What’s next for the 49ers and other injury-riddled teams?

After Week 2, we know enough now to speculate about “what’s next” for the 49ers and some of the NFL’s other injury-riddled teams.

It was a rough week in the NFL for injuries: Edge rusher Nick Bosa, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, running back Raheem Mostert, defensive tackle Solomon Thomas … and that just covers the poor San Francisco 49ers. Giants running back Saquon Barkley, Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, and Broncos quarterback Drew Lock headline an injury list so long that NFL Recap doesn’t have space to list them all (nor enough up-to-date information at press time to really process some of the injuries). But we know enough now to speculate about “what’s next” for the 49ers and some of the NFL’s other injury-riddled teams.

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What’s next for the San Francisco 49ers?

Nick Mullens is a capable backup quarterback who has spent three years in Kyle Shanahan’s system and went 3-5 for a bad 49ers team in 2018. Under normal circumstances, Mullens could manufacture wins while Garoppolo recovers from a high ankle sprain.

But these are hardly normal circumstances. Bosa likely has a torn ACL. Fellow edge rusher Dee Ford did not play on Sunday because of a neck injury. Thomas is the top reserve along the defensive line. Richard Sherman is on the injured reserve list. George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and now Mostert are missing from the 49ers offense. They are currently fielding the roster of a 6-10 caliber team while playing in what’s probably the toughest division in the NFL – the NFC West.

And now the good news: The 49ers face the New York Giants next week, then host the Eagles and Dolphins. Even with a depleted lineup, they can go 2-1 during that stretch. Ford, Samuel, and Sherman could all ride to the rescue by the end of that stretch (remember that IR works differently this year, and players can come off of it earlier). So might Garoppolo, though the others may be much more important.

With any luck, the 49ers will still be in the playoff hunt when they return to something close to full strength. But the loss of Bosa will cast a long shadow over the rest of the season.

What’s next for the Denver Broncos?

The Broncos’ only real objective this season should be developing Drew Lock. Any hope that they could squeak into the Wild Card conversation evaporated when top defender Von Miller got injured at the end of camp. Lock now has a sprained AC joint and was waiting on additional testing when NFL Recap went to press. His backup is Jeff Driskel, who is the kind of quarterback a team acquires when Andy Dalton is their starter and they don’t want controversy. 

Driskel can actually be pesky in stretches, as he was in Sunday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the one thing Broncos big boss John Elway doesn’t want to do is search for a quarterback on the waiver wire because Elway can barely find a quarterback in free agency or the top of the draft.

If NFL Recap ran the Minnesota Vikings, we would offer Elway Kirk Cousins in exchange for all of the draft picks under heaven. But if we ran the Broncos, we would just hunker down and chalk 2020 as yet another rebuilding year.

What’s next for the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers?

The injuries to Barkley (knee) and McCaffrey (ankle) are exhibits Y and Z in the case against over-drafting or overpaying a running back. Both backs can be a thrill to watch, but the Giants and Panthers are rebuilding teams whose plan for 2020 appeared to be to feed Barkley and McCaffrey to the line (mixing in a few very predictable screens) while they figured other things out on offense.

Neither team has displayed much interest in developing change-up backs, which is why the soon-to-be-30-year-old Dion Lewis (his birthday is next Sunday; he has made a career out of one fine year for Bill Belichick and several disappointing ones for all the Baby Belichicks) earned 10 carries for 20 yards on Sunday, while Mike Davis (a poor man’s Dion Lewis) took over for McCaffrey.

The Giants and Panthers should use their time without their workhorses to get smarter about how they use running backs in general and then cross their fingers that they still get some return on investment when Barkley and McCaffrey return.

What’s next for the NFL?

As stated at the top, there were just too many injuries on Sunday to break down. We’ll know more about Indianapolis Colts WR Parris Campbell, Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr, Los Angels Rams RB Cam Akers, and others as the start of the week unfolds. 

There are already plenty of theories about why we saw such an injury rash in Week 2. Well, actually two theories: They were caused by the “sticky turf” in the Meadowlands and/or the shortened offseason. The playing surface in MetLife Stadium is indeed new, and bad turf can lead to injuries, so the NFL should look into a situation that will impact the Giants, Jets, and their opponents. Heck, the 49ers might not have anyone left after two straight games in the Meadowlands next week if the turf truly is an issue. 

As for the short preseason, well, maybe there is something to that. But it’s odd that Week 1 was relatively mild from an injury standpoint. And NFL Recap has seen plenty of rough injury weeks over the years. And the other pet theory about the short offseason (it would cause lots of sloppy play) holds zero water after two weeks. Finally, several of this week’s most noteworthy injuries came as the result of big hits, not because anyone appeared improperly conditioned or unready to play at NFL speed.

It’s football. Injuries stink, but they were part of the game long before shortened preseasons and social distancing were part of the game.

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