Rest vs. Rust 2021: Is Kenny Golladay a ticking time-bomb in fantasy football?

·7 min read

For years, fantasy managers have debated the merits of a player who’s had time to heal a particular injury versus the overall deterioration that could occur during the rehab process. Whether it’s a veteran stud showing signs of decline or a young turk striving to bounce back from an upended season, FF enthusiasts are always weighing the pros and cons of time spent away from the field.

The Covid-related question marks surrounding 2020 highlighted this concern and inspired me to — with the help of an esteemed orthopedic surgeon — launch Rest vs Rust for 2021. A year later, pangs of the pandemic continue to affect how fans approach the virtual game.

So, we’re running it back … with a new crop of star players looking to regain dominance.

This is Rest vs Rust 2.0.

Kenny Golladay, WR, New York Giants

It’s what killed the cat and it’s what led Pandora to open a mythical box.

It’s why every summer Chris Herndon’s name pops up on a smattering of sleeper articles.

It’s not just curiosity, though. It’s the upside of the unknown. And we love it in fantasy football.

It’s also been working in Kenny Golladay’s favor since 2017.

Despite a small school pedigree, relatively advanced age, and mediocre Combine numbers, Golladay’s potential got him drafted in the third round. Desperate for a young field-stretcher who could develop into a red-zone weapon, Detroit believed in an eventual BabyTron breakout.

A pesky hamstring strain forced the Lions to push pause on those immediate hopes, as Golladay missed five games (Weeks 3-9) of his rookie effort. Over the course of the year, however, he flashed, closing out the final week of his first pro campaign with a 2-81-1 stat line in a win over the Packers.

He was only getting started.

Golladay opened his sophomore effort with 114 yards on 7 catches. He continued to push towards his ceiling while pulling Detroit’s receiving corps into production. By the end of 2018, the former Huskie posted his first 1,000-yard effort and rewarded FF enthusiasts with a top-21 fantasy finish.

Kenny G’s ascent was no longer possible; it had become probable.

Kenny Golladay #19 of the Detroit Lions
Kenny Golladay became a staple with the Lions. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

In 2019, Golladay achieved star status. He not only cleared 1,100 yards but led the league in receiving scores (11). A magnet for deep looks (37), Golladay averaged 18.3 YPR (WR4). He was the WR5 overall in fantasy, out-producing guys like DeAndre Hopkins and Mike Evans.

Entering a contract year, more of the same in 2020 seemed like a forgone conclusion. A reemergence of soft-tissue issues, however, derailed the heavily ticketed hype train, limiting the Lions' WR1 to just five games. But in those five games managers were treated to glimpses of greatness, as Golladay posted either 100 yards or scored in each of the four contests before going down in Week 8 with a hip injury.

And ... that hip injury. How bad was it?

It must have been pretty serious if it cost Golladay the last two months of his season, right?

And was it connected to the hamstring problems?

Could it crop up again?

Understanding Kenny Golladay’s injury

When asked about the hip issue, Golladay told reporters that he suffered a “hip flexor strain.”

To gather information and gain clarity about the severity of this hip flexor issue, I contacted our old friend: Dr. Alex Weber, an orthopedic surgeon and team physician for the USC Trojans.

He explained that the hip flexor is the gathering of muscles that are attached to the pelvis and the front of the thigh. The job of these muscles is to lift up (or flex) the thigh bone, knee, and whole lower extremity. Sometimes those muscles can get strained, similarly to a hamstring or a quad. These strains often occur when an athlete is fatigued or dehydrated. Once in a while, however, they can come “secondary to underlying conditions like an impingement or a labral tear.”

Per Dr. Weber, “We — the orthopedic community — don’t know why some labral tears become symptomatic while others do not. It likely has to do with the physical demands of each athlete. How much load they’re lifting and the frequency with which they’re squatting, cutting, or twisting. If we scanned a whole bunch of professional or collegiate athletes, probably thirty percent would have asymptomatic labral tears.”

