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Why should we care about the PUP List?

In a previous article, I highlighted players who are at risk of being cut due to their performance and contract status, such as Mike Williams, Alvin Kamara, and Joe Mixon. Their cut risk, which fantasy markets often struggle to price in appropriately, opens up buying or selling opportunities in early best ball drafts or dynasty.

In this article, we will go through a similar exercise, but for PUP list candidates. PUP list candidates are defined as players who suffered significant season-ending injuries during the 2023 NFL season that may be at risk of missing time in 2024. Players placed on the Reserve/PUP list must miss a minimum of four games at the start of the NFL season. As a result, we should be cautious of players with significant PUP risk at high ADPs. Furthermore, there may be opportunities to draft an injured player’s backup at a discount and lock in some early-season production on our rosters.


Methodology: I’m Not a Doctor

First off — let me be clear: I am not a doctor, nor do I have expertise in any adjacent fields like physical therapy. This article will not involve me breaking down injury mechanics, or going into detail about the specifics of individual players’ injuries. Instead, the medical knowledge applied in this article will be based on research from Edwin Porras of Fantasy Points, who is an expert on injury timelines, among other things. Edwin was extremely helpful in the writing of this article and you should be sure to follow him on X/Twitter (@FBInjuryDoc), or check out Pro Athlete Physical Therapy if you’re in need of PT services in the Denver Metro area.

For this analysis, I will look at the average timelines for different types of injuries and apply that to the dates that players had surgery in order to come up with a rough estimate for their return to the field. In other words, I’m trying to capture a range of outcomes of what is possible with their return date, rather than making specific predictions. Obviously these predictions should be updated over the course of the offseason as we get more details about players’ returns to practice.

For an example of how my simple methodology works, let’s examine Giants QB Daniel Jones. He underwent ACL surgery on November 22nd, 2023. Per Edwin Porras, return to action after ACL surgery typically ranges from 9-11 months. Thus, Jones’ predicted return date would be between August 22nd, 2024 (nine months after surgery) and October 22nd, 2024 (11 months after).

Based on Edwin Porras’ research, here are the assumptions I’m using for different injury timelines:



Note that this is not an exhaustive list of major injuries that can occur to NFL players. It is, however, an exhaustive list of major injuries that occurred to fantasy-relevant skill-position players during the 2023-24 NFL season. As a result, these are the only injuries we care about for the sake of analyzing potential PUP candidates in 2024.

Having established the methodology, let’s dive into the most likely PUP candidates for 2024, and offer some key fantasy takeaways for early best ball drafts. The list below is ranked from highest to lowest risk of starting the season on the reserve/PUP list in 2024.


10 Fantasy-Relevant PUP List Candidates in 2024



1. Tyler Higbee (PUP Risk: Very High)

As of this writing, it is unclear exactly when Tyler Higbee had surgery to address his torn ACL/MCL for an injury suffered during Wild Card weekend. Using quotes from GM Les Snead, he had surgery sometime between the injury on January 14th and Snead’s remarks on February 28th. If we assume an early February surgery date, Higbee’s best-case scenario would be a mid-season return around week 10, though it’s possible he’s out even longer.  A post-June 1 release combined with an injury settlement is also possible here, though unlikely.


Fantasy Takeaways

  • Full Fade Tyler Higbee: Drafting an aging TE coming off a late January ACL tear loads up your roster with a ton of risk, without much upside. I see no point in drafting Higbee in 2024 best ball drafts.
  • Monitor Davis Allen and Colby Parkinson: Allen emerged as the Rams’ TE2 down the stretch, including a game of four catches for 50 yards and a TD when Higbee missed Week 14. However, Allen is difficult to trust as the starter as the Rams spent $10M+ in guaranteed money on former Seahawks’ TE Colby Parkinson. I’m viewing Parkinson as the slight favorite over Allen given his contract, making him a viable 18th-20th round stab in best ball drafts when I’ve already drafted Matthew Stafford. This is a camp battle worth monitoring, as the possibility exists that Allen could still win the job.


2. T.J. Hockenson (PUP Risk: Very High)

T.J. Hockenson underwent surgery on Jan. 29 for an ACL/MCL tear. Per Edwin Porras, multi-ligament tears that involve the MCL but do not involve PCL, PLC, Meniscus, or other ligaments are not overly concerning compared to regular ACL tears. As a result, I’m treating Hockenson’s injury as a “regular” ACL tear, unless further details emerge.

