2014 NFL Draft: Injured Prospects Offering Best Late-Round Value
Good health is a foretold conclusion for most 2014 NFL draft prospects. For others, injuries constitute only a minor speed bump in an otherwise-promising road to the NFL.
Yet for an unfortunate few, a serious or ill-timed injury may seriously affect their competitiveness in this year's draft.
As NFL teams continue to sift through the field, several injuries will raise the proverbial red flag, eliminating players from some teams' big boards altogether. Then again, other players may fall just far enough, becoming a bona fide steal, so to speak.
With that in mind, let's take a look at a few prospects with injury concerns expected to be selected late in the draft who may outperform their draft position in the long term.
Vinnie Sunseri, S, University of Alabama (ACL)
Wherever he may fall on mock drafters' and NFL teams' rankings, University of Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri is doing everything humanly possible to stay there.
And he's doing it well.
He tore his ACL on special teams in Oct. 2013, which ended his season. He underwent surgery soon thereafter.
Less than six months later, he ran between a 4.48- and 4.52-second 40-yard dash at Alabama's second pro day, per AL.com.
Talk about a quick healer.
Admittedly, Sunseri is probably not yet ready to take hits to his still-recovering knee. That said, getting to where he is now in such a short time frame is worth noting. It shows an excellent natural healing ability—important for his 2014 availability as well as any future injuries he may suffer. Furthermore, it demonstrates his dedication and work ethic—which are half of the battle during rehab, anyway.
While he may not hold the highest draft stock heading into May, the former Crimson Tide safety can still sneak into the middle or late rounds, injury and all.
James Hurst, OL, University of North Carolina (Fibula)
Similar to Vinnie Sunseri, University of North Carolina offensive lineman James Hurst's final college football season ended with an injury.
According to the official Tar Heel football Twitter account, he suffered a non-displaced fibula fracture during a 39-17 Belk Bowl victory over the University of Cincinnati.
The key phrase in that diagnosis? Non-displaced.
A non-displaced fibula fracture implies the broken bone maintained its overall alignment—running from the knee to the ankle via the outside of the leg. Usually, such an injury does not require surgery, and simple immobilization and rehab almost always offer a good outcome.
Furthermore, after the bone completes the lion's share of the re-attachment process, rehab is relatively simple—compared to ligamentous knee injuries, at least.
For further proof, look no further than Houston Texans running back Andre Brown. Last year, Brown—as a member of the New York Giants—exploded onto the field his first game back from a non-displaced fibula fracture. He posted 115 yards on 30 carries that game, going on to carry the ball at least 11 times every game for the rest of the 2013 season.
At this point, there is no reason to think Hurst cannot follow suit.
Brent Urban, DL, University of Virginia (Ankle)
Recently, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller projected a fourth-round selection for University of Virginia defensive lineman Brent Urban. Elsewhere, Rob Rang of CBSSports.com writes: "Broad-shouldered, long-armed and surprisingly quick off the snap, Urban certainly looks the part of a high-round selection who is just scratching the surface of his potential."
So, what's holding him back?
According to NFL.com's Mike Huguenin, it's the dreaded high-ankle sprain.
In football, high-ankle sprains often occur when something—a hit, tackle or awkward plant of the foot—forces the toes to turn outward relative to the leg. Such a motion abnormally stretches and tears the ligaments that connect the two bones of the lower leg—the tibia and fibula—to each other.
High-ankle sprains are infamous for a reason: They linger. Then, they linger some more.
Just ask Roddy White.
In 2013, White's season never really got started. Ordinarily a superstar receiver, he averaged a mere 25.8 yards per game over the first five weeks of the season, only to miss the Falcons' next three games due to the injury.
Nevertheless—though there are no guarantees—most high-ankle sprains fully heal. If Urban can then realize the potential that Miller and Rang see, one team will be very glad it took on his injury risk.
Anthony Steen, OL, University of Alabama (Labrum)
According to CBSSports.com's Jeremy Fowler, University of Alabama offensive lineman Anthony Steen underwent surgery to repair a partially torn shoulder labrum in favor of playing in the 2013 Sugar Bowl.
Fowler adds that it is unclear when Steen suffered the injury.
Labral tears often result from a direct blow to the shoulder, forcing the head of the humerus—the bone of the upper arm—to jam into or out of the shoulder socket. Pain, inflammation and range-of-motion limitation can result.
Athletes can play through some types of labral tears, but in general, the cartilage will not heal well on its own.
That's where surgery comes in.
By directly repairing the tear, surgeons can help restore the shoulder's lost function.
If Steen played the quarterback position or pitched in Major League Baseball, his injury, surgery and recovery would become vastly more concerning heading into the pros. Yet barring a second, severe injury to the same shoulder, there is no reason to expect significant limitations in the pros for the offensive lineman.
Brandon Thomas, OL, Clemson University (ACL)
A nightmare in every sense of the word, Clemson University offensive lineman Brandon Thomas tore his ACL while preparing for the NFL draft. According to ESPN.com's Adam Caplan, the injury occurred during a workout.
In the end, the timing of the injury—rather than the injury itself—may prove the most devastating.
Most of the time, ACL tears cost elite athletes the better part of a year—and sometimes even longer.
With that in mind, it becomes all but certain that he will not see an NFL field in 2014. As such, a team that is looking for an immediate upgrade on the offensive line must look elsewhere, thereby causing the former Tiger to tumble down—if not off—its draft board.
Nevertheless, a silver lining does exist.
If and when Thomas makes a full recovery—a reasonable assumption given modern surgical and rehab techniques, especially if he suffered an isolated ACL tear—a 2015 comeback may be in the cards. After all, many experts widely recognized the lineman as an up-and-coming prospect with early-round potential.
In other words, for a squad looking for a long-term, late-round answer in the offensive trenches, Thomas might be the answer—and one of the true steals of the 2014 draft one day.
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.