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:
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.