A ridiculous number of people got to play in the NFL this year

Pooka Williams had her moment of glory.
Illustration: Getty Images

Tuf Borland, Mac McCain, Luther Kirk, Paul Quessenberry and Pooka Williams everyone joined an elite group this year. Not many people can say they’ve played in an NFL game, but these five men have done exactly that this season.

It doesn’t matter if it was just one game each, and it doesn’t matter if any of them fit again. Each of them reached the top level of the sport and played a regular season game. There is no way to take it off. It is a milestone to celebrate.

These five men are also part of a story whose full impact on the NFL is difficult to process on a weekly basis. As the league worked its way through a pandemic second season, one in which they thought they had things under control until they did, there were more opportunities than ever for new athletes to earn the distinction of playing in the league. NFL.

According to Stathead, in 2011 there were 1,931 players who took part in an NFL game. The following year it was 1,951, before returning to 1,931 in 2013. Since then, the number has increased every year … by 24, then by 12, 18, 14, 11 and 5, to a total in 2019 of 2,025 players. Given the tendency to exercise more caution with injuries, this is what you would expect to see, a moderate increase. The average team, over the span of nine years, began using three more players per season.

Then came 2020 and a huge leap to 2,193 players who appeared in NFL games. Again, it makes sense. The pandemic hit, vaccines weren’t widely available, and even with the strictest precautions that were in place before players could get their shots, there would be outbreaks – and there were.

We have reached the milestone of 16 games this season, in line with the plans of the past years, and the number of players who have been on an NFL field is equal to 2,291. This is a 4% increase from last year, when the normal annual increase over the past decade was less than 1%.

The league’s Borlands, McCains, Kirks, Quessenberrys and Williamses are the upside of a season in which, despite the vaccinations available, the impact of COVID-19 on the NFL was actually greater. Just because there wasn’t a ridiculous scenario this year (like the Denver Broncos they have to play at game without quarterback), it does not mean that things have improved.

Borland et al. are just five of the 179 players who have appeared in exactly one match this season. Again, this is a huge leap from last year’s 149 figure, which itself was unprecedented. From 2011-19, the number of players to be played in one match in a season ranged from 73 to 109.

It may be harder to notice because, outside of week 15, the NFL hasn’t had to juggle its schedules due to COVID this season. Thanks to the vaccine, the increase in the number of cases did not mean panic in the same way as any emergence of the virus in 2020. What has been there is significantly greater damage to rosters and teams have had to dig deeper into the pool. of talent available to find people to play on Sunday.

This is a good thing for men who have managed to fulfill their dreams of playing in the NFL. It’s significantly less good for anyone who has contracted COVID and will now have to hope not to develop post-viral conditions along the way because the NFL, like the rest of American decision makers, have collectively stopped trying to defeat the virus, but live with it. it, as long as the money machine goes brrrr.

The NFL will wrap up its season this weekend after making it through all the games, with fans in the stands and who knows how many other people infected as a result, and a product on the field that has been weakened by having to grind more than a hundred more bodies. . All checks will be cleared, so it’s a hit.

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