July 26, 2021

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2020 Adjusted Games Lost: Part II

10 min read
2020 Adjusted Games Lost: Part II


A few days ago, we dug into adjusted games lost at the team level. Today, we’ll switch perspectives to evaluate the best and worst injury fortunes by position.


Offense

Quarterbacks

The Cowboys and 49ers suffered the two most devastating quarterback injuries with Dak Prescott’s (11.0 adjusted games lost) dislocated and broken ankle in Week 5 and Jimmy Garoppolo’s (10.0) lingering second-half high ankle sprain. If Prescott’s value wasn’t obvious in his top-eight passing DVOA rates in 2019 and 2020 before the injury, it became obvious in the Cowboys’ fall without him and his subsequent four-year, $160-million extension. Garoppolo hasn’t quite cracked the top 10 in passing DVOA the last two seasons, but his value to the 49ers is apparent in his 24-9 record as their starter. He even went .500 in six starts in 2020 despite his team compiling an historically high total of 166.6 adjusted games lost.

As a team, Washington had the third most adjusted games lost at quarterback (8.6), but the bulk of their total came from Kyle Allen’s (7.0) ankle dislocation, and Allen’s career -17.2% passing DVOA does not paint him as a fortune-changing loss for a team. After the Dwayne Haskins release, head coach Ron Rivera may well have started Alex Smith ahead of Allen if he had not been afraid of Smith’s life-threatening leg injury from 2018. For me, that makes Joe Burrow’s (6.0) MCL tear and Tyrod Taylor’s (3.0) pierced lung the bigger stories, the former because it cut off a promising rookie season (7.3% passing DVOA) and the latter because—in addition to its self-evident strangeness—it paved the way for an even more promising rookie season for top Chargers draft pick Justin Herbert (10.2%).

Other notable impacted teams and players:

  • Denver (5.6): Drew Lock (3.6, shoulder, ribs, and COVID protocol)
  • New York Jets (4.3): Sam Darnold (4.3, shoulder)
  • New Orleans (4.0): Drew Brees (4.0, ribs)

Running Backs

From a fantasy football perspective, losses don’t get much bigger than those of Christian McCaffrey (13.0, ankle, shoulder, and thigh) and Saquon Barkley (14.0, knee). But the Panthers and Giants didn’t figure to be Super Bowl contenders even with their star backs. In fact, the Pro Bowl rushers won just eight of their combined 29 games in their mostly healthy 2019 seasons.

Among playoff contenders, the Colts (16.0) and Bears (14.3) suffered the most running back injuries. But one could debate even their importance as Marlon Mack’s (15.0) Achilles rupture and Tarik Cohen’s (13.0) ACL tear increased their teams’ reliance on Jonathan Taylor and David Montgomery. Taylor (3.8% rushing DVOA) trailed J.K. Dobbins (25.9%), Antonio Gibson (18.7%), and D’Andre Swift (13.3%) in rushing efficiency, but he led his rookie class in receiving efficiency (19.1% receiving DVOA) and was a consistent plus contributor over a heavy volume of 268 total touches. Montgomery fell a bit short of that standard with a -3.4% rushing and 14.2% receiving DVOA, but that latter rate represents a critical advantage over Cohen. The 5-foot-6 Cohen has a reputation as one of the game’s premiere receiving backs, but while his 241 targets over his first three seasons pushes that narrative, his -9.7% career receiving DVOA does not. Cohen is a frequent positional leader in failed completions. He may have excellent hands, and he may be elusive, but the Bears have not benefited from featuring Cohen in their passing game.

One might take the previous two paragraphs as iron-clad evidence that teams should never pay free agent running backs. Before you draw that conclusion, however, consider that the Titans were one of two teams with 0.0 adjusted games lost at the position, and they owe the bulk of that injury fortune to starter Derrick Henry. Henry followed his league-leading 303 carries from 2019 with 378 carries last season. And now that he has defeated the curse of the paid running back, he can set his sights on the curse of 370.

