The preseason has fewer games, more practice, less contact, and more big heads. All that is designed to create fewer names on the NFL injury report and have teams at their healthiest heading into the season, but is it working?
NFL Injury Report: 2022 Preseason Takeaways
Will Carroll has covered injuries in sports for more than 20 years, working at places like ESPN, Baseball Prospectus, Football Outsiders, and FanDuel. He’s written four books, including the upcoming “The Science of Football” and consults with several pro teams. He is currently the Director of Bioanalytics for Northstarr, a sports science startup company.
It’s much harder to tell if there are fewer injuries since the NFL Injury Report doesn’t come out until a regular season game week (and that’s it’s own issue). The use of Guardian Caps – the big puffy looking helmet guards – has reduced some concussion numbers, but those were already trending down with reduced contact. There’s even been some discussion about whether the caps will train players to go head-down on hits. We’ll have to see if concussion numbers go up in the first few weeks, but they seem relatively steady in games.
Slightly Fewer ACL Injuries In 2022
A better, or at least more consistent, measure is the ACL count. It’s easy to follow and year over year numbers are available. So far in 2022, there have been 16 noted, which compares almost exactly with last year’s 18 ahead of Week 1. There’s still a week plus, so there don’t appear to be significant changes here.
What is different is that we haven’t had a big name go down with an ACL. No one notices when the sixth-round pick is carted off, but a starting QB or a big-name sack artist? That lights up Twitter and changes the outlook of a whole season. That lack of a big name or big effect is absolute and pure luck. If it’s random, then we can expect a lot of early season injuries to even things out.
When Is Peak Season For The NFL Injury Report?
Remember, in normal seasons, more than half of all injuries will happen before Week 2 games. That hasn’t been the case over the past few. Between COVID restrictions and new preseason contact regulations, those numbers have gone down early, but stayed in the normal range over the season. The halfway point for injuries last year was Week 8, which is, you know, about halfway in the season.
With no big names, this might seem like a low impact edition of the Injury Report, but every injury counts. They stack up. Even the minor ones to backups cost time and effort for a medical staff that is often overworked, doing 20 hour days through the season to keep players at their best. While there’s always more injuries, rehab, and maintenance, there’s never more hours in the day.
NFL Injury Report: 2022 Preseason Names To Monitor
COMMANDERS RB BRIAN ROBINSON (Gunshot Wounds)
I’ve never had to write “gunshot wounds” in twenty years of injury reports, but I’m not sure if I’m more surprised that I am, or that I haven’t before in this world. Regardless, it is obviously bad to get shot, especially for a rookie that was making an impression. He’s alive and will recover, but there’s just no way to get any idea of the timing of that. With the roster moves to get to 53, there’s actually some indication that the Commanders think it could be less than four games.
While we don’t know the exact location or number of wounds – “lower extremities” – the need for surgery tells us these were not flesh wounds. Whether Robinson is weight bearing, whether there was muscle loss, and whether there were vascular or nerve damage are all complete unknowns right now. A late report says he was shot once in the glute and a second in his calf. Both would be negatives for the kind of push a power back needs.
It sounds crass to say this should increase Antonio Gibson’s playing time, but from a touches standpoint, it should. Gibson becomes the clear RB1 and Carson Wentz often has to be handled by making him hand the ball off, a lot. Gibson’s not going to have a Jonathan Taylor type year, but you have to take every total and push them up. Can Gibson handle that expanded workload? He hasn’t, so we don’t know, but it’s an intriguing play.
Add all this to Wentz’s presence and this is a team that could be amongst the most run-heavy teams and rely more on the big play. That usually means scores/totals are down, plus reduced targets for the pass catchers. It’s an overall negative for the Commanders across the board.
CAM AKERS RB RAMS (strained Achilles)
DARRELL HENDERSON RB RAMS (unknown)
The Rams are not a run-first team, but they’ve had very good runners over the past few seasons. Keeping them healthy hasn’t been the best, but it’s hard to blame the kinds of injuries – chronic knees, Achilles ruptures – on them. As the team heads into the start of their title defense, Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson are both trending the right way.
Akers is still technically in rehab from his Achilles injury, which happened almost a year ago. He came back for the playoffs and has had a relatively normal off-season and camp. The team has been protective of the leg and focused on getting his muscles back to both normal and symmetrical. That done, there’s really no “rehab” to be done and barely any maintenance. The Achilles is healed, Akers can run, and whether he did that in the preseason or not tells us nothing. Players regularly come back from Achilles injuries in six months. Akers came back in six months six months ago.
