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NFL injuries: QBs are more at risk of being benched than they are of getting hurt

Over the last two years, several key players have missed time due to injury; But an interception could be a bigger detriment than a hard hit.

Jamie Squire

Having a young franchise quarterback on the Seahawks is still sort of a "brave new world" scenario for me. It's traversing through uncharted territory, not knowing what to expect next, not knowing exactly how to feel about the quarterback for Seattle actually being one of the "it" commodities in sports.

I mean, when you're kicking it with Johnny Drama, you're "kind of a big deal."

But one thing that's almost impossible to ignore is that sometimes I try to imagine Russell Wilson's entire career, peering into the future and wondering what could be. The good and the bad. Sometimes it feels like Wilson's career is like going to work on a Friday, and you're an hour into an eight-hour shift, and you're just praying that nothing bad happens over the next seven hours to ruin your day or your weekend. The good news is that Alice already brought donuts for the whole office (Super Bowl championship*).

*Yeah, I guess I like donuts that much.

Through two seasons and five additional playoff games, Wilson has shown a significant amount of durability. I can't recall a time when his status was even questionable and that includes moments on the field where I think we all held our breath and clenched our butts for a moment. This is probably where Wilson's height could be a bit of an advantage, because he's built like a running back but only has to withstand a small fraction of the number of hits as someone like Marshawn Lynch.

In two years, Wilson has been sacked 77 times and had 190 carries. However, it's also worth noting that when he scrambles, Wilson is adept at getting out of bounds or hitting the deck before someone can hit him. Famously against the Buffalo Bills in 2012, Wilson had nine carries for 92 yards and three touchdowns, but wasn't touched a single time. He either goes in the end zone or out of bounds every time.

Quarterbacks can also be injured on plays where they are "hit as thrown" due to the fact that their bodies are in motion and often more vulnerable. Think about a QB who breaks a thumb on the follow through, or who opens up his ribs for a good "ribbing" and I don't mean the jokey kind, am I right fellow football fanatics?


According to Pro Football Focus, Wilson was "hit as thrown" just one time in 2013. Only Colin Kaepernick, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, and Wilson were HAT one or fewer times last season. Wilson was HAT just once as a rookie, meaning that only Romo (1 HAT in 2012, 0 HAT in 2013) has been hit as thrown fewer times over the last two seasons.

We've all seen that certain players have been more susceptible to injury in their careers than others. Despite the fact that he has more carries than an average QB, and was sacked the third-most in the NFL last year, Wilson seems like a player you could bet on with a lower probability to get injured than most. He's good at avoiding big hits, doesn't take chances like Robert Griffin III or Michael Vick, and is built like a brick. House. He's mighty-mighty, some might even say Mighty Mouse.

Here's the other good news:

After looking over every QB in the last two years, it turned out to be a lot more rare for a QB to miss games due to injury than I thought.

Out of 32 teams, with a "theoretical 32 starting QBs", only a handful missed games because of being hurt. It seemed you were more likely to be benched for performance than to be benched by the team doctors. Here are the QBs that have started 32 regular season games over the last two years:

Name Team GS
Tom Brady Patriots 32
Ryan Tannehill Dolphins 32
Andy Dalton Bengals 32
Joe Flacco Ravens 32
Andrew Luck Broncos 32
Philip Rivers Chargers 32
Eli Manning Giants 32
Matthew Stafford Lions 32
Drew Brees Saints 32
Cam Newton Panthers 32
Matt Ryan Falcons 32
Peyton Manning Broncos 32
Russell Wilson Seahawks 32

That's 13 of 32 teams to have the same starting QB since the start of 2012 without interruption.

Many of the other changes have been due to performance:

- Ryan Fitzpatrick started all 16 games for the Bills in 2012, was released following the season.

- Mark Sanchez started 15 games for the Jets in 2012, was benched for performance. Geno Smith started all 16 games in 2013, somehow wasn't benched for performance.

- Matt Schaub started all 16 games in 2012, was benched for performance in 2013.

- Carson Palmer missed one game with the Raiders in 2012 (ribs), was traded to the Arizona Cardinals and started all 16 games in 2013.

