Dr. David Chao
The Training Room


What does it mean when a team orders extra medical tests on a draft prospect?

During draft season, any team move is read into as interest (or disinterest) in a college prospect. At the Scouting Combine a Dallas team physician ordered a special nerve test (electromyogram) on Jameis Winston’s “weak” shoulder. Does that mean the Cowboys have high interest in trading up for Tony Romo’s replacement? Not necessarily.

At the Combine, the task for each doctor is to perform a thorough evaluation on each and every player regardless of draft position. For example, Buffalo is without a first round draft pick this year, but their medical staff undoubtedly fully evaluated Winston, Marcus Mariota, as well as the other 300+ potential draftees.

In my NFL experience, teams do give their medical staffs a “watch list” of 50-60 players. I would pay extra attention to these players but it would not mean that I would ignore the others. It is true that is there was any question as to a player on the special list’s health, I would go ahead and order additional tests. However, there were plenty of occasions when I ordered additional evaluation when they were not on the list.

When it comes to draft time, clubs don’t always abide by the list anyways. In 2006, Antonio Cromartie was not on my team’s original special attention list as we were drafting at 19 and he was a projected top pick. As he fell out of the top ten, I was grilled in the war room about his knee as Cromartie was coming off ACL surgery.

The same has been asked about pre-draft team visits and what it means. Whether a prospective player visits a club doesn’t necessarily correlate to who will be drafted.

In my almost two decades as team physician, many first round picks were not invited for a pre-draft visit. On some occasions, clubs may invite a draftee to throw off media and other teams. I recall my team bringing in the first round prospect that most mock drafts had us drafting but when he didn’t have a confirmatory physical and the position coach alone (without coordinator, head coach, GM or ownership) took him to a casual dinner at a local sports bar, those were sure signs that he wasn’t high in our projected draft scenarios.

Sometimes a pre-draft visit is scheduled because more medical info is needed or because the club didn’t get enough time with him at Combine. Players a team is already sure about don’t get invitations.

When a particular team orders additional testing on a Combine player or invites a draftee for a visit, it doesn’t necessarily mean that club is particularly interested. It could easily be a matter of due diligence with a doctor or GM being thorough in doing the job.

MMMD 1: Three offseason surgeries for Brian Cushing

Players often delay surgery until after the season and there are more surgeries performed in the offseason than regular season. However, three surgeries for the same player is not unheard of but is uncommon. The Texans linebacker was known to have surgery on a fractured wrist but he also announced left knee and ankle arthroscopy.

The preventative maintenance should help Cushing but let’s hope there is nothing more to the knee. The left is the same side that had 2012 ACL and then 2013 LCL surgery. The scope is mild by comparison but the hope is not to have progressive articular cartilage damage.

Cushing lost his last two offseason training opportunities due to major knee surgery but these three surgeries should still allow him to participate in OTAs for the first time in three years.

MMMD 2: Everyone is ahead of recovery schedule

Victor Cruz is reported to be ahead of schedule after his patella tendon rupture. Carson Palmer is a month ahead of schedule on revision ACL rehabilitation. Stephen Tulloch, who tore his ACL celebrating a sack, says he is way ahead of schedule.

I am not sure who is making the “schedule” but you only hear about players being ahead of it, rarely behind it. These reports come from the player, coach or the treating medical professions and are always going to be optimistic. No doctor will ever say his patient is behind schedule as privacy laws prevent medical professionals from saying anything without patient approval.

The question on these three players isn’t when they will play but when they will return to full form. Cruz has the biggest uphill battle to return to explosiveness. Tulloch will struggle to start the season in full form. Even though Palmer has the ACL re-tear, his path is the easiest for a good 2015 season.

MMMD 3: Making chop block completely illegal

The chop (high/low) block is illegal most, but not all, of the time in the NFL. In this health and safety era, the competition committee is considering removing it from the game completely.

Knee and ankle injuries have been attributed to this technique of one player engaging a player high while another blocks down low. Catching a leg while the foot is planted leads to higher risk of injury. I would applaud this long overdue rule change.

MMMD 4: All 53 dress for Thursday games?

With all the health and safety talk surrounding Thursday games, the NFL is considering removing the inactive list and allowing all healthy players to dress for the short week games.

All 53 players get paid. If healthy, why not allow them to play?

The only argument is competitive balance. If one team has more injured players, It would be theoretically possible to have 53 players versus 46. However, with only 11 at a time on the field, this rule change still makes sense.

