Back in 2017, the NFL had a spike in significant injuries amid a similarly turbulent season. Andrew Luck, Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt, Odell Beckham, Aaron Rodgers, Eric Berry, David Johnson, Joe Thomas, Julian Edelman and Jason Peters were all sidelined for the season by Thanksgiving. And while a lot of the television ratings dip of that year was attributed to the president's making players kneeling a centerpiece of his reelection campaign, having so many fantasy football teams torpedoed before the playoffs didn’t help matters much.
The injury outbreak, according to former players and agents at the time, was due to myriad reasons, including a heightened willingness to report issues and more general managers willing to utilize their injured reserve to stash developmental talent.
By 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, it was hard not to think back to 2017 as the rash of injuries spread rapidly throughout the early slate of football games.
• Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas and Jimmy Garoppolo were all ruled out of the 49ers game by halftime.
• Saquon Barkley limped off Soldier Field in Chicago unable to put weight on his right knee.
• Drew Lock left the Broncos game with a shoulder injury, replaced by Jeff Driskell.
• Byron Jones injured his groin against the Bills and was ruled out.
• Anthony Barr left the Vikings game with a shoulder injury and did not return.
• Parris Campbell was carted off the field with a knee injury and Malik Hooker with an Achilles injury.
This was just the tip of it all. Broncos first-round pick Jerry Jeudy was banged up. Cam Akers was ruled out in Philadelphia. One player after another, the narrative of Sunday as a harbinger of choppy waters to come was solidified.
Let’s take a look at the consequences from Sunday and what we know so far…
Barkley (knee) will be evaluated on Monday… however, already ESPN has reported that the club fears it's an ACL injury, which would end Barkley’s season. This is obviously the most singularly consequential injury of the afternoon. The Giants were built around the ever-present fragility of a three-down feature back and, in a loss to the Bears, discovered the ultimate consequences of those actions. Remaining on the depth chart for the Giants: Wayne Gallman, a 2017 fourth-round pick who was inactive for Sunday’s game and Dion Lewis, the 29-year-old satellite back who revived his career in New England and has since bounced to Tennessee and New York.
This dramatically changes the equation for the Giants moving forward. As we wrote after their Week 1 loss to the Steelers, time to evaluate this experiment was running out. Barkley enters the last non-option year of his rookie deal starting next season, with the team no closer to a place where they can adequately block for Barkley (or protect second-year starter Daniel Jones). Devonta Freeman stands out as the most noteworthy free agent back on the market. Joe Judge’s former employer, the New England Patriots, also possess a trove of backs who might be available via trade.
This is a disastrous turn in the tenure of general manager Dave Gettleman, who was defiant in his position on drafting Barkley No. 2 overall in the first place. Despite a bright start to his career, Barkley’s sheer presence on the roster was not enough to extend the life of Eli Manning’s career as hoped. Nor, does it seem, will he aid in the development of Daniel Jones.
The 49ers’ defense could be reshaped significantly: Richard Sherman was already placed on injured reserve heading into this game. Dee Ford was out with a neck injury. Kerry Hyder was hurt against the Jets. So losing the the reigning defensive rookie of the year to a season-ending ACL tear and a pocket-pushing counterpart would be significant given that this division is off to a sprint. The team nearly ran out of defensive ends altogether Sunday, though Bosa is a singular force that activates the rest of the 49ers’ defensive front. Having a pass rush with Arik Armstead and first-round pick Javon Kinlaw is still a fortunate situation and speaks to the incredible depth John Lynch has layered onto this roster, but remember how much firepower it took for the entire unit finally to realize its potential. As The Athletic’s Matt Barrows noted, it would not be surprising to hear Ziggy Ansah get a call this week.
We predicted a bit of a regression for the 49ers this season, and while all the functional components of last year’s team still work (see: Raheem Mostert’s afternoon before he was injured), it’s going to be difficult to swim in a talent arm’s race without some of your best players. Working in San Francisco’s favor is the fact that they'll be back on the East Coast to face the similarly ravaged Giants next week.
This is also a big deal: Jimmy Garoppolo has a high ankle sprain, meaning that he will almost certainly miss next week’s game against the 0-2 Giants. While this looks like a soft landing spot for the 49ers, imagine dropping to 1-2 in a division where just about everyone else is red hot.
A Drew Lock injury would be heartbreaking given that the Broncos have built a solid foundation. They played tough opening weekend and managed to hang with the Steelers for the better part of four quarters without Lock. The Broncos made a coordinator change with Lock in mind and have done a fantastic job of developing Noah Fant into a top-tier target ideal for a young quarterback. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur’s son, Kyle, Drew Stanton, Matt Simms and Blake Bortles are among those available. Also Eli Manning, who knows the playbook in Denver, just saying.
In Los Angeles… We may have an early answer as to what might happen with the running back platoon. Akers left the game after just three carries for 13 yards, which meant that 2019 third-round pick Darrell Henderson took the bulk of the carries, out-touching Malcolm Brown en route to a 12-carry, 81-yard afternoon.