by Scott Kacsmar
In the first part of this year's adjusted games lost (AGL) study, we looked at team results and found that the Bears had the highest AGL total in our database going back to 2000. By looking at each unit, we can get a more granular look at where teams were impacted the most by injuries.
For those unfamiliar with this metric, with AGL we are able to quantify how much teams were affected by injuries based on two principles: (1) Injuries to starters, injury replacements, and important situational reserves matter more than injuries to benchwarmers; and (2) Injured players who do take the field are usually playing with reduced ability, which is why AGL is based not strictly on whether the player is active for the game or not, but instead is based on the player's listed status that week (IR/PUP, out, doubtful, questionable, or probable).
The following data only includes regular-season games.
Offense and Defense
Here are the 2016 AGL splits for offense and defense:
|Offensive and Defensive AGL, 2016|
|Offensive AGL||Defensive AGL|
|Team||OFF AGL||Rk||Team||OFF AGL||Rk||Team||DEF AGL||Rk||Team||DEF AGL||Rk|
The Titans and Eagles were the only teams to finish in the top five on both sides of the ball, and both teams will likely be trendy picks for playoff pushes in 2017. They just better hope they don't hit a rash of injuries like the Bears did -- Chicago almost finished last on both sides of the ball.
In fact, Chicago's 84.0 offensive AGL is the second-worst total in our database, which means the 2016 Vikings (92.1 AGL) had the most injured offense since 2000. Minnesota's increase of 55.6 AGL from 2015 is also the highest year-to-year increase in offensive AGL that we have tracked. Not only was there a devastating knee injury to third-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, but it was really a lost year for Adrian Peterson (13.0 AGL), Matt Kalil (14.3 AGL), and Mike Harris (16.0 AGL). Harris in particular had an interesting story. He was a 16-game starter at right guard in 2015, but went on the non-football illness list last August and missed the entire season before the team released him in February. The reason for Harris' absence has yet to be disclosed.
The perpetually beat-up Giants finally ended their AGL dynasty with a healthy year, led by their defense of course. New York's 47.1 AGL decrease on defense is the best of any team since 2000. The additions of Janoris Jenkins, Damon Harrison, Olivier Vernon and Eli Apple also paid off on the field to help the Giants to a No. 2 ranking in defensive DVOA. The Patriots were a most unusual No. 1 scoring defense on their way to a Super Bowl win, but they also had the healthiest defense in 2016. The offense wasn't so lucky -- 86.6 percent of New England's AGL came on the offense side of the ball, the highest rate in the league.
Washington added Josh Norman to its defense, but injuries struck again as the Redskins finished 31st in defensive AGL after finishing 32nd in 2015. They would have been 32nd again had they not waived safety David Bruton (concussion) in early December before the final five games. Junior Galette was expected to be a pass-rushing threat for Washington, but tore his Achilles in the summer in each of the last two years.
Then we have the case of the Rams. The healthiest offense in the league was also the worst offense in the league according to DVOA. While our next study on snap-weighted age will likely show that the Rams were one of the youngest offenses in 2016, the results were just not good no matter how much youth, perceived talent, and health existed in Los Angeles last year. Jeff Fisher is gone, but rookie head coach Sean McVay will have his work cut out for him.
This season we decided to list every team's AGL for each unit instead of only doing so for quarterback, which is still the position with the most teams reporting no injuries. Six teams did so this season, while three more only listed a quarterback as "Blank" (or "New Probable") one time.
|Quarterback AGL, 2016|
|Rk||Team||QB AGL||Rk||Team||QB AGL|
Quarterback health was mostly good in 2016, though Ben Roethlisberger (who missed one game against the Patriots) and Andrew Luck (who missed one game against the Steelers) picked bad times to miss big games in the AFC. The AFC playoffs were then marred by late-season leg injuries to Derek Carr, Ryan Tannehill, and Marcus Mariota. The Texans ended up making the playoffs, but even Tom Savage was injured in Week 17 after taking the job from Brock Osweiler, who went on to start two playoff games.
The Browns incurred the most quarterback AGL, but it's not like we didn't see an injury to Robert Griffin III coming, and it's not like Josh McCown or rookie Cody Kessler were making a difference anyway on a 1-15 team.
The big-name injury was of course Tony Romo, who suffered a compression fracture in the vertebra in his back in the preseason. That just paved the way for Dak Prescott, the Offensive Rookie of the Year. Prescott officially took the job away for good from Romo in Week 11, which is why the AGL is 8.3.
