2017 Adjusted Games Lost: By Unit
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 Redskins had the highest AGL total, while the Rams became the first team in our database to have the lowest AGL in consecutive seasons. By looking at each unit we can see where each team was 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 (out, doubtful, questionable, or probable/blank).
The following data only includes regular-season games.
Offense and Defense
Here are the 2017 AGL splits for offense and defense:
|Offensive and Defensive AGL, 2017|
|Offensive AGL||Defensive AGL|
Health is a wonderful thing, isn't it? The young offense for Sean McVay's Rams and the talented defense of Jacksonville were two of the most improved units of 2017, and they were both extremely healthy. This was the second year in a row that the Rams had the healthiest offense, but obviously Jared Goff was no longer a rookie and McVay used upgrades along the offensive line and at wide receiver to create a much more productive attack. Oddly enough, the Rams, Falcons, and Titans were three of the four healthiest offenses in both 2016 and 2017. The 2017 Falcons were nowhere near as offensively dominant as the 2016 Super Bowl team, but they were a healthy, more well-rounded team that still won 10 games and reached the second round of the playoffs. Atlanta had the third-lowest AGL on both sides of the ball, and in the playoffs they beat a Rams team that was the only other club in the league to rank in the top six in AGL on both offense and defense.
Jacksonville and Minnesota will hope to sustain the injury luck that Atlanta and the Rams have enjoyed the last few seasons. Both the Jaguars and Vikings reached Championship Sunday on the strength of their defenses, which stayed very healthy with only a handful of AGL. That's hard to expect again in 2018, which is why I recently joked that the huge expectations for Kirk Cousins in Minnesota could be unrealistic if the defense was to suffer a lot of injuries and regress in performance. Remember, it was just two years ago that the 2016 Vikings set a record for most offensive AGL (92.5) in our database.
However, last season injured defenses fared better than injured offenses, which has a lot to do with the impact of a quarterback injury being more crippling than that of a key defender or two. Of the eight offenses to accumulate at least 50.0 AGL, none ranked higher than 20th in offensive DVOA, with Cousins' Washington offense faring the best at 20th despite having the second-most AGL (70.6). Six defenses accumulated at least 50.0 AGL, but New Orleans (eighth), Washington (11th), and Chicago (14th) still had above-average rankings in defensive DVOA. In Washington's case under Jay Gruden, the defense has ranked 32nd, 31st, and 27th in defensive AGL in the last three seasons. If Washington can provide Alex Smith with the healthy, talented defense that it never provided to Cousins, then that can have a big impact on the team record this year too. I am just throwing that fact out there now, because these two teams are inevitably going to be compared after the Smith trade and Cousins' historic contract. Smith actually played on a Kansas City team with the worst offensive AGL ranking (21st) and second-worst defensive AGL ranking (18th) of any playoff team last year. New Orleans (31st) was the only team to make the playoffs ranked 19th or lower in defensive AGL.
The San Francisco defense had the highest AGL (and 10th-highest since 2000) last year. Better things are expected for the 49ers this season -- they have already added Richard Sherman, who finished 2017 on injured reserve (Achilles), this month. The NFC West also had the most-injured offense, with Arizona really struggling on that side in Bruce Arians' swan song. The loss of star running back David Johnson in Week 1 was crippling enough, but Carson Palmer did not finish the season, and then retired. The injured reserve list was loaded with notable starting offensive linemen as well. Larry Fitzgerald still put in a full season at age 34 and tied his career-high with 109 receptions, but there just wasn't enough around him for the Cardinals to compete for a playoff spot last year.
The Dallas offense was arguably the most disappointing unit of 2017. Despite an AGL of just 7.8, the Cowboys dipped from third in DVOA to 10th. Running back Ezekiel Elliott's suspension caused him to miss six games -- almost as many as the rest of the offense missed due to injury -- but Dallas still finished No. 2 in rushing DVOA. The passing game slipped to 18th in Dak Prescott's second year. Left tackle Tyron Smith only missed three games, but one of those was against Atlanta. Adrian Clayborn took advantage of backup starter Chaz Green to the tune of six sacks on an eight-sack day for Atlanta in a 27-7 win. In a way, that game propelled the 10-6 Falcons to the final playoff spot that otherwise could have gone to the Cowboys if they had won that game and finished at 10-6. But Elliott had to serve his suspension and Smith missed that game, and Jason Garrett's Cowboys seemingly had no answers to adjust without them during a miserable three-game losing streak in November. Even in Week 17 with Elliott back, the Cowboys scored just six points against the Eagles' backups in an odd game. While the defense would knowingly struggle with the suspensions it had to overcome, the healthy offense was a bland disappointment in 2017.
