Discussion

The perils of drafting RBs early

Analysis of injury data for Round 1-3 guys shows RB picks are not very safe

Updated: June 29, 2010, 3:16 PM ET
By Bill Barnwell | Football Outsiders

After the NFL Draft takes place at the end of April, fans spend the months of May and June penciling in their team's newest talent for key roles on the upcoming roster. With the 365-day coverage of the league now extending to live play-by-play recaps of rookie minicamp on Twitter, each team's rookies are part of the Cult of Possibilities.

There's nothing wrong with hoping that your favorite team has unearthed some gems; in reality, though, players don't often develop into the game-changers that they might seem to be coming out of camp. That explosive running back loses a step against faster opposition and can't adapt. An intelligent linebacker lacks the athleticism to compete at the top level. A quarterback with great accuracy in college lacks the arm strength to fit passes into NFL-sized windows. These things happen.

In this article, though, we'll be looking at another factor preventing draft picks from reaching their goals: injuries. Players obviously can't contribute anything if they're not healthy enough to get onto the field, and in the past, injuries have sapped prominent players of their previously exhibited talent (Ki-Jana Carter comes to mind) and ended careers before they even started. Consider the Chicago Bears' 2007 second-round pick, Dan Bazuin, who suffered a knee injury in camp and missed the entire campaign. With the knee not close to 100 percent in the team's 2008 camp, the Bears chose to cut Bazuin, who has never suited up for an NFL game. Had Bazuin worked out, the Bears may very well have not required Julius Peppers, which would have saved them $42 million or allowed them to repurpose that money elsewhere. This stuff is important.

There is no algorithm that can predict an individual player's chances of getting hurt; the best way to avoid selecting injured players is a detailed physical from skilled team doctors at the combine. On a macro level, though, we can look at position groups and see which sorts of players are most likely to get hurt.

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