For years, it seemed the Washington Redskins were consistently one of the most injured teams in the league. In 2020, finally, it seemed like Washington caught a break. But, did they really?
With the hiring of Ron Rivera last offseason, there was significant turnover in the training staff, including the firing of former head athletic trainer Larry Hess. Hess had worked for the team for 17 years, and had close relationships with both Dan Snyder and Bruce Allen.
Rivera brought over his own head trainer, Ryan Vermillion, from Carolina, and augmented his staff with medical consultant Kevin Wilk, among others.
Vermillion had been named NFL trainer of the year in 2016 and seemed generally to have a much better reputation in the league than did Hess - who had been one of the objects of Trent Williams’ ire on the way out.
ICYMI: My piece on Panthers head athletic trainer/PT, Ryan Vermillion and why his players have faith in him: https://t.co/77L3QBJI1C— Stephania Bell (@Stephania_ESPN) February 7, 2016
The “gold standard,” at least a far as I’m aware, in determining the extent to which NFL teams have been hobbled by injury is Football Outsiders’ “adjusted games lost (AGL)” statistic.
Adjusted Games Lost is a great metric that helps to ascertain the real impact of injuries on a team. In short, it gives teams credit not only for the actual games missed by starters, but for the consequences of injuries in terms of lost practice time and diminished performance.
Anytime a starter is ruled out, a team gets credit for one game lost. The team gets partial credit for games in which a starter is ruled probable, questionable or doubtful based on averages for how often these players actually play.
The result is a list that corresponds very well with winning. Eight of the top 10 teams and 12 of the top 15 in AGL finished with at least a .500 record.
Going back at least to 2015 - I didn’t think it was really necessary to go back much further than that, given the clear trend present - Washington was remarkably consistent in being one of the teams most dramatically affected by injury in the NFL.
In 2015, Washington’s AGL was 31st in the league, 119.1, with the league average being 68.9. The least injured team in the league that year, the Bengals, had a measly AGL of 28.2.
Washington may surprise a lot of people at No. 31, but there are injuries here many don’t remember, such as new arrival Junior Galette going down before the season even started. The secondary was a mess with safety Duke Ihenacho going down in Week 1, and games missed by starters such as DeAngelo Hall and Chris Culliver. Guard Shawn Lauvao missed 13 games, DeSean Jackson missed six games and the tight end depth was severely tested for an offense that likes to use two tight ends, with Niles Paul, Logan Paulsen and Derek Carrier all finishing on injured reserve.
Things didn’t improve much in 2016. That season, Washington finished 28th in the league with an AGL of 101.5. The league average increased to 76.1, with the Rams posting a league-best mark of 29. It ended up being a strange situation though, in which none of the four healthiest teams in the league made the playoffs. Among those Redskins’ injured for long periods of time in 2016 were Deangelo Hall, Kedric Golston, Keith Marshall, Kory Lichtensteiger, Josh Doctson, Steven Daniels, and Kevin Bowen.
In 2017, things hit rock bottom. Washington finished 32nd in the league in AGL, at 121. The Rams again finished a league best, with a 15.6 AGL.
After Washington finished last in AGL in 2017, we can say that Gruden has had the most injured teams of any coach since 2002. This 2017 total does not even include anything for safety Su’a Cravens, who shocked everyone when he decided to retire a week before the regular season. He was placed on an exempt list and missed the entire season after getting treated for post-concussion syndrome. Middle linebacker Mason Foster (11.3 AGL) and first-round rookie Jonathan Allen (11.0 AGL) were Washington’s two biggest losses by AGL. The skill positions also lost tight end Jordan Reed (8.3 AGL), running backs Rob Kelley (8.6 AGL) and Chris Thompson (6.1 AGL), and wide receiver Terrelle Pryor (7.1 AGL) for extended periods of time. As we’ll see next week in the unit breakdowns, the depth of injuries along the offensive line really pushed Washington over the top here. Washington had a league-high 10 players incur at least 6.0 AGL.
In 2018, things improved just a bit (they almost had to), with Washington posting the 24th worse AGL in the league (99.3). Bizarrely, Washington had both the worst offensive AGL (88.9) in the league and the best defensive AGL (10.3) in the league that season. The best overall AGL was the Ravens, at 29.7. Key Washington injuries that season included Derrius Guice, Tyler Catalina, Arie Kouandijo, Stacy McGee, Cam Sims, Chris Thompson, and Paul Richardson.
The following season, in 2019, Washington fell back into the cellar, number 31 in the league, with an AGL of 131. They were again last in the league in offensive AGL (81.9) and that year, the defense caught up, finishing 28th (49.1). Minnesota finished best in the league, with an AGL of 25.6. Key Redskins’ injuries included Derrius Guice, Bryce Love, Jordan Brailford, Caleb Brantley, Vernon Davis, Jordan Reed, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Greg Stroman, and Trent Williams.
In Rivera’s first season, he’d face a health threat (in addition to his own), that no one could have predicted: COVID-19. Football Outsiders included the loss of games to COVID as part of their 2020 calculations, and Washington benefitted as a result.
Ryan Vermillion, Washington’s trainer and infectious control officer, is one of the team’s unsung heroes this year. Came from Carolina with a sterling reputation and these numbers prove why https://t.co/T2TELU89Dm— Pete Hailey (@PeteHaileyNBCS) January 6, 2021
Washington was one of only three teams in the league (Jacksonville and Seattle were the others) to have zero games lost to COVID, which is a fairly impressive feat. Taking COVID into account, Washington finished 24th in the league. However, comparing teams without accounting for COVID losses, Washington finished a miserable 27th in the league, with an AGL of 97. Compare that to the league-leading Buccaneers, with an AGL of 25.6. Washington’s offense continued to be among the league’s most injured, finishing 28th, while it’s defense finished in the middle of the pack (14th).
Key Washington injuries in 2020 included Matt Ioannidis, Saadhiq Charles, Kelvin Harmon, Landon Collins, Kyle Allen, Antonio Gandy-Golden, Thad Moss, Brandon Scherff, and Geron Christian. One positive, however, was that Washington had the 4th best AGL improvement differential in the league (-34) from 2019 to 2020. So, they still weren’t great - relative to the rest of the league - in terms of team health, but they were pretty good relative to the team’s own terrible track record.
Will the injury situation improve in Washington as Ryan Vermillion settles in, and Rivera gets a chance to more comprehensively shape the workouts of the team? Will team health improve as a function of not continuing to draft previously injured players? Might it simply improve by virtue of moving towards a younger roster composition? We’ll have to wait and see.
For those curious, Carolina’s AGL ranks for the years examined above can be found below:
2015 - 4th
2016 - 9th
2017 - 7th
2018 - 26th
2019 - 15th
Do you think Washington’s injury record is likely to improve in the coming years?
This poll is closed
Yes, I expect it to improve dramatically.
Yes, I expect us to start finishing in the middle of the pack.
No, I think we’ll continue to finish near the bottom of the league in terms of team health.
I’m not sure, but how on earth did Larry Hess keep his job so long?