Injuries are a major, brutal and all too real aspect of the weekly grind of the National Football League.
Football is a hard-hitting, full-contact sport, and as a result, players come off of the field every week with breaks, bruises and other injuries. Some players, however, seem to have an unfortunate disposition toward injuries more than others.
The following 20 players all fall into that category. Each of them has the potential to be important contributors for their teams this season, but to this point, injuries have diminished their value. Each team will be counting on each of these players to stay healthy.
As the No. 13 overall selection in the 2010 NFL draft, expectations were very high when defensive end Brandon Graham came to the Philadelphia Eagles from Michigan. His first two seasons, however, have been a major disappointment, as he has only played 16 total games thus far.
Graham only had 13 total tackles in 13 games as a rookie before suffering an ACL tear. That injury led to microfracture surgery on his knee, which forced him to start last season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Graham only played in three games last year.
Now Graham, a player who was expected to become a difference-maker at DE for the Eagles, is no longer fighting for a starting spot, but for a roster spot.
Nonetheless, while Graham will be a reserve behind starters Jason Babin and Trent Cole, assuming he makes the roster, he has the talent to be an important situational player. He must, however, be healthy and playing well to earn a spot on a roster that also includes 2012 second-round pick Vinny Curry, Darryl Tapp and Phillip Hunt at defensive end.
When Michael Vick became the starting quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010, he immediately made a big impact. In consecutive seasons, Vick has thrown for more than 3,000 yards, while continuing to be one of the NFL’s most dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks.
Injuries, however, have always been a problem for Vick. In nine NFL seasons, Vick has only played a full 16-game schedule once.
Vick’s injury problems can sometimes be a result of his style of play. As a running quarterback, Vick takes more hits, but even when he is not on a designed run, he tends to play with reckless abandon and take on too much contact.
That has had led to serious consequences in recent seasons. Last year, Vick suffered four different injuries, with which he missed only three total games, but played injured in many more. In this preseason, Vick has already suffered two injuries in two games: a left thumb injury against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and a contusion to his ribs against the New England Patriots.
Vick can do many great things for the Eagles, but his play dropped off significantly last season with dings and bruises. Vick threw more than twice as many interceptions (14 in 2011, six in 2010), while his total touchdowns dropped from 30 to 19.
The Eagles must be able to rely on their starting QB to be healthy, both this season and going forward. If they cannot do that with Vick, the team could look to make a change at the position earlier than expected.
Coming out as a top prospect in the 2010 NFL draft, Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was not ranked far behind Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh, who was considered to be one of the best defensive draft prospects ever. In fact, McCoy was the third overall pick in 2010, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selecting him only one pick after the Detroit Lions picked Suh.
However, while Suh has already established himself as an All-Pro defensive tackle, McCoy has been a massive disappointment. After an injury-shortened rookie season, he only played in six games last year, missing two with an ankle injury and later suffering a season-ending torn bicep.
While Suh has proven to be as disruptive as any interior defensive lineman in the NFL, McCoy has been very pedestrian, with only four sacks in his first two seasons. If he stays healthy, he certainly has the potential to be one of the NFL’s best DTs, but another injury-marred season in 2012 could raise serious questions about whether he can be anything more than a draft bust.
Gerald McCoy was not the only top-three pick from Oklahoma in the 2010 NFL draft. The other was the No. 1 overall pick, St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. Like McCoy, he has been an injury-riddled disappointment thus far.
Bradford is a very talented quarterback, but he already had injury problems in college. He only played in one full game in his final collegiate season due to two right shoulder injuries, the second of which required season-ending surgery.
The injury bug hit Bradford again last year, as he battled a high-ankle sprain most of the season, missing six games and playing injured in many more. Now, as Bradford enters his third season off a nightmarish 2011, he really needs to play up to his potential.
Another injury-riddled season could force the Rams to begin looking in a new direction. The hope will be that he can stay healthy, and begin playing like he did all the way back to his Heisman Trophy campaign.
The Seattle Seahawks had high expectations last offseason when they signed wide receiver Sidney Rice to a five-year, $41 million contract. Concussions, however, limited him to only nine games in his inaugural season with the team.
Rice had a disappointing season, catching only 32 passes for 484 yards. Those numbers came nowhere near matching those that he put up in the 2009 season for the Minnesota Vikings, when he caught 83 passes for 1,312 yards.
