SANTA CLARA, California – After the San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and General Manager John Lynch watched helplessly as starter after starter was lost to an injury during the lost 2020 season, they vowed to prevent it.
Based on their draft class for 2021, Lynch and Shanahan put measures behind their words, with an emphasis on the durability of all eight drafted newbies.
“What I’ve learned here with a bit of luck, especially last year … when too many of them add up, it’s hard to compete,” said Shanahan. “And I think that hit us harder than anything last year. That hit us before COVID and we can’t do that again. So we’re not saying we’ll never take a risk again or anything, but we definitely I wanted to point out what has happened in recent years, at least to avoid it. “
In fact, Shanahan and Lynch have no control over injuries in a sport where they are commonplace. And while past injuries aren’t a surefire predictor of future problems, for the 49ers it’s at least one thing to consider when building their roster.
A list of the games played and possible games for 49er picks in the last five drafting classes.
Note: The possible games are based on the fact that the players have defined roles once, which is particularly necessary for OL.
2021 TOTAL CLASS: 284 of 305 games – 93%
2020 TOTAL: 216 from 233 – 93%
2019 TOTAL CLASS: 301 from 385 – 78%
2018 TOTAL CLASS: 332 of 391 – 85%
2017 TOTAL CLASS: 342 of 371 – 92%
Based on the information available to ESPN, the eight players the Niners designed this year had a total of 305 college games that they were expected to compete in after becoming regular starters or contributors. Of those 305 games, San Francisco’s Draft Class played in 284, or 93%.
From that group, five of the eight conscripts – quarterback Trey Lance from the state of North Dakota, security guard Notre Dame Aaron Banks, cornerback Ambry Thomas from Michigan, offensive lineman Jaylon Moore from West Michigan and cornerback Deommodore Lenoir from Oregon – no game missed injury once they were established players.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that the three players who missed games – Ohio State with Trey Sermon, USC Safety Talanoa Hufanga, and Louisiana with Elijah Mitchell – played positions where high-speed collisions were common. None of them had serious injuries that required extensive rehab.
Sermon had a lateral collateral ligament injury in 2019 that cost him four games, while Hufanga (broken collarbone) and Mitchell (Lisfranc) missed several games in 2017. Some of the players who didn’t miss any games had more serious problems. including Banks’ off-season foot surgery in 2019 and Thomas’s colitis in 2019, which saw him lose 35 pounds. Neither missed games because of these complaints.
It was no coincidence that this year’s class had a relatively clean health certificate. The 49ers seemed to place more emphasis on longevity from the 2020 class onwards. This five-player group, led by Javon Kinlaw and Brandon Aiyuk, played 216 out of a possible 233 games, also 93%.
This off-season, however, the 49ers went so far as to streamline their prospect review process to add more weight to reliability.
“We’ve changed a few things noticeably, such as our evaluation process,” said Lynch. “Not what the doctors tell us, but how it’s delivered, to make it clear. Like, ‘OK, is this high risk or low risk class?’ I just really got that straight, and I think that was a positive move because it probably made it easier. Like we weren’t touching these guys who were really bad. “
These two classes follow two straight drafts where the 49ers were willing to take more risk for players with recent injury successes. The 2019 class played 78% of college games, with Nick Bosa missing out on a muscle injury and Deebo Samuel missing 21 games with thigh and leg injuries. The 2018 squad appeared in 85% of the possible games, but also included riskier picks like defender Kentavius Street, who sustained an ACL injury during a pre-draft training session, and safety Marcell Harris, who ran the entire 2017 season missed with an Achilles injury.
Bosa, Samuel, Harris, and Street all stay on the list, but these two classes offer the kind of tough choices the design can present. Neither Shanahan nor Lynch want to pass on potential elite talent due to previous injuries, unless those issues seem like things that could last in the long run.
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• The 49ers’ schedule for 2021 »| All games “
Bosa and Samuel are two of the key players who missed an extended period of time in 2020, playing nine out of a possible 32 games. Their absence was felt throughout the season.
Therein lies the debate the 49ers face when looking at potential conscripts. How much value should you put on players with no significant history of injury? Where do you draw the line between what is considered a risk and what is not? And at what point in the draft is it worth throwing the dice for players who may have more red flags?
You’ve seen it from both sides in the draft and in the free agency, where a low-risk signing like cornerback Jason Verrett paid off but a high-profile signing like Trade Dee Ford didn’t.
It’s all part of an uncertain calculation to which there is no definitive answer.
“Sometimes you debate about it all the time and I’ve been to a lot of places where a guy we love gets taken off a board and then you see them play elsewhere for 10 years and you have to say against them and you: “Man, I never do that,” Shanahan said, “and then we were here and we had some people who we had injury issues with or who had a history, but we like the player and we are willing to take that risk , and some worked and some didn’t. “