A surgery date in late January would put Hockenson’s return window somewhere between late October and late December. Given the nature of Hockenson’s specific injury, I believe a return in November to early December (~Weeks 10-14) is a realistic base case assumption. As a result, fantasy drafters selecting Hockenson are getting half the season from him, even in a close to best-case scenario. He is nearly a guarantee to start the season on reserve/PUP.

It’s worth noting here that there are some historical examples of players beating timelines to return even earlier than nine months, such as Chris Godwin and Michael Gallup. However, even though these players returned to the field earlier, they were not performing up to their standards when they returned. This highlights the risk for Hockenson — regardless of exactly when he returns, his performance is likely to take a significant hit until very late in 2024, or even 2025.


Fantasy Takeaways

  • Fade T.J. Hockenson until ADP 140+: Hockenson’s current ADP of 141 is reasonable, if perhaps slightly overvalued for a player who’s almost guaranteed to miss half the season. That said, there are certainly builds where I’m looking to add TE upside and Hockenson makes sense, particularly if I’ve missed out on earlier round TEs. I prefer drafting Hockenson if I’ve satisified one of the following two criteria. 1) I’ve already taken another Vikings’ pass catcher to stack up with JJ McCarthy OR 2) I’m drafting 3 late TEs to add some robustness for Hockenson missing most of the season. 
  • Buy Jordan Addison: Hockenson’s likely prolonged absence offers second-year breakout candidate Jordan Addison an opportunity to consolidate target share behind Justin Jefferson to start the 2024 season. Of all rookie WRs since 2013, Addison scored in the 88th percentile in terms of PPR points per game and 83rd percentile in yards per game, strong signals of a potential leap in Year 2. I find his current ADP as a mid-sixth-round pick attractive.


3. Keaton Mitchell (PUP Risk: High)

Exciting UDFA RB Keaton Mitchell was poised to be a key playoff contributor for the AFC-favorite Baltimore Ravens before suffering a gruesome knee injury in Week 15. While there were initial fears that Mitchell’s injury could be multi-ligament, it has since been reported as a “clean” ACL tear, per head coach John Harbaugh. Unless more details come out to the contrary, I’m assuming Mitchell’s injury was just to the ACL, and didn’t involve other ligaments which would prolong his recovery time. It’s worth noting, however, that others dispute the “clean” diagnosis for Mitchell’s ACL tear, though there remains no firm reporting on the details of his injury.

That “clean” ACL tear puts Mitchell’s likely return somewhere in the Week 4-8 range, but if there are any complications, his return could be delayed until Week 12. I think it’s quite likely Mitchell starts the season on reserve/PUP to free up early-season roster depth for the Ravens.


Fantasy Takeaways

  • Hold Keaton Mitchell: I find Mitchell’s current ADP of 211 palatable. There is tons of uncertainty in the Ravens’ backfield, but I’m willing to draft Mitchell in the last round given the explosiveness he showed last year as a rusher. Furthermore, although we usually expect production dips for RBs coming off ACL tears, Mitchell has age and athleticism on his side to potentially buck this trend. Though on a small sample, Mitchell posted an otherworldly 8.4 YPC in 2023.


4. Nick Chubb (PUP Risk: High)

Compared to other ACL tears, there’s more uncertainty in Chubb’s return timeline given the multi-ligament nature of the injury. Edwin Porras believes that 10 months may be the minimum return-to-play timeline for Chubb’s specific injury, as opposed to nine months for a clean tear. A 10-12 month return window post-surgery would have Chubb returning sometime between Week 2 and Week 11. I believe something closer to the 11-month timeline, similar to what Javonte Williams took to return, is most realistic for Chubb. That would have him returning in the Week 5-9 range.

Furthermore, that would line up with Chubb’s contract restructuring this off-season. Chubb was forced to take a pay cut but did receive an additional ~$2M in guarantees compared to what he would have received if he was cut by the Browns. The additional $2M suggests the Browns have some expectation that Chubb will be able to contribute later in the season.


