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Jamaal Charles tries to return from his second torn ACL.
"Good chance you see me in sweats again in 2016."
(Zuma Press / Icon Sportswire)

Running Back Two Year
Major Injury Rule

Fantasy football draft strategy

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Updated: August 21, 2016
Original Release: August 17, 2004


Our "RB Two Year Major Injury Rule" can work for you and against you. In the world of fantasy football, it is all about risk mitigation and making a lot of subtle moves that increase the overall odds of a successful outcome for your team, and it starts with your fantasy football draft. One such move is knowledge regarding major injuries, particularly when it comes to the position of RB. In the case of Todd Gurley, our rule works for him, as he is two full years removed from a major injury (torn ACL). Gurley put up pretty good numbers last year, but he could put up ridiculous numbers this year now that he is fully recovered. On the other end of the spectrum is Le'Veon Bell (torn PCL and MCL). In this case, our injury rule works against him in 2016. Le'Veon Bell is getting all the press and hype entering the 2016 fantasy football draft season, and most Average Draft Position (ADP) rankings had him as the #1 RB in all the land and going as the first pick or two fantasy football drafts (prior to the news regarding facing a 4 game suspension - but even then - his ADP remains very high). But as Lee Corso on ESPN says, "Not so fast!". Bell is also returning from a torn PCL and MCL he suffered in week 8 last year. It hasn't even been a year yet, and he is in no position to take first team reps in training camp as he recovers from surgery. Yet folks are running, not walking, to their draft queue to put Bell at or near the top. That's a mistake. There is a time and a place for Bell in your fantasy football draft, but not that early. And this article explains exactly why. We also place red flags on RB Jamaal Charles (torn ACL), RB Dion Lewis (torn ACL; 8/21/16 UPDATE: Lewis will need another surgery on his knee and is expected to be out 8 - 10 weeks), and RB Arian Foster (torn Achilles) this year as well, but more on that later. In the meantime, let's introduce you to a FootballDocs timeless classic, "The RB Two Year Major Injury Rule":

When it comes to most fantasy football drafts, there is hardly a position in fantasy football that is more coveted than the position of running back. With only 32 NFL teams and typically two running backs required for the start in most fantasy football leagues, it doesn't take long to see that quality running backs are hot commodities on fantasy draft day. Throw in the fact that several NFL teams support Running Back By Committee (RBBC) offenses (offenses that fail to feature a workhorse running back and consequently distribute the carries and the opportunity to score fantasy points to several different running backs), and quality running backs can go faster than free BBQ at a NFL pre-game tailgate. The importance of running backs in your draft plans is reflected in our free Fantasy Running Back Rankings.

What constitutes a workhorse running back?
By "workhorse", we mean a back that is likely to get at least somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 touches in a game (either directly from a hand-off or from a pass reception out of the backfield). Typically these are your household name backs; however, they could also be "up and comers" that people feel are going to get those kind of touches in the upcoming season but have yet to do so in the past. Regardless, the idea here is to select a running back that is slated to be the featured back in a NFL offense, but be sure to exercise extreme caution when selecting such a back. It is imperative to consider the leg injury history of a running back with respect to time, otherwise you may effectively pay the price for a Mercedes only to receive a Corolla.

Major injury history with respect to time?
You bet. It is not enough for a running back to be declared the feature back in an NFL offense. The back should also be two years removed from the season when the major leg injury occurred before paying the high price of an early round pick in your fantasy football draft. To help illustrate this point, let's examine the numbers for running backs the year before the season they suffered a major leg injury and then the numbers the year after returning from a major injury:

The Numbers:

First season returning from major injury resulting in a significant decline in production denoted in red text.

