The NFL Scouting Combine starts up in Indianapolis on Thursday. While the TV-friendly events don't start until the weekend, some of the most important action has already begun. For players with injury concerns, medical exams and interviews with teams will be more important than 40-yard dash times and deep outs.
These 10 players all are hoping they can come through the combine the way Sam Bradford did. Bradford showed up to Indianapolis with big question marks regarding his throwing shoulder. By the time he left town, all those questions had been answered and he was on his way to being picked first overall by the St. Louis Rams.
The Bradford playbook will be in clear view all weekend in 2013. Almost every significant injury has been checked out by Dr. James Andrews, who cleared Bradford's shoulder, and all players have been prepped and re-prepped for how to answer the questions about their injuries and rehab process.
It's important to remember that in addition to injuries, surgeries and recoveries, teams will be looking to answer questions about function, fit and scheme. An injury to one player at one position on one team will not be the same to another, even if the injury seems similar. A knee injury or shoulder injury is never quite the same thing from player to player.
Here are notes on 10 of the top players (all but one expected to go by the time we get through the second round, according to B/R's draft expert Matt Miller) about their current status and what NFL teams will be looking for in Indianapolis, besides a St. Elmo's steak.
Watch For: any reports of more serious stenosis ("high ratio")
Expect: a team in the top 10 to fall in love, probably Detroit at No. 5
**UPDATE: According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Jarvis Jones will not work out at the combine and will instead focus on his pro day at Georgia on March 21.
Jarvis Jones is the kind of disruptive pass-rusher who gets consideration as high as No. 1 overall and certainly looks destined to go in the top 10. The only knock people can find is medical, but the condition is a doozie.
Jones has spinal stenosis, a condition where the tunnel inside the vertebrae that contains the spinal cord is narrowed.
In Jones' case, this led to an issue at USC where Jones lost feeling in his arms and shoulders. Jones recovered quickly, but doctors would not clear him to return to play. Jones always describes the condition as mild, but teams will be checking on their own, so pay no attention to media reports on "doctor clearances" before Jones makes his way around the medical stations and MRIs.
Jones went on to transfer to Georgia, where he was cleared to play and had no known issues during his two great years there.
I spoke with Dr. Neel Anand, one of the top spinal surgeons in the country, who focused more on the function than the condition. "One episode is not predictive," Dr. Anand told me, explaining that Jones' chance of injury, especially at his position, is not significantly greater than others.
The danger is that Jones' stenosis is more serious than reported. Listen for the term "high ratio" in connection with this, which would indicate that the narrowing is more severe.
Jones may be "red flagged" by some medical teams at the combine if the flexion and extension of his spine is compromised, but it's clear there are widely varying views on how Jones' medical condition affects his football value.
With that, it's a sure thing that a team in the top half of the draft will find enough to like. Matt Miller has Jones going No. 14 to the Panthers, but positive reports could get him higher.
Watch For: reports that there are questions about Barkley's healing progress
Expect: no change in Barkley's status after combine
Matt Barkley will not throw at the combine as he continues to recover from a significant shoulder sprain. Barkley has been downplaying the significance of the sprain, but reports suggest he had a near-complete tear of the ligament, which would be described as a Grade III sprain.
Barkley is working out at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, but while teams will take that as a positive, they are going to want to see him throw—if not in Indianapolis, then soon.
Barkley's shoulder should heal normally and properly, though he has not needed surgery to correct the situation. In Indianapolis, doctors will look closely to see if they can determine the state of that healing and if there is a roadmap to health.
They will check images, but also do plenty of hands-on tests to determine his strength, flexibility and pain level.
Without an ability to check function, teams won't get the certainty they will need to commit to Barkley at the combine—but there are a couple months left for him to heal up, show the arm strength they're looking for and start moving up the boards.
Barkley's job in Indianapolis will be to shine in every other respect, nailing the interviews and looking the part of a franchise QB.
Matt Miller thinks Barkley could be drafted first in the second round by Jacksonville. His stock shouldn't change much, if at all, in Indy.
Watch For: any sign that Lattimore can run currently
Expect: a push up into the third round for a team that can be patient
Let's stop using the word "miracle" about Marcus Lattimore. His recovery from his devastating multi-structure knee injury is amazing, but it's science. Lattimore had his knee reconstructed by some of the best surgeons around, and his rehab is being handled by top therapists using the most advanced protocols.
Again, it's great—but calling it a miracle demeans the hard work of those medical professionals as well as Lattimore himself.
Just seeing him walk into a room for an interview without a limp is going to impress some teams. "I want to see it for myself," one front-office type told me. "I've read the reports, I've seen the news, but I want to see the kid walk in the room." That powerful image is going to help Lattimore immensely.
One report that is out there, but unconfirmed, is that Lattimore had only one ligament—the ACL—repaired. This conflicts with other reports, but it is clear Lattimore is working out hard.
According to several sources, Lattimore has gained significant muscle mass, something teams will be checking closely. (Before you ask, yes, Lattimore will take a drug test at the combine.)
