As far as old football sayings go, “next man up” seems to have become one of the more clichéd ones, right up there with “establishing the run” and any phrase that ends in “in the trenches.” Unlike some of its counterparts, its meaning has become more relevant as the game evolves. Whether it’s a matter of faster athletes, changing rules, or simple recent bias, it seems like injuries are more a part of the NFL now than ever before. That in turn has made roster depth a necessity for any team that hopes to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
As we review the costliest injuries and best subs of the season, you’ll notice the Seahawks and Broncos have no representatives in the former list but make up half of the latter. That’s no coincidence. Every team has injuries, but it’s the ones who deal with them best who move on. Denver may yet be haunted by its misfortune, as they won’t have one of the league’s best defenders, Von Miller, in the Super Bowl. They wouldn’t even have gotten this far if not for multiple defenders stepping up in his absence. Let’s take a look at how other teams did, and did not, survive their injuries this season.
10. Dwayne Allen, Colts TE
Coby Fleener had a lot to hang his hat on this season, with 728 receiving yards, just one drop in 84 targets, and solid pass protection. While Allen led all tight ends in 2012 with a +11.2 run block grade, Fleener earned a -9.3 in that category in 2013. Considering how much the Indianapolis offensive line struggled to open holes for their running backs, they clearly missed Allen’s superior line work.
8. Donald Thomas, Colts LG
Indianapolis had some questionable offseason acquisitions, but Thomas looked like a nice bargain after a quality 2012 campaign with the Patriots. However his Week 2 injury left the starting job to oft-overmatched rookie Hugh Thornton. The third round draft pick earned the fifth-worst pass block grade of any guard in the regular season, but it was his awful run blocking that let the Colts down in their Divisional Round loss to New England.
4. Reggie Wayne, Colts WR
With their third representative on this list, let’s just give the Indianapolis fans a moment to shake their heads. Rejuvenated by his new quarterback, Wayne had the fourth-highest wide receiver grade over the last two seasons prior to his injury. T.Y. Hilton did a great job filling Wayne’s massive shoes, but no one was there to step into Hilton’s. Thanks to the second-worst Drop Rate of any wide receiver with 50 or more targets, Darrius Heyward-Bey was a massive disappointment. Colts fans are left to wonder what could have been with a healthy Wayne and Hilton in the playoffs.