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2017 NFL Draft: Top 6 players with serious injury concerns

Some players fall in the draft not due to a lack of talent, but due to a lack of durability. This class is full to the brim with talented competitors, but some have taken more than their fair share of hits.

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Ohio State vs Clemson Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I am not a doctor, and I don’t pretend to be one, but I am a trend analyst and there are certain trends that can be built based upon injury history with players coming out of college into the NFL. Sports medicine has come so far in the past couple of decades, and with the rise of social media, there has developed a subset of doctors and surgeons who provide their medical opinions at a moment’s notice based on tape alone. It sounds crazy at first, but it’s far more reliable than being a fan and just saying “ouch, that looks like it’s bad” or “oh come on, you pansy, you barely got hit!” We’ve touted how strong this draft class is for a while now, but what sometimes gets lost is the players whose talent is nigh indisputable but who come with a certain amount of injury baggage. Here are a few of those.

Takkarist McKinley, DE, UCLA

Takkarist McKinley recently announced that he was going to participate fully in the NFL combine after previous reports stated that he was going to bow out. In that same announcement, McKinley noted that he was going to be having surgery to repair a torn shoulder labrum and the timetable was going to be around five to six months. The surgery is a routine one and the timetable is pretty close to fixed. His announcement is timely in that this would place him ready to participate in football activities some time around September at the earliest and November at the latest. Savvy fans may note that there is real NFL football occurring at that time.

The Buffalo Bills drafted Shaq Lawson in 2016 with a similar situation (though his was preexisting for a lot longer), and while it didn’t hurt Lawson’s draft stock as much as many thought, he still ended up starting only two games in 2016 and only played in ten. McKinley is being touted as one of the best athletes in this draft class with good reason, but medical considerations are going to turn off teams that need a more immediate bump to their pass rushing.

Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama

Reuben Foster is without a doubt one of the best players in this draft class. A nearly consensus top ten player in one of the strongest classes of the past decade, Foster plays with an edge that he backs up with pure athletic ability. Technically sound and good in both coverage and against the run, he’s not one that many consider due for a fall in the draft.

If you dig deeper into his medical history, however, there are instances that may cause some pause. Foster dealt with a hand injury in 2016 that forced him to wear a club, and while that’s not a significant injury worth considering, the concussion he sustained around the same time should be noted. This was, at least, the second of his career with the first (in 2014) leading to him completely retooling his tackling technique. Luke Kuechly is the best linebacker in football right now, but rumors of his possible retirement are already circulating due to repeated concussions. The extra league scrutiny in that type of injury and slew of concussion-related retirements and rumors make Foster a more risky prospect than many currently admit.

Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

I’ve mentioned them before on here, but Dalvin Cook’s shoulder injuries are a serious concern that sometimes gets glossed over by draft analysts. There is a long list of other injuries that build the case that he is prone to injury, but it is his dual shoulder surgeries that raise the most concern. He didn’t miss any time because of the shoulder injuries, but that wasn’t due to the severity of them, but rather the timing of the surgeries. You don’t always get a choice of when you want to have surgery to correct an injury and the possibility of it worsening because you’re playing through it is problematic.

Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan

Corey Davis was one of the most productive wide receivers in college football, and he’s one of the highest graded receivers I have had in the last decade of covering the draft. He was also the victim of a curse. You see, every year I avoid referring to a player as my ‘favorite’ if they are a skill position player because there have been a trend of players getting hurt (generally a foot or ankle) when I do that. Corey Davis was the most recent victim and injured his ankle. It’s being described as minor in nature, but it did require surgery and it is forcing him to sit out the NFL combine. With the WMU pro day only shortly after that, it’s possible the talented receiver doesn’t measure at all prior to the draft. His tape tells a good enough tale to keep him high on many draft boards, but it’s a late ding to his profile in an incredibly strong draft class.

John Ross, WR, Washington

John Ross is DeSean Jackson, if you listen to all the analysis. Then again, any receiver who measures in under 180 pounds is generally considered some kind of DeSean Jackson clone, even if there isn’t any stylistic comparison. Ross is fast—very fast—but not otherworldly fast like Jackson was. He’s still a very good player and a good prospect if you can get over his size and durability concerns. It’s the latter I’m more concerned with. In addition to repeated knee injuries, Ross also has a concussion history that will need to be considered. It’s a long list of concerns for a player that isn’t built in such a way that you can consider them flukes.

Malik Hooker, FS, Ohio State

Depending on your preference, either Malik Hooker or Jamal Adams tend to be the best safeties in the draft. If you’re a versatile, strong safety type, you go Adams, but if you want straight coverage skills, you tend to prefer Hooker. What often gets lost in the discussion is the fact that Malik Hooker likely declared early since his injury risk is higher than most, and his draft stock will never be higher. Hooker had both a shoulder labrum surgery (a weird trend this draft class) and surgery to repair a core muscle. Hooker’s talent is such that many will overlook the injury concerns as he is often looked upon as one of the best players in this stacked draft class.

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