Plenty of things can derail a star player’s (and by osmosis a fantasy owner’s) season. Injuries are typically the main culprit. Just ask owners who missed Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler for five games, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers for seven, Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin for 10, and Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones for 11 last season. Cutler’s received a lot of flak throughout his career (some of it justifiable but most not) and he was on pace for a career year before his shoulder injury last season. Rodgers, Martin and Jones too were high fantasy draft picks last year, and that’s likely to repeat in 2014, with all three expected to go by the end of the second or start of the third round.
That being said, no one could have predicted any of those injuries and the subsequent void of production on their fantasy rosters. And unless you were able to add Martin’s back-ups Bobby Rainey or Mike James, or even Atlanta’s Harry Douglas, chances were you couldn’t make up the points and plummeted down your league’s standings. The only real way to avoid such a fantasy disaster is by finding some of more heralded, and durable, players in the NFL.
Some of the five guys below are some high-end superstars, and most should be steady producers throughout the 2014 NFL season, and hopefully won’t show up on their team’s injury list or, more importantly, your roster’s IR spots.
Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
Of a possible 96 games, Ryan’s played in 94. He last missed a game in 2009, and he’s thrown for 4,000 yards and 26-plus touchdowns for three straight seasons. Ryan’s also completed more than 61 percent of his passes in five of his six NFL seasons. And it’s not like Ryan’s durability hasn’t been tested. In 2013 he was sacked 44 times, tied for the third highest mark in the league. The Falcons quickly addressed the issue, and took rookie offensive tackle Jake Matthews in the first round of the draft, only further strengthening Ryan’s case for another terrific year. Draft wise Ryan could be available as low as the fourth or fifth round this year, a huge steal for any owner.
Chris Johnson, RB, New York Jets
In the last five years, the Jets new speedster missed one start, and he’s missed only one game throughout his career. Say what you will about the slide in his production, but in PPR and most standard leagues Johnson is good for at least 12 or 14 points per fantasy week. Despite posting the NFL’s No. 31 passing offense, the Jets were ranked sixth in rushing with second-tier running backs Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell both having solid seasons. Johnson is also two years away from 30, the age when most running backs breakdown and teams sour on their abilities, so in a dynasty league he could be an excellent selection in the fifth to sixth round.
Albert Morris, RB, Washington Redskins
With RG3 in top form, Morris busted out his rookie year with 1,613 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Then in 2013 Griffin struggled while recovering from his knee injury, and Morris’s production dropped by nearly 400 yards and six touchdowns. Now Griffin has fully recovered, and new head coach Jay Gruden should find new ways to utilize Morris. Gruden helped develop Giovani Bernard in his awesome rookie year with Cincinnati last year, and only he and New England’s Bill Belichick have gotten a 1,000-yard season out of BenJarvus Green-Ellis. And so far Morris hasn’t missed a start in two years. He’s being projected as a first or second round pick, and that seems about right. Still he could exceed expectations this year and jump ahead of the likes of Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy by the end of the season.
Vincent Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In 2010 Jackson missed 11 games, and that was due to a contract dispute with his former team, San Diego. But every year before and after, the 31-year-old has been one of the most reliable receivers in the game. He doesn’t rack up the receptions, but last year he made a career-high 78 catches and recorded the fifth 1,000-yard season of his career with a rookie quarterback in Mike Glennon. Jackson’s also averaged nearly six touchdowns a season, and he’ll probably be available in the fourth to sixth round.
Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina Panthers
As Cam Newton’s developed, Olsen has become his top target. Over the last three years he’s gone from No. 3 to No. 2 to No. 1 on the Panthers in receiving yards, and with veteran Steve Smith now gone, Olsen’s targets should increase even more. Going further he hasn’t missed a start since 2011, and a single game since his rookie year in 2007.