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Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

‘That’s something we can’t do again’: Bad luck with injuries altered 49ers’ draft strategy

May 1, 2021 at 3:13 PM--

The San Francisco 49ers had a championship roster last season yet finished with just six victories. Injuries completely ravaged the roster. By the end of Week 2, injuries had transformed the depth chart to a point that seemed impossible to overcome. Still, the team managed to compete week in and week out, but its lofty Super Bowl hopes were long gone.

The poor luck forced head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch to rethink their draft strategy, putting more of an emphasis on health than they had in past seasons. You could tell that was the case from the 49ers' latest draft class, made up of eight prospects with fairly clean injury histories.

"Not just counting here but anywhere I've been in my career, you've got a lot of history in different buildings where people are taken off boards because of injuries," Shanahan told reporters on Saturday after the 49ers made their final draft selection. "Sometimes, you debate it the whole time. And I've been a lot of places where a guy was taken off the board, then you watch him go play somewhere else for 10 years, and you've got to go against him. And so, you're like, 'Man, I'm never doing that.'

"And then we've been here, and we've had a few guys we've had injury issues with, or they've had a history, but we liked the player, and we're betting that we're willing to take that risk. Some have worked, and some haven't.

"What I've learned with some of our luck here, especially last year, also in our Super Bowl year, definitely our second year too, when too many of those add up, it's hard to compete. And I think that hit us harder than anything last year. That hit us before COVID, and that's something we can't do again.

"We're not saying that we'll never take a risk again or anything, but we definitely wanted to make a point because of what's happened the last couple of years, at least, to try to avoid that."

Lynch added that, in the past, the 49ers have looked for value at certain picks. Sometimes that means taking a risk on a guy who has a bit of a history with injuries. That's why some players see their draft stock drop.

"[W]e did tangibly change some things in our grading process," Lynch explained. "Not what the doctors are telling us, but how it's delivered — just to make it clearer. Like, 'OK, is this grade with a high risk or low risk?' Just really clarifying that, and I think that was a positive step because it made, probably easier, like, we're not touching these guys, the ones that were really bad.

"That probably cleared some things up, and like I said, you learn over time. We make adjustments each and every year but after you go through what we went through last year, you take a harder look. We didn't overreact to it, but I think we responded accordingly."

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