That’s not to say Darrell Henderson Jr. is unimportant. The Rams are likely to rotate Akers and Henderson when healthy, so the mysterious “soft tissue injury” that kept Henderson out last week could affect how many touches both get. It could mean rookie Kyren Williams gets more looks, or Matthew Stafford could go deeper down his receiver charts and someone like Tutu Atwell could get more looks. We’ll know more about Henderson by next week’s practices and that’s where any absence or deficit would start to affect my models.
CHRIS GODWIN WR (sprained knee)
RUSSELL GAGE WR BUCCANEERS (strained quad)
When I worked with Antonio Freeman, the former Packers WR, he would remind me about whoever was number one on the depth chart. “It’s good to be number one” and it worked for him, to be sure. Knowing who’s considered the best, best paid, or most targeted gives a lot of information. Being Tom Brady’s number one has been pretty good over the years, but who the heck is that in Tampa? Is it Mike Evans, or would Chris Godwin be in the discussion when healthy? Julio Jones is a Hall of Famer, but at the end of his career. In the right situations, he could be the number one option.
To be the number one, a player has to be healthy and if so, then it’s Evans. Chris Godwin is still working back from his ACL and even though he’s past the standard six to nine month recovery period, he’s not back to 100 percent yet. He’s running, cutting, and it doesn’t appear there’s any deficit. It could well be that Godwin doesn’t yet have full confidence in the knee, though he’s not rounding off routes either. He’s on track to play, but I might lay off him slightly in Week 1.
With Russell Gage, a strained quad kept him out of the final preseason game, though I’m told that the Indianapolis turf factored into that, as well as holding out Mike Evans. Gage hasn’t gotten much work with Tom Brady, but Brady’s not a one-look QB. He’s always spread the ball around and if Gage (or anyone) gets open, he’ll get found.
I’m off both Godwin and Gage in Week 1, with those shifting more to Evans and the running game. We’ll see if the Cowboys can hold Brady at home, but everything tells me the O/U is too high, especially given the end of season struggles from Brady and his line. Did Todd Bowles fix that? I’m not paying to see.
ZACH ERTZ TE CARDINALS (strained calf)
While Zach Ertz went from Philly to the desert and seemed reborn, don’t forget that he’d been injury prone in his last years with the Eagles, despite a solid medical staff. Ertz’s injuries were the weardown type, the kind that can sap skills, speed, and strength. A calf strain in camp was complicated by the birth of the Ertz’s first child, who should be some sort of athletic superhuman.
All indications are that the combo of factors makes the calf strain seem more significant than it is. His missed time is as much paternity as pulled muscle. We’ll know in that last week of practice if Ertz will be ready. If he is, projections that he’ll be at level with last year fail to account for what he did in the Cardinals offense and underestimate his injury risk. That makes Ertz Schrödinger’s Tight End, for now.
JK DOBBINS RB RAVENS (post-ACL reconstruction)
GUS EDWARDS RB RAVENS (post-ACL reconstruction)
The great ACL destruction in Baltimore last year is still seeing consequences. At the one year mark, neither JK Dobbins nor Gus Edwards is back to where they were, which is a bit long, but not ridiculously so. Edwards is behind because his injury included other damage inside the knee. He’s on the PUP, so we won’t see him for a couple weeks at the very least.
Dobbins is the more interesting case. He should be back, given his more isolated damage. He hasn’t been cleared for contact, his visibility at practice is very limited, and there’s simply nothing to go on, even from people on the inside. The Ravens medical staff has a tendency to be very conservative, holding people out longer and going slower with rehabs. My guess is that’s what’s going on here.
The signing of Kenyan Drake is a clear sign that the team sees itself as thin at running back and dangerously so. The NFL isn’t using some more advanced techniques that could help people get back significantly quicker. That same kevlar fiber I talked about with high ankles can be used in knees and other joints. The Ravens could have helped themselves by being ahead of the curve. Instead, Lamar Jackson is likely to run more on his own. That’s good for yardage props, bad for health risk.
NAJEE HARRIS RB STEELERS (lisfranc sprain)
Lisfranc sprains are like any other ligament injuries and come in grades, from the minor to the serious. For Najee Harris, all indications are that this is on the minor side. That could still cost him six weeks and create some problems with lateral motion and hard pushes, but it’s not going to cost him a season or be a hard rehab. There was worry that the pure volume Harris got last year would wear him down and make him injury prone this year, but this is more of a traumatic injury than a wear down. It shouldn’t be a chronic problem given time to heal. In the meantime, it seems he’s playing through it well and the Steelers medical staff is keeping him functional. It could still cost him volume.
