Fantasy Football IR Spot: What It Is and How It Works

What is the fantasy football IR spot? How does it work? What options do managers have? How does putting a player on the IR affect your roster?

Since its inception a few years ago, the fantasy football injured reserve (IR) spot has been a point of contention in many fantasy leagues. Then, in 2020, the complications wrought by COVID-19 only intensified disputes about how commissioners and leagues should handle IR spots.

For those relatively new to fantasy football, or fantasy sports in general, here is everything you need to know about the IR spot in fantasy leagues.

What Does the IR Spot Mean in Fantasy Football?

It never made sense that the sport with the most injuries was the only one without an IR spot. Yet, that was the case with fantasy football for a very long time.

When fantasy football platforms started providing an option for IR spots, longtime fantasy baseball managers knew exactly what they did. But the fantasy football community is the largest of all fantasy sports. Many managers only play one fantasy game — football. For those of you, it may be a novel concept.

I don’t know for sure when it started, but I’ve been playing fantasy baseball since 2003. Even in my first year, the DL spot existed. “DL” was short for “Disabled List,” which is the MLB equivalent of the IR. It has since been renamed to the “IL” for “Injured List.”

The IL spot in baseball and the IR spot in football are functionally identical. Differences arise in how each professional league handles injured players.

The NFL Treats Injured Players Differently Than the MLB

In baseball, MLB teams place players on the IL. Once that happens, they are eligible for the fantasy baseball IL spot.

In football, NFL teams do not always place injured players on IR. They can when a player is certain to miss at least four weeks. However, many football injuries only keep players out for a week or two.

When a player is merely out for the upcoming week, NFL teams simply list him as “out.” For leagues and commissioners that view fantasy sports as an extension of the real sport, this can create some debate in leagues as to how the IR spot should be handled. The player may be injured, but he’s not on IR. Therefore, there’s a case to be made he shouldn’t be eligible to be placed on IR in fantasy either.

Injuries are a major part of any sport. The NFL is certainly more conducive to players getting hurt than any of the other sports. However, they all have rules in place that govern how teams handle injured players.

In baseball, there is no daily or weekly injury report required. In football, teams have to submit daily practice reports four, three, and two days before game day. The final injury report is what contains the official injury designations: questionable, doubtful, or out.

If a player is either listed as out or has no injury designation, you know his status in advance. If he’s listed as questionable or doubtful, although we will have reports leaning one way or the other ahead of time, we won’t know for certain until inactives are set an hour and a half before 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 game-day roster.

Where Does Injured Reserve Come In?

Historically, the injured reserve was, well, “reserved” for players who were out for the season. In 2012, the NFL modified its injured reserve rules to allow teams to designate one player who would be eligible to return after eight games. In 2017, they bumped that number up to two, then again to three in 2020.

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Ahead of the 2022 season, the NFL and NFLPA once again revised the rules for injured reserve. As things currently stand, players on IR will be out for at least four games. Teams can designate up to eight to return before the season ends.

The NFL has gradually but heavily moved toward the side of not penalizing teams for injuries. After all, they’re already short the player that got hurt. Do they really need to get hit harder beyond that?

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 insistence of commissioners — as well as some managers — to want to mimic the NFL. To them, the IR spot should be for players on IR, and that’s it.

All too often, there is a sense of, “Well, that’s how the NFL does it” when it comes to fantasy football rules. Our game may be designed to emulate actual football, but let’s not pretend there’s a whole lot about our game that is close to the real thing.

In fantasy football, we award four points for touchdown passes, correlate yards with fantasy points, and allow kickers to kick touchdowns. We play a game, and our goal should be to make our game as fair as possible. What the actual NFL does should not matter.

Fortunately, fantasy platforms understand this. If a problem does arise, it’s not because of how the IR spot operates on fantasy sites but rather how commissioners and league members think it should operate.

The default rules for an IR spot are the same across just about every fantasy football platform. Some allow for more customization than others, but if your commissioner changes nothing, here’s how it will work.

The easy part comes when an NFL team places a player on IR. There’s no debate across fantasy leagues as to how we should handle these players — they are eligible for the fantasy football IR spot.

Disputes and arguments tend to emerge as to how to handle players who are out but not on IR.

In Yahoo and ESPN leagues, commissioners have no discretion on the matter. That’s not to say they can’t manually enforce any rule they deem appropriate, but if a player is listed as out, each platform will allow fantasy managers to place him in their IR spot.

On Sleeper, commissioners have a wide array of customization options regarding the IR spot. Of course, players listed as out, IR, or on the PUP list can go in the fantasy IR spot. However, Sleeper also gives managers the option to allow suspended players, N/A players, holdouts, those in COVID-19 protocols, and doubtful players on IR.

Since ESPN and Yahoo allow 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 opt to impose the additional restriction of adhering strictly to the phrase “injured reserve.”

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I find it to be an antiquated way of thinking to interpret the term too rigidly rather than trying to understand the spirit of what an IR spot is trying to accomplish. In leagues with this limitation, there’s no way to police it automatically. Commissioners have to check each team to ensure compliance manually. It’s a tedious and unnecessary burden that makes your league less fair.

I am a proponent of the liberal use of IR spots. If the platform lets you put the player on IR, then you should be able to. I even support doubtful players being IR eligible, as 99% of players listed as doubtful do not play. In the unlikely event they do play, managers will have to drop a player to activate the doubtful player from IR anyway.

What Does It Mean When a Player Is in Your Fantasy Team’s IR Spot?

It’s probably fair to say the most frustrating aspect of fantasy football is injuries (well, that and losing with the second-highest point total). We know injuries are inevitable. Every manager in every league will have some player or players get hurt at some point during the season. It’s an unfortunate part of the game.

If you play this game long enough, every so often, you will have a team completely destroyed because of injuries. It happens. The purpose of the IR spot is to soften the blow. That’s not to say IR spots can salvage your season. If you lose too many key players, an infinite number of IR spots is not going to fix your team.

Since we’re all going to deal with some players missing at least a couple of games throughout the season, though, the IR spot makes it a little bit easier to fill in your lineup when it happens.

When your team loses a starter, you have to replace him 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. Of course, you’d rather have the guy who got hurt, but there’s nothing we can do about that. What we can do is avoid hitting fantasy managers with the double whammy of losing a player to injury and also losing a healthy bench player because you had to drop him to replace the injured guy.

Given how easily preventable this is, there’s no reason not to do it. 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?

I’ve made it abundantly clear where I stand on this. Picture the American Idol judges after a contestant put on one of the best auditions of the season.

At its core, fantasy football is supposed to be fun. Do you know what’s not fun? Losing players to injuries.

Do you know what’s even less fun? Being forced to drop useful players because someone else on your team got hurt. There’s nothing fun about injuries, and it’s only compounded when having to decide which of your healthy players you’re dropping to pick up a replacement starter who probably isn’t going to do much anyway.

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Fantasy football platforms have equipped commissioners with the ability to help mitigate the damages injuries cause fantasy teams. The goal should always be to maximize fun and fairness. IR spots help, even if just a little bit. If your league isn’t utilizing IR, you should propose their addition immediately.

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