Reviewing Dominique Easley's Injury History, ACL Tears Heading into NFL Draft

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Reviewing Dominique Easley's Injury History, ACL Tears Heading into NFL Draft
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Injuries hit University of Florida defensive lineman Dominique Easley hard during his college days, and he declared for the NFL draft shortly after suffering the second torn ACL of his still-young career.

The tears likely played a significant role in making that decision.

According to Florida head coach Will Muschamp, via Ross Jones of Fox Sports, Easley returning for a medical redshirt season after his Sept. 2013 injury was never really going to happen:

“I figured like it was just my time to go,” Easley told FOXSports.com in his first comments since turning pro.

[...]

While the 6-foot-2, 280-pound defensive tackle could have been eligible for a medical redshirt, head coach Will Muschamp knew at the time of the injury that Easley would opt to leave Gainesville.

In addition to the right ACL tear, Easley also sustained a meniscus injury. He tore his left ACL in late Nov. 2011.

Two ACL tears may seem like quite the injury baggage—and they certainly are—but the valued prospect also has several factors working in his favor after his 2013 injury.

With that in mind, let's take a look at both the good and not-so-good highlights of Easley's medical history heading into May's NFL draft.

 

Good: Rehab Experience and Motivation

First—and arguably most importantly—this isn't Easley's first go-round. Jones noted his prior ACL rehab experience and motivation in his column:

Knowledge from that experience prepared him this time around and has helped him understand his limits.

"It just makes me want it even more, you know?" Easley said. "It ain’t nothing new to me it’s just another thing to go through. It’s just a cycle."

His first recovery wasn't too shabby, either.

After his 2011 tear, the standout lineman not only returned for the 2012 season, but he played in and started 11 games—including the first game of the year in September.

In other words, he underwent surgery and completed his rehab in just over nine months—a very respectable timetable by anyone's standards.

 

Not-so-good: 2012 Left-Knee Swelling

Easley missed two games early on in the 2012 season, at least one of which was due to left-knee swelling that required crutches.

Admittedly, many different injuries can cause a knee to swell—from a minor ligament sprain, to bursitis, to meniscus damage and others—and it is impossible to determine the precise cause from the outside looking in.

At this point, there is no reason to think any significant post-operative complications persist—if any did in the first place. After all, Easley completed his 2012 season—and started 2013's—in excellent fashion, and he surely worked with some of the best physicians and therapists out there.

Nevertheless, the fact that the swelling occurred relatively soon after the former Gator's first reconstructive knee surgery will raise some discussion at the NFL combine.

Team doctors will use physical-exam techniques such as the anterior drawer, Lachman and pivot-shift tests to examine the integrity of the ACL grafts within his joints.

For example, the Lachman test assesses for the endpoint of the lower leg moving forward with respect to the thigh. If an examiner can pull the leg forward without feeling a firm stop, ACL damage or laxity—looseness—may exist.

The video below shows a positive Lachman test.

The Lachman test assesses for the "endpoint" of the lower leg moving forward with respect to the thigh. If an examiner can pull the leg forward, as above, ACL damage or laxity (looseness) likely exists.

Easley may also undergo MRIs on both knees before the combine to see where they currently stand.

 

Good: 2013 Injury Wasn't a Repeat

Luckily, as mentioned, Easley's 2013 injury involved his right knee—not his left, as in 2011. Therefore, Dr. James Andrews—who performed the surgery, according to Jones—worked with a clean slate.

The fact that Easley chose one of the best orthopedic surgeons in the world as his physician doesn't hurt, either.

The experienced Dr. Andrews' ACL repair count is surely jaw-dropping, and the addition of a medial meniscus tear likely proved nothing more than a small speed bump.

Jones notes that Andrews operated on Oct. 24—one month after the injury occurred. The renowned surgeon likely waited to allow the swelling within Easley's knee to decrease.

A rehab timeframe similar in length to his 2011 injury has the lineman ready by mid-summer 2014.

 

Not-so-good: The Next Will Be

Medical risk-versus-reward scenarios loom large at the NFL combine.

Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Current NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III has torn his right ACL twice.

While everyone throughout the medical and NFL communities will certainly hope and pray that Easley does not suffer any more knee injuries throughout his career, the sobering truth is that he very well may.

As such, a third ACL tear—which would actually involve the rupture of the patellar tendon graft doctors likely used to replace Easley's native ACL—would mean repeat knee surgery.

Even if Easley shows to scouts and medical personnel that his most recent rehab is progressing as expected, "what ifs?" may still come into play.

 

Draft Stock and Bottom Line

CBS Sports' Dane Brugler notes the unfortunate reality resulting from Easley's injuries. Simply, his draft stock likely took a hit:

He is a high character person with a strong work ethic so if anyone can return from an injury like this, it's him.

[...]

But with his second ACL tear and 6-8 months of rigorous rehab, his chances of landing in the first round have gone down considerably.

In which round will Dominique Easley be drafted?

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Matt Miller—Bleacher Report's NFL draft lead writer—agrees:

"Heading into the year, Easley had top-15 potential," Miller explained. "He's versatile, athletic and scheme-flexible along the DL. (Yet) with (the) injury, Day 2 (of the draft) is likely."

As always, Easley's precise draft position will depend largely on individual team needs, but medical reports out of the combine will also carry quite a bit of weight.

Now over three months removed from surgery, teams may want to see him demonstrate full range of motion and the ability to jog. If he can so, especially given his previously documented rehab success in 2012, an early-round selection may still be in the cards.

 

Dr. Dave Siebert is a resident physician at the University of Washington. He plans to pursue fellowship training in Primary Care (non-operative) Sports Medicine. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow @DaveMSiebert

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