The 2009 season, however, was the only year of Rice’s five-year career that he has played all 16 games. In 2010, his last with the Vikings, he missed 10 games following hip surgery, and only caught 17 passes for 280 yards.
Rice proved in '09 that he has the talent to be a No. 1 NFL wide receiver, but thus far in his career, he has lacked the durability. The Seahawks are going to need return value on their investment.
The New York Giants drafted Will Beatty in 2009 as the future of the left tackle position. At times, Beatty has ascended to that starting role and played well, but injuries have been a hampering factor.
Beatty started the first 10 games of last season at left tackle, but his season ended prematurely after suffering a detached retina. One year earlier, Beatty only played eight games (with just two starts) as a result of a broken foot.
Beatty is a solid left tackle, but he is not good enough to continue holding down his starting left tackle job if he continues to battle injuries. This preseason, he is battling a back injury, and if the Giants cannot rely on him, they could have issues at one of the most important positions on the field.
Jammal Brown was a Pro Bowl left tackle for the New Orleans Saints in 2008, but his career started to fall apart in 2009, when he missed the entire season due to a hip injury. Since then, his hip has continued to be a problem, and he is currently on the PUP list.
Brown has never played a full 16-game season in his NFL career, and as injuries continue to plague, it remains uncertain whether the one-time All-Pro will even be able to maintain the starting right tackle spot for the Redskins.
For a Redskins offensive line that ranks among the NFL’s weakest, a healthy Brown is significant. But it is appearing ever more likely that his career could be limping toward its end.
Chris Williams was drafted by the Chicago Bears 14th overall in 2008 to be the team’s franchise left tackle. Four injury-riddled seasons later, that has not been the case.
Williams has only played one full season, in 2009. He has battled injuries each of the last two seasons, and is currently listed as the team’s backup LT.
Williams still has a chance to beat out J’Marcus Webb for the starting job, but after missing the final seven games of last season due to a dislocated left wrist, Williams could be in his last year with the Bears if injuries continue to keep him off the field.
In his first three seasons as the Washington Redskins’ free safety, LaRon Landry was one of the NFL’s best safeties. Over the past two seasons, however, Landry has battled a lingering Achilles injury which has held him to only 17 total games.
Achilles injuries can be devastating to a player’s career, and so far, it has been that way for Landry. For the New York Jets, who are very thin at the safety position, they really need him to bounce back to his pre-injury form.
There are still concerns about Landry’s health, however. According to the Boston Globe, the Patriots decided not to sign him due to lingering issues with that Achilles, and if he fails to return to form this season, it is very possible that his career could be nearing an early end.
Eric Wood is a very good center, but the Buffalo Bills have had to deal with him being off of the field much too often. Through three NFL seasons, Wood has yet to play an entire 16-game schedule.
Wood missed the final seven games of last season due to a torn ACL, two years removed from a gruesome leg break suffered in his rookie season. Now entering his fourth season, Wood must prove he can stay healthy if he is to remain the Bills’ long-term option at center.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line has been annually decimated by injuries in recent seasons, and one of the worst victims has been Willie Colon.
Colon spent three seasons as the Steelers’ right tackle from 2007-2009, but he has played only one game over the past two seasons. Colon sustained a season-ending torn triceps muscle in the season opener last year, one year after missing the entire 2010 season due to a torn Achilles.
Even so, Colon is penciled in to start at left guard, but, as it goes without saying, he must prove that he can remain healthy.
A first-round pick in the 2009 NFL draft, running back Knowshon Moreno had a solid rookie season for the Denver Broncos, playing in all 16 games and rushing for 947 yards. His past two seasons, however, have been injury-riddled, including a season of only seven games last year.
Moreno is coming off of a torn ACL. At a position where wear and tear is the rule and not the exception, durability is a concern for Moreno coming off a significant injury.
On a team that also includes Willis McGahee, who ranked eighth in the NFL last season with 1,199 rushing yards, and 2012 third-round pick Ronnie Hillman, Moreno must step up his game and stay healthy to play a significant role with the team, which once had very high expectations for him.
Montario Hardesty of the Cleveland Browns is a talented running back with an intriguing combination of size and speed, but staying healthy has been a nightmare in his first two NFL seasons. After missing his entire rookie season to a torn ACL, Hardesty missed six games last season dealing with a torn calf muscle.