NFL Running Back
Player Injury YR Before Inj. YR After Inj. Team Pos Rush Yards Rec. Yards Total TD
  Curt Warner
ACL 1983 --
SEA
RB
1449
325
14
 
ACL -- 1985
SEA
RB
1094
307
9
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Terry Allen
ACL 1992 --
MIN
RB
1201
478
15
 
ACL -- 1994
MIN
RB
1031
148
8
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Ki-Jana Carter*
ACL 1994 --
PSU
RB
1539*
123*
23*
 
ACL -- 1996
CIN
RB
264**
169**
9**
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Jamal Anderson
ACL 1998 --
ATL
RB
1846
319
16
 
ACL -- 2000
ATL
RB
1024
382
6
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Terrell Davis
ACL 1998 --
DEN
RB
2008
217
23
 
ACL -- 2000
DEN
RB
282
4
2
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Robert Edwards
Knee Disl. 1998 --
NWE
RB
1115
331
12
 
Knee Disl. -- 2002
MIA
RB
107
126
2
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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  Garrison Hearst
Leg 1998 --
SFO
RB
1570
535
9
 
Leg -- 2001
SFO
RB
1206
347
5
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Olandis Gary
ACL 1999 --
DEN
RB
1159
159
7
 
ACL -- 2001
DEN
RB
228
29
1
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Edgerrin James
ACL 2000 --
IND
RB
1709
594
18
 
ACL -- 2002
IND
RB
989
354
3
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Jamal Lewis
ACL 2000 --
BAL
RB
1364
296
6
 
ACL -- 2002
BAL
RB
1327
442
7
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Dominic Rhodes
ACL 2001 --
IND
RB
1104
224
9
 
ACL -- 2003
IND
RB
157
62
1
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Deuce McAllister
ACL 2004 --
NOR
RB
1074
228
10
 
ACL -- 2006
NOR
RB
1057
198
10
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  LaMont Jordan
MCL 2005 --
OAK
RB
1025
563
11
 
MCL -- 2007
OAK
RB
549
247
3
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Ronnie Brown
ACL 2006 --
MIA
RB
1008
276
5
 
ACL -- 2008
MIA
RB
946
254
10
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Deuce McAllister
ACL 2006 --
NOR
RB
1057
198
10
 
ACL -- 2008
NOR
RB
418
128
6
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Cadillac Williams
P. Tendon 2006 --
TAM
RB
798
196
1
 
P. Tendon -- 2008
TAM
RB
233
43
4
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Kevin Smith
ACL 2008 --
DET
RB
976
286
8
 
ACL -- 2010
DET
RB
133
123
0
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Jamaal Charles
ACL 2010 --
KC
RB
1467
468
8
 
ACL -- 2012
KC
RB
1509
236
6
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Tim Hightower
ACL 2010 --
WAS
RB
736
136
5
 
ACL -- 2012
WAS
RB
0
0
0
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Rashard Mendenhall
ACL 2010 --
PIT
RB
1273
167
13
 
ACL -- 2012
PIT
RB
182
62
1
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Knowshon Moreno
ACL 2010 --
DEN
RB
779
372
8
 
ACL -- 2012
DEN
RB
525
167
4
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Adrian Peterson
ACL 2010 --
MIN
RB
1298
341
13
 
ACL -- 2012
MIN
RB
2097
217
13
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Rashard Mendenhall
ACL 2010 --
PIT
RB
1273
167
13
 
ACL -- 2012
PIT
RB
51
62
1
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Todd Gurley^
ACL 2013 --
UGA
RB
989^
441^
16^
 
ACL -- 2015
STL
RB
1106^^
188^^
10^^
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Stevan Ridley
ACL 2013 --
NWE
RB
773
62
7
 
ACL -- 2015
NYJ
RB
90
20
0
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Le'Veon Bell
PCL, MCL 2014 --
PIT
RB
1361
854
11
 
PCL, MCL -- 2016
PIT
RB
TBD
TBD
TBD
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Arian Foster
Torn Achilles 2014 --
HOU
RB
1246
327
13
 
Torn Achilles -- 2016
FA
RB
TBD
TBD
TBD
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Jamaal Charles
ACL 2014 --
KC
RB
1033
291
14
 
ACL -- 2016
KC
RB
TBD
TBD
TBD
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
* Obtained while playing for Penn State University. Drafted #1 overall in the 1995 NFL Draft.
** Carter tore his ACL in the 1995 NFL preseason as a rookie. Many point to this injury as the reason his NFL career flopped.
^ Obtained while playing for the University of Georgia (note only 10 games played). Drafted #10 overall in 2015 NFL Draft.
^^Scary thing here is this COULD prove to be a down year for Gurley, which would fall in line with the history of the "RB 2 Year Major Injury Rule". If true, 2016 could be a very big year for Gurley.