Fantasy Takeaways

  • Hold Nick Chubb: Chubb is one of my favorite NFL RBs to watch, but multi-ligament ACL tears are scary, particularly for an aging player dependent on rushing efficiency. However, his ADP (129) has fallen to a point where he is priced near other questionable talents (Rico Dowdle, Ezekiel Elliott) or contingency backs (Blake Corum, Zach Charbonnet). I think mixing in Chubb with the hopes he retakes the Browns’ 1A role down the stretch is a reasonable bet, but one I wouldn’t want to be overexposed to.
  • Hold Jerome Ford and buy D’Onta Foreman: Both Ford and Foreman are cheap bets that Chubb will not return to form in 2024. I prefer the cost of Foreman, though there is some risk he doesn’t make the team with just ~$300K in guarantees on his contract.


5. Jonathan Brooks (PUP Risk: Medium)

Jonathan Brooks, an all-purpose running back and focal point of the Texas Longhorns’ offense, unfortunately suffered an ACL tear on Nov. 11, undergoing surgery on Dec. 5. This puts Brooks’ 2024 availability slightly in doubt, as a 9-11 month recovery period post-surgery would have the rookie RB returning sometime between Week 1 and Week 9 of the NFL season.

Given that no additional ligaments were reported damaged and Brooks’ age (20), I’m inclined to believe that a Week 1-5 return is more likely than Weeks 6-9. However, there is some precedent of teams exercising caution with rookies recovering from injury. Jameson Williams underwent ACL surgery in late January 2022 but did not return to game action until early December, a 10.5-month recovery timeline, presumably because they wanted to protect their first-round investment from re-injury risk.


Fantasy Takeaways

  • Buy Jonathan Brooks: Brooks’ projected Round 3 draft capital combined with his current Underdog ADP of 87 makes him an attractive pick in early best ball drafts. When making picks in the 7th-8th round, I’m willing to sacrifice some early-season production — which comes with Brooks’ decent risk of landing on reserve/PUP — for later-season upside. Furthermore, reports on Brooks’ recovery have been glowing, limiting some of the injury downside.


6. Daniel Jones (PUP Risk: Medium-Low)

Per Edwin Porras, the median timeline to return from ACL surgeries is 10 months for QBs. A 9-11 month return for Daniel Jones would have him return sometime between the preseason and Week 5. Given that there was no reported additional ligament damage, I would expect Jones to return on the earlier side of that timeline, making a Week 1 return plausible.


Fantasy Takeaways

  • Soft Fade Daniel Jones: I think Jones’ current ADP of 202 is fine, but there are other QB selections in that area with more upside and/or job security (Drake Maye, Geno Smith, Will Levis, and Derek Carr). Given that rushing opportunities decrease by ~20% for QBs coming off ACL tears, Jones may be an even more limited fantasy asset than prior seasons. Compound that with the fact that there’s some risk the Giants bring in competition at QB, and I think you can do better than Danny Dimes with your late-round QB selection. Keep in mind that the Giants can pretty easily get out of Jones’ contract before the 2025 season, meaning they may be incentivized to rest him down the stretch for a younger prospect if he underperforms. This is exacerbated by the injury guarantees in Jones’ contract, which could further incentivize the Giants to rest him for the final weeks of the regular season.


7. Kendrick Bourne (PUP Risk: Medium-Low)

Kendrick Bourne claims to be ahead of schedule in his return from ACL surgery, which is positive news for the 28-year-old veteran wideout. Before injury, Bourne was trending toward his best season of a seven-year NFL career, pacing for 79-863-9 over 17 games. Since Bourne seemingly only damaged his ACL, I would expect Bourne to return closer to the 9-10 month window, which would place his return somewhere between mid-August and Week 2-3 of the NFL season. If he returns closer to the 11-month mark, he could be out until Week 6. 


Fantasy Takeaways

  • Hold Kendrick Bourne: At Bourne’s ADP of 214, he’s essentially free, so I don’t think he’s the worst pick in best ball drafts given what he produced last season. However, given Bourne’s injury and lack of high-end NFL production through his 7-year NFL career, I’m inclined to target the Patriots’ younger pass catchers in Ja’Lynn Polk, Javon Baker, and Demario Douglas if I want to make a bet on a Drake Maye-revived offense.