If Lattimore can do any sort of physical activity in Indianapolis, even in an unofficial capacity, it will help.
There's been a suggestion that Lattimore considered running the 40, though the current thinking is that his slow time, even if it is understood to be well below capacity, may have some negative effect. Look for Lattimore to give more indication about when and if he'll be able to run before the draft.
Matt Miller has Lattimore going in the fourth round to the Miami Dolphins. A positive report out of Indianapolis could have Lattimore pushing into the third round, where a team with a good rehab reputation and a solid RB1 could justify the selection more. Minnesota comes to mind, as does Baltimore.
Watch For: indications that Jones' foot condition is chronic
Expect: Jones to hold his position in the second round
Barrett Jones nonchalantly told the world he'd played his last college game on a damaged foot. In subsequent viewings of the game and his play, scouts universally didn't see any effect. They know what kind of player Jones was in that game and throughout his storied career at Alabama.
The doctors seem less sure.
While Jones is not big for an NFL lineman, he is big for a human, listed at 6'5, 302 lbs. His official weigh-in will be watched closely, since Jones is very lean for a modern lineman and some think his weight is bumped a bit. This weight could contribute to recurrent problems with that foot injury, which Jones reported was a Lisfranc injury.
This injury was a Lisfranc sprain, with damage to the ligaments of the mid-foot, rather than a fracture. Both are painful and have sidelined players like Maurice Jones-Drew and DeMarco Murray, but few linemen. There are questions about how much Jones will participate at the combine, but even so, the medical tests will be key for him.
Jones does have a history of foot and ankle issues beyond the Lisfranc sprain. Teams will look closely at the structure of his feet and may elect to do advanced gait tests to see if those are predictive.
If Jones is able to get past these tests and moves well, either at the combine or later at his pro day, his ability and versatility should allow him to hold his position, listed now at late in the second round in Matt Miller's latest mock.
Watch For: a positive spin to be put on a normal medical exam
Expect: no change in status
It's a thin year for QBs, which allows secondary producers like Tyler Wilson to get into the discussion due to their physical skills. This kind of QB can stand out at the combine, where TV-friendly interviews and deep, hard passes are easy to understand for even a casual fan.
Combine the strong arm, ideal size and Arkansas connection, and it's easy to see why Jerry Jones will be watching Wilson closely. With the 18th pick, the Cowboys have many needs, but Tony Romo isn't going to play forever.
Wilson has had some injury knocks during his Razorbacks career, but the concerns that most teams have revolve around the number of concussions he's had.
Wilson has had at least two major concussions, and the teams will dig through his medicals looking for any sign of more. They'll check his baseline tests against similar QBs, especially their own, and look for any signs of neurological deficits.
Teams are a bit concerned about the medical records as well. Arkansas insisted on calling Wilson's concussion an "injury above the shoulders," a ridiculous euphemism that fooled no one. Expect the teams to dig in closely and attempt to replicate some of what they find just to check.
Teams regularly bring psychologists and other associated experts to interview players, especially ones with special situations, so it wouldn't be a surprise to hear that teams interested in Wilson would ask for special neurological information. Wilson's team will want to put any sort of positive spin on the expected normal tests.
Expect to hear that he "aced his medical tests" and "impressed at all his interviews."
Wilson was functional after returning from his concussion in 2012 and showed no further problems. His strong recovery from injury and his physical skills make it likely that he leaves Indianapolis in the same position he showed up with in terms of draft position.
Watch For: Milliner to focus on speed, not strength
Expect: no change in his status
News broke just before the combine that Dee Milliner, widely thought to be the top defensive back in the draft, would need surgery to repair a torn labrum (per Yahoo! Sports) in his shoulder. This isn't good news, but the management of the news is expected at this stage of the draft process.
Milliner will reportedly do all activities at the combine aside from the bench press. Assuming he performs as expected, the labrum tear shouldn't affect his draft status much. Raw strength isn't what teams are looking for from a defensive back.
Functionally, a shoulder injury could cause some problems for a bump-and-run corner if it limited strength on one side. He could struggle tackling in the open, especially when trying to corral bigger RBs, but most corners tend to try to go low rather than "cattle catch" a bigger player anyway.
Milliner should have plenty of time to get his shoulder ready for going up and pulling the ball down (as pictured on this page), which would be the position most compromised at this stage.
Milliner's surgery will likely be done by Dr. James Andrews, which adds an additional layer to the discussion, since teams have a higher degree of confidence in a repair by Andrews than they do most other doctors. Remember the case of Sam Bradford, where a gold star from Andrews regarding his shoulder made injury concerns vanish for teams right up to the first overall pick.
Matt Miller has Milliner going No. 13 to the Bucs. That shouldn't change unless there is significantly more damage in the shoulder than Milliner's reps are letting on, but there are teams higher that will have their eyes on Milliner's results.
