Injuries, Artificial Turf, and Fantasy Football

By Brad Custer

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There are things we take as fact in Fantasy Football, even if we’ve never bothered to confirm our knowledge. We know that drafting a rookie Tight End is a bad idea. We know that <insert any player over 30> will regress this year due to their age. We know that astroturf causes injuries. Right?

While the first two are constantly discussed but here’s your opportunity to get educated about the correlation between astroturf and injuries without having to do the research yourself. There have been several studies on how turf type can affect injuries. The most damning of them is this study published by the American Journal of Sports Medicine in 2012 named, “An analysis of specific lower extremity injury rates on grass and FieldTurf playing surfaces in National Football League Games: 2000-2009 seasons.” While the title is as long as a formal introduction in Game of Thrones, it is certainly descriptive. The initial hypothesis was that injuries were no more common on FieldTurf than on natural grass. The conclusion states, “Injury rates for ACL sprains and eversion ankle sprains for NFL games played on FieldTurf were higher than rates for those injuries in games played on grass, and the differences were statistically significant.”

This study also published in the American Journal for Sports Medicine just this month (May, 2019) on collegiate football confirming similar results. Their conclusion states, “Artificial turf is an important risk factor for specific knee ligament injuries in NCAA football. Injury rates for PCL tears were significantly increased during competitions played on artificial turf as compared with natural grass. Lower NCAA divisions (II and III) also showed higher rates of ACL injuries during competitions on artificial turf versus natural grass.”

And as with all things ~~Fantasy Football~~, absolute consensus does not exist. In researching, I found this study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine about turf type, and injuries in regards to European Football is mentioned often in articles. Unfortunately there does not seem to be sufficient information comparing injury types and rates in these two sports to verify or deny this information as useful; it should be taken with a grain of salt, especially when noting that the movement and force on the players in these sports is drastically different.

FieldTurf also claims on their website that “NFL ACL Injury Study: FieldTurf as safe as natural grass.” However, their link to the study goes to an invalid page and I’ve found no such study on my own. We can trust the company selling the product though, right?

All these studies are specifically targeting FieldTurf brand artificial turf; what may surprise you is that there exists *23 types of turf that the NFL currently plays on* (including special occasion stadiums). Of those stadiums, 18 are natural grass, 16 are artificial turf, and 3 are a hybrid of both. Let’s ease into the numbers with a simple chart. After this chart, all hybrid turfs will be considered artificial for the sake of simplicity.

 

Qty Percent
Grass 18 49%
Artificial 16 43%
Hybrid 3 8%

By now you are probably wondering how all this information can be relevant to fantasy football and how it can be applied. The answer to that question is in the NFL schedule. In a year where Atlanta is scheduled to play 13 of their 16 regular season games in a dome, we have to consider stadium factors when drafting. The spread for playing on artificial turf vs grass is even greater than the spread of playing in a dome vs open stadiums. Below I present to you the summary of the teams and the quantity of games played on artificial turf:

Team Quantity Percentage
PHI 15 94%
DAL 14 88%
MIA 14 88%
NE 14 88%
BUF 13 81%
MIN 13 81%
NYG 13 81%
NYJ 13 81%
ATL 12 75%
GB 12 75%
CIN 11 69%
DET 11 69%
HOU 10 63%
IND 10 63%
NO 10 63%
SEA 10 63%
WSH 7 44%
CAR 6 38%
DEN 5 31%
OAK 5 31%
TB 5 31%
ARI 4 25%
BAL 4 25%
CHI 4 25%
JAX 4 25%
CLE 3 19%
LAR 3 19%
PIT 3 19%
SF 3 19%
TEN 3 19%
KC 2 13%
LAC 2 13%

As you can it varies widely. Kansas City and the LA Chargers only play 2 games on artificial turf this entire season, while Philadelphia plays only a single game on grass.

In terms of fantasy football, it’s one factor you may want to consider when drafting your team. If you are considering a player with an injury history but are wary about reinjury then this information could prove useful with that decision. This is also a good resource for drafting handcuffs who may be more likely to play.

The first example I will show is the player that made me consider this as a possible factor: Devonta Freeman (ATL). The Atlanta Falcons made news earlier this year with the schedule, revealing that they will play all but 2 games in domes. Freeman has a history of foot and leg injuries that have limited him on the field and taken him out of several contests. If we reference the above chart, it shows that 75% of the games Atlanta plays are on artificial turf, meaning he carries a higher risk of reinjury based on field type.

Let’s say you’re debating between quarterbacks Carson Wentz(PHI) and Phillip Rivers(LAC). They’re ADP has them being currently drafting 88th and 89th overall, respectively. The majority of Wentz’s injuries are upper body, except for a late 2017 season tear in the ACL and LCL. Philip Rivers has a very limited injury history, with the last major injury being an ACL tear in 2008. However, he is currently dealing with an unspecified ankle injury. Rivers will only play on artificial turf for 13% of games this year, whereas Wentz will be playing 94% of the games on artificial turf.

Does this mean you should avoid all Philadelphia players and only draft from Kansas City and the LA Chargers? Absolutely not. This is just one factor to be considered amongst many and it mainly applies to players dealing with leg injuries and their teammates.

 

If you guys liked this writeup and want to see more just let me know. If you have any suggestions on what you would like to see I’ll happily take them. The way I setup my master spreadsheet makes it easier to create other tables like this if I have the information. I already have the info on domes vs open field so if there’s interest I may do a post on that next. As a bonus a link to the full schedule with field type below.

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