On Thursday, Aug. 4, it was reported that Los Angeles Rams QB Matthew Stafford has struggled to recover from elbow tendinitis. Stafford underwent a minor procedure during the offseason, but his elbow “did not get to a place where he really needs to be,” according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. With Stafford set to have limited reps during spring, what impact does this have on his fantasy football value, and how does it impact the value of those around him?
Matthew Stafford injury update
During his report on Stafford’s injury, Rapoport stated that he does not “sense any stress” from the Rams over the injury long term. However, this is a throwing arm injury to a quarterback, so it is not something that we can simply ignore. Head coach Sean McVay later described the injury as “abnormal for a quarterback,” comparing it to injuries that MLB pitchers deal with.
McVay also added that Stafford could have pushed through, but that having him do so is not the best thing. That statement would indicate that if the Rams were playing their season-opener tomorrow against the Buffalo Bills, Stafford would be on the field and playing through the pain.
The other promising element is that the Rams have not shut Stafford down completely. He still threw in 7-on-7 drills, and McVay stated that he “looked really good” during practice Thursday. These are all promising signs that Stafford’s workload is simply being managed as opposed to anything else. If the pain lingers or gets worse, that is when concern should really rise.
In that situation, could we see the Rams play the long game? Could they place Stafford on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list to open the season? Stafford would then miss the first six games at least before being eligible to return in Week 7. While that is not where the situation is currently heading, fantasy managers should be conscious of the possibility.
Impact on Stafford’s fantasy football value
Stafford is a talented QB and finished as the QB6 in fantasy in 2021. His current ADP has him going as the 10th to 12th QB off the board. His ceiling is somewhat capped due to his lack of impact in the run game, which is reflected by Stafford having been a top-five fantasy QB just once in his career (2011).
The situation at QB behind Stafford in drafts includes the likes of Trey Lance, Derek Carr, Kirk Cousins, and Tua Tagovailoa. All of those have uncertainty around their fantasy value for various reasons. What this uncertainty does is somewhat slide Stafford closer to that group than it does put him with the likes of Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, and Aaron Rodgers, who are going just above him on average.
Additionally, if you are drafting early in the month, how you view Stafford depends on your format. In 1QB formats, Stafford’s current value is well worth the investment. He has the upside to be a top-10 QB, and his floor in the Rams offense is a borderline QB1. If he does miss time due to injury, the shallow nature of the 1QB format presents plenty of options for managers to stream a temporary replacement.
Things do change a little in Superflex or 2QB formats. In those leagues, the depth at the QB position is not as rich. If Stafford were to miss time with this elbow injury, finding a replacement on the waiver wire would not be as simple. Therefore, fantasy managers may view the likes of Derek Carr or Kirk Cousins as being safer options in those formats.
Neither has the same upside as Stafford, having not finished inside the top 10 at the position in the last four years. However, both have solid floors as low-end QB1/high-end QB2s. Therefore, they may present a less risky option at this point in the offseason.
The other option for managers looking to draft Stafford is to make sure they get a QB3 who they feel good about during the early part of the season. Daniel Jones has been performing well in camp, while Jared Goff and Davis Mills present intriguing upside options. Pairing Stafford with one of those as a QB3 on your roster can help mitigate any risk of the Rams’ QB missing time.
Is there a potential fantasy impact on Cooper Kupp, Allen Robinson, or Tyler Higbee?
This news does raise some level of concern around the fantasy value of the Rams’ pass catchers. John Wolford would be a huge step down in terms of ability if he were to have to play significant time during the 2022 season. Another element to be aware of is that if the Rams have to manage Stafford’s pain, they may not throw that much later in games when they have a clear lead or are facing a large deficit. That should not have a major fantasy impact, but it could just limit some “garbage time” production for all involved.
Cooper Kupp flourished with Stafford under center in 2021. In 2019 with Goff as QB, he was still the WR4 for fantasy. However, he scored 177 fantasy points in that season compared to 295 last year, as he finished far and above as the WR1 in fantasy. Stafford missing time would certainly hurt Kupp’s fantasy value. He averages close to 10 points per game (PPG) more in PPR and eight PPG more in non-PPR with Stafford than in the two years prior.
With there seeming to be a limited concern right now that Stafford misses time, it is not time to overreact. Kupp’s current ADP has him as the WR1, being selected with a top-five pick in both PPR and non-PPR formats. The current injury news for Stafford drops him closer to Justin Jefferson, but he remains very viable as the WR1 in fantasy drafts. If news starts to grow that Stafford could miss time, then Kupp’s value would slide back closer to the back end of the first round of fantasy drafts.
The situation is similar with Robinson and Higbee. Robinson currently has an ADP at the back end of the fifth round in 12-team leagues, while Higbee is being selected in the final couple of rounds. Those values are fine if Stafford is playing and healthy. However, both would see significant decreases in value if he misses time.
Expecting Wolford to support three fantasy assets would be extremely optimistic. In his career, he has thrown 48 passes, completing 26 for 365 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. Granted, it is an extremely small sample size, but betting on a significant improvement would be risky. If Wolford has to start, both Robinson and Higbee would see a significant drop in value on a week-to-week basis.
All three primary pass catchers would still have value if and when Stafford returned, but Kupp would be the only one that would be a must-start to open the year if Stafford finds himself on the PUP in Week 1. While that is a hypothetical situation right now, it is something fantasy managers drafting early in the month have to consider. Right now, all three retain their current value, but coming out of drafts, having a backup to Robinson that you feel good about starting if you need to is a smart move.