After three weeks of preseason action, we’re probably not going to see a lot more of the NFL’s best players until the regular season begins. With that, we can now take a look back at the most significant NFL preseason injuries.
These can be devastating to the player who got hurt, his team, or some combination of the two.
Injuries are never good. Preseason injuries are worse. But preseason injuries to key players are the worst.
With that in mind, what were the eight most devastating preseason injuries around the league?
Tony Romo, quarterback, Dallas Cowboys
So, unless Romo is a medical marvel — something that his recent history would strongly contradict — the Cowboys will play a good portion of another season without their quarterback.
In recent years, Dallas without Romo has been problematic.
Over the last 3 seasons, the Cowboys are 23-11 with Tony Romo as starting QB, and 1-13 with all other starting QBs. pic.twitter.com/jkKIyHCZV0
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 26, 2016
When a team has such a disparity in its performance without its starter, panic ensues when injuries occur.
Now, if you’re a Cowboys fan, you’re no doubt thinking about Dak Prescott. He hasn’t been there during Dallas’ past struggles sans Romo. The spotlight now falls on this rookie, a man who’s been one of the preseason’s best players.
Enthusiasm should always be somewhat curbed by preseason performances, but Prescott certainly has given good reason for excitement. But while a good performance from Prescott would make Romo’s injury less devastating for the Cowboys, it would still be devastating for Romo himself.
Romo is 36 and has dealt with a litany of injuries in his career. He played in only four games last year, hasn’t played a full 16 game regular season since 2012 and has often played hurt when he’s been on the field.
This injury makes the end of Romo’s career look like something we may be seeing sooner rather than later.
Even if the team finds a way to stay afloat, it’s hard to call this injury anything but devastating.
Benjamin Watson, tight end, Baltimore Ravens
While Watson is more of a traditional tight end, he was coming to the Ravens off of a great receiving season in 2015. Last year, he caught 74 passes for 825 yards and six touchdowns.
As both a receiver and a blocker, he figured to be a big part of the Baltimore offense, which often relies on multiple tight ends.
That will not happen. Not in 2016, anyway. A torn Achilles will keep Watson sidelined all year. The veteran is 35, an age where a season-ending injury could well double as a career-killer.
For the Ravens, this just thins out an already thin group of tight ends.
Watson could have helped in the receiving game. But perhaps as important for Baltimore, he could have helped in the trenches. That would have given Joe Flacco more time and helped open up holes for the Ravens’ running backs.
A good year from Watson would have been a big part of overcoming an awful 2015. This loss puts the team behind the eight-ball.
Houston Texans offensive line
While J.J. Watt’s injury may grab the headlines, the superstar defensive end will be back relatively early. The offensive line remains a much bigger question mark.
Derek Newton has started every Texans’ game since 2013. He should be back early in the season, but his hamstring injury is taking a while to heal.
Derek Newton still out with slow-healing strained hamstring
— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) August 26, 2016
That, in and of itself, would not be the end of the world. But second round center Nick Martin is out for the year with an ankle injury.
Last year’s starting left tackle, Duane Brown, is also not likely to be ready for the beginning of the season and could miss up to six games (more on that here).
That’s 60 percent of the starting offensive line.
Brock Osweiler is still a relatively new starting quarterback. Protection is vital for any signal caller. But young ones, in particular, are prone to getting flustered in the face of a heavy rush.
An injury to any one of these players wouldn’t be devastating, but the absence of all three lineman will be hard to overcome.
Sebastian Vollmer, tackle, New England Patriots
Like with Romo and Watson, Vollmer’s injury brings a real question mark as to what kind of future he’ll have in the game.
Pats RT Sebastian Vollmer turns 33 before the 2017 season and has had injury problems his whole career. Gotta wonder if this is it for him.
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) August 21, 2016
From a more immediate team perspective, this is a particularly bad injury for New England.
Much like Houston, protecting a young quarterback is something that the Patriots are going to have to do for the first four weeks of the season. But while the Texans have a young quarterback with little experience, New England has a quarterback who’s never started a game.