Watch For: dissenting opinions on his knee's surgical status
Expect: a slight slide in status, but a chance to bring himself back with pro day
Keenan Allen won't be working out in Indianapolis, electing to go through only the medical and interview process. Allen is coming off a posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) sprain that cost him a couple games. This is the type of injury that cost Andre Johnson significant time a couple seasons ago, but does tend to heal well.
Allen went to—guess who?—Dr. James Andrews to get checked out. Andrews concurred with Cal doctors that the injury did not require surgery. There may be some dissension about this, but again, the opinion of Andrews carries a lot of weight with NFL teams. The current surgical thinking on PCL sprains is varied, mostly because they are rare in football.
Allen has great size for a WR, drawing a comparison to Anquan Boldin by NFL analyst Mike Mayock. (That's a comparison that looks a lot better after a great playoff run by Boldin.) Allen's production at Cal in a pro-style offense is going to help as well.
Matt Miller has Allen going late in the first to the Green Bay Packers, who are looking to build up a WR corps that lost Donald Driver and could lose Greg Jennings. WRs tend to make big leaps at the combine with impressive workouts and 40 times, so it's more likely that Allen will appear to drop.
Allen has time to get his status back if he can show the skills expected of him at his pro day.
(Now, could someone please tell me what's on Allen's legs in this picture?)
Watch For: negative medical reports, grumblings about his interviews
Expect: No change in draft status
Arthur Brown is undersized, has had a lot of NCAA scrutiny during his career and has a shoulder issue that works against his seek-and-destroy style. Aside from that, he's a great prospect who could go as high as the middle of his first round, perhaps to the New York Giants, as Matt Miller had in his last mock.
At 6'1" and 230 pounds, Brown isn't much bigger than some wide receivers. He hits very hard and is described as over-muscled by some scouts who worry that he relies more on instinct than they are comfortable with.
The shoulder problem is variously described, and I could not nail down the exact issue, but that's not going to be a problem when Brown sits down with team doctors.
Brown is the brother of Eagles RB Bryce Brown, whose physicality will help his brother. Yes, genetics are something that teams will consider.
Arthur Brown will like that comparison better than another he's drawing due to his size and style: Bob Sanders. Sanders' picture used to be on the outside of Lucas Oil Stadium, but his body simply couldn't take the hits he gave out. Brown is significantly bigger than Sanders, but the extreme comparison has taken hold.
Brown will need to convince teams he can hold together physically on the field and hold it together off the field as well. Several teams are very intrigued to see how Brown interviews, especially compared to other former Hurricanes and his brother last season.
Watch For: Montee Ball's status and physical performance
Expect: no significant change for Lacy
A third Alabama player makes the list. On one hand, it reminds us why this team won the BCS National Championship convincingly; they have so much talent on hand. On the other, you wonder if all the playing and all the big games have taken a toll. One key fact to remember is that when an Alabama player makes it to the combine, his medical records will have his team doctor's name at the bottom: Dr. James Andrews.
Eddie Lacy has a mild hamstring strain and will not work out at the combine. This is a mild setback with bad timing, but it's not unheard of. Alabama's pro day is fine for teams to get an idea of Lacy's speed and strength, though he could have helped himself push up in the draft with a good combine.
Lacy is going to be compared to his Alabama predecessors, Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram, as well as this year's other top RBs, especially Wisconsin's Montee Ball. Ball now has a chance to make a good impression without Lacy stealing his thunder.
Matt Miller has Lacy going in the second round to the Cincinnati Bengals, which would add some new intrigue to their twice-yearly matchups with the Cleveland Browns. A bit of Richardson vs. Lacy would be good for the rivalry game and the NFL.
Watch For: doctors expecting an extensive surgery
Expect: a possible drop to the middle of the first round
The Oregon linebacker played the second half of the season with a torn labrum. This painful injury may have limited his arm strength and ability to have his arms out wide, which makes tackling more difficult. While it is possible to play through it, as Jordan showed, and is correctable, it is something team orthopedists are going to be taking a very close look at.
While labrum tears are more associated with overhead or throwing athletes, they're seen in all sports. Jordan's issue mimics the one being dealt with by the NBA's Dwight Howard.
Howard was injured going up for a rebound and having his arm forcibly pulled away from his body. You can imagine how often that sort of situation happens for a defensive end, whether on a move to get around a tackle or having his arm pulled down when trying to bat at the ball.
While this is the same type of injury Dee Milliner is dealing with, the severity and location of the tear is actually secondary to function. If you think about the types of moves that Jordan needs to make as a pass-rusher versus what a corner needs to do in guarding, catching and tackling, you will understand why the same injury can have vastly different medical assessments.
Jordan is expected to take part in most physical activities, aside from the bench press. He will need surgery to repair the injury, but the physician's assessment of how extensive the repair will need to be will go a long way in determining where a team would be willing to draft him.
Matt Miller thinks the Saints will be taking a hard look at him with the 15th pick, but teams as high as Detroit at No. 5 will be watching.