Fanspeak Series: How does extensive injury histories factor into the NFL draft evaluation process?
Note: 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, Fanspeak 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 how extensive injury histories impact players’ draft stock.
Deuce McAllister. Curtis Martin. Anthony Munoz.
Those were all players that teams either passed on or dropped in their own rankings due to a dreaded phrase: they were allegedly “injury prone.”
Chris Landry of LandryFootball takes issue with that phrase, and for good reason.
“A factor that affects your medical grade on a player is the volume of injuries a player suffers,” Landry said in an interview with Fanspeak. The long-time scout has served with the Cleveland Browns and the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans.
“This sometimes shows a certain general wear and tear on a player that might create a longevity issue for him,” Landry said, “so while he may be healthy now, it may be likely that he will be less than optimal during the course of his first contract.”
A number of players were held out of Senior Bowl practices due to medical red flags, including Auburn offensive tackle Prince Tega Wanogho, Arizona State wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, California safety Ashtyn Davis, Utah defensive lineman Leki Fotu, Tennessee edge Darrell Taylor and Clemson offensive lineman Tremayne Anchrum.
But, barring any unforeseen issues at the Combine, none of those injuries are expected to be long-term concerns – and it certainly didn’t keep those players off the field in 2019. Those six players missed a combined total of three games this past season.
Instead, it’s going to be a more difficult evaluation process for players like Alabama edge Terrell Lewis, LSU edge K’Lavon Chaisson and Minnesota safety Antoine Winfield Jr. That’s because those three come with a longer history of overcoming major injuries.
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) February 1, 2020
Can the player stay healthy?
Lewis missed 10 games after suffering a dislocated elbow as a sophomore, returned, only to suffer a torn ACL during the summer of 2018. All told, Lewis has played in 26 games out of a possible 57 games since 2016.
Chaisson, meanwhile, missed most of what would have been his sophomore season with a torn ACL. You can read about his injury history here.
And Winfield missed most of the 2017 and 2018 seasons due to injuries. In 2017, a hamstring injury ended his season early; in 2018, a torn Lisfranc ligament that required surgery was the culprit. You can read about Winfield’s injury history here.
Those are the types of players who keep NFL decision-makers awake at night.
What if we pass on this guy and he turns into an All-Pro player? What if we draft this guy in the second or third round, only to see him injured all the time?
“You have to make that determination based on doctor recommendations and intel from the college team’s trainers and strength staff as you can get a feel of a player’s work ethic in rehab and injury prevention,” said Landry, who is the former director of the Indianapolis Scouting Combine.
The Anthony Munoz case
Landry has plenty of history to draw from when it comes to players with an injury history.
The bottom line? Don’t be so quick to label a player as “injury prone.”
“For example, Deuce McAllister dropped (in his draft) due to a recurring shoulder injury,” Landry said. “Further investigation showed that he returned too soon. So, he was not injury prone so much as he never healed properly.”
“I passed on Curtis Martin (during his draft) because he lived in the training room at Pitt. Yet, he was as durable a running back as you could find in his pro career. “
And then comes the big one that teams are still kicking themselves over.
“Twenty-seven out of 28 teams failed Anthony Munoz on his pre-draft medical physical,” Landry said. “The Bengals didn’t have enough medical information on him at the time and took him — and the rest is history.
“Sometimes it helps to be lucky, as injuries can be unique because players often react differently to certain injuries.”