Each fall the NFL analyzes and shares certain preseason injury data as a part of the league’s ongoing efforts to share progress on its efforts to advance the health and safety of players. The injury data are compiled and analyzed by IQVIA, an independent, third-party company retained by the NFL.
During a preseason injury data media briefing, the league also shared data on the adoption of top-performing helmets by players across the league.
Preseason injury data include statistics on injuries occurring during preseason practices and games, including concussions, ACL and MCL injuries. Over the next several months, the league’s medical and engineering experts will use the data to consider how equipment, protocols and rules changes are impacting player safety.
There are three key takeaways from the media briefing discussing the 2019 preseason injury data.
1. 99 Percent of Players in Top-Performing Helmets
At the conclusion of the 2017 season, 41 percent of players were wearing the helmets performing in the top group based on the NFL/NFLPA laboratory testing performance results. In 2018, adoption of top helmets grew to 74 percent.
As of Week 6 of the 2019 season, when the briefing was held, player adoption of top-performing helmets was 99 percent.
“Those helmets perform better in the [NFL/NFLPA] laboratory testing where we do see a correlation with on-field injuries. That’s another step towards player safety,” said NFL Executive Vice President of Player Health and Safety Innovations Jeff Miller.
Miller expressed the importance of this development and applauded efforts across the league by clubs, players and the NFL Players Association to increase the number of players wearing top-performing helmets this season.
“We’re really pleased with where we are in terms of players adopting the best performing helmets,” said Miller. “Credit [goes] to the players, to the NFL Players Association, to our equipment managers and training staff.”
2. Preseason Concussion Numbers Flat Year-Over-Year
NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills outlined the key points from this year’s preseason concussion data.
In 2019, the total number of concussions sustained during preseason practices and games was flat compared to 2018 – both years had 79 total concussions.
The number of concussions sustained during preseason practices went down significantly, from 45 in 2018 to 30 this year. This preseason marks the first time that the NFL has prohibited certain drills that were thought to carry an increased risk for injury.
“We’re really pleased about that,” said Dr. Sills. “We obviously had lots of discussions with clubs and with coaches and really put an emphasis on that.”
Whereas preseason practice concussions went down, the number of concussions sustained during preseason games increased from 34 in 2018 to 49 this year.
Dr. Sills and Miller said the data revealed a new trend: players who don’t make the regular season rosters are suffering a disproportionate number of the preseason injuries.
“Five years ago, if you made the roster or you didn’t make the roster, your relative rate of concussion was almost exactly the same. In 2019, players who did not make the roster had twice the rate of concussion in practices and games as players who did make the roster,” said Miller.
“It’s one year of data, and we always hesitate to jump to conclusions based on one small sample size,” added Miller. “Nevertheless, those numbers jumped out of the data, and we want to take a look at those and think more about them.”
Dr. Sills emphasized that the league will continue to work to further understand the conditions under which those preseason game concussions occurred and work to drive down the overall number of concussions.
“Progress in health and safety is not always linear and we still have work to do,” said Dr. Sills. “We will continue to do a lot of drill down work on exactly what’s driving [concussions] in games.”
3. New Lower Extremity Injury Reduction Efforts Underway
As the NFL continues to use injury data to drive health and safety progress, new efforts are underway to address lower extremity injuries, which remain the highest driver of days missed when it comes to injuries impacting players’ playing time.
ACL and MCL injuries were down in both preseason practices and games this year, a positive development, but not a result that Dr. Sills attributes to the league’s initiatives – yet.
“We’re just at our infancy in [this] major effort,” said Dr. Sills. “For example, we’re tracking cleats this year, just like we’ve done with helmets. We want to calculate the injury rates per cleat and understand which cleats may offer a better degree of safety for our players.”
The league is also looking at turf systems, evaluating both natural and artificial surfaces and correlating injury rates, and analyzing the timing and acclimation period of training camp to learn how those may correlate to injury.
“All of that work is ongoing, and we’ll hope to have a lot more to tell you come [Scouting] Combine,” said Dr. Sills.