MMMD 5: Roster expansion?

A report indicated the NFL may expand roster size from 53 to 55. Since currently only 46 players dress, this would allow clubs to carry more injured players on its active roster.

Typically, the extra seven roster spots are used to help manage injuries. Except for one designated for return spot, all injured reserve players are out for the entire season without chance of return.

An Injured reserve player is paid anyways. Why not keep the possibility open that he may return if healthy?

MMMD 6: Dolphins hire sports performance director

The NFL does change with the times. More and more teams are embracing sports performance, and Miami hired a new director.

What is unique about this hire is not only the position but the fact that the he has a soccer and rugby background as opposed to football roots. For a long time, the NFL has stayed within its circle. Hiring of outsiders can only help broaden perspective and enhance the game.

MMMD 7: My other sports experience

I claim my primary roots in the NFL with 17 years with the Chargers and some additional time with the Vikings and assisting with the Bears. Recently, I have been asked to comment on NBA and NHL injuries. I have served as team physician for professional basketball and hockey as well.

I don’t follow NBA or NHL like I do NFL, but twitter followers this week sent video and asked for thoughts on Derrick Rose, Patrick Kane and Russell Westbrook, among others. When I feel I have a good look, I have commented.

Based on public reports and my knowledge of medicine, it was clear to me there was too much initial doom and gloom on Rose. I had only one angle of video on Kane’s injury but correctly postulated clavicle fracture. Westbrook pictures and video indicated a zygomatic arch fracture before the official announcement.

My football video injury analysis technique is applicable to other sports, but certainly, my experience is greatest in the NFL.

Follow David on Twitter: @profootballdoc

Dr. David Chao is a former NFL head team physician with 17 years of sideline, locker and training room experience. He currently has a successful orthopedic/sports medicine practice in San Diego.

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Tony Villiotti
Draftmetrics


In the recent article “Breaking Down the NFL Draft” various metrics were used to separate draft selections into “Draft Ranges”. Each of these Draft Ranges contained selections that had similar results from the draft (e.g., selections five through 14 had similar career outcomes, etc.). This article takes that analysis a step further and discusses what history says about the probability of a player achieving specified milestones. Future articles will compare the data from this article to data by playing position and other perspectives.

The major difference between the two articles is that “Breaking Down the NFL Draft” is based on drafts for the most recent 20 years (1995-2014). This is useful for the purpose it served, but does measure probabilities very well. A player selected in the 2014 draft, for example, is not going to be a five-year starter after his first season. The same can be said for players selected in the 2010-2013 drafts.

In this article, the same starting point (1995) is used to measure an achievement but the ending point is tailored to that milestone. In order to tailor the measurement period to the time a player has been in the league, the measurement period used is the minimum time required for a player to achieve a milestone plus one season (thereby providing a cushion). This results, for example, in the 1995-2009 drafts being used to determine whether a player achieved the five-year starter metric. The only exceptions to this are milestones that are achievable in a player’s rookie season. The milestone “Rookie Starter” is the most obvious example of such an exception.

As a reminder, the following definitions are used in all of my articles:

  • A starting season is defined as one when a player starts at least eight games. This definition is used for the starter metrics.
  • A player receives credit for a Pro Bowl selection only when they are an original selection, whether they played in the game or not. Alternates do not receive credit for a Pro Bowl selection.
  • A player receives credit for an All-Pro selection if he is selected All-Pro by either the Associated Press or the Pro Football Writers of America.

The following table shows the probability of a player in each Data Range achieving the nine designated milestones. Where the “<” sign is used, it means that a player did not quite achieve the percentage shown. For example, <100% indicates that a player has more than a 99% probability of achieving a milestone but less than 100% (e.g., 99.5%). The “Last Year” column is the ending draft year included in the analysis (with 1995 always being the first year). All other columns are self-explanatory.

