’t back to lining up across from Cooper Kupp. He is only 29 years old and was a lock for 1,000 years until 2021 when the Bears offense imploded. While he did not meet expectations this season, almost none of the Rams did other than Cooper Kupp in a post-Super Bowl struggle of historic proportions. He won’t go nearly as highly next summer as he did in 2022. But it is not completely fair to measure him based solely on 2022.