The Browns drafted star running back Trent Richardson with the No. 4 overall pick in April. Hardesty will still be the second running back if he can stay healthy, but he must prove his durability if he is to make any sort of lasting impact with the Browns.
Another third-year running back who has struggled with injuries has been Ryan Mathews of the San Diego Chargers. Mathews has been fairly productive when he on the field for the Chargers, running for 1,769 yards in two seasons, but has already missed six games in two seasons.
For the injury-prone back, this season has gotten off to an even worse start. On his first carry of the preseason, he suffered a broken collarbone, an injury that could keep him out for the start of the NFL season.
Mathews will miss time again early this season, but for a team that is pretty thin behind him at running back, they really need him to break through and stay healthy in order for their rushing offense to have any long-term success.
Thomas Davis is an explosive athlete and linebacker for the Carolina Panthers’ defense. Unfortunately, after a strong start to his career his first four years, he has torn his right ACL in each of the past three seasons.
As a result, Davis has only played nine total games over the past three years. Even so, he is continuing to persevere, attempting to become the first player in NFL history to return to regular-season action after three ACL tears to the same knee, according to the Associated Press.
If Davis he continues to have knee problems, however, it will be the proper time for Davis to end his career.
Back in 2006, there could have been a case made for Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis as the NFL’s best cornerback, an All-Pro year. Since then, however, Mathis has only played one full 16-game season and his play has dropped off considerably.
Last season, Mathis’ year came to an end after nine games due to a torn ACL. Between 2007-2009, he missed a total of 12 games.
Mathis has started every game he has played in thus far, but that streak could come to an end this year. His play has dropped off with increasing age and injuries, and with Jacksonville's offseason’s free-agent signing of Aaron Ross, he is in serious jeopardy of losing his starting spot opposite Derek Cox if he is struck again by the injury bug.
As a second-round pick in the 2010 NFL draft, expectations were high for Sergio Kindle with the Baltimore Ravens. He was expected to be an immediate difference-maker at outside linebacker, especially as a pass-rusher, but injuries have limited him to only two games over two seasons.
Kindle has yet to record a tackle in his NFL career. He missed his entire rookie season due to a skull fracture, and still recovering from that injury last season, he played in only two games.
Kindle’s career has been a complete disappointment thus far, but he has one more big chance to step up this year.
The Ravens’ star outside linebacker, Terrell Suggs, suffered a torn Achilles' tendon this offseason. With Suggs out most if not all of the 2012 season, the window of opportunity is open for Kindle to step up and make a real impact this year.
If Kindle can return to form, he could be the impact pass-rusher the Ravens desperately need in Suggs’ absence. If he fails to take advantage, however, his career could be over.
New England Patriots cornerback Ras-I Dowling was the first pick of the second round of the 2011 NFL draft. Had it not been for a host of injuries during his collegiate career at Virginia, he would have been a first-round pick, but staying healthy continues to be a problem for him.
Dowling only played five games as a senior for Virginia due to hamstring, ankle and knee injuries. In his rookie season with the Patriots, Dowling played only two games before being lost for the season to a hip injury.
For a team weak at the cornerback position, New England could really use Dowling’s abilities. They will have to look in another direction, however, if Dowling cannot stay healthy.
While all of the previous players on this list have not had their job put in jeopardy yet, Jordan Shipley has already dealt with the hard consequences of an injury-prone life. Last week, Shipley was waived by the Cincinnati Bengals, having missed all but two games in the 2011 season to a torn ACL.
Shipley has received a second chance from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who claimed him, but he certainly must prove he is healthy if he is to contribute this season. He has a chance to make the team as a slot receiver, but will face stiff competition on a team that already includes Vincent Jackson, Arrelious Benn, Mike Williams and Preston Parker, among others.
If Shipley fails to establish himself, he could have a tough time finding more work in the National Football League.
Remember the last time New York Giants defensive tackle Marvin Austin played in a football game that counted? That was in 2009, when he was a junior at North Carolina.
Injuries were not the problem in his senior season with the Tar Heels, as he was suspended the entire year for NCAA violations. Since entering the NFL, however, injuries has been his issue. He missed his entire rookie season due to a torn pectoral muscle, and this preseason he is dealing with back issues.
Character was Austin’s big problem coming into the league, but injuries have since taken over. If he is unable to stay on the field, he may never see meaningful time there.
Dan Hope is the New England Patriots gameday correspondent and an NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Hope.