A Nightmare in Dallas: How Afraid Should We Be of Romo’s Back Injury?


I really enjoyed Justin Bailey’s “Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Draft Tony Romo” article. I’ve always enjoyed Romo, as both a real football player and a fantasy player. And I totally agree with Mr Bailey’s argument: given his historical production, his ADP drop represents a great opportunity to acquire him.

Count me in. What could possibly go wrong?

One two… Freddy’s coming for you… 3, 4 better lock your door…


Why are you screaming? I haven’t even caught you yet…

In case you’ve forgotten, the Cowboys signed Brandon Weeden after Cleveland released him. Also in case you’ve forgotten, expected Romo backup Kyle Orton is AWOL. He hasn’t shown up for mini camp. He skipped his physical. He might even retire.

You know where this is going, right? It’s OK if you scream…Brandon Weeden is the Cowboys’ backup QB.

Nancy Thompson: It’s only a dream!
Freddy Krueger: Come to Freddy.
Nancy Thompson: GOD DAMN YOU!

So, if Romo misses any time, the Dallas offense will be helmed by Weeden. Let’s remember that Romo is already 34, and had a significant injury and surgery. To his spine. I agree with Mr Bailey that Romo has a solid chance to recover and play the full season. But I also think he’s at an age and condition where missing time to injury or slow recovery is a real consideration.

Let’s put the dropoff from Romo to Weeden in perspective:

Player Cmp% TD% Int% Y/A AY/A Y/C Rate Sk%
Romo 64.6 5.5 2.7 7.8 7.7 12.1 95.8 5.3
Weeden 55.9 2.9 3.3 6.5 5.6 11.7 71.8 6.6

That’s some nightmare material there. What could happen to the production of Dallas’ skill players if Weeden plays instead of Romo? To get an idea, let’s use the Game Splits App.

Let’s start with Weeden. First we’ll look at Josh Gordon as a proxy for Dez Bryant.


Pretty obvious. Gordon’s performance was worse when Weeden was the QB, and better when any other person was QB. How about TE Jordan Cameron?


Same soup, warmed over. Weeden plays, Cameron suffers. Obviously, we’d expect a big dropoff in production for Dallas’ skill players, like Dez Bryant. It’s a small sample, but look at Dez without Romo:


In fantasy terms, that’s a 2.5 point/game dropoff, which is significant for a WR whose ADP is currently in the middle of round one.

What to Do?

Actually, not much. Mostly I just wanted to start a dialogue about the horror that awaits Dallas if anything ill befalls Romo. Should you avoid him? Of course not. But insofar as it’s maybe more likely than normal that Romo could get hurt, then perhaps his lower ADP makes sense, and we should think about a “ceiling ADP” for him. For example, coming off a season lost to neck surgery, Peyton Manning’s 2012 ADP was 60 (5th round), much lower than you’d normally expect for him.1 As it turned out, he was fine and had a great season. But was it reasonable to discount his ADP prior to the season? Probably. It’s also worth noting that in 2011 Manning was in a situation similar to Romo this year insofar as Manning was coming off major surgery. Drafters didn’t account for Manning’s risk until it was essentially too late. His ADP didn’t change until late August 2011 and even then some thought he might play part of a season.

As for Dez Bryant and the other Cowboys skill players, I think the impact shouldn’t be so much where you draft them as how often you draft them. If you play in a lot of leagues, or you’re like Matt Rittle and Aaron Messing who play a lot of best-ball MFL10s, you may think about reducing the amount of exposure you have to these players.

And, whatever you do…don’t fall asleep…


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  1. His ADP was 41 in 2011, and 14 in 2010  (back)
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