Rookies taking brunt of post-lockout injuries
Nick Fairley has been reduced to watching, not participating, in practice since undergoing surgery on his left foot. (AP)
It's been one of the biggest storylines of training camp so far: Has the NFL lockout resulted in more injuries this preseason?
The early returns certainly made it feel that way -- as many as 10 guys dropped with Achilles tears before the first preseason game was even played. Compare that to the nine who suffered that fate throughout the entire 2010 preseason and it's a stat that makes you raise an eyebrow.
But SI.com's own injury expert, Will Carroll, said via email that appearances can be deceiving:
Stats show that there's no real effect. One of the things I've been looking at is the seeming rash of Achilles tears. There were a bunch at the start of camp ... Even if we went to 12, it would be in range where we'd call it random variation. There's also no pattern -- rookies, stars, vets, high paid, not any real clusters.
Let's take a moment, though, to dive deeper into the rookies. In Thursday night's Redskins-Ravens game, Washington rookie Jarvis Jenkins tore his ACL, becoming the sixth player from the top 57 picks in the 2011 draft to suffer a major injury this preseason.
Rookies Mikel Leshoure (Achilles), Marvin Austin (pectoral), Ryan Williams (knee), Prince Amukamara (foot) and Nick Fairley (foot) have all been sidelined since camp opened. Amukamara and Fairley are expected to return at some point during the regular season, but the three others and Jenkins will miss the entire year.
Factor in a couple less-serious injuries -- Detroit's Titus Young's hamstring pull, for example -- and it hasn't been a great preseason for the NFL's rising stars.
Last year's first-round picks more or less got through camp without a hitch and upwards of 25 players from that group made it through the entire season. Those rookies, though, had the benefit of minicamps and access to their new team's facilities, something this year's selections didn't have until the lockout ended.
"I think there's 32 different answers to how coaches and players are approaching this,'' Dr. Thom Mayer, the NFL Players' Association's medical director, told the Associated Press. "[The lockout] has really changed the dynamic.''
Another part factoring in to a perceived longer injury list this preseason is the extra care coaches and training staffs are trying to show while nursing players along. Young, who will likely make his preseason debut Saturday vs. New England, may have been able to play at less than 100 percent on his injured hamstring, but the Lions opted to keep him off the field.
Here's Carroll again:
Overall, I don't see any statistical evidence that anyone -- aside from Peyton Manning -- is behind because of the lockout. These guys were working out, they [mostly] had access to similar resources, and I don't see any anecdotal evidence aside from knee-jerk stuff.
As we've seen in recent years, the number of non-contact injuries should continue dropping the deeper into the season we get -- two players, Brandon Siler and E.J. Wilson, suffered Achilles injuries this week, but the pace is way down from that first week or two. While the overall scoreboard doesn't drop much blame on the lockout, it's worth keeping an eye on the rookies to see if their run of bad luck continues. So far, that collection of players -- perhaps not surprisingly -- has had the roughest go of it.