- Matt Cassel missed one game for Chiefs in 2012 with concussion but was relegated to bench due to performance. Alex Smith had similar situation with 49ers in 2012, traded to Chiefs and started 15 games. Didn't start Week 17 because Kansas City clinched playoffs.

- Believe it or not, Robert Griffin III has missed one start due to injury, depending on how you view his performance in 2013.

- Romo has started 31 of 32 games, missing the finale last season due to a back injury.

- Josh Freeman started all 16 games for Bucs in 2012, benched in 2013 and released due to performance.

- Sam Bradford actually started all 16 games for the Rams in 2012.

Some more QB injury facts over the last two seasons:

- The most games missed in one season due to injury might actually be Brian Hoyer of the Cleveland Browns. He was 3-0 as a starter before tearing his ACL and missing the final 11 games. He may have flopped if he hadn't hurt his knee, but these are the most possible starts we've seen missed.

Next would be Kevin Kolb (10 starts missed in 2012 due to ribs injury, also placed on IR in 2013 with Bills due to concussion) on the Cardinals. He was also off to a surprising start before being hurt.

Sam Bradford missed nine starts in 2013 with a torn ACL. Jake Locker has missed 15 starts over the last two years with foot, hip, knee, and shoulder injuries. Man, more like The Injured Locker, am I correctamundo?

That's the name of the movie, right?

Michael Vick has missed nine or 10 starts over the last two years due to injury but then ultimately lost many more due to Nick Foles being better.

Aaron Rodgers missed seven starts with a broken collarbone.

Ben Roethlisberger missed three games in 2012 with a serious ribs injury. Jay Cutler missed one start in 2012, and five in 2013. EJ Manuel missed six games with three different knee injuries. And really those are the most significant to talk about.

- The most common injury for quarterbacks over the last year has been concussions (Cassel, Smith, Vick, Cutler, Jason Campbell, Christian Ponder, Brandon Weeden) but really there's a lot of variability in how QBs are hurt. There were three significant ribs injuries in 2012, but none that I could find in 2013.

There were a few shoulder injuries, a few hamstring injuries, a couple of ACL injuries (another if you include Griffin in the 2012 playoffs of course), and a couple of knee injuries. You can get hurt in all sorts of ways in the NFL, and at QB you can pretty much expect them to be all over the place because they typically seem to be "standing" injuries; i.e., the player gets hurt when he's standing up and a player goes low or high or even right in the middle. And it's usually unexpected, not giving the QB a chance to avoid being hit hard like that.

While many people seem to point to Griffin's "playing style" as the reason he was hurt, look at the play that really changed everything: Though he was coming into the game questionable already, Griffin got tore up on a typical dropback in the pocket and a player hit him in the sweet spot at just the wrong angle. He wasn't running anywhere.

- No matter how you slice it, few quarterbacks really miss significant time with injury. The good ones tend to rack up a ton of starts and there's little reason to think that Wilson is any more susceptible to injury than Brees or Brady.

Even a player like Roethlisberger, who has a bit of an "injury prone tag" due to the fact that he's missed games here and there throughout his career, has never missed more than four starts in a season with injury. Typically it's one, two, or three.

There were 17 quarterbacks to start every game this season. Include Smith and that makes 18. Many of the others to miss time, like Freeman and Weeden and Ponder, it was just because they're not good.

Having a young franchise quarterback is still a new and exciting feeling, and part of that excitement is not knowing what will come next. For Wilson, I don't expect anything other than a long, fruitful, healthy career. Thank goodness we didn't go through with the "Jake Locker plan" though, am I right?

I am.

Edit: Figured with that headline I should probably note the players benched over the last two years, by my count.

- John Skelton (twice, really), Ryan Lindley, Alex Smith, Josh Freeman (with both Bucs and Vikings), Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel (with Chiefs and Vikings), Michael Vick, Robert Griffin, Blaine Gabbert, Terrelle Pryor, Matt McGloin, Matt Schaub, Brandon Weeden, Mark Sanchez, Ryan Fitzpatrick (not benched, released)