Meanwhile, the Vikings lost Teddy Bridgewater perhaps forever to a gruesome knee injury in the summer. The team made a bit of a panic move to trade a first-round pick to Minnesota for Sam Bradford. The end result was an 8-8 finish and no postseason appearance. Bradford will likely serve as the quarterback answer for the Vikings in 2017, but the other high-AGL offenses listed have each ditched their quarterback. The Bears moved on from Jay Cutler and are looking up to Mike Glennon now, while the Jets have finally let Ryan Fitzpatrick go. Even after he lost his job to Geno Smith, Fitzpatrick immediately gained it back when Smith was injured. Had a team like Houston signed Cutler, Fitzpatrick, and McCown this offseason, the Machiavellianism at work to figure out who would get the most starts would be fascinating.
These totals include fullbacks, though not a single fullback in the injury reports was deemed more than a reserve this season.
|Running Back AGL, 2016|
|Rk||Team||RB AGL||Rk||Team||RB AGL|
Arizona and Pittsburgh had arguably the best running back play in 2016, but after good health all year, David Johnson (MCL sprain) and Le'Veon Bell (groin) were unable to finish their final games of the season. They should be ready to roll in 2017. Tennessee and Dallas were also among the healthiest teams at this position, with two more of the year's standout performers in DeMarco Murray and Ezekiel Elliott.
The injuries to big-name backs were down from 2015, but Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles were never factors in what became their final seasons with the teams that drafted them. We are almost at the midpoint of April and both remain free agents, which just further shows how the league has wisely moved on from the veteran workhorse backs.
Running back remains one of the easiest positions to find a productive player, though the 2016 Packers may want to challenge that idea after struggling to replace Eddie Lacy with the likes of Knile Davis and Christine Michael. The team eventually converted Ty Montgomery to running back, and probably did not use him creatively enough down the stretch.
The Chargers got a sigh of relief after a good year from second-year back Melvin Gordon, but Danny Woodhead tore his ACL in Week 2. Woodhead has gone to Baltimore, one of three teams to not report any running back injuries in 2016.
We have grown accustomed to the Lions not having much of a running game since Barry Sanders retired, but injuries hit the backfield hard last year. Ameer Abdullah's sophomore season was cut short to two games, then receiving back Theo Riddick also missed six games as well as the playoff loss in Seattle. The Lions relied on Zach Zenner down the stretch, and he doesn't mind if his peers think he's the "best white running back" in the NFL. Then again, there is not much competition for that title.
|Wide Receiver AGL, 2016|
|Rk||Team||WR AGL||Rk||Team||WR AGL|
It was a tale of two seasons for the New York teams in 2016. The Giants had the healthiest wide receiver corps, in part because Victor Cruz played in 15 games after missing 26 consecutive games in 2014-15. However, his effectiveness was not the same last year, and the Giants have essentially replaced him with Brandon Marshall, who toughed things out to play in 15 games for the Jets. Eric Decker (13.0 AGL) was a big loss for that offense, but it did at least allow for Quincy Enunwa to show some playmaking ability.
In 2015, Chicago had the worst wide receiver AGL (35.3) in our database. The 2016 offense tried to top that, but was stopped short at 25.0 AGL. Still, Kevin White's failure to stay healthy after getting drafted seventh overall in 2015 has been very frustrating. He also had just 187 receiving yards on 36 targets in four games last season, so even when he's played, the performance hasn't matched his draft position. The Bears have signed the likes of Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright, and Rueben Randle to combat the loss of Alshon Jeffery in free agency, but this offense needs to see more from White first and foremost.
San Diego's 34.3 wide receiver AGL is the second-worst total in our database. Keenan Allen quite arguably fell to the third round of the draft in 2013 due to injury concerns, and he has not been able to shake those demons, tearing his ACL in Week 1 last year. Allen had missed half of 2015 after a serious kidney injury. The Chargers also lost Stevie Johnson in the preseason, but that gave them room to develop Tyrell Williams and Dontrelle Inman. Both out-produced free-agent signing Travis Benjamin, who came over from Cleveland.
|Tight End AGL, 2016|
|Rk||Team||TE AGL||Rk||Team||TE AGL|
Kansas City and Los Angeles had the best tight end health, though football fans can actually name the tight end for the Chiefs. His name is Travis Kelce, and he had a really fine year (first in DYAR). Lance Kendricks finished 42nd in DYAR for the Rams, and rookie teammate Tyler Higbee was dead last at the position (46th).
