Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
This will be the first edition of a new series of articles going into deep statistical analysis of relevant and/or interesting players in the world of dynasty football. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of dynasty football, it’s simply a fantasy football league that carries over from year-to-year; each team keeps their players, and rookies are introduced through a rookie draft, similar to that of the NFL. If you’d like a more in-depth explanation or want more information on how to strategize for a league, I’d highly recommend watching Fantasy Couch’s informational video, linked here.
Javonte Williams is a very interesting player in the current dynasty landscape. Going into his second season with the Denver Broncos, the UNC running back was poised for a breakout season. He showed many flashes of unlimited potential in his rookie season, having a high chance of breaking a tackle or a defender’s ankles on any given play. Unfortunately, Williams’ 2022 campaign was quickly cut short when he tore his ACL and LCL in week four against the Raiders. This injury took a major bite into his value, bumping him down from the RB3 to the RB14, per KeepTradeCut’s value system.
Graphs courtesy of KeepTradeCut
The image above demonstrates this massive drop-off in value. His value has since evened out, returning to RB7 at the time of this article’s publishing. The injury left many dynasty players, including myself, in a very tough position. This article will aim to find the best course of action for Javonte’s shareholders.
ACL-Tear Running Backs
To best assess Williams’ future, we’ll first take a look at how other young running backs perform in the years following an ACL tear. In searching for data on the topic, I stumbled upon a brilliant article by Matthew Betz (@TheFantasyPT), an injury analyst and writer for one of my favorite podcasts, The Fantasy Footballers. Betz uses data to compare the production of players that have torn their ACL before and after being injured. For our purposes, I’ve only included the stats of the four running backs under the age of 25 from his study.
The graph illustrates the change in yards per carry (YPC) from before and after injury. Noticeably, all four running backs see a drop in production in the season following their ACL tear. Jay Ajayi, the oldest of the four running backs at the time of his injury (25) retired after his first year back. His final season YPC average of three was only captured on 10 carries in three games. This decision to retire may have been made in part due to Ajayi’s vast collection of injuries during the course of his career. Many of the older running backs in Betz’s article also retired in the seasons following their major injuries. Saquon Barkley and Rashaad Penny, both 23 at the time of their injuries, were able to bounce back in each of their second years after returning. Dalvin Cook (22 at the time of his injury), perhaps an outlier, was still able to maintain a relatively solid YPC in both years after tearing his ACL.
How does this Transfer to Fantasy Production?
The chart below shows the fantasy points per game (FPPG) of the same four players (excluding Ajayi) before and after their injuries (measured in PPR scoring).
Somewhat correlating with the first graph, the backs skyrocket in fantasy production in their second season after injury. All three of these backs didn’t play the full season in their first year back from injury, struggling with lingering effects and lacking production as a result. However, as can be seen in the graph and concluded in Betz’s article, young running backs coming off ACL tears seem to improve drastically in the second year removed from injury. In the case of Cook and Penny, they even exceed their fantasy standing from before injury.
Players get Healthier as Time goes on
Not only are these running backs becoming more efficient in their second season back from injury, but they’re also getting healthier. All three backs played in at least three more games in the second season after injury in comparison to the first.
Buy or Sell?
First off, there is no guarantee Williams will follow the same pattern visualized with Cook, Barkley, and Penny. In the past, even young running backs have retired after serious injuries. On the other side of the spectrum, players like Adrian Peterson (winning MVP the season following his ACL tear) have demonstrated that a return to excellence can happen instantly.
The answer to this question is different on an owner-to-owner basis. For rebuilding teams, I would hold onto Williams at the moment. His value will most likely stay where it is over the course of the next year, barring another serious injury or instant production. For teams looking to make a playoff push next season, I would try to deal away Williams before the season starts. We’ll most likely hear reports from beat reporters about how Javonte Williams is making ‘significant progress’ and has ‘a real chance at being ready week one.’ This hype may be enough to spark his value leading into the season. This is the perfect time to strike and get rid of him before his value has any chance to fall further. As a rebuilding team, the ideal time to trade for Williams would have been soon after his injury this past season. I don’t think it is a very good idea to do so now, as his value is already beginning to rise heading into the upcoming season. It will be interesting to see how Williams, along with other young, injured running backs like Breece Hall, may follow similar trends in the following seasons.
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