If you’re an NFL fan, you probably know who led the league in rushing yards (Adrian Peterson), receiving yards (Calvin Johnson) and sacks (J.J. Watt). But do you know who led the league in playing time?
Probably not. And until this season, it was impossible for NFL fans to know who led the league in playing time. The NFL kept track of how many plays every player played, and that information was shared with teams, coaches, players and agents, and it was necessary for determining the playing time bonus payments that players received. But the NFL previously resisted making that information public.
This season, however, the NFL began publishing how many plays each player played in each game as part of its publicly available game book. And FootballOutsiders.com has a sortable table that lists the number of plays played for each player in the league all season.
So because that data is now publicly available, we can let you know that Ryan Wendell is the NFL’s leader in playing time for 2012. Wendell started all 16 games at center for the Patriots this year and played a total of 1,231 offensive snaps, and he was also in on 148 special teams plays. That gives him a total for the season of 1,379 plays.
A player who gets a lot of playing time obviously has to stay healthy and stay effective so that he doesn’t get benched, so leading the league is an impressive accomplishment. But a player’s playing time is also highly dependent on how many plays the unit he plays on gets, and Wendell benefitted from the Patriots having a lot of offensive plays this season. So it’s no surprise that one of Wendell’s linemates, Nate Solder, led the league in offensive playing time with 1,234 offensive plays.
Conversely, Jaguars safety Dawan Landry deserves to be commended for leading the league in defensive playing time, with 1,139 plays. But it’s also fair to point out that a player on the Jaguars’ defense leading the league in defensive snaps is a sign that the Jaguars’ defense had a hard time getting off the field this season.
The league leader in special teams playing time was Baltimore’s Sean Considine, who played 415 special teams plays this season. As a 31-year-old who has bounced around the league for years and always managed to find a spot on an NFL roster despite rarely being a starter, Considine provides a good example for how to keep a job in the league: Play a lot of special teams.