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NFL Injuries: Study Breaks Down Turf vs. Grass

Bill Speros for Bookies.com

Bill Speros  | 5 mins

NFL Injuries: Study Breaks Down Turf vs. Grass

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There have been 148 lower body injuries in the NFL this season that have resulted in players being placed on IR.

An examination by bookies.com of each injury has found a near-even split between those injuries that occurred on natural grass and those that occurred on some form of artificial turf.

Of the 148 serious lower-body injuries thus far, 71 occurred on natural grass and 77 occurred on artificial surfaces. Of the lower body injuries, a plurality occurred to the knee (55), followed by the hamstring (28), ankle (20), and Achilles (10). The most upper-body injuries occurred to the shoulder (15). 

Our study examined all IR Injuries from every team since opening night through Week 13. The playing surface type is attributed to surface used in which the played last used before being put on IR.

Of the 30 NFL stadiums, an even split use natural grass and turf. A majority of teams (17) play their home games at stadiums that use artificial surfaces. Which runs contra to the belief that turf causes a majority of the major injuries given the even split noted above. 

Turf Injuries Trigger Ire From Players 

Multiple NFL players have complained about injuries purportedly caused by turf. 

The Jets signed Aaron Rodgers this offseason and were poised for a playoff run. The team was slotted to be showcased multiple times in prime time this season, in addition to the national late Sunday afternoon slot as much as allowed by the NFL. 

Rodgers tore his left Achilles on the MetLife turf after taking the fourth snap of the season. He won't play again this season but is in the middle of a 21-day rehab window. 

On Black Friday against the Jets, Dolphins linebacker Jaelan Phillips suffered an Achilles tear on the same turf that claimed Rodgers in Week 1. 

The NFLPA and multiple players subsequently called on owners and the league to make all  stadiums in the league use natural surfaces. 

"We can't just say 'hybrid,'" Jeff Crandall, chair of the NFL's engineering committee told ESPN. "We can't just say 'grass,' and we can't just say 'synthetic.' That is not the answer. We've got to figure out what particular composition is best given the circumstances involved."

The American Journal of Sports Medicine examined 53 studies across multiple sports and levels  published from 1972 to 2020. The studies found "a higher rate of foot and ankle injuries on artificial turf compared with natural grass on both old- and new-generation turf," and that "elite-level football athletes" were more predisposed to knee injuries on synthetic turf. 

Grass-Field Injuries Just As Costly

But not all lower body injures of note occur on artificial surface fields. 

San Francisco Pro-Bowl safety Talanoa Hufanga tore his ACL at home in Week 11 against Tampa Bay.

Pittsburgh linebacker Kwon Alexander tore his Achilles during Week 10 at home against Green Bay. 

New England’s top wide receiver at the time, Kendrick Bourne, tore his ACL at Hard Rock Stadium while playing the Dolphins in Week 8. 

Minnesota QB Kirk Cousins tore his right Achilles at Lambeau Field during the Vikings game the same day Bourne was hurt. He, too, was lost for the season. Cousins’ contract guarantees him $35 million this season. 

Baltimore RB J.K. Dobbins, expected to be cornerstone of the Ravens’ offense, tore his Achilles and was lost for the season in Week 1 during a game against Houston at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. 

All of those stadiums use natural grass surfaces. 

It's not always in-game injuries that claim players. Dallas cornerback Trevon Diggs tore his left ACL during practice during one-on-one drills. 

No Easy Answers 

Of course, there have been multiple ACL/Achilles injuries on artificial surfaces this season. 

In addition to Rodgers and Phillips, Falcons DT Grady Jarrett tore his ACL playing the Titans at Nissan Stadium in Nashville. The Titans switched to Matrix Helix Turf just before the 2023 season. 

That move was made, the team said, because of longstanding issues with the natural surface that was deemed unpredictable due to changing weather conditions during the season. 

 "We've had a lot of issues (with the grass at Nissan Stadium) after a certain part of the season. It's hard to grow grass. It gets slick. We put new turf down, we try and put new sod down and it's slick, you see guys slipping. Those are real things that I've witnessed over my time here," said coach Mike Vrabel. "At the beginning of the year, summer, training camp, early season, I can see (our grass surface) being very consistent. But as the season wears on, and the weather changes, there is a noticeable difference in performance of the field,”

About the Author

Bill Speros for Bookies.com
Bill Speros
Bill Speros is an award-winning journalist and editor whose career includes stops at USA Today Sports Network / Golfweek, Cox Media, ESPN, Orlando Sentinel and Denver Post.