Reviewing Vinnie Sunseri's ACL Tear, Impressive Recovery and NFL Draft Stock

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Reviewing Vinnie Sunseri's ACL Tear, Impressive Recovery and NFL Draft Stock
Butch Dill

In January, former University of Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri declared for the 2014 NFL draft—a move AL.com's Andrew Gribble called a "stunner"—about three months after tearing the ACL in his left knee.

Tuesday, at Alabama's second pro day, Sunseri proved just how far he'd come. Gribble notes that the former Crimson Tide standout posted 40-yard dash times between 4.48 and 4.52 seconds—while also completing multiple agility drills—less than six months after rupturing his ACL.

Ann Heisenfelt
In a way, Adrian Peterson—who also suffered a concurrent MCL injury in addition to his 2011 ACL tear—set an almost-unfair precedent to which the public compares other athletes.

In short, that's impressive.

Despite recent, nearly incomprehensible recoveries—such as that of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson—ACL tears remain a threatening knee injury for any football player.

Then again, for Sunseri, it seems the stars aligned.

For instance, Gribble mentions that his injury involved only the ACL:

Sunseri's therapist, Kevin Wilk, worked with Peterson and has told Sunseri that he's following a similar path back to 100 percent health.

Working in Sunseri's favor is that his ACL tear was "clean" and did not affect any of the other ligaments.

The fact that Sunseri's medical team consisted of experts such as Wilk and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Lyle Cain—among others—certainly didn't hurt, either.

Ordinarily, an average elite athlete will work back from an ACL tear between seven or eight months to well over a year after suffering the dreaded injury. The slow, wide-ranged timeline is necessary to allow the reconstructed ACL—usually a piece of the athlete's own patellar tendon—to safely meet the progressively increasing demands of rehab and, eventually, top-level competition.

ACL reconstruction involves physically replacing the athlete's ruptured ACL with other tissue. Often, that tissue is a piece of the athlete's own hamstring tendon.

Yet just how well is Sunseri doing?

While sprinting in a straight line and performing basic drills does not necessarily constitute game-readiness, doing so marks the penultimate steps. As such, there is no reason to think the defensive back will not be ready for action in advance of the 2014 NFL season.

Given his current draft stock, his excellent recovery may carry even more weight than other surefire NFL prospects who are rehabbing comparable injuries.

According to multiple analyses—such as Rotoworld, NFL.com and Rob Rang of CBSSports.com—Sunseri projects to be, at best, a late-round draft pick in May.

Originally, Sunseri's ACL injury likely significantly influenced such projections—perhaps even knocking him off most big boards altogether—but his rehab success may be assuaging some of those fears.

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Will Carroll, Bleacher Report's lead writer for Sports Medicine, notes that for some athletes, everything simply falls into place.

"Healing response is individual," Carroll said. "For some, it's hard work. For others, it's a bit of luck with genetics. Every injury is different, and every surgery is different, so we shouldn't expect every result to be the same."

In other words, some injuries just, well, heal.

In the end, when NFL teams look at Sunseri, one may see a football-smart safety coming off an injury that will end up proving merely a minor speed bump, and another might focus on his injury risk and relative football shortcomings.

A third might question his decision to opt out of his senior year with so many unknowns still swirling, and a fourth may fall somewhere in between them all.

All told, when draft weekend rolls around, Sunseri's ACL tear will undoubtedly come up in all 32 draft circles. However, if Tuesday's pro day proves anything, it's that he's making every attempt to minimize its impact.

And doing a darn good job, at that.

 

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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