Sports | September 7, 2021 5:31 am

How to Handle Unvaccinated NFL Players in Your Fantasy Football Draft and Throughout the Season

We reached out to Mike Wright of the Fantasy Footballers to get his expert opinion

DeAndre Hopkins of the Arizona Cardinals previously spoke out against the vaccine
Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins of the Arizona Cardinals previously spoke out against the vaccine.
Christian Petersen/Getty

As we’ve already seen with a number of prominent NFL players including Carson Wentz and Cam Newton, not being vaccinated against COVID-19 is going to have substantial real-life implications in the NFL this season.

But with the season about to kick off on Thursday and many drafts taking place over the next couple days, we started wondering about a far less important question that nonetheless may be weighing on many an NFL fan’s mind at the moment: Will it matter in fantasy football?

To determine the answer to that question and get some well-informed advice about how fantasy managers should manage players who could potentially miss time due to COVID-19 this season, we reached out to Mike Wright of the Fantasy Footballers podcast to get his expert opinion. Here’s what he had to say.

InsideHook: Should a particular player’s vaccination status affect a manager’s decision to draft him?

Mike Wright: It doesn’t change much in terms of draft strategy. I can look at a database of all sorts of different types of production players have given us, but we don’t have the records for their vaccination status. We only have very outspoken players like Cole Beasley. I think it’s safe to say he does not have the vaccine, but in general we don’t really know for sure who is and who is not. I think we’ll have at least two or three scenarios where a player will be placed in the COVID-19 protocol for close contact and end up missing a game even if that player doesn’t have it, but as far as fantasy football, it’s not altering anything in the draft.

When choosing between two similar players, wouldn’t taking the vaccinated one make sense?

I think you’re getting ahead of yourself. Unfortunately, if a player is hurt two years in a row, he’s now labeled as injury-prone. We have a phrase that comes up on the show: “You’re injury-prone until you’re not.” That’s because it’s not a real thing. It’s not a reason why you should completely avoid a player, at least to us, in your fantasy drafts. I would give the same advice for vaccinated and unvaccinated players, because it’s so much speculation. Could this happen? Could that happen? Yeah, but every single NFL player can get hurt on any given play. So take who you believe is the best fantasy player for your team.

How do you suggest fantasy leagues as a whole address players missing time because of COVID-19?

You should definitely be prepared for it. Hopefully you can talk over it as a league and the platform you play on will allow for a player to be put in an IR spot if he winds up on the COVID-19 list. We were recommending last year to add a few dedicated COVID-19 spots because fantasy football is supposed to be fun. I highly recommend adding extra spots for COVID players so you don’t have to drop them and they ruin everything and someone else is then able to scoop up a good player just because of roster constrictions. So just be active and talk to your league about what your plan is going to be.

Is handcuffing your top running back with their backup even more important this season?

So when it comes to those insurance-type running backs, we recommend not drafting them. The hit rate for guys who are dedicated backups coming in and really making a big sort of an impact in fantasy is actually few and far between. You might think you know who the true backup is, but very often you don’t. We get these things wrong. Just because a running back is No. 2 on the depth chart, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the starter should the starter miss time. The team might have that player as the backup running back because they like their skillset on a limited set of downs. All of a sudden, the third running back on the depth chart is the one who becomes the starter and you’ve been using a bench spot, a valuable asset in fantasy football, on a No. 2 back only to find out he’s not even the guy. So, in the draft season, we don’t recommend going after those players, even now that we have COVID protocols and things like that. When the waivers hit and you’re going after these players, that’s fine. But in the draft season, don’t draft backups. That’s drafting for floor. That’s not drafting for ceiling to win your league. You need to get ceiling for points. If you’re definitely going to draft these guys, what we recommend is to draft other people’s backups to potentially make your best starting roster even stronger.