Think of how badly the Denver Broncos flustered Tom Brady during last year’s AFC Championship Game. The Pats’ offensive line isn’t exactly a strength of the team to begin with.
Teams are going to try to emulate what Denver did, only Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t as proven or resourceful as Brady. Bill Belichick and Co. will definitely have their work cut out for them.
Vontae Davis, cornerback, Indianapolis Colts
In 2015, Indianapolis was 24th in passing yards allowed, tied for 18th in yards per reception, tied for 19th in passing touchdowns allowed and 19th in opponent’s passer rating.
With four interceptions and a second straight trip to the Pro Bowl, Davis was one of the few bright spots on the Colts’ defense.
Unfortunately for Indianapolis, it will be without Davis for “at least first month of season.”
Granted, that will still allow Davis to return for most of the season, but think about what happened last year. The Colts started 0-2, and while they eventually climbed back into contention were playing from behind for most of the year.
Opposing offenses will certainly be testing the secondary to see just how much it’s improved.
Without Davis, the pressure will now firmly be on Patrick Robinson (who is also overcoming an injury), Antonio Cromartie, and Darius Butler to prevent another bad start.
Reggie Ragland, inside linebacker, Buffalo Bills
The Bills defense was a weakness in 2015. As a senior at Alabama, Ragland was an All-American. He was taken in the second round and supposed to provide an upgrade.
That will not happen. Ragland is out for the year with a torn ACL. In a normal setting, that would be bad. In Buffalo, though, it’s even worse.
The entire defense — particularly the linebacking corps — is ravaged. Shaq Lawson is out until October. Manny Lawson is suspended for the first week of the season. After Ragland’s injury, IK Enemkpali’s season was ended with an injury.
On top of that, defensive lineman Marcel Dareus is also suspended for the first four weeks of the season.
So, Buffalo is not only missing a guy who supposed to be an upgrade as a starting inside linebacker, but also a good amount of the rest of the nucleus.
Sheldon Rankins, defensive tackle, New Orleans Saints
The Saints knew they needed a lot of help on defense, so they used the 12th overall pick of the draft on Rankins hoping to improve their front.
Rankins may eventually help the defensive line, but it won’t be in 2016. A knee injury ended his rookie season before it began.
New Orleans’ defense was bad all over in 2015, but much of the problem started up front. The Saints recorded 31 sacks. Only five teams were worse. If you’re not sacking the quarterback, you’re probably not pressuring him very much. If you’re not pressuring the quarterback, receivers have time to get open, especially against bad cornerbacks.
That’s not a recipe for success in the NFL.
Rankins could have helped that. He was a force at Lousiville, recording 14 sacks over his final two years with the Cardinals.
The good news for the Saints is that Nick Fairley was signed for depth on the defensive front. He will now be called on to play a lot more. That makes New Orleans’ defensive line — a position that often yields injuries — razor thin. For a unit that was never strong to begin with, that’s pretty devastating.
Vance Walker, defensive end, Denver Broncos
Walker, who was a rotational player on Denver’s Super Bowl 50 winning squad a year ago, will not be a part of the team’s repeat bid.
A guy who was being counted on to take the place of Malik Jackson, he was lost for the season with a torn ACL.
Obviously Denver’s pass rush, spearheaded by Von Miller, gets the bulk of the attention. But the run defense is just as important. In 2015, Walker was a big part of that.
Best run-stop percentage among 3-4 DEs in 2015:
1. Derek Wolfe, DEN
2. Henry Anderson, IND
3. Vance Walker, DEN
4. Calais Campbell, ARI
— PFF (@PFF) August 25, 2016
Walker’s absence won’t keep Denver from being a strong defense. There’s still an awful lot of talent on that unit.
The problem is that the offense is a question mark. The quarterback position is a huge unknown, which puts another set of question marks over the rest of the team. For the Broncos to have any chance of repeating, the defense will need to be great again.
Without Walker in there to stop to run, that will be possible, but will be much harder.