Eleven of the 14 quarterbacks who started the SEC season missed or will miss starts this year.
The only three players to start every game for their teams are AJ McCarron at Alabama, Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M and Bo Wallace at Ole Miss. Twelve of the 14 quarterbacks have been knocked out of the game at some point — Manziel was injured by Auburn — and forced to miss snaps.
As if that wasn’t enough, three teams have lost two quarterbacks to injury that led them to their third string starter. Florida and Tennessee both lost two quarterbacks to season-ending injury while Mississippi State ended up playing a true freshman third stringer in the final season of the year. (Tennessee actually lost three quarterbacks and ended up starting a fourth stringer at the start of the year, true freshman Joshua Dobbs, for the final four games of the season).
So what gives?
How is it that the quarterbacks who started the year in the SEC had a nearly 80% injury rate? (Nearly 40% of these injuries were season ending as well).
Was this a one year statistical anomaly or is it reflection of a larger trend?
After all, running quarterbacks put themselves in to position to be hit in the open field by speedy defenders.
But this year’s SEC quarterbacks were actually more likely to be injured in the pocket than they were running.
So the increased injury rate is not simply a function of quarterbacks running outside the pocket and putting themselves into harm’s way more frequently.
So why the increased rate of injury?
And why has no one talked or written about this rash of quarterback injuries in the SEC?
You’ve heard a ton about NFL injuries this season at all positions. Mostly those discussions have focused on whether new NFL rules intended to limit concussions have led to more lower body injuries.
Over the years the NFL has enacted stringent protections for quarterbacks because the health of top signal callers impacts the overall health of the NFL’s ratings.
So how does the SEC’s, the most NFL-like college league in terms of size, speed, and athleticism, quarterback injury rate through 12 games compare to the NFL’s through 12 games?
The SEC’s is much more severe.
Let’s dive into the numbers.
In the AFC, 7 of 16 starting quarterbacks have been injured so far this season. But only Mark Sanchez and Jake Locker have been knocked out for the entire season with an injury.
In the NFC, 6 of 16 starting quarterbacks have been injured this season. But only Sam Bradford has been lost for the entire year. (The assumption here is that Aaron Rodgers will return at some point).
So the NFL’s starting injury rate is 13 of 32, or 41% and the season ending injury rate so far is 9%.
The SEC’s quarterback injury rate was nearly twice as high overall — 78% — and those injuries were more severe, a 38% season ending injury rate. (I included two back-up quarterbacks being injured for the year at Florida and Tennessee).
Now maybe you can partially attribute the NFL’s lower injury rate to pro players being fully grown men or say that professionals are more likely to play hurt, but could it also be a function of the number of snaps played?
The average SEC quarterback plays more snaps than the average NFL quarterback does due to the pace of the college game and the clock rules.
Nick Saban took a ton of flack for suggesting that spread offenses led to more injuries, but what if he’s right? After all, wouldn’t it make total sense that the more snaps you run the more likely players are to be injured?
Regardless, should the SEC — and the NCAA — take more of a look at quarterback injuries to consider what could be done, if anything, to protect quarterbacks?
Based on this year’s quarterback injury rate, it’s certainly a question worth asking.