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The run-up to every NFL draft is an endurance test littered with conflicting reports and information. No player better sums up that challenge this year than star UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, whose junior season ended way back on Sept. 19.
Since then, Jack’s health has been heavily scrutinized from all angles. The latest update came Sunday night, via Albert Breer, who reported that the issue for Jack “is a chondral defect in his right knee.”
A chondral defect is a degenerative issue, but does that really change anything about Jack’s draft status? Keep in mind what has gone down over the past couple of months: Jack, who withdrew from UCLA after his injury so he could focus on rehab and training, skipped almost all drills at the NFL combine in February. During UCLA’s pro day the following month, he took part in some, but not all, drills, declaring himself at 80% health-wise. An anticipated personal pro day then never happened, as Jack was instead saving workouts for individual teams.
All the while there has been a non-stop buzz surrounding the status of his knee, made louder by his attendance at the combine’s medical rechecks earlier this month. Jack said that all went well in Indianapolis; multiple reports stated otherwise, as speculation swirled that teams drafting in the top 10 might even bump Jack off their boards entirely.
Last week, this came:
NFL source calls Myles Jack "a time bomb" whose knee could give him several good years, or not. Bone and cartilage starting to break away.— Les Bowen (@LesBowen) April 18, 2016
CBS’s Jason La Canfora countered a day later, citing anonymous NFL executives who ripped the anonymous source Bowen quoted. Jack’s agent, John Thornton, also tweeted out a video of Jack from a recent workout, in which his client looked quite sharp.
Where does all that, plus Breer’s report, leave things? A few things to consider:
• There will not be a universal conclusion: This is part of the difficulty in trying to hammer down Jack’s draft stock. Cross off the Rams and Eagles for Jack’s Round 1 landing spot, as those teams holding picks 1 and 2, respectively, will choose quarterbacks. But just Sunday morning, ESPN’s Eric Williams wrote that he “wouldn’t rule out Jack as a possibility” for the Chargers at No. 3.
Because this is not as simple, in some ways, as an ACL tear or a broken bone, there figures to be a wide variance in final judgments.
A lot of the outcome will boil down to the conclusions each franchise’s doctors reach and, equally as important, how comfortable a GM feels drafting a player with injury issues. Which brings us to ...
• Each front office approaches this differently: Some teams are more comfortable than others in taking players with injury histories, even if it means those players have to sit for awhile.The 49ers’ Trent Baalke, for example, has shown little to no hesitation when it comes to gambling a draft pick on an injured player. (Such picks have tended to come beyond Round 1, but the history remains.)
On the flip side, take the Jaguars, Ravens or Bears—three franchises that did not have their 2015 first-rounders on the field last year due to injury. Those headaches no doubt will be fresh in their minds when the draft begins on Thursday. That does not necessarily mean those teams will shy away from Jack, but few would blame them if they did.
• What is the real goal?: Especially when quarterbacks (or left tackles) are the focus, the draft discussion tends to land on the idea of finding “franchise players”—prospects who, in theory, could lock down a position for a decade. But how often does that really happen? In a huge chunk of cases, both player and team consider it fortunate when a prospect makes it through his rookie contract.
Keep that in mind with regard to Jack. Maybe his knee issue keeps him from even being the player he once was for UCLA. Maybe he comes back 100% for 2016 and doesn’t have to deal with additional problems until six or seven years down the road.
The hypothetical: Would you draft a major impact player knowing his effectiveness will dry up soon after his rookie contract ends? Most teams would say yes. Not all ... but most.
• Risk vs. value: This will be the same conundrum weighed when Jaylon Smith becomes a semi-viable draft pick, somewhere on Day 2 into Day 3. At some point, Jack’s overwhelming talent level will make him a worthwhile selection, injury concerns or not. Where is that line drawn in the sand?
The teams drafting later in Round 1 would have an easier time justifying the “value” argument, so long as they feel remotely comfortable with Jack’s medicals. The Jaguars and 49ers of the world face the dilemma of having glaring needs at multiple spots. Those teams picking in the 20s and 30s—the 2015 playoff teams—generally will have increased wiggle room thanks to their more complete rosters.
So count on Jack staying in Round 1, for the moment. And it remains difficult to see him slipping past teams like Detroit, Atlanta, Indianapolis, the Jets and others with a need at the linebacker spot.
In this class, too, the risk-value boundary could land higher simply due to the perceived drop-off beyond the top handful of players. If prospects 10 through 40 on a team’s board grade out more or less the same—a real possibility this year—then rolling the dice on a top-five prospect with an injury red flag might be tantalizing.
Long story short, there is no easy answer. Jack’s outlook will vary on a franchise-by-franchise basis, as is the situation for every prospect in the draft. His red flag looms as a significant cloud over him, but his talent stands out nonethless.
The medical report is murky, at best, and so there might be a slide. But there likely will not be a catastrophic plummet.