Fanspeak Series: How do teams factor in injuries during the NFL draft evaluation process?
What do teams say about the “best player available” vs. “biggest need” debate? How do they factor in injuries when evaluating players? How do teams put together their own big boards? This week, a Fanspeak series will answer those questions and more as we provide an insiders’ look into the player evaluation process with veteran NFL and college scout Chris Landry of LandryFootball.
Today, Fanspeak looks at player injuries and how they can impact their draft stock.
For the most part, offensive tackle Prince Tega Wanogho was an iron man for Auburn.
The 6-foot-7, 305 pound senior started every game as a junior while protecting his quarterback’s blind side. Wanogho then dealt with a balky knee but played through the injury this past season, missing just one game.
However, instead of resting to give his knee time to heal – as was suggested by a doctor — Wanogho didn’t think there was enough time. So, as soon as Auburn’s season ended, Wanogho headed to Mobile, Ala., where he was expected to participate in the Senior Bowl.
That’s when disaster struck.
Wanogho was held out of all Senior Bowl practices and the game after he was medically flagged by the Senior Bowl staff.
“They told me there was fluid inside of (his knee) and it got swollen,” Wanogho said, via AL.com. “And yeah, I literally found out like (that) morning that they were going to pull me out.”
He said he’ll use the time to heal and prepare for the Combine, which starts Feb. 23.
And therein lies the challenge for scouts and NFL decision-makers: How does this news affect Wanogho’s draft stock?
Recurrent Anterior Cruciate Ligament Tears in the National Football League: A Case-Control Study. 26 subsequent ACL reinjuries occurred in 25 players (25%) while playing in the NFL, with injuries occurring at a mean of 22.1 months after the NFL draft https://t.co/BlgkVOzR9N pic.twitter.com/g0L0kFsFcF
— Bruce Williams (@Docorange1) February 1, 2020
When it comes to the NFL draft, players with an injury history present a big dilemma.
You have players like Wanogho who remained healthy enough to play most or all games who then wind up with a medical red flag during the evaluation process. And then you have a player like Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who had already dealt with relatively minor injuries before suffering a major one that ended his college career.
Does Wanogho’s injury drop him out of the Day 2 range? Does Tagovailoa still wind up being drafted in the first round?
It’s complicated, Chris Landry said.
Landry is a veteran NFL and college scout who has served with the Cleveland Browns and the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans, and he is the former director of the Indianapolis Scouting Combine. He’s currently serving as a coaching and scouting consultant to NFL and college teams.
So few people have as much knowledge of how teams view injuries than Landry, owner of LandryFootball.com.
“There are different factors and opinions that go into evaluating players’ on-field performance, plus the medical opinions from doctors will vary from team to team as well,” Landry said. “On top of that, some doctors are more aggressive while some more conservative. Then you throw in the final decision-makers at each organization have different levels of risk vs. reward philosophies.”
The risk vs. reward process starts by carefully examining film of a respective player when he was healthy. LSU safety Grant Delpit is a good example. Delpit entered the season as the presumed No. 1 safety and a potential top-10 pick, but an average season has caused Delpit’s draft stock to drop in the eyes of many NFL draft analysts.
Delpit, though, battled through various injuries all season long, including an ankle sprain that forced him to miss a game. That, too, must be factored in his evaluation process.
“I always tried to help get a medical advantage in our draft room,” Landry said. “I always evaluate players according to a standard and always denoted within that evaluation how a player graded when healthy. If a player is frequently injured, then that could affect his evaluation, so you have to seek out film when he is healthy.
“It’s the reason, for example, that Brett Favre dropped. You wouldn’t be high on him based on senior film after he suffered a summer car accident prior to the season. However, Favre’s Junior season showed what he could be.”
How soon will the player be healthy?
Teams also have to consider how often a player is injured and whether it’s realistic to expect that player to be at “optimum health” for a prolonged time, Landry said.
That’s the “medical evaluation” teams are looking for when it comes to injuries.
When it comes to injuries, part of the evaluation process revolves around projections, as in, how does that player’s specific injury combined with his injury history project out.
For example, teams will be leaning heavily on their medical staff to determine whether Tagovailoa will be healthy sometime in the near future and the likelihood that he can remain relatively healthy for a full NFL season.
“That’s where your medical grade has to come in and, as the chief football guy, you need your team doctors to answer some tough questions,” Landry said. “The player’s performance is important, but you have to have the football vision to see what the player’s optimal grade is when healthy and marry that with the likelihood of the player’s health being what you need it to be.
“So, a player may have a medical grade of 3 heading into the draft – which you would steer away from — but if your medical staff feels that that grade would likely change by the fall to a grade 2, then you should draft him based on how you think he will heal.”
And that’s what teams are investigating right now when it comes to players like Tagovailoa, Delpit and Wanogho.