35 Prospects Head Back to the NFL Combine
NEW YORK — Myles Jack was in Manhattan on Wednesday evening, appearing at a promotional event for the deodorant brand Speed Stick. The concept was about not sweating under pressure, and preparing for the big challenges that would be coming his way in the NFL. That will come in handy today and tomorrow in Indianapolis, where Jack will face his last big hurdle before the draft: the combine medical re-checks.
The All-America linebacker from UCLA is one of 35 players who will return to the Hoosier State to have a second round of orthopedic exams by all 32 teams. All it takes for a player to come back is for one doctor to flag him at the combine, often because a team wants to get a last look at how he is recovering from a specific injury or surgery. A presumptive top-10 pick, Jack wasn’t nervous about the re-check. He tore his right meniscus in September and required season-ending surgery, but says, “The knee is no longer something I’m worried about.”
“I’m very excited to end all doubt and any questions,” Jack said of the re-check. “I actually can’t wait. I wish I could fast forward to it right now and get it out of the way. I understand that teams are investing a lot into me and they just want to make sure, if they are going to invest that much, that I’m fully healthy. Hopefully this can kind of clear everybody’s head and just look at me as a football player, not the guy that’s coming off a knee injury.”
Today, Jack and the 34 others will be taken to an Indianapolis hospital for X-Rays and MRIs. A player such as Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith, whose gruesome ACL and LCL injury has some teams worried about nerve damage, would also be expected to undergo tests that can objectively measure nerve function.
On Friday morning, the players will cycle through six rooms, with five or six NFL team doctors conducting group exams in each room. If the player’s injury was a fractured bone, the X-Ray will tell the full story about whether or not the injury has healed. For something like a knee injury, the medical staffs will want to check the joint’s stability and range of motion, and ask the player about his rehab. Since each exam is narrowly focused on a specific orthopedic issue, they move relatively quickly, and players are headed home by lunchtime.
This year’s medical re-check is more interesting than usual because of Jack and Smith, two first-round talents trying to bounce back from knee injuries. Many clubs are expecting that Smith may need a redshirt year in the NFL, but Jack figures to be a Week 1 starter, which is why this last hurdle is so important.
Teams can also examine injured players when they host them on pre-draft visits, but since Jack has taken only five such visits, there are 27 other teams eager for a second look. The MMQB recently talked to one team that said it already cleared Jack on his physical during his visit. Another team with a pick in the top 10 has not yet signed off on Jack’s knee, but is interested in him and waiting to see how he looks at the Indy re-check.
Yet another team currently believes Jack may need an additional procedure on his knee, possibly microfracture surgery, at some point in the future. Jack said yesterday that he does not believe he’ll need any further procedures. The meniscus is the knee’s natural shock absorber, so if parts of it are torn off or damaged, that can lead to bone-on-bone grinding and arthritis. But Jack said the surgery preserved the entire meniscus, which was sutured to the bone to prevent that troublesome scenario. “They put eight sutures in, sewed the meniscus back to make sure it sticks to the bone, and it is healing fine,” he said. “I should never have an issue with this ever again, which is great.”
Teams will almost certainly draft Jack without seeing him run the 40-yard dash. He wasn’t cleared for on-field work until a week before his March 15 pro day, and has been focused on regaining his conditioning to be able to take part in rookie mini-camp. “I wanted to focus on becoming a football player instead of a track athlete,” he says. “Let me get ready to help teams in OTAs and training camp.” He says he’ll “definitely” be 100 percent for opening day, and he hopes today and tomorrow will confirm that timeline for teams.
In Smith’s case, teams may not be as interested in figuring out a timeline for the 2016 season as they are in his long-term prognosis. The two diagnostic tests that can be used on players who may have suffered nerve damage are a nerve conduction study, which measures how quickly the electrical impulse moves through a nerve, and an electromyogram, which measures the firing patterns of the muscles to which those nerves are connected. The re-check can help answer questions about a player who may have suffered nerve damage, because comparing the results taken at the combine vs. the re-check can indicate if, and how quickly, the nerves are recovering.
“Nerve recovery is often times difficult to predict, though once the nerve starts the recovery process, typically it continues,” says Panthers head team physician Pat Connor. “We can compare these results with the results of the nerve test a few months previous, document the level of improvement and come up with a forecast.”
That’s the overriding goal of the re-check: to provide a forecast for an injured player’s health, by training camp, by Week 1 and for the long-term. As teams are setting their draft boards, the re-check doesn’t get much public attention, but Rams head team physician Matthew Matava calls it “critical.” He would know: Last year, his team drafted Todd Gurley, who had ACL surgery five months before the draft, with the No. 10 pick.