8. Mike Williams (PUP Risk: Low)

I’m not overly concerned with Williams’ return timeline; a 9-10 month return post-surgery, fairly typical for a “clean” ACL tear, would have him back playing in July to late August. We can’t, however, rule out a slightly delayed timeline, which could result in Williams missing a few weeks to start the season. 


Fantasy Takeaways

  • Hold Mike Williams: Williams’ current ADP hovering near pick 110 seems fine to me. He should be the clear number 2 target in an Aaron Rodgers’ offense, which could certainly deliver upside on a 10th round price tag. If Williams were fully healthy, he would almost certainly be going several rounds earlier, perhaps as a 5th-6th round pick in the range of other veterans like Hollywood Brown or Calvin Ridley. Given Williams’ injury and new offensive environment, I think he has a wide range of outcomes which could be an attractive bet depending on what type of WR archetype you’re looking for in the 10th round of drafts.


9. Kirk Cousins (PUP Risk: Very Low)

Kirk Cousins underwent Achilles surgery on Nov. 11. That puts him on track to return sometime this summer, with a late August return as a “worst-case” scenario. I’m fairly confident that Cousins will be back at the start of the 2024 season, barring some kind of re-injury or setback.


Fantasy Takeaways

  • Fade Kirk Cousins: I think Kirk Cousins’ ADP of 143 is overpriced for two reasons. First, there is not a huge historical precedent of older QBs returning from Achilles’ tears, which raises some questions about Cousins’ ability to play to his historical standard this season. Second, the Falcons shockingly selected Michael Penix Jr. in the 1st round of the NFL draft, raising Cousins’ late-season benching risk substantially. If the Falcons are out of the playoff picture in any of Weeks 15-17, I think it’s highly likely that Penix would get a chance to debut. Unfortunately for best ball drafters, having QBs that are starting in Weeks 15-17 is absolutely critical for winning tournaments, making Cousins a high risk selection. I’m fine taking Cousins if I already have one of his pass catchers (Drake London, Kyle Pitts), but I’m searching for alternatives.


10. J.K. Dobbins (PUP Risk: Very Low)

J.K. Dobbins, now entering his fourth NFL season, has had terrible injury luck in his career to date. Now coming off Achilles surgery on Sept. 15, Dobbins should be able to return to start the NFL season, but with serious questions about his return to performance. 


Fantasy Takeaways

  • Fade J.K. Dobbins: Unfortunately for Dobbins, the history of NFL RBs coming back from Achilles tears tells a tragic story. Aside from D’Onta Foreman, who has become a solid committee back when leaned upon, there are almost no examples of RBs who have successfully returned from this injury. Although the landing spot with the Chargers is attractive, Dobbins still has relatively meager odds of making the roster, with just $50K in guarantees. If Dobbins is locked into a roster spot come August, I’m fine mixing in some later round stabs, but I want to bet against an injury that has derailed almost every RBs career.


Rapid Fire: Other Injuries I’m Monitoring

In this section, I’ll quickly go through other “major” — but not PUP risk-worthy — injuries worth monitoring this offseason. I’m not factoring these injuries significantly into my draft process, but I will be looking for positive confirmation that these players are practicing without setbacks as we enter offseason programs. Without further adieu…


Rhamondre Stevenson (ankle) was placed on season-ending I.R. for a high ankle sprain, though little details have emerged since…Tank Dell (fibula fracture) will have plenty of time to recover, but the injury is somewhat concerning given his diminutive size…Marquise Brown (heel) had a lingering heel issue that eventually led to his placement on I.R…Gabe Davis (knee) never returned from a Week 18 PCL sprain, but he should be fully healthy entering 2024…Christian Kirk (core) underwent core muscle surgery following a Week 13 injury and never returned…Joe Burrow (wrist) thinks he’ll be cleared for spring OTAs…Deshaun Watson (shoulder) looked truly awful in 2023 but reportedly should be fully recovered from shoulder surgery for spring OTAs…Anthony Richardson (shoulder) hopes to start throwing soonJustin Herbert (finger) underwent surgery to repair a fracture in his right index finger, but he should be completely fine to start 2024…Aaron Rodgers (Achilles) will be healthy to start 2024, barring an Ayahuasca-induced spiritual awakening…