Injury Report: Next Man Up, 2013 In Review
In a year of high profile injuries Pete Damilatis reviews the ones that hurt the most as well as those players who stepped up and filled the void the best.
Injury Report: Next Man Up, 2013 In Review
As far as old football sayings go, “next man up” seems to have become one of the more clichéd ones, right up there with “establishing the run” and any phrase that ends in “in the trenches.” Unlike some of its counterparts, its meaning has become more relevant as the game evolves. Whether it’s a matter of faster athletes, changing rules, or simple recent bias, it seems like injuries are more a part of the NFL now than ever before. That in turn has made roster depth a necessity for any team that hopes to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
As we review the costliest injuries and best subs of the season, you’ll notice the Seahawks and Broncos have no representatives in the former list but make up half of the latter. That’s no coincidence. Every team has injuries, but it’s the ones who deal with them best who move on. Denver may yet be haunted by its misfortune, as they won’t have one of the league’s best defenders, Von Miller, in the Super Bowl. They wouldn’t even have gotten this far if not for multiple defenders stepping up in his absence. Let’s take a look at how other teams did, and did not, survive their injuries this season.
The Costliest Injuries of 2013
Just Missed The Cut
Anthony Spencer, Cowboys DE – The hapless Dallas defense could have used our highest-graded 3-4 OLB of 2012. George Selvie had his moments, but failed to generate a consistent pass rush.
Henry Melton, Bears DT – Melton has typically been one of the league’s best pass-rushing interior linemen, but had just two quarterback hurries in three games this season before his injury.
Leon Hall, Bengals CB – Our fifth-highest graded cornerback at the time of his injury, Hall’s loss was dulled by the effective play of Adam Jones, Terence Newman, and Chris Crocker.
10. Dwayne Allen, Colts TE
Coby Fleener had a lot to hang his hat on this season, with 728 receiving yards, just one drop in 84 targets, and solid pass protection. While Allen led all tight ends in 2012 with a +11.2 run block grade, Fleener earned a -9.3 in that category in 2013. Considering how much the Indianapolis offensive line struggled to open holes for their running backs, they clearly missed Allen’s superior line work.
9. Richie Incognito, Dolphins LG
Injuries aren’t the only losses teams have to adjust to. Incognito wasn’t the top-tier guard that his 2012 Pro Bowl selection made him out to be, but he was far better than what Miami replaced him with. Nate Garner and Sam Brenner earned a combined -15.7 grade in the second half of the season, and both were a liability in Miami’s late season collapse.
8. Donald Thomas, Colts LG
Indianapolis had some questionable offseason acquisitions, but Thomas looked like a nice bargain after a quality 2012 campaign with the Patriots. However his Week 2 injury left the starting job to oft-overmatched rookie Hugh Thornton. The third round draft pick earned the fifth-worst pass block grade of any guard in the regular season, but it was his awful run blocking that let the Colts down in their Divisional Round loss to New England.
7. Vince Wilfork & Tommy Kelly, Patriots DTs
New England may have been able to get by without Wilfork, who for the second straight season was off to a slow start. Kelly’s subsequent injury depleted the Patriots interior line even further. Joe Vellano performed admirably outside a disastrous Week 12 versus the Broncos, and Sealver Siliga was a late-season revelation. Chris Jones’ -30.3 grade was dead-last among all defensive tackles though.
6. Julio Jones, Falcons WR
Harry Douglas deserves credit for a career year when he was often Atlanta’s only outside receiving option. Yet his 1,000-yard season looks a little less impressive when you consider that only five NFL receivers ran more routes this season. Jones was unstoppable in his five games played, and his 2.74 Yards per Route Run mark was the highest of any receiver with more than 20 targets this season. Atlanta’s season certainly wouldn’t have been as disappointing with a healthy Julio.
5. Sean Lee, Cowboys ILB
Having appeared on this list last year, frustrating injuries are becoming a sad theme for the uber-talented Lee. He earned a spot on our Midseason All-Pro Team, but played just one of Dallas’ final seven games. Unsightly run defense landed both Ernie Sims and DeVonte Holloman near the bottom of our ILB grades, despite each playing just a quarter-season’s worth of snaps at the position.
4. Reggie Wayne, Colts WR
With their third representative on this list, let’s just give the Indianapolis fans a moment to shake their heads. Rejuvenated by his new quarterback, Wayne had the fourth-highest wide receiver grade over the last two seasons prior to his injury. T.Y. Hilton did a great job filling Wayne’s massive shoes, but no one was there to step into Hilton’s. Thanks to the second-worst Drop Rate of any wide receiver with 50 or more targets, Darrius Heyward-Bey was a massive disappointment. Colts fans are left to wonder what could have been with a healthy Wayne and Hilton in the playoffs.
3. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots TE
Jimmy Graham may stuff the stat sheet, but when you factor in blocking there’s no question that the best tight end in the league plays in New England. Gronkowski’s run blocking wasn’t up to his lofty standards, perhaps due to lingering effects from his arm injury, but he still posted our second-highest tight end receiving grade this season in just seven games of work. Michael Hoomanawanui was a non-factor as a receiver and a liability as a run blocker, posting a -12.3 grade in that department.
2. Aaron Rodgers, Packers QB
Rodgers would have topped this list had he not returned in time to help Green Bay clinch the NFC North. The trio of Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien, and Matt Flynn had their individual strengths and weaknesses, but finished with a collective -6.9 grade. It’s a testament to Rodgers’ greatness that he finished with our fifth-highest QB grade in barely a half-season’s worth of work.
1. Geno Atkins, Bengals DT
Can you ever hope to replace a player who was our Defensive Player of the Year runner-up the prior season? Atkins’ absurd +80.0 grade in 2012 was more than double that of any other defensive tackle. After a slow start this season, he was reaching his old dominant ways before his injury. Brandon Thompson mustered just two sacks and no QB hits in reserve while Domata Peko struggled mightily alongside him. The Cincinnati defensive line couldn’t stop the run and pressure Philip Rivers in its Wild Card loss to San Diego and there’s no doubt that having Atkins in the middle would have made a difference.
Click to Page 2 for 2013’s best subs…