Major leg injuries and running backs do not mix, and it takes time (typically two full years from the season when the major leg injury occurred) to recover to the pre-injury form that these backs enjoyed when punishing NFL defenses on a regular basis. Jamal Lewis, Deuce McAllister (first ACL tear in 2004), Ronnie Brown, Jamaal Charles, and Adrian Peterson are the only running backs to produce numbers extremely similar to their pre-injury form on their first year back from a major leg injury. It remains to be officially seen if Todd Gurley joins this club, as many feel 2015 was actually a down year for him. As for Lewis, there are two possible explanations that could help account for this. The first lies in the fact that Lewis tore his ACL during the preseason in the summer of 2000, hence Lewis had longer to rehab the injury and prepare for the 2002 season when compared to previous backs that tore their ACL during the regular season. The second possible explanation lies in the fact that Lewis had previously torn his ACL during his sophomore year of college while playing at Tennessee; consequently, he already experienced the recovery process and knew both physically and mentally what it would take to rehabilitate his knee and return to a high level of play. However, this same line of thought did not workout for McAllister, who successfully returned to his pre-injury form the first year he returned to action from a torn ACL (2006), but not the second (2008). Asking a player to successfully return from an ACL tear in each knee is a very tall order, and it is remarkable McAllister was able to work his way back onto the field in 2008. For Ronnie Brown, he is the exception to the norm as we have no concrete reason why he was able to return to his preinjury form so quickly. He did injure his knee in 2007 relatively early in the season (week 7), but that is not early enough to consider it a significant advantage in terms of recovery time. In every data set there are always a few points outside the data band, and Brown to his credit is one of those points. Regarding Charles, he suffered his ACL injury very early in the season. Similar to Lewis, he had a little more time to recover. Granted, he didn't need two seasons to recover, but he did benefit from the extra time. Hearst also had one of the better years on his return (70% of his previous fantasy performance based on a standard performance scoring system), but similar to Lewis and Charles, Hearst also had more time to rehabilitate his injury compared to other players (in fact, he had an additional year to recover). Last, there is Adrian Peterson, who is just a freak. It is unbelievable what he was able to accomplish. Not only did he have a significantly better year, but he also tore his ACL very late in the season and only had a few months to recover. Our hats are off to Mr. Peterson. Well done. He is the exception as a "once in a generation" type of player. Regardless, the overall trend illustrates that some of the best backs in the game struggled on their first year immediately returning from a major leg injury, which is something to keep in mind during your fantasy football draft.

Why does this RB two-year injury rule seem to exist?
In a word: hesitation. When returning to the gridiron after recovering from a significant leg injury, it is almost impossible for a running back to not hesitate when running with the ball. Minor leg injuries such as sprains and pulled muscles can and should be expected for running backs in the NFL, but major leg injuries such as a torn ACL can be devastating to a running back and delay their progress to returning to their pre-injury form. The key to this immediate one-year slump lies in the function of the ACL itself. The ACL holds the femur and tibia in place and is one of the most critical ligaments to athletes because of its primary function of stabilizing the knee joint during deceleration. Without the ACL, players would fall to the ground due to the knee buckling when applying pressure from either stopping or changing direction. It is only natural for a running back to be hesitant when running during the first year after an ACL injury. Given the speed of the NFL, there is no room for there to be any kind of hesitation and still expect a running back to put up big numbers.

By the way, for those that have endured a significant leg injury and played some ball, we're preaching to the choir. For those that haven't, go talk to someone who has. Physical therapy is brutal and requires not only considerable time to "fully recover", but also requires tremendous determination and sheer guts. The mental anguish on a player can at times prove to be as strenuous as the physical anguish. It is not uncommon for a player to ponder thoughts of retirement when going through this process, and it is a credit to those that made it all the way back to be able to play at the level the NFL demands.