Other notable impacted teams and players:

  • San Francisco (12.6): Raheem Mostert (7.3, knee and ankle) and Tevin Coleman (5.0, knee)
  • Cincinnati (10.8): Joe Mixon (10.5, foot)
  • Los Angeles Chargers (8.6): Austin Ekeler (6.3, hamstring)

Wide Receivers

Without additional context, the 10.3 average adjusted games lost per team last season by wide receivers appeared to one-up the position’s already historic injury pace from 2019 (9.9). But if one accounts for Albert Wilson’s and Devin Funchess’ decisions to opt out of the season because of COVID, the position distills into a handful of devastated teams and lost star players.

Washington (25.7), Philadelphia (24.1), Indianapolis (17.9), and the New York Jets (17.7) stood out in the former respect. Washington lost its best candidate to start opposite Terry McLaurin on the outside in sophomore Kelvin Harmon (16.0, knee). Then they sprinkled in some shorter-term injuries to Steven Sims (4.3, toe), Dontrelle Inman (2.3, hamstring), McLaurin (2.1, thigh and ankle), and Isaiah Wright (1.0, shoulder). They also lost reserve fourth-round pick Antonio Gandy-Golden for half the season with a hamstring injury, though we didn’t count him as a possible starter. The Eagles lost their best two veterans in DeSean Jackson (11.0, hamstring and ankle) and Alshon Jeffery (8.0, foot and calf) and their first-round rookie Jalen Reagor (5.0, thumb). The Colts lost both of their younger complements to veteran T.Y. Hilton in Parris Campbell (14.0, knee) and Michael Pittman (3.3, leg and head). And the Jets lost pretty much their entire receiving corps with Denzel Mims (6.0, hamstring), Breshad Perriman (4.4, ankle, head, and shoulder), Jamison Crowder (4.4, hamstring, groin, and calf), and Chris Hogan (2.6, ankle) trading injuries. Of that foursome, only the Colts escaped the bottom four in passing DVOA, and they did it with an unusual reliance on their running backs as receivers.

As snake-bitten as those terms were, the Broncos, Lions, and Browns would likely have traded places with them if they could have avoided the losses of star receivers Courtland Sutton (13.5, knee), Kenny Golladay (11.3, hip), and Odell Beckham (9.3, knee). The Raiders and Saints fared better without Tyrell Williams (16.0, shoulder) and Michael Thomas (7.6, ankle), but those players were both top-eight receivers by DVOA in 2019. And while the 34-year-old Julian Edelman (11.4, knee) had already shown signs of decline in his -8.6% DVOA in 2019, the Patriots could not afford to lose him with their lack of other talent at the position.

Other notable impacted teams and players:

  • Seattle (15.0): Phillip Dorsett (14.3, foot)
  • San Francisco (13.9): Deebo Samuel (9.6, foot)

Tight Ends

Last year’s average of 3.3 adjusted games lost at tight end was barely half of the 6.3 and 6.6 averages from the previous two seasons. And the top of the positional AGL leaderboard is a bit deceptive since the Patriots (21.1) owe the bulk of their total to Matt LaCosse’s COVID opt-out and the Cowboys (15.0) survived Blake Jarwin’s (15.0, knee) ACL tear thanks to backup Dalton Schultz’s mini-breakout (615 receiving yards, 11th among tight ends).

Still, a few teams suffered some big impact losses at the position. The Eagles lost both Zach Ertz (5.0, ankle) and Dallas Goedert (5.0, ankle) for extended stretches, losses the team could not afford with their myriad wide receiver injuries. And George Kittle (8.0, foot) missed half of the 49ers’ season just a year removed from his top-four finish in receiving DYAR (187) at the position.

Other notable impacted teams and players:

  • Baltimore (9.5): Nick Boyle (7.3, knee)
  • Seattle (4.5): Greg Olsen (4.3, foot)

Offensive Linemen

The Eagles (57.1), Cowboys (46.4), Chiefs (40.4), Patriots (39.5), and 49ers (31.9) were the five teams with at least 30.0 adjusted games lost on their offensive lines. It’s no coincidence that four of those teams finished 20th or worse in offensive DVOA and were the most disappointing offenses relative to preseason expectations.

