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Connoisseur

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As the New York Giants open mandatory minicamp, their star running back is notably absent. Coach Joe Judge has made it clear that Saquon Barkley is, in fact, very much present at the facility but his time is currently dedicated to rehabbing his knee. Barkley was not expected to participate in football activities at this juncture; after all, he is just seven months removed from surgical reconstruction of his ACL along with a repair of the medial meniscus in his right knee. He is focused on his rehab efforts with an eye on returning to the fold at some point during training camp.

For those who might be thinking, "He was injured in Week 2 of the 2020 NFL season -- that was nine months ago, not seven," well, that's true. But due to the nature of his injury -- which also included damage to the medial collateral ligament (MCL) -- surgery was delayed approximately six weeks. This is not uncommon when there is a tear of the MCL, the ligament that reinforces the inner aspect of the knee and is critical for medial stability. The reason? The anatomy of the MCL and the common pattern of injury is such that it can often heal with time without the need for surgical repair. Allowing for this prior to initiating the reconstructive surgery assists with the overall recovery parameters.

The good news is that preserving the meniscus in turn helps to preserve the health of the knee joint. There is scientific evidence that cartilage breakdown is accelerated when the meniscus (a fibrocartilage disc, of which there are two in each knee, one on the medial aspect of the joint, one on the lateral aspect) is removed, resulting in increased bone-on-bone contact. Consequently, when meniscal repair is possible (something that is determined based on the location, size and pattern of the injury) it is preferred and can quite literally extend the career of the athlete. The challenge following meniscal repair is that it requires limiting range of motion and loading of the joint for several weeks post-surgery. In other words, it slows the entire recovery process in the early phases.

This is not to say the athlete can't "catch up" over the course of several months, but these early limitations can result in motion and strength deficits that must be fully addressed prior to resuming higher level, sports-specific activities.

When will Barkley return to pre-injury form?

Barkley's injury is a reminder that not all ACL injuries are identical. An isolated ACL tear, for instance, allows an athlete to progress more quickly through certain elements of rehab than a complex multiligament tear involving additional structures, such as, in his case, the medial meniscus.

Then there are the demands of the position. An explosive, physical runner like Barkley, whose style of play is predicated on breaking tackles and moving through opponents, requires him to be at peak strength to be effective. It can take additional time beyond returning to sport for an athlete to regain both the confidence in the surgical knee and the functional strength necessary to achieve pre-injury performance metrics.

In fact, past studies that have looked at performance metrics for NFL players undergoing ACL reconstruction have found a return to pre-injury form is often delayed by a season. It may not be until the second year post-surgery that athletes began to produce like their pre-injury selves in terms of yardage gained and touchdowns scored, data that matters in both real and fantasy football. A recent descriptive epidemiologic study published in the Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine looked specifically at performance metrics for NFL running backs and wide receivers post-ACL reconstruction and found receivers to have the most significant drops in performance data. However, while the data for running backs post-injury was not statistically significant in two of the three performance categories (rushes per game and rushing touchdowns per season), the production numbers did trend downward. In the third category, yards per rush, there was a statistically significant difference in the first two seasons post-ACL reconstruction.

It is worth noting that this study looked only at rushing performance metrics in the target group; many running backs nowadays have pass-catching responsibilities that enhance their productivity and their value. It is also important to note that there was no accounting for concomitant injury (such as meniscal injury), which could impact the results, there are no measures that take into account style of play (power back vs. finesse), or no accounting for depth chart status. While the results are interesting and provide some level of insight into initial post-op performance, the individual nature of an athlete's skill set, relevance to the team (is he a focus of the offense with a high individual workload or is he a second-tier member of a running back committee?) and the athlete's particular injury details are among the variables that can influence both the timing and level of an athlete's return to performance.

Fantasy expectations for 2021
So what are fantasy managers to do when it comes to evaluating Barkley's value entering the 2021 season? For starters, expect there to be increased confidence in making that assessment as it gets closer to the start of the season. Without any on-field work to go by at this point, most are operating under the assumption that Barkley will be ready to go by Week 1, and the Giants haven't specifically said anything to the contrary. But the team has also provided reasons to be cautious. Judge has already stated during minicamp that they will be smart with him and do what is best for his body. "We are going to make sure that we take Saquon's rehab at the correct rate for his individual body and injury," Judge said Tuesday. "It's not any mirror of anybody else's injury out there. We have to make sure that we let him get it at his pace and put him on the field [when he] can play 100% aggressive and confident and he's going to play safe and he can play effective."

Even Barkley acknowledged an open-ended timeline. "I have no expectation, no set day when I'm going to be full-go," Barkley said. "I'm going to come into work every single day because that's all I know." The takeaway here is that while the team may still be looking toward the start of the season, it is also strongly hinting at the probability that Barkley will not be receiving his normal workload out of the gate. This is good news for Barkley's health and future career, but it may mean a delayed return on investment for fantasy purposes. How long it takes for him to ramp up to what would position him as a top-tier running back will depend on how he responds to that initial workload. Too much work too soon can result in a setback, whether it be with the surgically reconstructed knee or a compensatory soft tissue injury elsewhere (See: Cook, Dalvin, in 2018).

