2014 NFL Draft: Injured Prospects with Something Still to Prove
In football, injuries happen. It’s a frustrating part of watching the country’s best athletes play the game they love, especially when it limits their future as professionals.
Thankfully, the eight players on this list of injured prospects have a chance to answer the question marks that their injuries added to their scouting reports.
With the draft a mere month away, these prospects will have the opportunity, either through their pro days or individual workouts to lessen concerns NFL teams have in their scouting reports.
Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
In a quarterback class that has received a lot of fanfare, Zach Mettenberger has been nearly forgotten about during the draft process.
After suffering a late-season ACL tear last Nov. 26, the QB had surgery on Jan. 2. Mettenberger began his long rehab process and had targeted LSU's April 9 pro day, according to Jim Klienpeter of NOLA.com
Everything appears on schedule, as Mettenberger will throw in front of teams for the first time in five-and-a-half months. The pro-day circuit has received ample attention this season, and Mettenberger gets the privilege of being one of the final quarterbacks to work out publicly for NFL teams.
After attending the NFL Scouting Combine as only an interviewee, Mettenberger now has the chance to reassert himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the 2014 NFL draft and potentially the best pocket passer in the class.
Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
Similar to Mettenberger, Aaron Murray has the chance to show teams that he is on track in his return from injury and that he can offer value to an NFL team as a long-term answer at quarterback.
According to Chip Towers of AJC.com, Murray practiced recently at the Georgia facility for his April 16 pro day. And, according to Towers, he “appeared to be showing little to no effects of his knee surgery”.
Murray is an undersized passer who relies on strong decision making, quick feet and placement on the move to be an effective passer, so teams need be assured his recovery has gone well and he can be the same quarterback that excited teams during his Georgia career.
A great workout could, like Mettenberger, put him in the upper echelon of the quarterback class. While he doesn’t have the high upside teams usually covet in the early rounds, he’s as polished and NFL-ready as any quarterback in this class, and should be able to be a plus-backup in the NFL, and maybe much more.
Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
As reported by Ian Rapoport of NFL.com during the NFL Scouting Combine, Cyrus Kouandjio failed physicals for multiple NFL teams due to an arthritic knee resulting from a past surgery. While that doesn’t mean every NFL team failed him and removed him from their board, it is important for Kouandjio to show as many teams as possible that his injury won’t limit his NFL career.
The more teams that show a willingness to draft Kouandjio—whose ability to maul defenders makes him a top-50 value and a potential starter early in his NFL career—the better it speaks to his draft stock and eventual draft position.
Dominique Easley, DT, Florida
For any prospect, one major knee injury in a career is severe enough for NFL teams to take notice. Dominique Easley suffered two non-contact related ACL injuries while at Florida: one in 2011 to his left knee and one in 2013 to his right knee.
Before his injury, Easley was viewed as one of the premier interior pass-rushers in the 2014 NFL draft. But two injuries on his resume aren’t conducive for the first-round talent to land among the top 32 picks. Similar to the situation surrounding Florida State’s Tank Carradine last year, where injuries forced a certain top-20 talent into the second round, Easley is also likely to slip on draft day.
According to Bryan Broaddus of Cowboys.com, Easley’s medical re-checks will be at the end of April for NFL teams, which could be the final determinant on what round grade teams give him. A positive medical check could have him sneak into the top 40. A negative report could push him down drastically on draft day.
Dee Ford, OLB, Auburn
After being the defensive leader of the Auburn Tigers SEC Championship team and dominating at the 2014 Senior Bowl, Dee Ford entered the NFL Scouting Combine looking to solidify his top-20 draft status. However, after Ford was held out for medical reasons related to a prior back injury, NFL teams might have since been compelled to reconsider him among his linebacker peers.
While Ford already answered some questions for NFL teams with his pro day workout, teams will still need answers as to what his injury-related issues mean for his long-term future.
If teams believe that injuries or injury concerns could lime Ford’s ability to contribute at the next level, they will opt for other pass-rushing prospects early in the draft. How Ford checks out medically during individual workouts may be the final straw in determining whether he again rises up draft boards or begins his injury-focused fall on draft day.
Yawin Smallwood, ILB, UConn
In a weak linebacker class, Yawin Smallwood's versatility could be highly coveted by teams that run either a 4-3 or 3-4 defense. With good range, athleticism and explosive tackling ability to go along with this versatility, Smallwood offers a skill set that few in this class can.
However, after being injured during his 40-yard-dash in Indianapolis, Smallwood again was limited during his pro day due to a tweaked hamstring according to Jim Fuller of the New Haven Register.
While not working out isn’t the end of the world for a prospect, it will make him a tougher sell in draft rooms. Concerns over multiple injuries related to his training and incomplete workout numbers may limit the number of teams that might target him earlier than the third round.
Smallwood should have a chance to work out again for individual teams. But those workouts will need to show that the injuries are behind him and encourage teams to look to his film to get an accurate reflection of his draft value.
Dexter McDougle, CB, Maryland
After an impressive start to his senior season (three interceptions in three games), Dexter McDougle was forced to miss the rest of the season thanks to a shoulder injury. Not only did that injury, which required surgery, force him to miss his final nine games as a college player. He also was unable to participate in the Senior Bowl and at the NFL Scouting Combine.
At Maryland's April 8 pro day, McDougle will finally have a chance to show NFL teams how his recovery has gone. He also has the opportunity to post workout numbers that teams can compare with other corners in this class.
On film, McDougle shows the timing, length and fluidity to eventually develop into an outside cornerback in the NFL. But before teams can consider him in that role, they’ll need to know if his injury in any way will inhibit his NFL future.
Vinnie Sunseri, SAF, Alabama
One of the leaders of the Alabama defense, Vinnie Sunseri’s junior season was cut short due to a torn ACL against Arkansas in mid-October. However, the underclassman opted to enter the NFL draft despite playing only half a season.
A rangy, sound tackler from his safety position, Sunseri will get the chance to show his explosiveness and how well he’s recovered from his injury during his workout for NFL teams in April. Sunseri said in late February that was cleared to run in the second Alabama Pro Day on April 8, according to a tweet from Phil Savage of the Senior Bowl.
If he can show his injury has healed, Sunseri has a chance to emerge as a top-100 pick. While the safety class isn’t weak, Sunseri’s versatility—he is capable in both run support and in coverage—should make him a viable option for all NFL teams looking to upgrade its secondary.