TJ WATT DE STEELERS (sprained knee)
The Steelers apparently don’t believe in genetics. The Watt family have obviously been very gifted in many ways, but injuries are a weakness. After signing a big deal, the Steelers exposed Watt during the preseason and they were rewarded with a knee injury. It’s mild, but serves as a reminder about that “pre” portion of the word. In the pre-season, it’s like that old TV show – the points don’t matter, but the injuries do.
Having two brothers who played in the NFL, it gives an interesting insight into genetics. JJ Watt has been a monster, but elbow, back, and knee injuries have sidelined him and perhaps shortened a Hall of Fame type career. TJ, on the other hand, has had minor but nagging injuries. He missed a couple games last year, and tied the sack record anyway. A minor knee sprain shouldn’t hold him up, but betting on the Steelers defense might be a bit riskier until we know for sure that he hasn’t lost stability on that quick outside curl move.
Does that open up some possibilities for that tasty Week 1 matchup with the Bengals? While Joe Burrow has been a human landing pad for the past couple seasons and is coming off an appendectomy, we’ll see just how upgraded his line is quickly. Pair that with the chance that Watt’s lost a step temporarily and that’s an extra tick for Burrow to go downfield. That 44.5 O/U seems low to me, especially if both are true.
SAM DARNOLD QB PANTHERS (sprained high ankle)
While Sam Darnold had presumably already lost the QB1 to Baker Mayfield, adding an injury to that insult seems like he’s displeased the gods. It’s a significant high ankle sprain, one that falls into a treatment mid-ground that’s often complicated. The “high ankle” isn’t a real thing. People just don’t want to say “syndesmosis”, the actual name for the joint between the two bones of the lower leg. That large, inflexible ligament holding the bones together can stretch and tear, which is a sprain.
The treatment for a mild to mid-grade sprain is simple rest and the standard modalities. When the tearing gets up near half or more, the leg gets unstable and needs to be reconstructed. In recent years, the use of a technique called “tightrope” has become the standard, using Kevlar fibers to strengthen and support the repaired (not reconstructed) ligament. Tua Tagavailoa has this in both syndesmotic joints, performed when he was at Alabama.
Darnold and the Panthers had some extra opinions – which is normal – and while both options (rehab and surgical) were presented, the non-surgical is always preferred. The downside is that the Panthers are a bit exposed, with Matt Corral out for the season, that makes old friend PJ Walker the backup by default, unless someone like Sam Ehlinger pops on to waivers. The Panthers should stick with the consensus low expectations with no positive or negative changes to the model, unless you’re watching the odds for “Matt Ruhle – first coach fired.”
TYROD TAYLOR QB GIANTS (bruised back)
Tyrod Taylor didn’t lose a starting job this year. The career bridge QB was brought in to circle like a vulture in Daniel Jones’ last chance with the Giants. He’s an ideal backup, but a backup with a bad back? That’s just a NY Post headline waiting to happen. Taylor took a big hit in a pre-season game, but the injury is a typical collision injury – bruised, sore, about what you’d expect if you were driven into the ground by a 300 lb guy.
There’s no structural issue – no bone fractures or bruising. There’s no sign of nerve issue, which can happen with inflammation. He should be back quickly, on the sidelines, but ready if needed well before game time of Week 1. There’s no effect here on the team in any way, in any format.
NFL INJURY REPORT QUICK HITS
Matthew Stafford’s elbow is fine. Peter King reported that he saw Stafford throwing hard outs and deep passes with no issue on his visit to Rams camp. My sources concur … Robbie Anderson continues to struggle with leg injuries. This is bad for a speed receiver with QB questions … Miles Sanders has missed a couple weeks with a hamstring strain and while “it’s the preseason” is real, so is the significant hamstring strain and his competition … Kadarius Toney is coming off knee surgery, has a mysterious lingering leg injury that the team says isn’t related, and has quarterback issues. Expecting big plays from him in Week 1 is a couple steps beyond wishful thinking … Remember Odell Beckham Jr? He’s rehabbing his ACL and on track to showcase himself sometime in early October. He could end up a nice addition to a team that lost someone, or he could end up back with the Rams as expected.