That means that Golladay could have had a tear in the cartilage that cushions his hip joint and not even known it.

I asked the doctor if the issue might have been connected to the thigh strain that Kenny dealt with two months prior.

The doctor’s answer was a simple (and emphatic): “Definitely.”

Sensing that I needed more clarification Dr. Weber added, “If an athlete has an issue with their kinetic chain they are more likely to have injuries along that kinetic chain. Without knowing Golladay’s entire medical history, I’d be willing to say he has a labral tear and that some of these recurrent soft tissue issues to the lower extremity — like the hamstring injuries — are probably secondary to an underlying hip impingement.”

Interestingly, tears within the labrum don’t heal on their own (unlike Saquon’s MCL). Surgery remains the only way to repair an impingement or a tear. Yet there’s no public record of Golladay going under the knife.

Is it likely, then, that Golladay could continue to be hampered by these nagging aches and pains?

According to the doctor, “We don’t always know what causes certain players to experience flare-ups while others remain unaffected. These problems can crop up at any time, and when they do, they can cause a 6-7 week absence. That’s what makes Golladay such a risky guy.”

Cool cool cool.

*Gulp*

Kenny Golladay's seasonal outlook for 2021

The best way to predict the future is by understanding the past. Based on my research and Dr. Weber’s analysis, here’s what I think happened in 2020 …

Kenny hurt himself before the season officially opened (hamstring). After watching his team drop two in a row, he came back and crushed, converting 20 of 28 balls for 338 yards and 2 TDs over four healthy games. In Week 8, the hip issue became symptomatic and he planned to sit the requisite four to six weeks before returning to the sport.

By Week 12, however, Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn were both fired and the Lions record was a bleak 4-7. Instead of sacrificing his body to a losing effort, Golladay made a business decision, left 2020 in the rearview, and set his sights on free agency. Rather than surgically repairing the likely labral tear — the post-op recovery time of which is around six months — he made himself immediately available and took advantage of a talent-poor FA class.

The strategy apparently worked. With competing offers reportedly coming in from Chicago and Baltimore, the G-Men — apparently determined to get the most out of Daniel Jones — signed the former Lion to a four-year, $72 million deal and made him the eighth-highest paid wideout in the league.

(Thus endeth my hypothesis)

Kenny G might be guaranteed $40 million, but fantasy managers’ potential payday remains decidedly less secure.

Even as the alpha in New York’s receiving corps, he’ll be competing for targets among a stable of solid pass-catchers who include Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, Evan Engram, and Kyle Rudolph. Admittedly, Golladay has never needed a glut of looks to produce sky-high numbers. For example, in 2019, he caught just 65 balls (WR29) but with an average target distance of 15.7 yards (WR6) and a TD rate of 17 percent he made up the difference and boomed for fans of the virtual game.

Those high-value opportunities will continue to go to the Giants' newest and most dominant vertical threat. The question is whether or not Jones can accurately deliver them (through tight windows) to Golladay. Matthew Stafford may have his warts, but he’s always been an aggressive passer who’s been willing to push the ball downfield (61 deep ball attempts in 2020, QB12). Jones, on the other hand, has been outside of the top-17 QBs in deep ball attempts, YPA, and air yards per attempt over his career. Perhaps the gift of a 50/50 winner like Golladay (54.2% contested catch rate in 2019, WR7) changes that.

A ladder-climber who doesn’t get much separation (1.22 yards, WR93), variance has always been a factor when rostering Golladay. He finished 2019 the WR5 overall but averaged 13.6 fantasy points per contest (WR9). Consider the potential for missed time due to injury (I’d take the under on 14 games) and that fluctuation in weekly production only figures to increase.

A steal in the sixth but overpriced in the fourth round of 12-team exercises, Golladay’s red-zone potential is full of upside ... but the unknown isn’t worth reaching inside of the top-20 for.

Give me 985 yards, 7 TDs, and 10 white knuckles.

Are you excited to see Golladay debut for Big Blue? Let Liz know on social @LizLoza_FF

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