If you see a difference in rankings at the top of these tables for teams with "0.0" AGL, it is due to some of those totals actually being a small number (from the "Blank" designation) that still rounds to 0.0. For example, eight teams didn't list any quarterback injuries in 2017, but Cincinnati, Dallas, Kansas City, and Seattle all had one Blank listing to get to 0.0 AGL.
|Quarterback AGL, 2017|
Six teams incurred at least 9.0 AGL at quarterback. The previous high since 2000 was five such teams, in both 2008 and 2013. Now 2008 did lose a younger Carson Palmer (Bengals) and Tom Brady, but I don't think anyone really missed the quarterbacks Detroit used on its way to 0-16, or The Dastardly Duo of Brodie Croyle and Damon Huard in Kansas City. In 2013, like in 2017, Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone and Sam Bradford was hurt, but I think their injuries were tougher pills to swallow this year with both playing at the height of their abilities for contenders. Otherwise, I don't think the league lost much in 2013 from anonymous Cleveland injuries, or a damaged shoulder on Mark Sanchez that forced rookie Geno Smith to play for the Jets.
What made 2017 so depressing was that the caliber of quarterbacks injured was really high. We mentioned Rodgers and Bradford, but we never even got to see the sixth season for Andrew Luck (Colts) or Ryan Tannehill (Dolphins). The Colts mishandled Luck's shoulder situation; Tannehill, who we all wanted to see get a second shot in Adam Gase's offense, went down in an August practice. Palmer's latest injury also ended up being the last chapter in his career as he hoped for one last postseason hurrah with the Cardinals. It was a good career, but we're always going to talk about how injuries held him back from achieving Hall of Fame status.
Add in Houston losing Deshaun Watson to a non-contact practice injury (torn ACL), and it just seemed like a cruel year from the football gods. Watson was on pace to shatter rookie records and made the Texans exciting to watch (and highly productive on the scoreboard) on offense. His sophomore season should be as highly anticipated as any in recent years. Speaking of sophomores, Carson Wentz was the latest quarterback to fall victim to a season-ending injury on a playoff team, but not all was lost there. Nick Foles stepped in and did one of the best jobs you could ever ask from a backup. It was also a reminder that you need a backup capable of a few great games, but not every team seems to utilize that strategy when it comes time to acquire a second-string quarterback.
These totals include fullbacks -- or at least, they used to when the league actually thought fullbacks were significant contributors.
|Running Back AGL, 2017|
Well, at least Le'Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, and Ezekiel Elliott all stayed healthy for 2017. Arizona's David Johnson was the elite back who was not so lucky, nor was his eventual replacement in future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson. That led to the Cardinals having the NFL's highest running back AGL.
Not all of these injuries were bad things for the teams involved. Spencer Ware went down in the summer for Kansas City, and he was expected to be at least a steady contributor as the team moved on from Jamaal Charles. However, Ware's injury opened the door for third-round rookie Kareem Hunt, who was spectacular in Week 1 in New England and went on to win the rushing title with 1,327 yards.
Would you say Alex Smith has played with some pretty great running backs? He had Frank Gore in San Francisco, and Gore was an ironman again for the Colts, who had no measurable AGL from backs in 2017. Gore has since been released from the team. Smith also played with Charles in Kansas City; Charles went to Denver for a minimal role, but the Broncos were very healthy at that position last year. Now Mr. Smith goes to Washington, where Chris Thompson was excellent as a receiving back before getting injured. Thompson probably would have led the team in receiving yards if he had not missed six games. Rob Kelley also missed nine games, leading to rookie Samaje Perine leading the team in rushing (603 yards).
Green Bay and Seattle seem to be stuck in some Eddie Lacy revenge tale where neither can field a healthy backfield anymore. Lacy tried his hand in Seattle, but was sometimes a healthy scratch. Chris Carson could be the option to watch for there in 2018. The Packers at least saw some potential from rookies Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones, but the young NFC North back to watch should be Minnesota's Dalvin Cook. He'll be back after missing 12 games last year.
