Fantasy football IR spot: What it is and how it works

How does the IR spot work in fantasy football? What options do managers have, and how does putting a player on the IR affect your team?

The fantasy football IR spot has become a bit of a talking point recently. Most notably is the way too public dispute between Tommy Pham and Joc Pederson over commissioner Mike Trout’s implementation of the IR spot in their ESPN fantasy football league. Professional baseball players — just like us when it comes to fantasy football! Let’s help these guys out, though, and explain the fantasy football IR spot.

What does the IR spot mean in fantasy football?

It’s not surprising that baseball players would feel a bit confused over the fantasy football IR spot. For those that have played fantasy baseball for a long time, you know how the IL spot works. If an MLB team places a player on the injured list, you can put him on the IL in your fantasy league.

The NFL treats injured players differently than MLB

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple in the NFL. The NFL does not have a weekly injured list. Teams have to submit weekly practice reports, a Friday injury report (Saturday for Monday night football), and then declare inactive players an hour and a half prior to kickoff.

The MLB injured list enables teams to replace players on the active roster. In the NFL, if a player is out, the team isn’t suddenly short one player — they just activate someone else to the 53-man roster.

Where does injured reserve come in?

Historically, injured reserve was, well, “reserved” for players that were out for the season. In 2012, the NFL modified their injured reserve rules to allow one player to be designated for return, allowing that player to return to play in the same season after a minimum of eight games missed. That number increased to two players in 2017 and three in 2020.

The NFL and NFLPA set new rules for injured reserve again in 2022. Players on IR have to miss a minimum of four games and upped the number of players that can be designated to return to eight.

How does the IR spot work in fantasy football?

The biggest problem I’ve encountered in fantasy football when it comes to IR spots is the reluctance of commissioners to want the IR spot to be utilized for anything other than players on injured reserve. When it comes to what the fantasy platforms actually allow, it’s a bit different.

On any fantasy football platform, you can place a player in your IR spot if that player is on their NFL team’s injured reserve. That’s the easy part to solve. Where things get a bit trickier is when a player is not playing but is not on injured reserve.

In Yahoo and ESPN leagues, commissioners have no discretion on the matter. If a player is listed as out, fantasy managers can place him in their IR spot. On Sleeper, commissioners have a wide array of options regarding how to utilize the IR spot. In addition to the above, commissioners can choose whether to allow suspended players, N/A players, holding out players, and doubtful players on IR.

ESPN’s lack of customization when it comes to its IR spot contributed to the tiff between Pederson and Pham. Since ESPN allows players listed as out to be placed on IR, managers have the freedom to do so once a player is officially ruled out. However, some commissioners prefer to limit the IR spot to just players on injured reserve. In leagues with this limitation, there’s no way to police it automatically. Commissioners have to manually check each team to ensure compliance. For what it’s worth, I’m firmly on the side of allowing all players listed as “out” to be eligible for the IR spot.

What does it mean when a player is in your fantasy team’s IR spot?

I think it’s fair to say the most frustrating aspect of fantasy football is injuries. We know injuries are inevitable. They will happen every season to just about everyone in your league. Every fantasy manager has to navigate through injuries.

The IR spot is designed to soften the blow of injuries just a little bit. When your team loses a starter, you have to replace that starter by picking up another player. If you can put your injured player in an IR spot, that player no longer counts toward your total number of rostered players. It frees up a roster spot to add a replacement without having to drop another player.

I find IR spots to be extremely beneficial. They can help make what can be a frustrating game a little less aggravating. It’s bad enough when you lose a starter on your fantasy team. Without the benefit of an IR spot, fantasy managers not only lose the injured player, but they frequently lose another bench player because they need to drop him to replace the injured player. It’s a true double whammy.

If your commissioner has liberal IR rules, at least you’ll only lose the injured player when he gets hurt.

Should your fantasy football league utilize IR spots?

To this, I unequivocally say, YES! Fantasy football is a game that, at its core, is meant to be fun. There is nothing fun about injuries and even less fun having to drop other, healthy players to replace them.

Commissioners should do what they can to make their leagues as far and as fun as possible. IR spots promote fairness and provide a little bit of help to managers dealing with the inevitable injuries that come with the game of football.

Jason Katz is a Fantasy Analyst at Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter: @jasonkatz13 and find more of his work here.

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