The 49ers didn’t suffer as bad injury attrition in 2021 as they did in 2020, but Football Outsiders’ adjusted-games-lost metric still says it’s a trend.
San Francisco 49ers fans would probably like to forget the 2020 season. And if you did, here’s a quick reminder: It was the year in which seemingly everyone (not hyperbole) ended up suffering some sort of major injury.
What happened that year, as the Niners limped to a 6-10 finish, was head coach Kyle Shanahan’s squad finishing with the most-injured group in the entire NFL.
There are plenty of ways to quantify this, but Football Outsiders’ adjusted-games-lost metric helps take into account not just individual games any particular player missed because of injury but also quarters of time missed, such as if a player exited at halftime.
Recalling how 2020 went, San Francisco’s net AGL was 166.6, by far the most in the league and over 30 points higher than the next-worst team on that same list, the New England Patriots (134.8).
The Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers that year were the healthiest team, in terms of AGL, at 30.6
You might recall all that. Perhaps you tried to forget it, and that’s fine. Yet the surprising trend is the fact the 49ers were still notably injured a lot in 2021, too.
49ers injuries in 2021 weren’t too far off from 2020 totals
Football Outsiders’ AGL metric from 2021 reveals some relatively shocking data, at least as far as the Niners are concerned.
It would have been a near-impossibility for the Niners to reach what happened the previous season, but nevertheless, San Francisco’s AGL from last season still wasn’t great, finishing up 2021 at 119.5.
In contrast to 2020, that’s not bad. In terms of standings within the entire league, though, that was fourth worst. The Baltimore Ravens, who went through a 49ers-like injury attrition in 2021 but nevertheless finished 8-9, had the worst AGL at 191.2, while the Super Bowl-champion Los Angeles Rams had the fifth-best AGL rate at 54.3.
Perhaps a major takeaway here is, that if you want to win a Super Bowl, it helps to stay healthy.
Do 49ers have a serious injury problem?
One of the fallouts from what happened in 2020 is Shanahan and the Niners were convinced they had to rethink the makeup of their roster entering 2021, focusing more on player durability, which probably helps explain part of why they elected to start the transition from oft-injured quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to Trey Lance last season.
However, San Francisco finished 2019 as the sixth most-injured team in the league, which will suggest it hasn’t entirely done away with this trend that has seemingly dogged Shanahan’s group on a yearly basis.
Sure, reflecting back on 2021, long-term injuries to players like running back Raheem Mostert, right tackle Mike McGlinchey and EDGE Dee Ford helped skew the numbers. Fortunately, the 49ers were able to overcome those setbacks well enough to make the NFC Championship game.
But the trend still continues: The Niners suffer a lot of injuries.
Is it the nature of players they target? How about an improper strength-and-conditioning program?
It’s anyone’s guess, and there’s likely no single answer. But it is a bit disturbing nevertheless.