|Wide Receiver AGL, 2017|
The Eagles had the Wentz injury and also lost receiving back Darren Sproles, but they had the league's healthiest wide receivers in 2017. They snatched Alshon Jeffery from Chicago last offseason, and the Bears would have killed for any healthy talent at that position in 2017. Chicago's 36.5 AGL at wide receiver is the highest since 2000, beating out the 2015 Bears (35.3 AGL). John Fox had seen this trouble before on the job. The Bears have now had at least 25.0 AGL to wide receivers three years in a row. The common factor is Kevin White, who has had a disastrous start to his career since being drafted seventh overall in 2015. White has appeared in just five of a possible 48 games to begin his career. He has avoided any ACL or Achilles damage, but an assortment of injuries to his shin, fibula, and shoulder blade has put him on injured reserve three times. White only played in one game last season. The Bears also lost Cameron Meredith before the season began, so that's 31.0 AGL between Meredith and White alone last year. Where do the Bears go from here? Any White catch that doesn't result in a broken bone is a blessing at this point, and Meredith should be back. But the team made sure to add Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel in free agency. Of course, Robinson was another No. 1 wideout who had a lengthy injury in 2017 for Jacksonville, but he is the best option in Chicago now.
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Julian Edelman (Patriots) and Quincy Enunwa (Jets) were two other No. 1 wideouts who went down for the year. Enunwa could have some great opportunities with the Jets, while Edelman's loss wasn't that impactful in New England given the presence of Brandin Cooks and tight end Rob Gronkowski. Further, Danny Amendola was a perfect replacement for him in that offense, just as Edelman once replaced Wes Welker. It's a factory of little white slot receivers in New England, but each new model seems to be a little less durable than the old ones. With Amendola signing with Miami in free agency, the Patriots will be hoping that Edleman can return to health in 2018.
Then we have the Giants, who had the second-most AGL (28.8) at wide receiver one season after having the healthiest group in 2016. Things really fell apart in a Week 5 game against the Chargers, of all teams. Three New York wide receivers -- superstar Odell Beckham Jr., veteran starter Brandon Marshall, and backup/special teams player Dwayne Harris -- suffered injuries against Los Angeles that knocked them out for the rest of the year. Even slot starter Sterling Shepard left that game with an injury and was out for a few more weeks. It was a staggering amount of in-game injuries at one position. Marshall's first season with the Giants was a bust, but the loss of Beckham alone would have been too much to overcome.
Speaking of the Chargers, they usually have some of the worst AGL at wide receiver, but were No. 2 in 2017 with just 0.9 AGL. Keenan Allen stayed healthy for once, and the result was a career-high 102 catches for 1,393 yards. One injury that could have hurt the Chargers here was Mike Williams, drafted No. 7 overall out of Clemson. His back injury was initially feared to be season-ending, but Williams made his debut in Week 6 and appeared in 10 games. That early injury certainly slowed his progress, but he was always looking at an uphill battle in 2017 with a depth chart that featured Allen, Tyrell Williams, and Travis Benjamin. Williams only caught 11-of-23 targets for 95 yards, so he has a lot to prove this season.
|Tight End AGL, 2017|
Dallas was the only team to never list a tight end on the injury report, so that's good news for a 35-year-old Jason Witten. The bad news? Witten's 560 receiving yards were his fewest since his rookie year, and he ranked dead last in the NFL in YAC per reception (1.7). So he's in great health for his age, but his age shows in his slowness and lack of separation.
Sticking in Texas, Houston led the way with 21.2 tight end AGL as C.J. Fiedorowicz (11 missed games) and Ryan Griffin (nine missed games) both really struggled to stay healthy. In Week 2, Houston had three tight ends in the concussion protocol. Fiedorowicz had to retire after suffering three concussions in 2017 alone. That's scary stuff.
Jordan Reed (Redskins), Greg Olsen (Panthers), and Tyler Eifert (Bengals) were the three big-name tight ends to miss a significant portion of the season. Eifert has only appeared in 24 regular-season games since 2014, but the Bengals brought him back on a one-year deal. Reed is often hurt too, but Olsen has been an ironman -- prior to last year, he had not missed a game since his rookie season in 2007. The only concern with Olsen is that he'll be 33 this season and just could not stay healthy last year after 165 NFL games.
|Offensive Line AGL, 2017|
Maybe Atlanta is doing something right here with the big boys. The Falcons had the healthiest offensive line in 2015 and 2016, and third place in 2017 is a consolation prize that Matt Ryan has to appreciate. Likewise, Jared Goff and Todd Gurley can appreciate that the revamped line for the Rams was the healthiest in 2017 with just 0.8 AGL. Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Oakland are thought to have three of the most talented lines, and they were all healthy in 2017, bunched together at four-five-six in the rankings.
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Things get messy in the bottom quarter of the league. The Colts and Seahawks have been criticized for years for not being able to protect Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson better. Injuries don't help lines that are already struggling.
