The 2011 NFL regular season is fast approaching, which means fantasy drafts are quickly getting underway. Whether you're drafting for a single season or looking at possible keeper picks, the biggest issue heading into the draft is injury news. The brutal nature of football means injuries impact fantasy football as much as any other fantasy sport.
More than anything else, preseason injuries can shake up draft strategy right up until the last minute. Although teams will never play their starters more than into the third quarter during the preseason, a single freak play can change fantasy fortunes for better or worse. A blown ACL, a broken leg, or even a pulled hamstring. You could argue the first injury is the easiest to deal with on a fantasy level because you know the player is done for the year. On the other hand, a pulled hamstring can both a player all season long and turn Randy Moss into Sinorice Moss.
Sometimes even worse than a preseason injury is an offseason injury. When trying to prepare for a draft, the CIA-level secrecy in front office's leave us finding out only recently that the start of Peyton Manning's season is threatened by a neck injury. No way you're drafting Kerry Collins, but how are you supposed to factor in Manning's neck injury when settling on a quarterback? Is Manning entirely off the board?
We'll be here for the next two weeks providing injury updates as they relate to fantasy drafting. Injuries continue into the season and there will be plenty of time to update then, but in the world of fantasy football the draft can make or break most seasons. You might get lucky with a couple waiver wire pickups in week five or six, but if you have not built a solid base in August, adding Peyton Hillis last year might not have mattered.
Given the importance of injuries, for fantasy purposes this will go beyond your skill position players. For example, the Cleveland Browns have lost left guard Eric Steinbach indefinitely with a disc problem in his back. At first glance, most fantasy football participants will ignore this injury. And yet, if you want to get down into the nitty-gritty of player performance, losing a starting offensive lineman can impact fantasy football in multiple ways.
The Browns are likely going to now be counting on a rookie left guard. While Jason Pinkston might pan out, it could be a tough transition. If that's the case, that left side of the Browns offensive line could suffer early on, impacting Peyton Hillis' rushing and Colt McCoy in the passing game. I'm not saying you have to assume the worst with the loss of Steinbach, but to ignore it completely would be a bit fool-hardy. If you've got a chance for some serious winnings in your league, these little bits of news might be the difference between first place and being out of the money.