The NFL is often far from forthcoming when it involves matters of concussions on the field, but last week they released a treasure trove of data collected from the past two seasons.
For the study, called the Play Smart. Play Safe. initiative, the league reviewed footage of the 458 known concussions that occurred throughout the 2015 and 2016 seasons, including preseason and playoff games.
The team, led by Jeff Crandall, director of the Center for Applied Biomechanics at the University of Virginia, reviewed each collision from multiple angles collected from numerous video sources. They also analyzed information regarding play positions, the types of plays resulting in concussions, where each collision occurred on the helmet, and whether the hit caused linear or rotational movement to the head.
Of the 459 concussions covered in the study, the team was able to identify the specific plays which caused 383 of the injuries – 325 of which were described as the “primary exposure” or most severe collision during the play.
The data indicates that 45% of concussions in the league were caused by helmet-to-body collisions, with 35% involving direct helmet-to-helmet contact. According to Crandall, this is actually an improvement from the past.
“Fifteen to 20 years ago, this was probably double,” said Crandall, who is also chairman of the NFL engineering committee. “We can attribute some of this reduction to the rules changes implemented in the recent past.”
Crandall also noted that 19% of concussions involved helmet-to-ground collisions, leading him to suggest that the league may consider “what turf countermeasures can be taken to reduce the severity of this kind of impact.”
The data also found that approximately 41% of concussions occurred while a player was making a tackle, and 22% happened while being tackled. More than half of the reported concussions involved an impact on the side of the helmet.
The report indicates that cornerbacks are especially at risk for concussions, followed by wide receivers, linebackers, and offensive linemen.
Passing plays were somewhat more likely to result in a concussion. Approximately 44% of concussions occurred during these plays, compared to 30% during running plays. Kickoffs or punts accounted for 21% of concussions.
The presentation given this week to showcase this data did little to suggest solutions or improvements to reduce the number or severity of concussions in the league, however, the NFL is sharing the information with everyone from helmet manufacturers and universities to designers and entrepreneurs in hopes it will stimulate new ideas and innovations.
The goal, according to the league’s executive president of health and safety policy, Jeff Miller, was to “take tools used in other industries to take a look at equipment used in football” with the “eventual goal of better protective equipment.”
Once the information has been reviewed by the NFL and the NFL Players Association, the league says it will release the information to independent medical experts, teams, coaches, and the NFL Competition Committee for potential rule changes.