“Teams can’t tell you they aren’t a little bit nervous about taking a guy who hasn’t proven he can play another season coming off a knee injury,” Matava says. “If you come back from the medical re-check with concerns about a player’s ACL injury or a nerve issue, that is going to send a red flag up, and if it’s between him and another player, your team might not take a chance. Or, you may see the opposite. With Todd Gurley, he surpassed everyone’s expectations physically, as he did on the field.”
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Five things you need to know about the draft
1. Browns executive VP of football operations Sashi Brown told Sirius XM that they’ve received interest in their No. 2 pick. People around the league believe Cleveland’s trading that pick is a real possibility. If the Browns stay put, look for them to take Cal QB Jared Goff. The Browns are in the midst of a rebuild, but since none of their last four head coaches has lasted longer than two years, they should get Hue Jackson a quarterback and develop him as soon as possible. But if they have reservations about Goff as a franchise QB, they could trade down, get a defensive stud a few picks lower, a quarterback at the top of the second, and stockpile more building blocks for a depleted roster.
2. Five former Ohio State teammates will be in the green room in Chicago: DE Joey Bosa, RB Ezekiel Elliott, LB Darron Lee, OT Taylor Decker and CB Eli Apple. If you didn’t know they kept these kind of stats, join the club. But this ties the record set by Alabama’s 2012 Draft Class. That year, the Crimson Tide’s Trent Richardson, Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick and LB Dont’a Hightower were drafted in the first round, and LB Courtney Upshaw went in the second. The Buckeyes are hoping their class fares better than that Alabama one: Richardson turned out to be a notorious Browns bust, and the only real blue-chip of that bunch is Hightower. In this year’s Ohio State class, Bosa and Elliott have created the most buzz, but there are plenty of talent evaluators in the NFL who aren’t sure either is a can’t-miss prospect. Bosa has a high floor, but some evaluators don’t see truly great athleticism that elite NFL pass rushers possess. I’ve heard Elliott described as a solid back who does most things well, including picking up blitzers, but not the same kind of difference-maker as a LaDainian Tomlinson or an Adrian Peterson.
3. Putting into perspective the Bills’ extensive pre-draft legwork on QBs—Jared Goff, Connor Cook, Christian Hackenberg and Cardale Jones are some of the names—is this startling figure: Buffalo has used just three picks on quarterbacks in the last 10 drafts. They’ve lacked a franchise quarterback the entire time. The great Ron Wolf used to say, get a quarterback a year, which is a pretty sound philosophy. This isn’t to say that the Bills don’t believe in Tyrod Taylor, because they want him to be the answer, even if they’re not committing to a long-term contract at this point. But they don’t even have depth at the position, a fact that was reinforced in the two losses last season, when Taylor was out with a knee injury. Pre-draft work doesn’t mean they’ll draft one high. At No. 19, an offensive tackle would make sense. And, as we all know, it’s hard for Rex Ryan to pass up an impact defender.
4. It was interesting to see the Titans post to their website a digital story, video and 40-shot photo gallery of Florida State DB Jalen Ramsey talking, walking and eating with Mike Mularkey, Dick LeBeau and other coaches during his visit to team headquarters. Perhaps it’s the luxury of having the No. 1 pick, and being able to do exactly what you want with it, but it’s unusual to see a team be so open about a pre-draft visit. (UPDATE: After this story was published, the Titans traded the first pick to the Rams.)
5. I love this tale of a Texans scout accidentally texting the wrong number while trying to get in touch with Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott. The unintended recipient politely replied that she was actually an amateur triathlete from Louisiana named Jessica, and a lifelong Who Dat fan. It looked like a standard form text to gather basic information, so it’s hardly giving away any strategy. But I do wonder how agents advise players to answer when asked, as this text did, Which teams have shown the most interest in you? “Truth plus their biggest rivals,” one agent said. Well played.
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Quote of the Week
“Every draft is important, but this one moreso than usual. It’s time to pick it up.”
— John Mara, unfailingly honest Giants owner, to reporters at MetLife Stadium. This came after the Giants spent nearly $200 million on three defensive players during the opening days of free agency. Now, they turn to the other holes in the draft. In other words, Jerry Reese, it’s time for you to pick it up.
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Stat of the Week
Players who scored below the mean on the Wonderlic were found to be nearly twice as likely to get arrested in the NFL as players who scored above the mean, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, which ESPN reported on. The discovery of this correlation brings up two questions: 1) Will it make teams value the Wonderlic more than in the past when considering a multi-million dollar investment; and 2) If so, could that lead to agents advising top prospects to boycott the test?
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