Arizona had a really tough year with Mike Iupati (14.6 AGL), D.J. Humphries (10.3), and Jared Veldheer (3.6 AGL) all finishing on injured reserve. Washington barely had enough linemen to play at the midpoint of the season, and the 34.8 AGL suffered here with no single player topping 10.0 AGL had a lot to do with the Redskins having the most AGL in the league.
Miami has said goodbye to center Mike Pouncey, who went to the Chargers, but he only accounted for 0.9 AGL last year. Miami missed more games from left guards Anthony Steen (10.0 AGL) and Ted Larsen (8.3 AGL), right guard Jermon Bushrod (6.3 AGL), and right tackle Ja'Wuan James (8.0 AGL). That's a pretty unstable line outside of left tackle Laremy Tunsil.
Baltimore somewhat quietly had the most injured line of 2017. Alex Lewis has been the team's plan at left guard the last two years, but he hasn't managed to stay healthy. A shoulder injury cost him the entire 2017 season. Standout guard Marshal Yanda has usually been durable, but he was limited to two games last year thanks to a broken ankle. That's 30.0 AGL just between two guards.
|Defensive Line AGL, 2017|
The Rams had just one Blank listed on the injury report along the defensive line all year. Dominique Easley, a former first-round pick, went down in the preseason with a season-ending injury. He would have been part of the rotation just as he was in 2016 when the team traded for him from New England, but he's not a starter or key role player, so he doesn't count towards the AGL total.
Some defenses that performed much worse than expected suffered some bad injuries here. The Broncos lost Jared Crick for the whole season, and Derek Wolfe had 5.4 AGL. Tampa Bay finished 32nd in defensive DVOA. Gerald McCoy (2.5 AGL) was mostly healthy, but the Buccaneers missed some time from Noah Spence (10.6 AGL) and Robert Ayers (5.6 AGL).
Of course, J.J. Watt was the superstar injury for Houston's defensive line in another lost year. Watt has only played in eight games since 2016. Kerry Hyder is not a household name in Detroit, but he actually led the Lions with 8.0 sacks in 2016. He suffered a torn Achilles in the first preseason game, and the Lions were never able to develop another pass-rusher opposite Ezekiel Ansah. Veteran defensive tackle Haloti Ngata also racked up 11.3 AGL to help the Lions have the most AGL along the defensive line. Ngata went to the Eagles on a one-year deal.
|Linebacker AGL, 2017|
It's not like John Fox did a good job as coach of the Bears, but he was dealt a short hand at a few positions for sure. We talked about wide receivers earlier, but the 2016 Bears (35.6 AGL) and 2017 Bears (34.3 AGL) rank third and fourth in most linebacker AGL since 2000. That's a lot to overcome when linebackers are a very important part of this defense. Willie Young (12.0 AGL), Jerrell Freeman (7.0 AGL), and Leonard Floyd (6.3 AGL) contributed heavily to this year's number. Freeman's numbers the last two years would be even higher if he had not been suspended twice by the league for performance-enhancing drugs.
The 49ers finished a distance second-to-last to the Bears with 22.2 AGL, but 16.0 of that is from former Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith. Smith signed a five-year deal worth $26.5 million last March, but tore his pectoral during training camp. The 49ers also had 5.3 AGL from rookie linebacker Reuben Foster, but he's a suspension candidate for 2018 after recent off-field arrests. Speaking of players going into their second year, keep an eye on linebacker Raekwon McMillan in Miami. The second-round pick missed his whole rookie season after tearing his ACL in his preseason debut. The Dolphins could really use a young, talented starter in their defense.
|Defensive Back AGL, 2017|
The secondary is the only position group where every team reported at least 1.0 AGL in 2017. The Falcons, again, had the best health with 2.5 AGL, while this was actually the lone position where the Rams didn't rank in the top 10. Yeah, they were just hammered with Kayvon Webster (3.7 AGL) and Lamarcus Joyner (2.4) racking up their two highest AGL totals. That's right -- the Rams' worst finish at any position was 12th with just 7.6 AGL. We'll see how things go this year after the team added Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib to really spruce up that unit.
While some teams are loading up on stars, other defenses are just trying to find competent starters at safety and cornerback. Health did not help the Packers (28.3 AGL) and Dolphins (29.9 AGL) last year. Kevin King was the 33rd pick in the draft, but had more AGL (6.9) than passes defensed (five). Kentrell Brice (10.3), Davon House (5.3), and the departed Morgan Burnett (4.4) also contributed to the AGL. In Miami, Tony Lippett (16.0 AGL), who had a solid 2016, and Nate Allen (9.0 AGL) mostly led to that league-high number. However, like with most positions, the Dolphins are about as solidified in the secondary as an ice-cream sandwich is on a summer day in Florida.