Ruptured Achilles, Torn ACL, Torn Hamstring. These are just a handful of major injuries that have occurred to NFL players prior to the 2022 Draft. How will these injuries affect a player’s long-term production, and how will that affect their draft stock?
David Ojabo is the latest case in point, rupturing his Achilles during a drill at his Pro Day at the University of Michigan. Prior to the injury, Ojabo was highly regarded and was a touted Round 1 Draft pick, potentially even making the Top 10. There’s a lot of discourse surrounding how early a team would select a player coming off such a severe injury.
“Not every athlete is Cam Akers,” says Dr. Jessica Flynn, a Sports Medicine Physician and member of The 33rd Team. “A 5-to-6-month recovery is quick.”
However, the progression of technology and strength and conditioning available to athletes is improving.
“The internal bracing technique done now is what makes the biggest impact,” Flynn says. “They’re able to bear weight on that foot very quickly and start running with anti-gravity treadmills.”
While this is positive news for athletes suffering such serious injuries, there is no doubt that it will be a concern for any GM, with so much pressure to succeed with draft picks, are they willing to run the risk of picking an injury-prone player, or even someone who may miss a chunk of their rookie season?
Let’s consider players who were injured entering the draft, where they were selected, and what production they had in the NFL. Some of the examples of the best players drafted while injured are:
Jeffery Simmons – Torn ACL – Round 1 Pick 19
Simmons was predicted to be a Top 10 Pick in the 2019 NFL Draft when he tore his ACL in training for the draft and was selected 19th Overall — missed the first 6 games of the 2019 season following the surgery, then achieved 3 sacks in 2020, but in 2021 achieved 8.5 sacks and a Pro Bowl Selection.
Landon Dickerson – Torn ACL – Round 2 Pick 37
Drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles and gave up only 2 sacks in 2021 and a 6.6% Pressure Rate. Shifted back to Guard for the Eagles after playing his Senior Season at Center.
Trey Smith – Blood Clots in Lungs – Round 6 Pick 226
Instant starter at RG for all 17 games despite being a Round 6 Selection. Gave up 4 sacks and a 6.3% Pressure Rate in his first season in the NFL. Click here to read about how Smith’s intelligence is a game-changer in Kansas City.
Myles Jack – Torn Meniscus – Round 2 Pick 36
Jack was a strongly projected Round 1 Pick until concerns about his surgically repaired knee came to light and he fell to the 2nd Round, has since become a Jaguars Captain, and has consistently been a good tackler, and a versatile chess piece around the Linebacker spot when healthy.
While some players become good choices in hindsight by NFL GMs, there are other occasions when the risk of drafting an injured player haven’t paid off:
Laquon Treadwell – Broken Fibula and Dislocated Ankle – Round 1 Pick 22
Never established himself as a starting WR and played out his Rookie contract with the Vikings having started 16 games in 4 seasons for 701yds and 2 Touchdowns. Then bounced around 2 teams without establishing himself as a starter yet again.
Marcus Lattimore – Tore every Knee Ligament and Dislocated Kneecap – Round 4 Pick 131
The San Francisco 49ers selected Lattimore and he was the 3rd RB off the board. He was immediately placed on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury List, and he retired in November 2014, without ever playing a down in the NFL.
Caleb Farley – Torn ACL & Back Injury – Round 1 Pick 22
Yet again the Tennessee Titans took a risk drafting a player with this injury history, and while it paid off for them with Jeffery Simmons, Caleb Farley managed just 3 games of the 2021 season before tearing his ACL yet again and missing the remainder of the season.
Obviously, there are a multitude of reasons behind a GM selecting or passing on a prospect, but there are examples of drafting injured players that have resulted in positive and negative results for a team. Derek Stingley, Andrew Booth and Ojabo all suffered injuries this season, and their draft stock may well fall, but how far is anybody’s guess. There is still hope that these players and other injured athletes entering the draft can be productive for an NFL team and provide immense value.