Of course, injuries to Ladarius Green (Steelers), Julius Thomas (Jaguars), Jordan Cameron (Dolphins) and Ben Watson (Ravens) all feel inconsequential compared to any time Rob Gronkowski goes down for New England. A hamstring injury delayed Gronk's season debut, while a pulmonary contusion and back injury that required surgery to repair a herniated disk ended his season. The Patriots still went on to win Super Bowl LI without him, partly because second tight end Martellus Bennett was better than a lot of No. 1 tight ends in the league.
|Offensive Line AGL, 2016|
|Rk||Team||OL AGL||Rk||Team||OL AGL|
The Falcons had the league's healthiest offensive line in 2015. We already observed that Atlanta had the most continuity along the line in 2016, and now we see that the line was again the league's healthiest. Right guard Chris Chester just recently retired, so that is the only position that the Falcons will have to change in 2017.
We have a new owner of the worst AGL for an offensive line this century: the 2016 Vikings.
A perfect image of the 2016 Vikings OL. pic.twitter.com/FUhvOE9F2Q
— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) November 14, 2016
Not only did right guard Mike Harris miss the entire season for reasons unspecified, but left tackle Matt Kalil went down after two games. The Vikings tried to replace him with former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long, who lasted four games before his own season-ending injury (Achilles). Even right tackle Andre Smith, who only signed with the team last March, went down after four games with a triceps injury. Suddenly, that league-low 3.2 yards per carry starts to make sense.
Houston's 33.2 AGL is the 12th highest in our database, but is notable in that it is the highest among any offensive line that reached the playoffs. Of course, it helps to have played in the 2016 AFC South. Rookie center Nick Martin was one of the big preseason losses for the Texans, while right tackle Derek Newton managed to tear both of his patellar tendons in a game against Denver. Even left tackle Duane Brown missed four games, though he was back for the playoffs.
|Defensive Line AGL, 2016|
|Rk||Team||DL AGL||Rk||Team||DL AGL|
New England had the overall lowest AGL on defense, and the defensive line in particular made it through the season with barely a scratch. There is no longer a household name such as Richard Seymour or Vince Wilfork in this group, but the Patriots got solid contributions from Chris Long, Alan Branch, Jabaal Sheard, Malcom Brown and Trey Flowers. A tenured Rob Ninkovich served a four-game suspension, but suspensions have no impact on AGL.
As you'll see in the next section, Kansas City's front seven took a beating in 2016. Allen Bailey (11.0 AGL) and Jaye Howard (8.3) combined for 19.3 AGL alone along the defensive line. Both should be back for 2017, but the Chiefs will have to replace the durable Dontari Poe with Bennie Logan.
|Linebacker AGL, 2016|
|Rk||Team||LB AGL||Rk||Team||LB AGL|
Again, the Chiefs were the hardest hit team, and their 39.9 linebacker AGL is the second highest in our database to only the 2012 Packers (40.1). The Chiefs missed Justin Houston's presence more than anyone else's, but it was another big blow to the run defense when veteran Derrick Johnson ruptured his Achilles in December. Josh Mauga missed the entire season with a torn labrum. Justin March-Lillard was designated as Kansas City's one injured reserve player who could return later in the season, but he only played as a reserve once he did return in Week 17.
Chicago's 34.7 AGL is the third-highest total for linebackers since 2000. That will happen when Lamarr Houston (14.0), Danny Trevathan (7.3) and Pernell McPhee (7.2) each accumulate more than 7.0 AGL.
According to Spotrac, the Chiefs ($41.5M) and Rams ($37.3M) will spend the most 2017 cap dollars on the linebacker position. More than half of the Chiefs' money will go to Justin Houston, but the Rams are paying heavily for Robert Quinn and Mark Barron this year. Quinn was technically a defensive end in 2016, but could be an outside linebacker in Wade Phillips' scheme. Barron was a converted safety in Gregg Williams' scheme, but will probably still be a linebacker in the new-look defense. The Rams did not list any linebacker injuries in 2016, though a lot of this has to do with the style of defense. Alec Ogletree and Barron were the only linebackers to log more than 150 snaps for the Rams last year, as Corey Littleton was third on the team with 122 linebacker snaps. That breakdown will change under Phillips.
|Defensive Back AGL, 2016|
|Rk||Team||DB AGL||Rk||Team||DB AGL|
New England almost had the healthiest secondary too, but was just edged out by Pittsburgh. Of course, that's about the only manner in which the Steelers edged out the Patriots in 2016. Pittsburgh's young secondary still looked completely lost in the AFC Championship Game defeat in New England.
Arizona's 38.8 AGL is the fifth-highest total for a secondary since 2000, but it was not about a significant loss of the team's two biggest stars. Mike Jenkins tore his ACL in the preseason while he was competing to start opposite of standout Patrick Peterson (0.2 AGL). Tyvon Branch (10.3 AGL) opened the season at safety, but went to injured reserve with a groin injury. He went on IR a second time after aggravating the groin injury in his return. Tyrann Mathieu (5.7 AGL) is usually an injury concern, and he finished his season on IR for the third time in four years.