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11 Biggest NFL Preseason Injuries of All Time

by: Esteban On  Tuesday, August 21, 2012

biggest worst nfl preseason injuries

As the NFL preseason rolls into week three, the injuries are really starting to pile up. Thus, we’re once again starting to hear rumblings from people who think the league should just get rid of these meaningless exhibition games altogether. And, you know, they have a point. The games are boring to watch after the first quarter, when the good players are taken out. And still, even though they play so little, every year good players get hurt during the preseason.

Of course, there isn’t an easy solution to the problem. You can’t just drop the preseason games and expect the quality of play to be good for the first few weeks. Moreover, adding more games to the regular season schedule may sound like a way around this, by making what would have been meaningless games meaningful. But that actually increases the likelihood of star players getting injured even more.

Still, something needs to be done. There are too many injuries in preseason games affecting too many teams. And to prove it, here’s a list of the 11 biggest NFL preseason injuries of all time.

Some are “big” because of the effect they had on the team in question. Others are “big” because of how they affected the injured player’s career. But one way or another, they were all notable. So have a look.

11. Matt Cassel (2009)

matt cassel chiefs quarterback

Matt Cassel only missed one game in 2009 after tearing his MCL in the Chiefs’ first preseason game. However, after shocking the NFL by leading the Tom Brady-less Patriots to an 11-5 record and a playoff appearance the year before, Cassel was terrible in 2009. You want numbers? Okay, here you go: in 2008 his QB rating was 89.4 and in 2010 it was 93.0. But in 2009, the year he got injured in the preseason, it was just 69.9. Coincidence? I think not. And of course, making this injury an even bigger deal was the fact that the Chiefs had just traded for the guy and given him a 6-year $62.7 million contract with $28 million guaranteed. So the Chiefs were lucky Cassel bounced back in 2010.

10. Stafon Johnson (2010)

Stafon Johnson injury 2010

Well, this story is a bummer. Running back Stafon Johnson was off to a tremendous start to his senior year at USC, scoring 5 TDs in just 4 games. Then, during a routine weightlifting session, he dropped a barbel on his neck, crushing his larynx, and ending his college career. However, Johnson’s football life got a second chance when the Tennessee Titans signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2010. He made the most out of the opportunity, too, impressing coaches and keeping himself in contention for the starting RB gig. Then he suffered a horrific leg injury during the first preseason game—high ankle sprain and a broken fibula—the Titans released him, and he hasn’t played a single NFL game since.

9. Elvis Dumervil (2010)

elvis dumervil sack

In 2009, Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil led the NFL in sacks and was a consensus All Pro and a Pro Bowler. As such, he signed a 6-year $61.5 million contract that guaranteed him a whopping $43.13 million. But in August of 2010 the guy suffered a torn pectoral muscle during practice and missed the entire 2010 season. When he returned to action last season, he wasn’t nearly as effective—his sacks went from 17.0 in 2009 to 9.5 in 2011.

8. Osi Umenyiora (2008)


The New York Giants led the NFL in sacks in 2007, and Umenyiora got 6 of them in a single game against the Eagles. Then, in the Super Bowl against the heavily favored Patriots, the team’s strong pass-rush, led by Umenyiora, helped rattle Tom Brady and company, leading to an upset championship. But in the 2008 preseason, during a game against the Jets, Umenyiora tore his lateral meniscus and had to sit out the entire season. In the end, the Giants did just fine in 2008, going 12-4. Of course, they probably could have used him in the playoffs, where the Giants were ousted by the Eagles in their opening game.

7. Bubba Smith (1972)

bubba smith indianapolic colts

Bubba Smith, the guy who played Hightower in all those Police Academy movies, was a star defensive end in the early 70s. Drafted by the Colts first overall in 1967, he helped them win the Super Bowl in 1970, was a Pro Bowlers in ’70 and ’71, and an All Pro in ’71 as well—and that was at the age of just 26. But during a preseason game in 1972, he got tangled in the down-marker chains while pursuing a player out of bounds, injured his knee, and missed the entire 1972 season. After that, there were no more All Pro selections, no more Pro Bowls, and no more Super Bowls. The guy was never the same.

6. Michael Vick (2003)

michael vick injury 2003

Michael Vick’s first full season as the starting QB for the Falcons was pretty good. In 2002 he threw for 2936 yards and rushed for 777, putting up a respectable passer rating of 81.6. Thus, big things were expected of the 23-year-old in 2003. Then he was clobbered in a preseason game against the Ravens in 2003, broke his fibula, and missed 10 games. As a result, the Falcons went 5-11.

5. Ki-Jana Carter (1995)

Ki Jana Carter bengals

The Cincinnati Bengals took Ki-Jana Carter with their #1 overall pick in the 1995 NFL, then signed him to a 7-year $19.2 million deal that included a record $7.125 signing bonus. Of course, since it’s the Bengals we’re talking about here, Carter tore his ACL on the third carry of his first preseason game. He missed the whole 1995 season, then went on to rush for 1,144 yards.

No, not 1,144 yards in a season. He rushed for 1,144 yards total, for the rest of his 7 year career. The most he ever got in a season was 464 with Cincinnati in 1997.

4. Chris Spielman (1997)

Chris Spielman tackles Chris Carter

From 1988 to 1996, Chris Spielman was one of the best defenders in the NFL. After just 8 seasons with the Detroit Lions, he was the team’s all-time leader in tackle, was a 4x Pro Bowler and a 3x All Pro. But during the 1997 preseason, after joining the Buffalo Bills, Spielman was involved in a helmet-to-helmet collision that knocked him out cold and would later lead to spinal surgery. As a result he missed all of the 1997 and 1998 seasons. Though he attempted a comeback in 1999, that attempt fell short, so the preseason injury suffered in 1997 effectively ended his career.

3. Jason Sehorn (1998)

Jason Sehorn interception

If you’re going to be a successful cornerback in the NFL, you have to be quick. And the New York Giants’ Jason Sehorn was a successful NFL cornerback, playing a huge part in their NFC East championship in 1997 with his 6 interceptions. However, while returning a punt during a 1998 preseason game against the Jets, he tore both his ACL and MCL, which forced him to miss the entire season. And when he returned in 1999, he had lost some of the speed that made him effective, so he was never a stand-out player again.

2. Darryl Stingley (1978)

Darryl Stingley spinal injury

This isn’t just one of the biggest preseason injuries in NFL history. It’s one of the worst injuries, period.

Darryl Stingley was a decent wide receiver for the Patriots, but not really a star. However, he became famous in 1978 when a hit from Jack Tatum of the Oakland Raiders crumpled his spine and left him a quadriplegic for the rest of his life. It was one of the worst on-field injuries in the history of the league.

1. Trent Green (1999)

trent green st. louis rams on stretcher 1999

Trent Green’s preseason injury is the most fascinating in the history of football. He was expected to be St. Louis’ starting QB in 1999, but was forced to sit out the whole season after suffering a knee injury during a preseason game against his former team, the San Diego Chargers. People expected this injury to derail whatever chances the St. Louis Rams had in 1999; however, in reality it launched the career of Kurt Warner and led to the Rams’ Super Bowl victory. Green went on to have a reasonably successful career as the starter for Kansas City from 2001 to 2006, posting above-average QB ratings most of those years. But he probably wouldn’t have minded being part of that “Greatest Show on Turf” legacy.