Tre Mason, Zach Mettenberger among those facing injury questions ahead of draft
Starting with the NFL combine in February, draft hopefuls are subjected to repeated poking and prodding by team doctors. The goal: to ensure that a pick is not spent on a damaged product.
Several players projected to be selected within the first two rounds had to answer some injury questions over the past few weeks. The latest updates on those situations:
• Tre Mason, RB, Auburn (wrist): This is the time of draft season when a lot of misinformation surfaces, but ... well, someone has to be right in this case.
The NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported a couple weeks back that Mason was told at combine's medical re-checks that he would need wrist surgery before the season. (Rapoport's colleague, Gil Brandt, tweeted a few days later that Mason was expected to pass his physical.) Mason denied the information:
Once again. I WILL NOT be having any type of surgery on my body! Well and healthy. Media is trying to paint a picture!
— Tre Mason (@TreMason21) April 25, 2014
Mason did confirm to al.com this weekend that doctors found "a small fracture in my wrist," but he maintained his stance that surgery would not be necessary. "Most teams don't care," Mason said. "They said it will heal on its own."
• Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU (knee): After tearing his ACL in December and undergoing surgery in January, Mettenberger was back zipping passes at LSU's pro day in early April. He joined Mason in Indianapolis for the league's second round of medical checks, but all indications to this point are that Mettenberger will be good to go by the start of the 2014 regular season.
Mettenberger is about the furthest thing from a dual-threat QB that this class has to offer -- he's a pure pocket passer with extremely limited mobility -- so a balky knee may not diminish his draft outlook.
• Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia (knee): Murray has a couple weeks head-start on Mettenberger in the rehab process, courtesy of tearing his ACL in November. As of mid-April, Murray was already feeling back to his old self. He participated in passing drills as part of Jon Gruden's QB camp on ESPN, then reportedly threw 52-of-54 passes on target at Georgia's pro day.
"I didn't want to stress him that much because I realized he just had surgery," Gruden told USA Today. "So I said, 'What can't you do?' He said, 'I'm full go. Let's let it rip.' He put a brace on. We threw him on the move, threw some awkward deliveries. I couldn't have been more impressed."
• Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama (knee): The 6-foot-6, 322-pounder has yet to fully recover from a tough combine, but his size and experience could vault him back into Round 1. Kouandjio labored during drills in Indianapolis, amid reports that NFL teams remained worried about an arthritic knee that he injured as a freshman. ESPN's Todd McShay confirmed that rumor in a recent conference call:
"I’ve gotten so many mixed reviews in terms of the durability and how concerned teams are," McShay said. "I’ve talked to six different teams that have passed him [medically], and I’ve talked to four other teams that have either failed him or put a mark next to him where it’s going to significantly affect his draft grade."
Dr. James Andrews did send a memo to NFL teams in March, mere days after the combine, refuting a report that the surgery Kouandjio required back in 2011 had created extended issues.
"He has a little bit of cartilage wear in his knee, but that's such a common finding in an NFL draftable player, it's really a non-story," Andrews told CBSSports' Jason La Canfora, "but with him having not an optimal workout I guess that's why this misinformation is out there. He tore it in the fall of his freshman year -- the fall of 2011 -- and by the spring of 2012 he was cleared for spring practice and pretty well completely functional and we really haven't had a problem or a diagnostic issue since 2012. It's been almost two years."
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• Stephon Tuitt, DT/DE, Notre Dame (foot): The NFL docs held Tuitt out of the combine due to a fractured bone in his small left toe. Tuitt then put on his own pro day last month and, apparently, came through the second round of combine medical testing with flying colors.
Thanks for everyone Prayers, my Medical Rechecks went great. I'm all healed up ready to roll!!!!!!
— stephon tuitt (@DOCnation_7) April 26, 2014
The foot injury was one that Tuitt likely could have played through, at least for a bit, though it does pile on to his shaky history -- he needed sports-hernia surgery prior to the 2013 season, then struggled mightily for much of the campaign.
• Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington (foot): Seferian-Jenkins also sat out the combine, but he went under the knife immediately after to repair a stress fracture in his foot. The decision might pay off -- Seferian-Jenkins recently ran an impressive 4.56-second 40 during a workout for the Jets, according to PackerReport.com. Though he may not be able to crack the Eric Ebron/Jace Amaro stranglehold on the top two TE spots in this draft, Seferian-Jenkins should be the No. 3 tight end off the board.
• Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois (foot): There should be minimal worry for teams here as the draft opens on Thursday. Ward did not run at the combine because of a fractured bone in his foot, which required surgery in early March, but he did work out during Northern Illinois' pro day just before the procedure. ESPN's Adam Caplan reported last week that Ward had been cleared fully to begin running again, putting him well on track to be ready for the preseason.
• Dee Ford, DE, Auburn (back): "I feel fine. Everything is fine," Ford said after he was held out of combine workouts as a medical precaution -- Ford had suffered a herniated disc in his back early during his college career. He ran two sub-4.6 times at Auburn's pro day early in March and has had no subsequent hiccups related to his back since then.
• Jason Verrett, CB, TCU (shoulder): A torn labrum led to a March 17 surgery for Verrett, though that's not expected to really hammer his draft stock.
Surgery went well..ima be back like I never left #StraightUp
— Jason Verrett (@Jfeeva_2) March 17, 2014
He has been visiting teams in recent weeks, and the Star-Telegram reported that his recovery is ahead of schedule.
"I actually don’t think it’s been a problem," Verrett said. "I’ve been blessed to be able to do everything I needed to do."
• Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin (shoulder): Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel reported in late April that one team had removed Borland from its draft board due to lingering concern over a shoulder injury.
"The issue with his shoulder is that he had a repair and the screw has kind of slid down into the joint," the executive said. "So there's a feeling that he's going to have to have another surgery. It would be his third one."
Brandt did note that no problems were anticipated for Borland at the NFL's medical re-checks. Borland played through the injury while at Wisconsin, so it's possible that he could do so again -- if a third surgery is required, Borland may be able to put it off until next offseason.