When it comes to your fantasy football draft this year, keep the Running Back Two-Year Major Injury Rule in mind. These players have a place in your fantasy football draft, but just not in the early rounds. Let someone else fall prey to the memories of yesterday when selecting a running back that is in his first year returning from a major leg injury.

Who are candidates of concern for 2016 with respect to the "RB Two Year Major Injury Rule"?
On the RB front, major injuries are hot topic for 2016. There are four RBs that suffered one last season. These RBs include: Le'Veon Bell (PIT; torn PCL, MCL), Jamaal Charles (KC; torn ACL), Dion Lewis (NWE; torn ACL), and Arian Foster (MIA; torn Achilles). We will discuss each of these RBs in detail below:

Le'Veon Bell, RB, PIT - Bell tore both his MCL and PCL last season. Of the MCL, ACL, and PCL joints in the knee, the PCL has the longest recovery time. Bell also suffered his injury later in the season, giving him that much less recovery time. Bell is slated to miss most of the first team reps in mini-camp, giving RB DeAngelo Williams the spotlight to shine. It doesn't make sense for the Steelers to press Bell, as he represents the future of the franchise at only 24 years old, and they have a more than capable RB in Williams. Bell is coming off fantasy football draft boards as a high pick (even facing a 3 game drug suspension) based on Average Draft Position information, and he gets a big red flag and labeled as one of our Fantasy Football Busts this year. There is a time and a place for Bell to go in your draft, but not that early.

Jamaal Charles, RB, KC - Charles makes this list for the second time, except this time he is doing it at 29 years old (opposed to 25 years old) and after 821 carries have piled onto his RB tread life. Charles is one of the few players to come back after a major injury in his first year back, and he is also only the second player to make this list twice. RB Deuce McAllister is the only other data point there, and like Charles, McAllister was able to come back in just a year. However, the second go around for McAllister was not as kind, and his season was crushed as the recovery took much longer. Age is a very real consideration here as things just don't heal quite as quick when older, and we would be very cautious with Charles and be sure to temper your fantasy football enthusiasm for him.

Dion Lewis, RB, NWE - 8/21/16 UPDATE Lewis will undergo a second surgery on his knee and will be out for a significant amount of time. Taking a RB from Running Back by Committee (RBBC) prone New England is always a risk, but taking a RB in New England trying to rebound from a torn ACL last year takes risk to a whole new level. Lewis burst onto the scene last year, but left the scene almost as quick as he entered it by tearing his ACL in week 9 last season. Lewis is undersized at 5'8", and the former 2011 NFL Draft Picky by Philly couldn't quite cut it and left the team in 2012. It wasn't until 2015 he reappeared on the NFL's Marauder Map before going back off the map with a torn ACL. There are so many red flags here it is best to just avoid Lewis until very late in your draft. However, his ADP has him going earlier than that, so let someone else absorb that risk on their roster while you target other players with better fantasy football upside to breakout in 2016.

Arian Foster, RB, MIA - Foster is trying to come back from a torn Achilles suffered last season, and there is a very good reason why NFL teams stayed clear of him. Turning 30 years old this year and trying to bounce back from such a significant injury gets a red flag not only from us, but from NFL GM's. Foster had a hard time landing on an NFL roster, but the Phins finally buckled and inked him to only a $1.5 MM, one year contract. Foster will steal touches from RB Jay Ajayi, but Foster's recovery from a torn Achilles' limits his threat to take the starting job. Foster will help the team, but in a reduced role, which is supported by his reduced salary. In the end, salary is a measure of value, and if NFL GM's aren't willing to pay, neither should you in your draft. Foster's age and injury says let someone else taking on that risk by adding him to their roster. Don't fall prey to yesterday thinking you are drafting the Arian Foster of 2010. The Arian Foster in 2016 is much different and trying to rebound from a brutal injury.

Want more freaky RB injury "rule-of-thumbs" to help in your fantasy football draft preparation?
Then be sure to check out our Effect of RB Carries on Future Production article as well.

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