Kelvin Benjamin, the Panthers’ obscenely talented sophomore receiver (and quite possibly the Panthers’ only talented receiver), will miss the entire 2015 season with a torn ACL suffered in a freak, non-contact practice injury. This is bad for Carolina, and bad for Carolina’s fans, but who cares about any of them: this is bad for the thousands of fantasy football players who wasted a high pick on Benjamin because their drafts have inexplicably been held already.
It’s not just Benjamin. In the past couple of weeks we’ve seen injuries of varying degrees to a number of players expected to contribute statwise, like Arian Foster, C.J. Spiller, Julius Thomas, Michael Floyd, and Kevin White, and seemingly the entirety of the Browns’ and Falcons’ running-back corps. Lingering injuries have kept the likes of Brandon LaFell, Todd Gurley, and Fred Jackson off the field, robbing us of the chance to properly evaluate their roles in their respective offenses.
Injuries are part of football, and team-altering injuries are part of fantasy football. In the regular season, there’s nothing to be done but throw up your hands at what in insurance-industry parlance would be classified as an act of God. But when it happens weeks before your fantasy games even begin, it is an ungodly level of frustrating, all the more so because it’s so easily avoidable: just don’t hold your damn draft yet.
The preseason is a war zone. Players, many of them at skill positions, go down like flies in the first few weeks. Whether it be because players aren’t yet in peak shape or just because football is brutal, no team’s depth chart looks the same in August as it will in September. And for many of those fantasy leagues foolish enough to draft before the carnage is complete, championships are won or lost not in the draft, but on the operating table. That is, I submit, antithetical to the whole damn idea of being rewarded for knowing what you’re doing.
It is one thing to stake your team on the outcome of an unsolved position battle. You are relying on your own skills in evaluating the merits of the players involved, and in the histories and strategies of the coaches who will ultimately make the decisions. The power is yours, and if you end up making the wrong choice, at least the choice was yours. It is another thing entirely to have to make decisions based on incomplete information (say, betting on a back who’s been held out of camp to get over some nagging injury) or in having the choice made for you when a player goes down. Randomness will always be a big part of fantasy, and it makes it fun and fair, but shifting the calculus too far from the skill side of the equation—especially when it’s so avoidable—is a real problem.
I had my keeper league fantasy draft this past weekend, and I’m going to spend the next few weeks living in terror. No one in my league was happy about doing it so early, but of the upcoming weekends, it was the one when the largest number of us were free to get together. Now we’ve got one poor bastard who owns Benjamin, Spiller, and Kevin White, and if his season hasn’t already been torpedoed, he’s at least going to run out of IR spots. When he gets pummeled this year, the shit-talking won’t nearly be as satisfying, because he’ll have a completely valid defense. I want the only possible explanation for my opponents’ failures to be that they suck as GMs and I’m better than them. I have been robbed of my unearned superiority complex.
Resolved: fantasy drafts should not be held until after the third week of preseason games, when practices dial down and starters are held out of game action. Anything less is un-American, and any commissioner who holds an August draft should be dragged out into the street and shot.