The questions for fantasy managers become: At what position are you willing to draft Barkley in your season-long league, assuming he will be operating under a controlled workload to start the season? Will his performance metrics when he is on the field reflect what they have been in the past? Based on the limited data that has been compiled on this topic to date, the expectation is that it will take time playing in actual game conditions for Barkley to return to his pre-injury form. When -- or even if -- that happens during this first post-op season remains to be seen.
 

Connoisseur

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The Cards are building a nice team.
On that note, Rotoworld are starting to release their team by team fantasy previews for the upcoming season.

Arizona Cardinals: https://www.nbcsportsedge.com/edge/article/team-previews/cardinals-fantasy-preview-0
2020 Stats (Rank)
Total Offense: 6,153 (sixth)
Offensive Touchdowns: 49 (10th)
Offensive Plays: 1,083 (fourth)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 604 (17th)
Rush Attempts: 479 (sixth)
Unaccounted for Targets: 156 (12th)
Unaccounted for Carries: 239 (fourth)

Coaching Staff
After transforming the Arizona offense in 2019, Kliff Kingsbury gave the Cardinals a second facelift last year. His offense went from among the league’s most pass-heavy two years ago to a run-oriented unit in 2020. The Cardinals ran on 44.2-percent of their plays which represented a 4.6-percent increase from the previous year and was good for eighth-highest in the NFL. Part of that shift simply comes down to Kyler Murray being a dynamic threat with his legs. However, much of it is due to Kingsbury loading Kenyan Drake up with 239 carries, despite his efficiency wavering at times. This change also resulted in Arizona leading the league in plays run from 12-personnel (one running back, two tight ends). The deviation from the air raid principles coincided with Arizona’s defense turning in a surprisingly average performance. A year removed from allowing the fifth-most points per game, Arizona’s defense finished the year as a top-10 unit in 2020. When the Cardinals did take to the sky, they exclusively focused on DeAndre Hopkins. Only Davante Adams bested Hopkins’ 29.4-percent target share last year.

Passing Game
QB: Kyler Murray, Colt McCoy
WR: DeAndre Hopkins, Rondale Moore
WR: A.J. Green, Andy Isabella
WR: Christian Kirk, KeeSean Johnson
TE: Maxx Williams, Darrell Daniels
While Kingsbury did scheme up more deep and intermediate throws for his second-year passer, Murray was far from an aggressive quarterback. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, Murray still finished the year 21st in air yards per attempt. His target depth rose by one yard compared to his rookie campaign. One explanation for Murray getting to push the ball downfield slightly more often was the improvement in his protection. Arizona’s offensive line avoided the slew of injuries that plagued them in prior years and made some notable changes in the offseason, including the addition of Kelvin Beachum as their new right tackle. Murray was pressured far less often and took 21 fewer sacks in his second pro season. While Kingsbury still frustrated onlookers with the horizontal air raid, Murray’s 2020 campaign gave him all of the reasons he needed to continue opening up the offense.

If Kingsbury’s devotion to short pass attempts limited the ceiling of his top receiver, you wouldn’t have known based on Hopkins’ numbers. Laughing in the face of the narrative that receivers switching teams struggle, Hopkins cruised to a 115-1,407-6 stat line. While his average depth of target fell for the second year in a row, Hopkins more than made up for that by catching 71.9-percent of the passes thrown his way. That was a career-high for the long-time Texan and it led to him finishing second in the league in receptions. Hopkins topped 100 yards on seven occasions last year and has an argument to be taken as the first receiver in fantasy drafts this year. Anything less than a top-three selection at his position is a steal.

After Hopkins, the Cardinals struggled to find any production from their receiving room. Larry Fitzgerald, one of the greatest receivers of all time, was not great in 2020. He was not good, nor was he even okay. Among players with at least 70 targets last year, only Greg Ward and future Cardinals wide receiver A.J. Green earned fewer yards per target than Fitzgerald’s mark of 5.7. To his credit, Fitzgerald’s role as the slot receiver on an offense that already wants to throw shallow passes was destined to make him look inefficient. Despite this, his inability to generate anything after the catch was a massive detriment to the offense. Arizona did not re-sign Fitz and chose Purdue’s Rondale Moore in the second round of the draft. Moore is electric with the ball in his hands and will be a massive upgrade over this version of Fitzgerald once he takes the field.

