Assessing Eric Ebron's Hamstring Injury and NFL Draft Value

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Assessing Eric Ebron's Hamstring Injury and NFL Draft Value
Associated Press
Keith Srakocic

Former University of North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron sustained a hamstring injury during NFL Scouting Combine workouts, and according to Rotoworld's Josh Norris, he sat out the combine's "Gauntlet"—presumably due to the injury.

Nevertheless, the NFL's official combine stats list a 40-yard dash time of 4.60 seconds for the former Tar Heel, and in an interview with NFL.com's Bryan Fischer, Ebron claims he posted the impressive time while already nursing the strain.

In other words, the injury was almost surely very minor. However, it may end up indirectly affecting the tight end in at least two different ways.

First, he needed to recover—which takes time. Working out an injured muscle risks worsening the strain.

Whether or not a week or two of rehab—a typical recovery time for a Grade 1 hamstring strain—truly affected Ebron's pro day preparation remains unclear, but it certainly did not help.

For instance, he did not impress the sources of DraftInsider.net's Tony Pauline:

Comcast Sports Southeast's David Hamilton also noted multiple dropped passes:

Perhaps the hamstring injury knocked Ebron off a half step, or perhaps he merely had an off day. Either way, he was unable to relieve pass-drop concerns that predated his workouts. Norris notes an 11.43 percent drop rate during the 2013 college football season.

Additionally—and potentially more importantly—a previous hamstring injury is one of the largest risk factors for a future strain. While that does not necessarily mean Ebron will suffer multiple hamstring injuries throughout his career, the likelihood is definitely higher.

Most often, a repeat strain occurs within several weeks of the initial injury—when an athlete feels like he or she is 100 percent but, in fact, is not yet fully recovered. Increased risk persists beyond the immediate future, as well.

Multiple NFL athletes fell victim to the hamstring bug in the past two years alone.

On the Green Bay Packers, wide receiver Jordy Nelson missed a large portion of the 2012 season due to recurring hamstring troubles, while cornerback Casey Hayward landed on Injured Reserve in 2013.

Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden also comes to mind as a player with multiple documented hamstring injuries.

The association between speed players and hamstring strains is not a coincidence. Much of the time, strains occur during sprinting—or when the alternation between forceful hamstring extension and contraction reaches its highest frequency.

In fact, in a study published in the The American Journal of Sports Medicine, M. C. Elliott and colleagues found that over a 10-year period, wide receivers and defensive backs suffered a very large percentage—43.9 percent, to be exact—of all hamstring injuries throughout professional football.

Why does that matter for Ebron?

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In today's NFL offenses, tight ends are effectively filling the wide receiver role more and more often, and with a 4.60-second 40-yard dash and incredible athleticism, teams may ask Ebron to follow suit.

Fortunately, despite the injury, many draft analysts—such as Bleacher Report's NFL draft lead writer Matt Miller—believe he can do just that.

"Ebron is in a class all by himself in the 2014 crop of tight ends," Miller explained. "He's fast, explosive and a true three-down tight end. His stock will vary, but he's inside my top 15 players and has a very good chance to be drafted top 10. If teams clear him (medically), he'll be the first tight end drafted."

At present, there is no reason to think Ebron will fall into the unfortunate crop of athletes who suffer frequent hamstring injuries. In fact, given his upside and skill set, the injury may prove to be only a minor blip on the radar of an otherwise promising career.

Yet the risk is still there, and when it comes to the NFL draft, medical staffs scrutinize even the most minor injuries when determining an athlete's risk-versus-reward balance.

Fortunately for Ebron, for now, his scale still tips very heavily in a favorable direction.

 

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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