The Detroit Lions have seemingly been an incredibly unlucky team when it comes to injuries as of late. Some of the team’s biggest investments have struggled to stay on the field. The Lions recently handed both Charles Harris and Romeo Okwara significant contracts. Harris missed 11 games last year, while Okwara has played in just nine of 24 games since signing his massive deal. After signing a three-year, $25 million deal last offseason, Tracy Walker played in just three games before tearing his Achilles.
Are the Lions uniquely unlucky, or is this a league-wide issues?
Football Outsiders annually releases a dataset they call “Adjusted Games Lost,” which measures the injury impact of all 32 teams. Rather than just add up all of the missed games and injured players, Football Outsiders weights the significance of each player with an injury, and also takes into account players playing through injuries based on the team’s official injury reports. Here’s how they officially define Adjusted Games Lost:
Adjusted games lost 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 backups. As such, AGL estimates the impact of injuries on teams and provides a comparable total that often succinctly explains why teams improved or declined from one year to the next.
So how did the Lions fare compared to the rest of the league?
They had the sixth-most injured roster. That’s not especially surprising when you consider just how hard they were hit with injuries, specifically at the beginning of the year. Take it from none other than Football Outsiders analyst Aaron Schatz to remind you of the absolute disaster that took place along the offensive line to start the year:
Putting together initial AGL numbers... I never realized how injured the #Lions OL was this season. Great offense despite:— Aaron Schatz (@FO_ASchatz) February 28, 2023
RG1 out for year
RG2 out for year
RG3 and LG1 missed games
C listed with foot injury all year
While injuries alone don’t explain the Lions’ 1-6 start to the season, they certainly provide important context. Remember that key offensive players like DJ Chark, D’Andre Swift, Josh Reynolds and even Amon-Ra St. Brown were also suffering injuries around that time. When many of those guys returned, the Lions suddenly went on a winning streak. That seems a little too coincidental to ignore.
And maybe that’s just another way to look at this development from a positive angle. If the Lions can just have some average injury luck in 2023 and beyond, they’ll be a much better team for the entire season.
That being said, it’s worth pointing out that the Lions have been at the bottom of Adjusted Games Lost rankings consistently. This is actually an improvement from 2021, when the Lions had the third-most injured roster in the NFL. Here’s how they’ve ranked over the past few years:
The Lions have already taken a few steps this offseason to ensure they improve the health of their players going forward. For one, they have replaced the turf at Ford Field. NFLPA president JC Tretter claimed the type of turf they had been using (slit film) had the highest in-game injury rate of any current playing surface in the league.
Hopefully these changes will make a difference in the long term, and the Lions won’t be among the league’s most injured teams... yet again.