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…
The Best Subs of 2013
Malik Jackson – Broncos DT – Jackson has slowed down a little since taking a larger workload after Kevin Vickerson’s injury, but still finished the season with our 12th-highest defensive tackle grade.
Mackenzy Bernadeau – Cowboys RG – I wasn’t optimistic about Bernadeau’s chances to fill in adequately for Brian Waters, but he proved me wrong with some quality run blocking in a career year.
10. Champ Bailey, Broncos CB
It was just one game, but it was a big one on a huge stage. Looking for redemption for last year’s awful playoff performance against Baltimore, Bailey stepped in for the fallen Chris Harris, Jr. in the AFC Championship. He played 56 of 59 snaps (38 of them in the slot) and allowed just four yards on three targets. He had the best game of any cornerback that Sunday; he just forgot to scream about it afterwards.
9. Jamie Collins, Patriots OLB
The New England linebacking corps was in flux this season with Jerod Mayo and then Brandon Spikes ending up on injured reserve, but in the chaos they may have found a future star in the rookie Collins. In a games for the ages, his five QB pressures, four defensive stops, and interception versus Indianapolis in the Divisional Round earned him a +7.9 grade, the highest ever by a Patriots linebacker. He was one of the few bright spots in last week’s loss to Denver, and gives the New England fans plenty of reason to hope in the offseason.
8. Riley Cooper, Eagles WR
Offseason controversies aside, no one expected much this season from a receiver who had gained 679 yards in his first three seasons combined. Yet Jeremy Maclin’s season-ending injury in August opened the door for Cooper, and he took advantage. He racked up 835 yards and thrived as a vertical threat in Chip Kelly’s offense. His 43.8% catch rate on Deep Passes was among the Top 20 marks for receivers with 50 targets.
7. Malcolm Smith, Seahawks OLB
As one of the linebackers tasked with replacing longtime starter Leroy Hill, Smith was one of the few question marks on the Seattle defense heading into this season. Bruce Irvin’s suspension and injuries to Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright gave Smith more opportunities than expected, and he took advantage. He posted the fifth-highest grade of any 4-3 outside linebacker this season and has been a full-time starter since Week 14. His game clinching interception in the NFC Championship was not an anomaly but simply another big play in a breakout campaign.
6. Chris Clark, Broncos LT
Alarm bells went off when Ryan Clady was lost for the season in Week 2, and for good reason. He earned the fourth-highest grade of any left tackle in 2012 thanks to his stellar pass protection, and now it would be up to a career backup to protect Peyton Manning’s blindside. Though Clark hasn’t been much of a run blocker and has allowed the occasional disastrous sack, his 95.7 Pass Blocking Efficiency ranks in the Top 10 of starting left tackles. His ability to rise to this challenge is a big reason the Broncos are in the Super Bowl.
5. Byron Maxwell, Seahawks CB
Back in August I said that there no position group in the NFL had more depth than the Seattle cornerbacks, and the Seahawks have needed every bit of it this season. Injuries and suspensions to Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond thrust Maxwell into a starting role, and he’s been nothing short of spectacular. He’s played all but 9 of the Seahawks defensive snaps since Week 13 and has allowed just one touchdown and a 22.5 QB rating in that time while grabbing four interceptions. While quarterbacks are steering clear of Richard Sherman’s side of the field, they’re finding no relief when they target Maxwell.
4. Travelle Wharton, Panthers LG
The Carolina offensive line rose from 27th in our rankings in 2012 to 8th this season, and much of it had to do with the inadvertent upgrade they got at left guard. After earning the third-worst grade of any left guard in 2012, Amini Silatolu tore his ACL in Week 5 this season. The veteran Wharton hadn’t taken a snap since 2011, but came in and merely earned the third-highest grade of any left guard in 2013. He didn’t allow a single sack in pass protection and helped pave the way for the Panthers potent running attack.
3. Manny Ramirez, Broncos C
Denver had a crisis at center before the season even started, as both J.D. Walton and Dan Koppen were placed on injured reserve in August. That left them with Ramirez, a career backup guard thrust into a new position. Proving himself to be a fast learner, he finished with the fifth-highest grade at his position. Manning’s quick release can make his line’s pass protection look better than it is, but Ramirez was equally adept as a run blocker. Beyond simply holding down the fort, Ramirez has become another asset for the Broncos as they head into the Super Bowl.
2. Keenan Allen, Chargers WR
As a third round draft pick, Allen wasn’t likely to see significant snaps in 2013 and actually didn’t even reach the field in Week 1. But with Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd on injured reserve by Week 3, he was thrust into the spotlight and put together one of the best seasons we’ve seen by a rookie wide receiver. He finished with the eighth-highest receiving grade of any wideout; even more impressive considering that he didn’t crack the 100-yd barrier until Week 4. After a 142 yard effort in the Divisional Round loss to Denver, Charger fans should be giddy about the future of their young wideout.
1. Josh McCown, Bears QB
It took McCown seven games and a Monday night shredding of the Dallas defense before the country finally caught on to what a good job he was doing as the Chicago backup. The truth is that he was even better than what the Bears could have hoped for from the start. Consider that in less than eight games of action, he tied Rodgers for the fifth-best season grade of any quarterback. And that wasn’t based solely on a too good to be true 13:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. His 8.17 Yards per Attempt were sixth in the league, just ahead of Drew Brees. His 77.8% Accuracy Rate was fourth, ahead of Brees and Manning. Not a single quarterback had a better Accuracy Rate when under pressure. The fact is McCown’s stretch wasn’t just great for a backup quarterback; it was great for any quarterback, period. You couldn’t ask for more from the best “Next Man Up” of 2013.
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