Each season, the NFL analyzes and shares preseason injury data as a part of ongoing efforts to advance the health and safety of players. Data and analysis from the 2022 preseason highlights another season of progress toward the league's broader injury reduction goals.
Here are the key takeaways from the 2022 preseason injury data:
1. A new approach to ramp-up and acclimation in Training Camp helped reduce injuries during the period with historically the greatest density of injuries.
"The densest period of time for injuries for NFL players is right at the beginning of training camp – those first several days," said NFL Executive Vice President overseeing health and safety, Jeff Miller. "The first four days of the preseason, followed by an off day, followed by the next four days when the pads come on, are the period of time more so than any other time during the course of the season when we see player injuries."
The 2022 mandate set parameters limiting how many minutes players could practice over the course of their first four days back, then again during the "re-ramp up" when players put pads on. In addition, all players were required to wear sensors, adding a layer of data collection and analysis to this period.
The results were significant. There was a 26% year-over-year decrease in lower extremity injuries during the first two weeks of training camp, and a 16% decrease for the preseason as a whole. The 26% decrease demonstrates efficacy of the new approach to reducing one of the largest categories of longer-term injuries among players.
There was also a 14% decrease in injuries causing players to miss time compared to the 2021 preseason, and injuries during the first two weeks of training camp were down 19%.
The ramp-up mandate was paired with targeted, club-by-club discussions about data-based injury reduction strategies – enabling league staff, club coaches, GMs and medical staff to collaborate on other best practices and player load monitoring strategies.
"These results give us a lot of hope that some of things we're doing we can continue to do next year," said Miller.
2. The Guardian Cap requirement delivered meaningful results.
Preseason injury data also confirmed laboratory testing conducted ahead of the season, which previewed that a Guardian Cap mandate could significantly reduce head impacts. The 2022 preseason marked the first year all offensive linemen, defensive linemen, tight ends and linebackers were required to wear the padded shell on their helmets in practices up until the second preseason game.
"The Guardian Cap was an extremely successful program with a lot of promise," said NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills. "The numbers tell us that position groups required to wear the Guardian Cap during preseason practices had a 52% reduction in concussions versus the three-year average."
There was no increase in concussions among the position groups wearing Guardian Caps after the mandated period ended. The incidence of concussions among the position groups not required to wear Guardian Caps stayed approximately the same as last year -- indicating those who wore the cap were experiencing significant additional protection.
The concussion numbers for players wearing the Guardian Cap in preseason is not the only measure of success. Experts are also looking to see how the cap protects players against an accumulation of hits. As such, experts will continue to monitor injury data for position groups who wore the caps in the preseason to track their concussion rate through regular season practices and games for additional insight into long-term benefits.
3. The league is focused on expanding upon these successes in future preseasons.
The league will work with experts to consider how best to expand the use of the Guardian Caps for next preseason – either requiring additional positions, additional time, or both. In consultation with trainers, helmet manufacturers and players, work is also underway to improve the fit of the caps for next season.
Together with epidemiologists and engineers, the league will also continue to analyze the data collected from sensors worn by players, which will drive club education efforts so players can train and practice smarter in 2023.
"There's clearly more work to be done, but an extremely promising and successful start," said Dr. Sills.