Many players enter the NFL draft season with ongoing injury concerns, but it's former University of Wisconsin wide receiver Jared Abbrederis' medical history that could draw the attention of teams in May.
Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted the concern of at least a few NFL officials last month:
Executives in personnel for four NFL teams expressed concern in the last week about what they described as Abbrederis' history of concussions.
It was the understanding of two scouts that Abbrederis suffered "three or four" concussions during his four-year career for the Badgers.
"I've heard it's three or four," a personnel director for an NFL team said. "I've got to find out the depth of it. I love him, but it makes me nervous."
McGinn also writes that Abbrederis said he only suffered one concussion.
Discrepancy aside, the precise number of injuries matters.
While concussion science is evolving every day, many physicians and athletic trainers believe that repeated concussions may lead to more severe or longer-lasting symptoms. Additionally, multiple concussions might lower an athlete's "concussion threshold"—or the magnitude of force required to cause another injury.
In other words, with each concussion, an athlete's symptoms may come on more easily and be more stubborn to resolve. In the worst-case scenario, they persist for weeks or months—or, very rarely, even longer.
Sometimes, symptoms can be downright debilitating. Other times, they may set in only during maximal physical activity. Either way, the mere existence of concussion symptoms—such as headache, balance problems or cognitive slowing and confusion—appropriately prevents a player from taking the field in the NFL.
Unfortunately, a few heartbreaking examples of career-defining injury histories already exist.
Former Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Ryan Swope retired before his first NFL season even began due to lingering post-concussive symptoms stemming from multiple injuries.
Somewhat similarly, the Buffalo Bills placed quarterback Kevin Kolb on injured reserve after a 2013 concussion. Kolb also carries a significant concussion history.
Elsewhere, doctors refused to clear former Detroit Lions running back Jahvid Best following multiple injuries, presumably worried that the next one could bring with it devastating consequences.
All of that said, no athlete nor concussion is alike, and all 32 NFL medical teams will come to their own conclusions. Dr. Matt Matava—president of the NFL Physicians Society—explained to this author that medical opinions can differ:
Each team has their own grading scale for players, and each medical team shares their grades with their general managers and coaches. [...] At the end of the day, the coaches know that this is not a hard science and more of a subjective assessment based on imperfect information.
Then again, absolute contraindications to football do exist, and the degree to which an athlete's concussion history can, should and will factor into his football future is still a dynamic conversation. Nevertheless, in recent years, it seems the pendulum is swinging more and more in one direction—and rightfully so.
Fortunately, Abbrederis appears healthy at the present time. He participated in the NFL Scouting Combine, posting a 4.50-second 40-yard dash, according to CBSSports.com.
No medical red flags surfaced out of Indianapolis, either—such as ongoing headaches, balance issues or vision problems. However, the medical risk-versus-reward scenario—one focusing on possible future injuries that could cost weeks, months, entire seasons or more—still comes into play.
As of now, Matt Miller—Bleacher Report's NFL draft lead writer—grades Abbrederis as a mid-round talent.
"In a talented group of wide receivers, Abbrederis doesn't jump off the screen as a top-tier talent. But he does have talent and is pro-ready," Miller explained. "Watch him work against Bradley Roby and you see where teams can use him. He's a possession-style WR with post-catch speed. I have him as a mid-round talent."
Yet even his football appeal—similar to his medicals—may be fluid.
"His stock will depend on if there is a run on wide receivers at any point," Miller added.
One can only wonder if his injury background will make some teams skip over him if such a run should happen.
Dr. Dave Siebert is a resident physician at the University of Washington who plans to pursue fellowship training in Primary Care (non-operative) Sports Medicine. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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