Solving the Injury Woes
☀️ Good morning,
With the downtime in-between OTA’s and camp I’ve started looking into the 2023 draft prospects. I’ll spare you any thoughts for now, but I like to get a head start to see who I should be focusing on for the Jets. You can never know for sure with the best player available philosophies, but needless to say, I’ll likely be avoiding most RBs this season (apart from Bijan Robinson, because ya know, Hook Em), and I’ll be focusing a lot on defensive tackles.
Today’s piece has nothing to do with the 2023 draft, and everything to do with the 2022 New York Jets.
📅 PFF’s Ben Linsey had a go at a 2020 re-draft with the Jets taking Jedrick Willis Jr, a player who’s become a decent pass-blocker but a below-average run blocker. He had a 50.3 PFF run block grade last year and a 61.7 grade this year, so he has shown improvements. The entire base of this argument is that availability is the best ability, I’d still take Becton’s ceiling over Jedrick Willis Jr every day of the week, JWJ also joined one of the better lines in football with the Cleveland Browns.
📈 PFF’s Michael Renner documented every team’s best value draft pick since 2006 and he had the easy choice of picking Revis for the Jets. Nick Mangold at #29 in 2006 was surely in the running considering he was dominant and consistent and played his entire career with the Jets, but Revis had some historically great seasons.
🗣️📢 QUOTE - Jets QB coach Rob Calabrese on Zach Wilsons’ rookie campaign: "He was thrown into the fire in Game 1 and played until he got hurt. He was then able to sit back and reflect and really think about what he was seeing and what it meant to him. He was allowed to watch others execute the scheme, and realized that you don't have to make a play on every single down. Let the game come to you. When he came back, it was kind of like his sophomore year. He got hurt, it was unfortunate, but he got better from it. It was cool to see him come back and change his game."
Last off-season Joe Douglas announced the creation of the Athletic Care and Performance Department, a new initiative aimed at in the words of Joe Douglas "maximize our player's health, safety, and effectiveness on the field” - The key part in there is health.
The Jets as a franchise had just experienced a 2020 season where injuries were prevalent and that had unfortunately become a trend at 1JD with the Jets often losing plenty of players to the injury reserve list. Below is a list of teams who lost the most due to injuries over an 8 year span between 2012 and 2020 and as you can see the Jets are listed 7th on this graph.
This is an area I’d wanted to focus on for a few weeks now and I had some rough notes on our recent injury record, but it wasn’t until TJW reader Braden NZL asked if we’d seen an improvement over the last 12 months…so I dug out the stats that I had collated.
When Dr. Brad DeWeese joined the Jets staff as Director of High Performance heading the newly formed Athletic Care and Performance Department he said that he wanted the Jets to "The vision is pretty succinct: I want the New York Jets Athletic Care and Performance to be the leading player development department in the NFL” and "I want us to be the model for other NFL teams to develop their system by.". DeWeese is one of the most respected experts in the athletic field helping athletes to seven world championship titles in three different sports as well as 21 Olympic and world championship medals while he was the head of sports physiology at the United States Olympic Committee's Winter Division.
The point of the new division was to ensure that players were available when their number was called, DeWeese said as much in his introductory interview stating "Our job is to make sure when Coach Saleh looks down the sideline, he has the maximum number of players available and that those players are going to be strong and they're going to be fast." Back in 2020, the Jets were coming off one of their most injury-hit seasons in recent memory, one of my favorite stats I like to use to understand how badly affected a team is with injuries is Football Outsiders Adjusted Games Lost which - “doesn't just add up total injuries. It accounts for both absent players and those playing at less than 100%, and it gives more weight to injuries to expected starters and situational players than to expected back-ups.”
The Jets were the 4th most injured team in 2020 with 123.9 AGL, trailing just the Philadelphia Eagles (128.1), New England Patriots (134.8), and the San Francisco 49ers (166.6). It was obvious that something had to be done because that 2020 season wasn’t an anomaly for the Jets, it was becoming the norm. Mike Maccagnan and John Idzik couldn’t construct a deep NFL roster if their life depended on it, but the Jets stood no chance if they were consistently going to land in the top 5 of the most injured teams.
AGL wasn’t the only stat I used, I went to The 33rd Team who used a combination of AGL and PFF’s WAR-Adjusted Injuries Lost (WAIL) metric, the stat is similar to AGL but it differs by placing a bigger impact on the positional value and how good the player who was lost actually was, and here is the ranking, as you can see the Jets came off even worse, being named as the 3rd most injured team in football for 2020.
So what did the Jets’ new Athletic Care and Performance Department set out to achieve? It wanted to bring a personalization aspect to player development, avoiding the one size fits all approach to everything from strength and conditioning, to nutrition and phycology. In Dr. DeWeese’s own words "I think the program we're going to have is a player-centric model," he said. "It's not really necessarily about my training theory, it's going to be about the system that works best for that athlete. That's where thorough testing monitoring and engagement with the coaches on a daily basis, we're going to be able to identify what each player needs and be able to speak to that athlete. It's what I call targeted training."
The whole philosophy around the training is speed, strength and explosion, and we’ve seen a number of clips that back that up. The idea being the faster the Jets get, the slower the game starts to seem, but what are the results after one year?
Unfortunately for the Jets, they saw a decrease in player availability in 2021 and a number of season ending injuries to players like Carl Lawson, Mekhi Becton, LaMarcus Joyner, Marcus Maye and a number of smaller injuries as the season progressed to players like Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, George Fant, Connor McGovern etc etc.
In terms of the adjusted games lost, the Jets number increased from 123.9 in 2020 to 158.5 in 2021, ranking them the 2nd worst hit team in the league behind the Buffalo Bills who had an astounding 191.2 number. That 34.6 increase is probably not what the Jets had in mind when they decided to create the Athletic Care and Performance Department. If you break that 158.5 number down further, 57.1 came on the offensive side of the ball (7th worst in the league) and 101.3 came on the defensive side of the ball (worst in the league).
You can even take that further by breaking it down into position groups, with the Jets three hardest hit groups being the defensive line with 47 (worst in football), secondary wtih 34.9 (3rd worst in football) and the offensive line with 21.9 (17th worst in football). So off the bat it doesn’t paint a pretty picture. 35.83% of the Jets cap in 2021 ended the season on injured reserve, which just can’t happen if you hope to have any chance of making the playoffs.
But, like a GM needs to be given time for his vision and philosophy to bed in and his grand plan to take effect, the same can be said for the Athletic Care and Performance Department. To be able to create the perfect plan for each player, the team needs data and statistics and you can only get that through playing a season, how do certain players react as the season progresses for example, do their requirements change based on the time of the game, day of the game? The department now has a years worth of data to work with and like a GM’s reign, you want to start seeing improvement year on year.
Joe Douglas said it best in his end of season conference when he stated “It’s hard to win games when you’re consistently banged up” When pushed on the injuries and the department in particular you could see the frustration on Joe Douglas’s face as he said “It’s been a frustrating year, I think where we have seen progress with the new performance class is we have seen far less hamstring injuries and I think because of the hamstring strength that staff developed, we’ve seen far less ACL injuries. Where we’re diving in and studying for where we can be better is looking into the Achilles injuries. There’s a rash of Achilles with Sherwood, Carl and Marcus and just seeing the different areas and different injuries we can improve. There certainly was some improvement in certain areas, but overall we’ve lost too many guys to injuries and we have to be better”
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