Not unlike two top defensive players picked in the first round of last year's draft, TCU defensive back Jason Verrett will enter this upcoming draft recovering from a shoulder injury, specifically a torn labrum.
According to Rob Rang of CBS Sports, Verrett used the NFL combine to announce he battled the injury for much of last year:
"I had a torn labrum, the back of my labrum," Verrett said about his shoulder injury. "But I played the rest of the season."
Verrett is scheduled to have surgery after his on-campus pro day March 21, following a similar path as New York Jets' cornerback Dee Milliner, who had labrum surgery after his pro day a year ago.
If all goes well, Verrett should be able to complete his rehab before the start of the 2014 NFL season. A closer look at the labrum sheds some light on what lies ahead for the highly regarded prospect.
The Shoulder Labrum
Generally speaking, the shoulder makes up the joint where the arm meets the chest. Many different structures—bones, muscles, cartilage, blood vessels and nerves—come together within it.
The labrum helps keep everything in line by providing additional support where the humerus—or upper arm bone—meets the shoulder blade, or scapula.
At the outside edge of the scapula lies a concave "socket" known as the glenoid. The labrum encircles its outer rim, thereby deepening the pocket and allowing the head of the humerus to sit more snugly within it.
In football, labrum tears commonly occur when an outside force sharply moves the head of the humerus within the glenoid—or dislocates it entirely. The movement stretches or places increased pressure on the cartilage labrum, damaging it.
For Verrett, that blow happened sometime during TCU's game against Texas Tech.
Labrum Injuries and Surgery
Many acute labral tears fall into one of two broad categories: SLAP or Bankart injuries.
SLAP tears—short for "superior labrum anterior to posterior"—involve the top portion of the labrum, near the location where the biceps tendon attaches to the cartilage ring. SLAP tears themselves can come in one of several different forms, each with its own unique characteristics and repair technique.
On the other hand, a Bankart tear involves the detachment of the front portion of the labrum from the glenoid. Conversely, a reverse Bankart injures the back.
Some significant labral tears can lead to easier shoulder dislocations—and thus further damage. Others can cause locking or catching within the joint, producing pain and decreased range of motion.
Unfortunately, labral cartilage—like other cartilage in the body—does not carry a very robust blood supply relative to tissues such as the skin. Blood transports the body's healing and repair cells, and as such, labrum injuries generally do not heal well on their own.
That's where surgery comes into play.
Using tiny instruments and a small camera, an orthopedic surgeon can visualize any labral damage that exists and repair it. For instance, he or she can directly suture the detached labrum back onto the glenoid.
Jason Verrett's Case
As always, exact medical details are not available to the public. That said, Verrett played through his injury for much of last year, suggesting his shoulder retained its stability after the tear. It also suggests the surrounding bone did not sustain severe damage.
As the former Horned Frog prepares the NFL, his medical team determined the time to definitively repair the nagging injury is now. His recovery time will depend on the extent of damage within the joint—which, despite MRI imaging, will not be precisely known until his surgeon directly observes the inside of the joint while in the operating room—but it can approach three or four months.
Fortunately, Verrett will surely work with some of the best surgeons and physical therapists out there. As long as no complications arise—and there is not yet reason to think any will—his draft stock will likely remain intact.
"Verrett excels in man coverage and has the ball skills to be a player off the ball," Miller said. "The injury is a concern but reminds me of Dion Jordan in that he can rehab and be ready to go by Week 1. The fact that he played through the injury means I won't knock his stock at all."
Nevertheless, NFL teams will certainly watch Verrett closely, and it is important to remember that anything less than an optimal recovery will draw concern. For instance, Dee Milliner's delayed labrum rehab raised some eyebrows early last year.
However, barring similar developments, it seems likely Verrett will find himself walking to the draft podium as early as the evening of the first draft 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. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.