For a team that used multiple tight ends frequently, Arizona made it seem like they did not employ a single one last year. Dan Arnold led the team’s tight ends with 498 receiving yards and peaked at 61 yards in a game. He departed in free agency leaving Maxx Williams as the starter. Williams’ best season came in 2015 when he hit 268 yards as a rookie in Baltimore. Barring an unheralded breakout, no tight end on this roster projects to be a relevant fantasy weapon.

Running Game
RB: Chase Edmonds, James Conner, Eno Benjamin
OL (L-R): D.J. Humphries, Justin Pugh, Rodney Hudson, Justin Murray, Kelvin Beachum
The Cardinals subbed out Drake for James Conner in free agency and although Conner gets a bad rap for his weak performances in recent years, this move may actually be an upgrade. Running behind a superior offensive line than Conner, Drake sputtered about to the tune of four yards per carry last year while Conner rushed for 4.3 yards per carry. Conner is projected to split Drake’s role with the incumbent runner, Chase Edmonds. Multiple regimes in Arizona have refused to unleash Edmonds despite the shifty back looking like a playmaker whenever given the chance. This should serve as a warning for any fantasy drafter hoping to get 200 touches from Edmonds, who is currently getting most of the hype in this backfield. Four inches taller and over 20 pounds heavier, Conner also looks like the typical goal-line back. At his price, Conner is an intriguing bounce-back candidate for fantasy purposes.

Edmonds will likely earn more carries than Conner between the 20s given his propensity for finding chunk yardage. He has turned 12.7-percent of carries into gains of 10 or more yards over the past two seasons. Edmonds also holds the advantage of working in Kingsbury’s system for two seasons while Conner is being tasked with learning a new playbook in the offseason. As Arizona’s third-down back, Edmonds will add a weekly floor of receptions to his rushing work as well.

While the Twitter debates of Edmonds versus Conner will rage throughout the summer, it’s possible that their split of the touches makes Murray the best runner to target in Arizona. He rushed for 819 yards last year, falling just 136 yards short of Drake, despite taking a notable step back as a runner in the second half of the season. This was seemingly due to the shoulder injury that plagued him to close out the year. At the midpoint of 2020, Murray was on pace to top 1,000 rushing yards.
 
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The Cards are building a nice team.
They are definitely one of my favourite teams to watch with Kyler and D-Hop doing their thing. In such a stacked division though so it will fascinating to see who emerges on top. Currently paying a handsome $6.50 on Sportsbet to win the division. That's pretty tempting as I think they're a much better shot than that.

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Being lazy here but is there a page showing who everyone supports?
Don't believe so. I'm a miserable NY Giants fan fwiw. We almost stumbled into the playoffs last season but that was only because the NFC Least is probably the worst division in all of sports right now. :LOL:

Just hoping Saquon can stay healthy this season. :rolleyes:

@Rupert is a Cheesehead and @pizza safety is a Falcons man. I believe @KLo30 is a Chief. Not sure if @Connoisseur, @Professor or @stephen have a particular NFL allegiance but I'm sure they'll correct me if I'm wrong there. :giggle:
 
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Being lazy here but is there a page showing who everyone supports?
Don't believe so. I'm a miserable NY Giants fan fwiw. We almost stumbled into the playoffs last season but that was only because the NFC Least is probably the worst division in all of sports right now. :LOL:

Just hoping Saquon can stay healthy this season. :rolleyes:

@Rupert is a Cheesehead and @pizza safety is a Falcons man. I believe @KLo30 is a Chief. Not sure if @Connoisseur, @Professor or @stephen have a particular NFL allegiance but I'm sure they'll correct me if I'm wrong there. :giggle:
Used to follow the 49's as a kid, but no particular allegiance these days.
 
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Being lazy here but is there a page showing who everyone supports?
No NFL allegiance here either.

I am sort of tempted to start supporting a team who's been poor for a few years hoping they'll eventually come good such as the Lions, but that one's not happening any time soon, and would just be miserable. Maybe the Dolphins?
 

KLo30

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Don't believe so. I'm a miserable NY Giants fan fwiw. We almost stumbled into the playoffs last season but that was only because the NFC Least is probably the worst division in all of sports right now. :LOL:

Just hoping Saquon can stay healthy this season. :rolleyes:

@Rupert is a Cheesehead and @pizza safety is a Falcons man. I believe @KLo30 is a Chief. Not sure if @Connoisseur, @Professor or @stephen have a particular NFL allegiance but I'm sure they'll correct me if I'm wrong there. :giggle:
I'm actually a long suffering Cowboy fan. Tony Romo jersey hanging in the closet.
 

KLo30

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North Melb.
They are definitely one of my favourite teams to watch with Kyler and D-Hop doing their thing. In such a stacked division though so it will fascinating to see who emerges on top. Currently paying a handsome $6.50 on Sportsbet to win the division. That's pretty tempting as I think they're a much better shot than that.

View attachment 31260
They have to get it sorted on D. Key is to improve their pass rush. Otherwise, their secondary will get shredded.
 
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