The Eagles’ troubles started in the preseason with Brandon Brooks’ (16.0) Achilles tear and got much worse from there. Expected starters Brooks, Andre Dillard (16.0, biceps), Lane Johnson (7.7, ankle), and Isaac Seumalo (7.0, knee) plus injury replacement Jason Peters (8.3, foot and toe) all spent at least half of their seasons on injured reserve. Unsurprisingly, the Eagles were second-worst with a 9.4% adjusted sack rate. The division-rival Cowboys saw more concentrated losses with La’el Collins (16.0, hip) and Tyron Smith (12.3, neck) missing all and most of the season and Cameron Erving (7.0, knee), Zack Martin (5.0, calf), and Joe Looney (3.0, knee) missing sporadic time. They survived those losses in pass protection (14th in adjusted sack rate), but their run-blocking saw its seven-year streak of top-eight finishes in adjusted line yards snapped; they ranked just 12th in that metric in 2020.

The Chiefs, Patriots, and 49ers at least had some advanced warning of their impending offensive line issues. The former two teams had COVID opt-outs in Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Marcus Cannon, and the latter’s Weston Richburg (16.0) missed the full season because of a patellar tendon tear late in 2019. Of course, the Chiefs survived Duvernay-Tardif’s loss plus those of his replacement Kelechi Osemele (11.0, knee) and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz (10.3, back) to finish fourth in adjusted sack rate in the regular season. Hindsight suggests that Eric Fisher was one injured blocker too many, but there is little mystery to why few analysts feared the state of the Chiefs line entering the Super Bowl.

Other notable impacted teams and players:

  • Las Vegas (28.9): Richie Incognito (14.0, Achilles) and Trent Brown (11.3, COVID)
  • Los Angeles Chargers (28.2): Mike Pouncey (15.0, hip), Bryan Bulaga (5.4, back and head) and Trai Turner (5.1, groin)
  • Washington (25.6): Saahdiq Charles (10.0, knee) and Geron Christian (9.3, knee)

Defense

Defensive Linemen

The defensive line was home to a relatively big number of COVID opt-outs. Michael Pierce, Eddie Goldman, and Star Lotulelei single-handedly pulled the Vikings (19.1), Bears (18.3), and Bills (16.9) into the top 10 of adjusted games lost at the position. Pierce was a particularly devastating loss for a cap-strapped Vikings team that had just released Pro Bowl defensive tackle Linval Joseph—they landed in the bottom five of both adjusted line yards and adjusted sack rate. The Lions’ John Atkins opted out as well, and teammates Trey Flowers (9.0) and Danny Shelton (4.0) joined him on the sidelines with respective forearm and knee injuries and pushed the team to second with 32.5 defensive line adjusted games lost.

The 49ers did not have a COVID opt-out on their defensive line, but that did not prevent the team from lapping the field with 46.3 adjusted games lost at the position. Knee and neck injuries limited Nick Bosa (14.0, knee), Solomon Thomas (14.0, knee), and Dee Ford (15.0, neck) to just five combined games and robbed the team of their 78 hurries and 17.5 sacks from the 2019 Super Bowl team.

Outside of San Francisco, Jadeveon Clowney (7.4, knee) and Vita Vea (11.0, leg) were the two biggest names to miss extended time at the position, but neither injury doomed their teams. The Titans reached the playoffs despite their second-worst adjusted sack rate, and the Bucs not only reached the playoffs but won the Super Bowl (with Vea back in the postseason). Even without their 347-pound defensive tackle during the regular season, the Bucaneers finished first in adjusted line yards and run defense DVOA.

Other notable impacted teams and players:

  • Denver (27.0): Jurrell Casey (12.0, biceps), Mike Purcell (10.3, foot) and Shelby Harris (4.1, COVID)
  • Carolina (25.7): Kawann Short (13.1, shoulder) and Stephen Weatherly (7.0, finger)
  • Cincinnati (23.6): D.J. Reader (11.0, quad)
  • Jacksonville (21.7): Abry Jones (10.3, ankle) and Josh Allen (6.4, knee)

Linebackers

After relatively injury-free years in 2018 (8.3) and 2019 (9.3), teams were back over 10.0 average adjusted games lost at linebacker in 2020 (10.8)—and that spike owes as much to the Jets (48.8) as it does to COVID opt-outs. New York might have survived C.J. Mosley’s opt-out if they had had the services of either of their other starting-caliber interior linebackers, Patrick Onwuasor (15.0, knee and hamstring) or Blake Cashman (12.3, groin and hamstring). Neville Hewitt and the defensive line were able to maintain the team’s top-10 ranking in run defense DVOA from 2019, but the Jets slipped to 28th against the pass and fared particularly poorly against tight ends (27th) last season.

