The NFL did not see a spike in injuries this preseason despite the complete absence of offseason training programs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Players suffered 11 ACL tears and 16 MCL tears in preseason practices, which is in line with the averages from the last five years of 10.8 ACL tears and 13 MCL tears. In 2019 practices, there were just 7 ACL tears and 7 MCL tears, which were significant drops from previous years, but practices in 2020 included more contact to make up for the lack of preseason games.
"It's actually quite remarkable, given we had such an unusual offseason," said Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL's chief medical officer.
The number of concussions in preseason practices stayed flat from last season, at 30. Sills said the actual rate of preseason concussions was down in 2020, though, because there were more full-contact practices involving more players, meaning there was more exposure, but no increase in concussions.
There was considerable concern when training camps began that players would be at risk for more injuries because offseason workout programs, OTAs and minicamps were canceled and because players had to get creative with workouts when, in the spring and summer, team facilities were closed, as were many gyms. The league and players union agreed to change the structure of training camps to allow a long ramp-up period where teams focused first on conditioning, before beginning practices and then finally having padded, full-contact sessions.
"None of us knew exactly what to expect," Sills said. "That was the guiding principle in the way the ramp-up was designed, to try to mitigate the ill effects of going too far too fast. I would say I'm pleased more than surprised. I think the strategy was successful in that way and we avoided a big spike of injuries at the outset."
The NFL collects injury data throughout the season and the numbers cited above do not include anything from the regular season. There has also been speculation that the lack of preseason games could contribute to more injuries during the regular season. Sills said the league and the players association will look at the preseason injury data to determine what parts of the altered scheduled could be used in future seasons, including the use of virtual meetings.
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