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NFL Injuries, Part 4: Rookies Are at High Risk of Getting Hurt

Three prior postings on the theme of injuries appeared in mid-February. We’re again at a slowdown in NFL news, so I’m returning to this important, but not time-sensitive topic.

A blog called Football Outsiders has done a lot of research on the subject of NFL injuries. Those guys have also built up a database of injuries going back 15 years. Their data is mainly based on “weeks missed” due to injury.

Of all the data they’ve compiled, the one stat that stands out as being nearly off-the-charts concerns when injuries happen – in terms of player-seasons – to NFL players.

Here are Football Outsiders’ compilation of prior seasons played and numbers of weeks lost due to injury for NFL players:

Rookie: 16,637
2nd year: 2,795
3rd year: 1,855
4th year: 1,183
5th year: 890

The pattern continues in descending fashion all the way through players with 15 years in the league. Of course, with fewer players on the field who’ve had many past years in the league, the number of weeks lost for them are going to decline. But this doesn’t begin to explain the statistics for rookies – who tend not to get on the field all that often.

That rookies would miss six times more weeks of play than second-year players is stunning. Furthermore, I would think there are more fourth-year players getting playing time than rookies and yet rookies accumulate fourteen times more missed weeks of play.

It could be that rookies are getting much of their playing time on special teams and perhaps more rookies than veterans are injured during practice, but details such as these cannot begin to account for the statistical disparities.

For whatever reason or combination of reasons, rookies are incredibly injury-prone. The 2016 Green Bay Packers team would seem to bear this out.

Following the 2016 season, we examined the number of times Green Bay players showed up on the weekly injury reports (though they still might have played). Here are the weeks a number of Packers’ rookies were on the injury report:

Makinton Dorleant: 16 weeks
Kyler Fackrell: 4 weeks
Josh Hawkins: 3 weeks

Blake Martinez, Kentrell Brice, Geronimo Allison and Jason Spriggs all managed to get on the field a fair amount of time, though Martinez was hobbled late in the season. Allison played injured in the playoffs and Brice was badly injured on the opening kickoff against Atlanta in the playoffs.

Second-year players didn’t fare much better for Green Bay in 2016:

Damarious Randall: 14 games
Quentin Rollins: 8 weeks
Jake Ryan: 4 weeks
Joe Thomas: 2 weeks

Second-year players Ty Montgomery, LaDarius Gunter and Aaron Ripkowski stayed relatively healthy, though Ripkowski had an injured shoulder going into the playoff game against the Giants and Montgomery missed some of that same game with an ankle injury.

I would surmise that as young players continue to age and their bodies get stronger, they are less susceptible to injury. However, my guess is that as players age and as their incomes increase, they learn to take better care of themselves, they exercise more caution on the field and they generally play with less reckless abandon.

At least in 2016, another statistic is hard to miss: smaller players are more prone to injury, such as Dorleant, Hawkins, Randall and Rollins. For the most part defensive and offensive linemen avoided the injury report lists last year and even when they were on the reports (J.C Tretter, 12 weeks; T.J. Lang, nine weeks; Clay Matthews, eight weeks; Nick Perry, seven weeks; Corey Linsley, seven weeks), they were often able to play through their injuries.

One Obvious Lesson

At least one thing that might be learned from the 2016 season is that the more rookies and second-year players who are getting significant playing time, the more you are going to need to call upon backups.

In the case of the Packers’ cornerbacks last year, they had second-year players backed up by rookies, leading to an arguably predictable disaster. Strictly from an injury standpoint, getting rid of veterans Davon House and Casey Hayward, two players who were largely injury-free with other teams in 2016, now seems unwise.

Rob Born

I’m with Matt: “You gotta make those chunk plays!”



  1. Kato April 6, 2017

    I think number of weeks missed by rookies due to injury is a little inflated due to their inexperience. They may be in the injury report due to a minor injury, and will not be on the gameday roster because they aren’t considered a core player. If a starting veteran, or key rotation player had the same injury, they will likely play through it. Also, it is fairly common as the season advances and injuries pile up, teams need players from the practice squad or wherever. The common move, as a have seen the packers do many times, I despite the injury being a 2-3 week injury, they will be put on injured reserve to create a roster spot.

  2. PF4L April 6, 2017

    Good research Rob. I would have thought just the opposite happens, older players getting injured more as their bodies break down.

    I guess sometimes i don’t know shit, hmmm, go figure.

  3. MJ April 6, 2017

    Inexperience, willingness to stand out and play a bit recklessly, and lacking enough NFL conditioning as the veterans, perhaps?

  4. Howard April 6, 2017

    Have to agree with all the points about rookies. I would add that rookies are not use to as long of a season as they endure from college to the NFL.

    Rookies for the most part cannot be counted on to make large contributions for several reasons, including injury. The quantity of injuries for rookies referenced in the article does appear to be substantially more than you would expect. I wonder how the percentage of rookies, second year, etc relate to each group. You would have to know the quantity in each group to determine how significant the injury ratio is. For example I don’t see first year players listed. Is it possible these stats combine first year players and rookies? That could make the rookie pool larger than the other year pools. Teams will have some first year players that may not be rookies but technically have not played in the NFL because they were on practice squads their rookie year.

  5. Moolla April 7, 2017

    Would be more accurate to put out a percentage of weeks missed for each year than just gross number of weeks missed.
    Number of rookies far exceeds number of 5th year players.
    Conclusion would be the same probably but would not be that extreme.