April 30, 2016
The NFL draft is one of the few things in life that is graded strictly from the perspective of guessing and potential. No matter how many drills and interviews these players go through; there is always the chance of the first pick being Jamarcus Russell or the 199th pick being Tom Brady. I think most smart people would agree that the draft is mostly luck, THERE IS NO SCIENCE HERE!
On the other hand, determining the probability of a player getting injured is a Science. I like to call it Injury Science. Physics gives us formulas to determine how much force a player will generate based on size and speed; Physiology helps us predict the thresholds that a player can endure before their bodies begin to underperform or fail; and past performance data gives us the data to predict how similar players will react to certain conditions. This does not mean that Injury Science will predict every injury, but similar to the Las Vegas predictions; Injury Science will be right on many more occasions than it is wrong.
The 2016 NFL draft is off to a very entertaining start and as usual fans are pumped up about their teams early first round picks. Although I strongly believe the draft is luck, there is evidence to show that these top picks are more likely to at least contribute to their teams in some capacity. With that said, the biggest threat to a team who is getting one of these top 10 players is taking a player who will be plagued by injury. The first 10 picks consist of 2 quarterbacks, 1 running back, 2 offensive tackles, 2 defensive ends, 1 linebacker, and 2 corner backs.
For those who have followed me for a while, the high risk player in this mix should stand out like a Dallas Cowboys fan at a Philadelphia Eagles game. The easiest place to start to predict a higher risk for injury is to ask if the player is the one doing the hitting or the one getting hit. The obvious higher risk is with the players who are getting hit which helps rule out the 5 defensive players. The next easiest position to rule out for injury bust is the quarterback position; as quarterbacks are only allowed to be hit at the nipple line in todays NFL and if you use more than 10 lbs of force to hit a quarterback, they make you walk the plank. Needless to say that the quarterback is the least likely position to be an injury bust. That leaves us with 2 offensive tackles and a running back. Even if you are not a football fan, everybody knows that for the most part you hit the man with the ball, and offensive tackles never have the ball. So while offensive tackle is no cake walk they are generally looking for a defender to block, while defenders try to get away from them. This leaves us with the most dangerous and short-lived position in all the 4 major sports–the running back position.
Ezekiel Elliot is the obvious pick for most likely to be an injury bust just by the position he plays, BUT I think it is much more than his position that elevates his risk. Elliot is definitely what I would classify as a “Freaky Talented” athlete. There are many ways to identify these athletes but I will tell you an easy way that doesn’t need any real research. I learned this early in my high school football career from a running back named Eddie Gaskins. When you see someone with a chubby face and a six-pack for abs, you are in trouble. I think this is some type of “Freaky Talented” trait that I don’t understand yet, but it is one of my unofficial ways of designating these athletes. As for the official way of designating these types of athletes, I simply look at the measurables. Ezekiel Elliot is 225 lbs, which is considered big for a running back as the average running back in the NFL weighs about 215 lbs. Despite that size, his 40 yard dash time is an impressive 4.47 seconds. That combination of size and speed is really all he needs to get the “Freaky Talented” designation from me. If that is not enough for you, just watch any of the Ohio State Buckeyes games from the past 2 years and you will be convinced. I can definitely see why my arch-enemy Dallas Cowboy fans are excited. However, those Cowboy fans may not be as excited about this next part.
Part of determining how someone will perform is to find comparable players. Player that are the same speed, body type, and position is a good start in evaluating what a players injury risk may be. I evaluated my SEP Reliability Ratings for the running backs from last year to see which running backs compared most favorable to Ezekiel Elliot and then looked at them as rookies to make sure the comparison still lined up. After reviewing all the current NFL running backs, the two that compare most favorably to Elliot were Ryan Matthews of the Philadelphia Eagles and Chris Ivory who is now playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Matthews came in the league at 218 lbs and running a 4.46; and Ivory came in the league at 222 lbs and running a 4.48. They both have a style like Elliot where they choose to run defenders over rather than go around; and the absolute clincher was that they both have the chubby face trait with body builder bodies to match (although Ivory has put on a few since his rookie year). While these are pretty good comparisons for Elliot, as both these players are at least still in the league as productive players, their first 3 years collectively look like this:
Injuries-ankle sprain, calf strain, concussions, broken clavicle, MCL sprain, hamstring strains, Lisfranc fracture, sports hernia, etc.
Games missed (between both Matthews and Ivory) – 34 games in 3 years (plus extra time missed during the games they did play in)
If an average of almost 1.5 injuries per year and over 5 missed games per year is even close to what Ezekiel Elliot is in for, I don’t think Jerry Jones and Cowboy fans will be too happy. The fact is that a big body with that much speed in todays NFL is an injury waiting to happen as lots of mass and lots of speed equals lots of force (literally: force = mass x acceleration squared). I don’t wish injuries on anyone (even Dallas Cowboy’s), but it is very likely that Elliot’s body will not be able to keep up with his talent which will cause something to eventually fail; and if his own body doesn’t get him, he has all the high-speed collisions with linebackers and safeties to play clean up. This may not be enough to truly call him a bust, but what do you think the SanDiego Chargers think about drafting Ryan Matthews now? Does anyone even remember that Chris Ivory played for the New Orleans Saints?
Just like Vegas I could be wrong. Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson and Ronda Rousey almost got her face kicked off; but those buildings in Vegas are big for a reason. They use data and processes to figure these things out, in other words they use a science. The Injury Science here definitely points to Ezekiel Elliot having an injury plagued career.