NFL Draft 2014: Injured College Stars Who Will Be Pro Steals

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NFL Draft 2014: Injured College Stars Who Will Be Pro Steals
John Bazemore
Former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray will show off his surgically repaired knee for NFL scouts on Wednesday.

Aaron Murray is the SEC's all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns, statistics that only scratch the surface of one of the most illustrious college football careers ever.

Yet when NFL scouts descend on Georgia's Sanford Stadium on Wednesday, it may seem like only fleeting interest is being given to Murray's big arm and far more attention is directed elsewhere on his body. Particularly toward his left knee, which was surgically repaired in November after Murray tore his ACL.

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"Right now I have no limitations at all," Murray told the Athens Banner-Herald's Marc Weiszer. "I’m running, jumping, cutting, doing full drops, rollouts to the right, left, throwing on the run. It looks natural, it feels natural, there’s no hitch in my step."

Injuries are a part of football, and they rarely come at the best times. But to have one happen toward the tail end of one's final season of college can do serious damage to a player's pro prospects.

Yet Murray and other college stars who got hurt either late in the 2013 season or have been beset by injuries since don't look at it that way. Instead, they consider the situation but a minor setback, one that provides yet another challenge to overcome on that path toward the ultimate goal.

By showing what they can do so soon after injury, these former stars will end up being major draft steals because no matter how impressive they look their stock isn't likely to rise to pre-injury levels.

Consider former LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who, like Murray, suffered a late-season knee injury. Mettenberger went down in the Tigers' regular-season finale on Nov. 29—compared to Murray going down six days earlier—and yet according to The Times-Picayune's Jim Kleinpeter, he gave "the unmistakable impression he's almost completely healthy" during a well-attended LSU pro day on April 9.

Though Mettenberger admitted to being tired, throwing more than 120 passes during his workout, he told Kleinpeter his main goal was to "show I could take an explosive drop and throw the ball downfield like everyone knows I can."

Mettenberger now projects as a second- to third-round pick as the sixth-best quarterback available, according to CBSSports.com.

Mississippi State's Tyler Russell and North Carolina's Bryn Renner, both of whom suffered shoulder injuries during their senior years, face a much greater uphill battle. Neither is likely to get drafted, but with good enough workouts, they could snag a nice rookie free-agent deal that could translate into something bigger down the line.

Other standouts who shouldn't be discounted because of injuries include guys whose ailments have popped up since the season began. For former Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and former Connecticut linebacker Yawin Smallwood, those issues popped up at maybe the worst possible time and place: right in front of scouts.

Kouandjio failed his physical during the NFL combine after arthritis was found in his surgically repaired knee, while Smallwood pulled up with a lame hamstring during his 40-yard dash at the combine that wasn't fully healed by his pro day less than three weeks later.

Kouandjio had another chance to show his stuff to scouts, thanks to Alabama holding a second pro day on April 8, and the big blocker told NFL.com's Chase Goodbread his goal was to show he had good stamina and that his knee shouldn't be a concern.

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For Smallwood, the early pro day puts extra pressure on any individual workouts he may schedule with teams showing interest. Those appointments will need to address two main areas: that he can be the player he showed as UConn's lone bright spot during a 3-9 season and that the injuries were just a minor bump in the road.

When Murray throws on Wednesday for the NFL scouts, expect a hunger and drive that is more fitting of an actual game—like the ones he missed at the tail end of his career, against rival Georgia Tech and then in the Gator Bowl against Nebraska, a contest the Bulldogs lost—than a workout.

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