Few other teams lost multiple starters at linebacker for extended stretches, but several teams lost their star player at the position. That began before the year with Dont’a Hightower’s opt-out and Von Miller’s (16.0) ankle injury for the Patriots and Broncos. During the season, the Vikings lost Anthony Barr (14.0, pectoral), the Cardinals lost Chandler Jones (11.0, biceps), the Steelers lost Devin Bush (10.0, knee) and Bud Dupree (5.0, knee), and the Titans lost Jayon Brown (6.0, elbow).

The Rams saw the lion’s share of their low 45.6 total adjusted games lost come at linebacker with Travin Howard (16.0) missing the season with a torn meniscus and Micah Kiser (6.5) missing December with a knee injury. Really, things couldn’t have gone much better for the team. They had capable replacements for their linebacker injuries (Troy Reeder, Kenny Young) and did not lose any of their many blue-chip players for an extended period. Defensive mastermind Brandon Staley will likely draw praise if the Rams cannot maintain their exceptional 2020 form without him in 2021, but injury luck regression seems more likely to knock the team’s defense from its current pedestal.

Other notable impacted teams and players:

  • New York Giants (23.6): Lorenzo Carter (10.0, Achilles), David Mayo (5.0, meniscus), and Kyler Fackrell (4.0, calf)
  • Los Angeles Chargers (22.3): Drue Tranquill (14.0, ankle)
  • Houston (14.3): Benardrick McKinney (11.3, shoulder)
  • Dallas (13.0): Sean Lee (7.0, sports hernia) and Leighton Vander Esch (6.0, collarbone and ankle)

Defensive Backs

While new head coach Kevin Stefanski spurred a Browns offensive renaissance (ninth in DVOA), he didn’t have the same first-year success with his new team’s defense. Injuries likely played a role in that disparity. Cleveland suffered more adjusted games lost in their secondary (45.8) than they did across their entire offense (31.4). The team lost its second-round draft picks from the past two seasons, Grant Delpit (16.0, Achilles) and Greedy Williams (16.0, shoulder), for the entire season. Denzel Ward (4.8, calf) and Ronnie Harrison (5.1, head and shoulder) also missed time. The Browns finished 8.6 AGL ahead of the Seahawks in second place and had more than double the total of two-thirds of the teams in the league.

The Seahawks had a less enticing foundation than the Browns, but they still couldn’t afford to lose Marquise Blair (14.0, knee), Quinton Dunbar (8.8, knee), Shaquill Griffin (4.4, head), Tre Flowers (4.1, hamstring), and Jamal Adams (3.5, groin) for major portions of the season. Missing several of their starters pretty much every week, the Seahawks finished 20th in pass defense DVOA. As you undoubtedly expected at this point, the division-rival 49ers pop up near the top of this adjusted games lost list like they have at pretty much every position. Their biggest loss was likely former Legion of Boom Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman (11.0, calf), and the team also lost Jaquiski Tartt (9.3, toe) and K’Waun Williams (7.8, knee and ankle) for about half of the year.

Other notable impacted teams and players:

  • New York Giants (29.6): Xavier McKinney (10.0, foot), Ryan Lewis (9.0, hamstring), and Sam Beal (8.0, COVID opt-out)
  • Arizona (28.0): Robert Alford (16.0, pectoral) and Jalen Thompson (4.3, ankle)
  • Minnesota (27.7): Mike Hughes (12.0, neck) and Holton Hill (7.3, foot)
  • Atlanta (26.8): Damontae Kazee (12.0, knee), Darqueze Dennard (5.0, hamstring), and Ricardo Allen (4.3, elbow and head)
  • Cincinnati (26.3): Trae Waynes (16.0, pectoral) and Darius Phillips (4.4, groin)
  • Los Angeles Chargers (26.1): Derwin James (16.0, meniscus) and Chris Harris (7.1, foot)

https://www.footballoutsiders.com/stat-analysis/2021/2020-adjusted-games-lost-part-ii