Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

29 Jun 2010

ESPN: The Perils Of Drafting RBs

This week's column for ESPN Insider looks at the injury rates of highly-drafted players and breaks down which positions are the healthiest bets in the draft. Hint: It's not running back.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 29 Jun 2010

8 comments, Last at 07 Jul 2010, 6:51pm by Ashley Tate


by Tim Wilson :: Tue, 06/29/2010 - 5:59pm

Doesn't do much to support Peter King's theory of a few months ago that drafting safeties high wasn't worth it because of the injury risk.

by drobviousso :: Wed, 06/30/2010 - 2:33pm

Good point. I had forgotten about that.

by tuluse :: Wed, 06/30/2010 - 6:22pm

I remember reading a theory that it's actually better to draft highly injured positions because draft picks make less money than free agents so you investing less of your cap.

by Alaska Jack :: Thu, 07/01/2010 - 6:29pm

My somewhat related question has always been this:

Are players who missed games with injury in college really more likely to do the same in the pros?

That is, every draft year we hear "So and so would be drafted higher except for his history of injuries."

But, *assuming a player is healthy at the time he is drafted*, is there really such thing as an "injury-prone" player?

- Alaska Jack

by Viich (not verified) :: Fri, 07/02/2010 - 1:27pm

*assuming a player is healthy at the time he is drafted*

I think that's the problem. No real objective way to know this, either in doing statistical analysis or for the team drafting. 1 or even 2 college seasons of playing productively don't really tell you if there's permanent damage such as to a ligament, just that he's been lucky enough not to have been hit the wrong way again.

Would be interesting to see college injury / pro injury correlation, but first blush seems tough to do. Any appearance on the injury report? Missing 1 game? Injured Reserve? # of games lost to injury in both is probably the most objective measure, I guess.

by spenczar (not verified) :: Mon, 07/05/2010 - 3:02pm

"is there really such thing as an "injury-prone" player?"

I've wondered this myself and come up with the following ways that "injury prone" players could exist:
-Aggressive players might get hurt more often because they play by tackling with the helmet or by never running out of bounds (like Bob Sanders, for instance)
-The concern may be more that past injuries can have lingering effects. If a running back blew out his knee in college, that knee may not be more likely to get injured in the future, but it may just be irretrievably damaged.
-Some players may have a higher tolerance for pain - the Jack Youngblood playing-on-a-broken-leg sort of thing, so that even if they get injured just as often, they are still able to play for you.
-Some joints are actually shaped differently in different people. Hips, knees, and shoulders all can have oddly-shaped bone heads that can tear soft tissue. For example, the top of the shoulder, the acromion, comes in three basic flavors. Type I is "normal". Types II and III, which occur nearly as often as the Type I, are more curved (and the type III is hooked). People with type II and III acromions are at greatly increased risk of rotator cuff tears and tendinitis. So, a quarterback with a Type II or III acromion might be considered injury-prone. Chad Pennington had a type II, which became a type III after an injury stimulated additional bone growth, for example.

Do any of these factors outweigh the random dumb luck of most injuries? I don't know. But they at least suggest that a correlation is plausible. I'd be very interested in a real analysis though.

by Ashley Tate (not verified) :: Wed, 07/07/2010 - 6:51pm

It's my understanding that bone density varies significantly from person to person. I expect anyone who's made it to the NFL has much higher than average bone density, but it would be extremely interesting to study the correlation between bone density and injury rates among athletes at all levels.

by Rich Arpin (not verified) :: Wed, 07/07/2010 - 5:05pm

Terrance Wheatly of the Pats has had his wrist reconstructed 3 or 4 times I think. He's just constantly injured. Him and Crable.