As every fantasy football player knows there's a lot of risk that goes into drafting certain players. If the players make it on the field, your fantasy team will thrive. If they're hit with an injury, you're in trouble. Here's a look at 20 NFL players who offer varying degrees of risk with potentially big rewards.
Stay away completely; you’re wasting a roster spot on a future disappointment.
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars
Keep in mind Mojo’s 2011 knee issues when debating whether a back who wants a new contract, would be fine with a trade, and plays for arguably the worst franchise in football is worth drafting.
Mike Vick, QB, Eagles
Unless you’re playing in a Madden 13 video game fantasy football league, avoid the oft-injured Vick — who has already taken a beating in limited time this preseason.
Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys
Witten reportedly will not need surgery on his injured spleen. But there are too many other tight ends out there to risk drafting a guy with such a potentially serious internal problem.
Reggie Bush, RB, Dolphins
Don’t let the perfect storm of 1,000-yard 2011 season and "Hard Knocks" hype fool you. No matter how many USC visions dance in your head, this injury-prone runner's best days are behind him.
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos
A broken pinky finger and a torn Achilles have limited Thomas to just 21 games over his first two seasons. Plus, Thomas’ raw route running is more suited to Tim Tebow’s heave-ho go-route game than it is Peyton Manning’s precision passing attack.
Too much downside; don’t rely on any of these guys for more than a bench spot.
Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos
Expectations for the four-time MVP are unfair. Manning is 36 years old, fresh off at least four neck surgeries and playing for a new team. He also missed a full season and may not be able to make all the throws in the route tree yet.
Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders
Sure, when he’s healthy DMC looks like the second coming of Adrian Peterson or Eric Dickerson. And McFadden teased fantasy owners with 1,664 total yards and 10 total TDs in 2010. But his other three years have produced a combined 1,470 rush yards and nine rush TDs.
Ryan Mathews, RB, Chargers
The heir to L.T. fractured his collarbone and is expected to be out until at least Week 3. Even if healthy, however, Mathews has been an over-drafted fantasy bust his entire career. What’s to like?
Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs
A brutal blow was dealt to fantasy owners across the globe last year when Charles — a consensus 2011 first-round pick — was lost for the season with a left knee injury in Week 2. The speed demon may or may not have lost a step, and he may or may not lose a few carries to Peyton Hillis this year.
Kenny Britt, WR, Titans
Multiple knee surgeries and problems between the ears have made Britt one of the worst headaches in fantasy football. Britt is just as likely to be suspended (or arrested) as he is to be a dominant fantasy receiver this year.
It’s a risk, for sure. But the reward should ultimately be worth the gamble.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings
Despite suffering a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee in Week 16 last December, Peterson appears to be on track to return to the field early on in 2012. Remember Peterson’s rookie year, when he was the RB2 on nearly every fantasy championship team? That could be the case again in 2012.
Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions
A china doll who played a total of 13 games over his first two seasons, Stafford played all 16 last year and threw for 5,038 yards and 41 TDs. With Megatron in his prime, Stafford’s 2011 numbers are repeatable.
Trent Richardson, RB, Browns
The curse of the new Browns continues to plague Cleveland. Richardson had his sore left knee scoped in early August. But 21-year-olds heal fast and T-Rich has the power, speed, patience and explosiveness to be one of the premier backs in the game.
Matt Forte, RB, Bears
A sprained MCL ended Forte’s season after 12 games last year. Prior to that, however, the versatile Forte 48-of-48 games over his first three seasons. Plus, he’ll be eager to prove his worth after signing a long-awaited contract extension.
Greg Jennings, WR, Packers
An early August concussion, coupled with a sprained MCL late last season make Jennings reasonably risky. But with Aaron Rodgers pitching, a healthy Jennings could put up Jordy Nelson numbers.
Don’t worry too much about injury issues, draft these guys and feel good doing so.
Arian Foster, RB, Texans
A nagging hamstring issue caused Foster to miss two of the first three games of 2011. He also played through a torn meniscus in 2010. But after posting 2,177 total yards and 15 total TDs in 15 games (including playoffs) last year, Foster has earned his status as the consensus No. 1 overall pick in fantasy football.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots
After injuring his ankle in the AFC title game, “The Gronk” hobbled his way through the Super Bowl. But the 6’6”, 265-pounder has had seven months to heal and is coming off a 90-catch, 1,327-yard, 17-TD season. The Patriots may want Bibi Jones’ favorite player to tone it down, but no one should tone down the fantasy love for Gronkowski.
Andre Johnson, WR, Texans
A groin injury slowed Johnson in late July and he only played seven games in 2011 due to multiple hamstring issues. Although Johnson has an injury-risk reputation, he has a solid track record. In nine seasons, he has played all 16 games five times, in 13 games twice and missed significant time only twice — playing nine games in 2007 and seven games last year.
Julio Jones, WR, Falcons
Tight hamstrings dogged Jones as a rookie, causing him to miss three games and limiting his availability in several others. But when the 6’3”, 220-pounder was on the field, he was a beast — with 959 yards (17.8 ypc) and eight TDs. With Roddy White lined up on the other side, Jones is poised for a breakout sophomore season.
Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers
Plantar fasciitis — which affects the connective tissue on the sole of the foot — has been a lingering issue for Gates, who missed a combined three games from 2003-09 before missing nine total games the last two seasons. With Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham going early, the fantasy legend that is Gates could be one of this year’s best values.