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Nine NFL Draft Prospects With Medical Red Flags

Cornerback Caleb Farley and center Landon Dickerson could be players of interest for the Green Bay Packers in the first round.

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers enter this month’s draft needing help at cornerback. One of the top prospects, Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley, is coming off back surgery. The Packers also enter the draft with a hole at center following the departure of All-Pro Corey Linsley. One of the top prospects, Alabama’s Landon Dickerson, only finished one season in his collegiate career.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for general managers such as Green Bay’s Brian Gutekunst as he puts the finishing touches on his draft board is how to handle injured players. Some players might be off the board entirely. Others might be out of consideration for one round but considered a value in the next.

“You want your doctors to be able to put their hands on the kid and talk to him,” former NFL and college coach Jim Mora Jr. said. “Injury history is really important. Has a player shown a real pattern of having multiple injuries or nicks or things that have kept him out of games, or has he been a durable guy that had a one-time, unfortunate incident?”


While not an exhausting list, here are nine players with significant medical red flags at positions the Packers might be looking to bolster in the draft.

G Trey Smith, Tennessee: During the offseason before his sophomore season with the Vols, he feared he might die when blood clots developed on his lungs. He returned to play that season but the blood clots returned. He’s been fine the past two seasons, though. He won the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award in 2019 and some All-American accolades in 2020.

OT Walker Little, Stanford: Little was the Pac-12 freshman of the year in 2017 and first-team all-conference in 2018 but missed almost all the 2019 season with a knee injury and opted out of the 2020 season. ACL injuries aren’t the career death knell that they used to be but, having not played in two years, how far will this first-round talent tumble?

C Landon Dickerson, Alabama: Dickerson’s injury history will give evaluators heartburn. At Florida State, he suffered a torn right ACL in 2016 and season-ending ankle injuries in 2017 and 2018. At Alabama, he developed into the best center in the nation but suffered a torn left ACL in December 2020. Without the injury history, Mora said Dickerson would have been “by far” the best center in the draft. But what do you do with a player with four season-ending injuries in five seasons?



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“I wouldn’t draft him [in the first two rounds] with a 10-mile pole,” one scout said last week.

CB Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech: As with Dickerson at center, Farley might be the No. 1 cornerback prospect if he had a relatively clean bill of health. However, he suffered a torn ACL in 2017 and had back procedures late in 2019 and again recently. “I’m glad it’s not a reoccurrence of the same thing,” he said at his pro day. “I’m checked out. My previous procedure done is intact. I’m excited to move forward.” Farley opted out of the 2020 season.

“Teams are spooked a little bit on whether or not that they can depend on this guy being dependable for them,” Mora said. “It’s really unfortunate for the player and it makes it really tough on the team.”

According to Sports Info Solutions’ Rookie Handbook, Farley allowed a 25 percent completion rate in 2019. He is a superb blend of height, athleticism and ball skills.

“I’d draft him,” said a scout from a team picking in the 20s, “but I’m not the GM and it’s not my ass on the line.”

Edge Jaelan Phillips, Miami: Phillips had eight sacks and 15.5 tackles for losses in 2020. With 4.57 speed in the 40, he is an elite prospect. A five-star recruit who chose UCLA, he played in only seven games in 2017 due to an ankle injury and four games in 2018 due to a wrist injury stemming from a moped accident and concussions that led to him retiring at midseason. He chose to play again and transferred. After sitting out the 2019 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules, he had a monster 2020 to potentially get into the first round.

LBs Dylan Moses, Alabama; Justin Hilliard, Ohio State; Riley Cole, South Alabama: Moses missed the 2019 season with a torn ACL and wasn’t near as good in 2020 as he was in 2018. “Fighting through pain every single day” in 2020, he considered retiring. Hilliard suffered biceps tears in 2015 and 2016 and a torn Achilles in 2019. Cole missed most of the 2016 with a torn ACL, played through a knee injury in 2017 and suffered a broken leg in 2018.

DL Dayo Odeyingbo, Vanderbilt: After a senior season of 5.5 sacks and eight tackles for losses, Odeyingbo suffered a torn Achilles in January, which could sideline him for his rookie season. He’s been healthy, otherwise.