2021 Preseason Injury Data: Key Takeaways

Each fall, the NFL analyzes and shares preseason injury data as a part of ongoing efforts to advance the health and safety of players. The injury data are compiled and analyzed by IQVIA, an independent, third-party company retained by the NFL and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA).

IQVIA analyzes injuries throughout the season, compares that data to trends over time and shares findings with the NFL, the NFLPA and the NFL medical and football committees.

Preseason injury data include statistics on injuries occurring during preseason practices and games, including concussions, ACL and MCL injuries. 

There are three key takeaways from the 2021 preseason injury data.

1. Concussion rates are at a five-year low.

The 2021 preseason, including practices and games, had the lowest rate of concussion in the last five years (2015-2019), excluding the anomalous 2020 year which did not have any preseason games. 

Reducing the number of concussions that occur during the preseason is a pillar of the NFL's injury reduction plan. Targeted club interventions, such as sharing information about the causes of concussion and providing guidance on training techniques, are helping to push the numbers in the right direction.

Further, when compared to 2015-2019, total number of injuries during the 2021 preseason were the lowest. 

2. Additional lower extremity injury reduction efforts are underway to address a five-year high.

The incidence of soft tissue injuries, including calf, hamstring, quadricep and adductor strains, are significantly up during the 2021 preseason compared to 2015-2019. As the NFL continues to use injury data to drive health and safety progress, new efforts are underway to address lower extremity injuries, which remain the highest driver of missed days.

The NFL-NFLPA's Joint Lower Extremity Injury Reduction Task Force will continue to develop and share strategies, targeting the reduction of these injuries.

The league also continues to improve the quality of data collected on these injuries, advance the science around how to best prevent them and share learnings and best practices across sports medicine. Which cleats players are wearing are tracked to determine performance on-field and which may result in fewer injuries. The league is also evaluating turf systems – natural and artificial – to learn how surface may correlate to injury.

In July 2021, the NFL's Scientific Advisory Board allocated $4 million to a team of medical researchers led by the University of Wisconsin to investigate the prevention and treatment of hamstring injuries for elite football players. Hamstring injuries are the most common injuries suffered by NFL players and are the second-most burdensome injury in the league, with nearly 75% of such injuries resulting in missed time for NFL players.

The NFL is committed to driving the number of lower extremity injuries down and will continue to work closely with club medical staffs and other experts to determine and implement effective injury reduction strategies across the league.

3. Players are continuously moving into even better-performing helmets.

At the conclusion of the 2017 season, only 41 percent of players were wearing top-performing football helmets. Just four years later, more than 99 percent of players are wearing helmets that performed in the top group based on the NFL-NFLPA annual laboratory testing performance results.

But the work doesn't stop there. The NFL continues to raise the bar for what is considered a top-performing helmet. In 2021, the league and the NFLPA implemented even more rigorous testing, meaning that some helmets previously considered top-performing didn't make the cut for 2021. Returning veterans stepped up to the challenge, with 27 percent of them upgrading their helmets before the start of the 2021 season. As the NFL-NFLPA's testing methodologies and helmet technology both continue to improve, players will be encouraged to continue to trade-up.