Why There Will Be More Injuries in 2020 Training Camps Than Ever Before

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This offseason has been…weird, to say the least. With all of the uncertainty surrounding the NFL season and training camps given the Covid-19 pandemic, fantasy football players need to be prepared for injuries at an elevated rate compared to previous seasons once training camp opens up. Knowing the information in this article will be valuable to give you a leg up on your league-mates. Be prepared to deal with injuries on your roster will help you make waiver wire transactions more efficiently or know who to target late in your fantasy drafts.

Historical Data

Established research studies and the NFL’s Player Health and Safety demonstrate that even in a “normal” offseason, injuries in training camp occur at an elevated rate, especially in the first and second week of training camp. The injury data indicates that the highest rate of injury occurs in the first and second week of training camp compared to the third, fourth, and fifth weeks. Research data also indicates that more injuries occur during preseason games compared to practice. Across the sample size from this study, the average missed time after a training camp injury was 6.4 days. From 1998-2007, there were 35 major injuries, which were classified as injuries that required surgery or resulted in a player being placed on injured reserve.

When discussing injuries that occurred in practice, muscle strains were the most common injury. Muscle strains to the hamstrings, quadriceps, calf muscle and groin muscle accounted for almost 50% of injuries in training camp. The next most common injury was a sprain, specifically to the knee and ankle. Hamstring injuries were most common in running backs, defensive backs, and wide receivers. Quarterbacks (and kickers and punters) had the lowest injury risk compared to other positions.

Why Injuries Happen Early in Camp

Now that we know what the historical data suggests, why do injuries happen at such a high rate? It all has to do with the acclimation period. What does that mean? The easiest way to describe it is with an extreme example. If you’ve only ever been used to running 2 miles once a week and then all of a sudden you decide you’re going to run a marathon the following week, you’re going to get hurt. Simply put, any extreme change in load and stress to the body will result in injury. I have this conversation with my patients in the clinic all the time. Now, if we come back to the NFL, obviously these are athletes who are the best of the absolute best. They’re extremely athletic, and their job is to literally work out and stay in shape. Certainly, the example I presented above doesn’t really apply to NFL players….but it sort of does, and here’s what I mean.

During a typical NFL offseason, there isn’t much going on from February through April, in terms of organized team events or practices. After the NFL Draft in April, OTAs and rookie mini camps take place, but that doesn’t compare to the rigors of an NFL Training Camp. Because of the sparse team activities and the lack of “competition,” the environment of offseason workouts doesn’t usually compare to that of an NFL training camp. Yes, these players are working out all offseason, but the training is typically amongst small groups or guys are training individually. Because of the lack of continuity, it’s impossible to control for an individual player’s conditioning status heading into training camp, which is extremely important for reducing injury risk.

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Another factor is the type of training. Lifting heavy weights in the offseason looks really cool on Instagram and Twitter, but this type of training doesn’t necessarily correlate with injury prevention, especially when you consider the training intensity and competition level increases drastically in training camp. The goal is to gradually increase training intensity over the course of several weeks, not show up on day one of camp and go full speed out of the gate. Unfortunately, however, most teams expect their players to show up in shape and ready to compete on an NFL field. If a player hasn’t been completing the correct type of training in the offseason and hasn’t given his body enough time to acclimate to the rigors of training camp, injury is likely.

Why 2020 Will Be Different

There have been no OTAs. There has been no minicamp. There has been no rookie minicamp. To date, there has not been any organized NFL football training. Sure, some players are training in small groups, but given the Covid-19 pandemic, we haven’t seen players on a field together at all. Training camps are set to open on July 28, exactly two weeks away from the writing of this article. During the months of February to June, it’s simply impossible to discuss what these players were doing to stay in shape. Gyms were closed, team facilities were closed, and football-specific training in groups has been discouraged. As discussed above, the biggest reason why players suffer soft-tissue injuries early in camp is because of the fact that the training volume and intensity increase drastically. In 2020, more than ever before, the training intensity for the players is going to increase at a rapid rate compared to what they’ve been doing this offseason, leading to a greater degree of soft tissue injuries, like hamstring and calf strains.

One benefit of the different structure of the preseason this year is that there are only two games. I would expect very few starters to play in these games, making it less likely that these players get injured in preseason action. Additionally, the research study referenced above shows that injuries happen at a higher rate of in-game action than in practices, which makes sense as the intensity of the competition certainly increases. With two fewer preseason games and no joint practices, we can expect these types of injuries to be lower than in previous years.

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Even with these two “benefits” of the modified format, injuries are going to happen in training camps in 2020. They always do, and there’s reason to believe they’ll occur at an elevated rate in 2020 for the reasons discussed above. Fortunately, as the Fantasy Footballers‘ injury expert, I’ve got you covered. Join the FootClan for access to my injury-specific podcast throughout the season, and be sure to check out the injury report section of the Ultimate Draft Kit for my detailed write-ups on players coming off 2019 injuries.

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