There are a number of observations that can be made from the above table:

  • Virtually every player drafted will play at least one year in the NFL
    • Even the latest draft choices have a 75% probability of making a roster
    • This may not be for the team that drafted them or in the year they were drafted
  • There is practically no difference among first round selections in a player lasting five years in the league
    • The probability declines rapidly beginning late in the third round
  • The principal difference between the first and second Draft Ranges is the probability of drafting a Pro Bowl or All Pro player
  • The chances of drafting a five-year starter decline rapidly after the first 24 selections
    • Chances are better than 50-50 in the first 24 picks
  • The chances of drafting a player who wins post-season honors is remote after the first 73 selections
    • The drop-off is even more drastic when it comes to multiple All-Pro selections

Follow Tony on Twitter @draftmetrics

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Jeff Fedotin
Guest Stars


Deion Sanders was there as part of his NFL Network duties. And the Sept. 18 game took place in Atlanta, where “Primetime” began his career.

So after returning a punt 62 yards to break Sanders’ all-time return record, Devin Hester mimicked the Hall of Famer by high-stepping the last 10 yards into the end zone.

But showing no sense for the moment or that the current Falcons returner was paying homage to the former Falcons great, officials gave Hester a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

“It is unfortunate that the NFL won’t allow for that kind of celebration,” said Patrick Mannelly, Hester’s special teams teammate from 2006 to 2013. “I mean it’s an NFL record.”

With its stringent rules regarding touchdown celebrations, the NFL is once again living down to its notorious nickname — the “No Fun League.”

“We’re out there having fun,” said Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. “If you get in the end zone, you deserve to celebrate. It’s what we work for. So, once we get in there, I love to see guys just have fun, enjoy themselves, be a kid again.”

Though the NFL likely won’t relax its rules to allow for more frivolity, the competition committee would have to submit such proposals to NFL executives at the league’s annual meeting in Phoenix late March.

The Unsportsmanlike Conduct Rule

Currently, in Rule 12, Section 3 of the by-laws, the NFL lumps in such seemingly innocuous celebrations with other prohibited acts, including punching an opponent or making unnecessary physical contact with a referee, which results in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty.

 

Section 3 Unsportsmanlike Conduct

Article 1: Prohibited Acts. There shall be no unsportsmanlike conduct. This applies to any act which is contrary to the generally understood principles of sportsmanship. Such acts specifically include, among others:

(a)  Throwing a punch, or a forearm, or kicking at an opponent, even though no contact is made.

(b)  Using abusive, threatening, or insulting language or gestures to opponents, teammates, officials, or representatives of the League.

(c)  Using baiting or taunting acts or words that engender ill will between teams.

(d)  Prolonged or excessive celebrations or demonstrations by an individual player. Players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations or demonstrations while on the ground. A celebration or demonstration shall be deemed excessive or prolonged if a player continues to celebrate or demonstrate after a warning from an official.

(e)  Two or more players engaging in prolonged, excessive, premeditated, or choreographed celebrations or demonstrations.

(f)  Possession or use of foreign or extraneous object(s) that are not part of the uniform during the game on the field or the sideline, or using the ball as a prop.

(g)  Unnecessary physical contact with a game official.

(h)  Removal of his helmet by a player in the field of play or the end zone during a celebration or demonstration, or during a confrontation with a game official or any other player.

Note 3: Violations of (b) will be penalized if any of the acts are committed directly at an opponent. These acts include, but are not limited to: sack dances; home run swing; incredible hulk; spiking the ball; spinning the ball; throwing or shoving the ball; pointing; pointing the ball; verbal taunting; military salute; standing over an opponent (prolonged and with provocation); or dancing.

 

Who do football players hurt with these excessive celebrations that result in unsportsmanlike penalties?

Moreover, the semantics of the rule can make it difficult to interpret and legislate. Hester’s touchdown was excessive, but the Lambeau Leap is not?

The Husain Abdullah Penalty

Perhaps the most glaring screw-up in penalizing for excessive celebration occurred during the late September Monday Night Football contest between the Chiefs and Patriots.

After a Pick-6 against New England quarterback Tom Brady, Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah kneeled in the end zone in Islamic prayer and received a 15-yard penalty because he was “on the ground,” an activity outlawed in part D of Section 3, Article 1.

“That was just an errant call in my mind. Heck, a guy going to his knees and praying?” Abdullah’s teammate, Travis Kelce told NFP. “You can’t really say anything bad about that. It shouldn’t have been a flag.”

Kelce was right. The NFL admitted it messed up the call because, though Abdullah was going to the ground, it was part of a religious expression — no different than Tebowing.

Kelce, the dynamic Chiefs tight end entering his third year, is known for his touchdown celebrations, including The Nae Nae, The Shmoney Dance, The Bow and Arrow and even one that honors WWE wrestler Ric Flair.

“I do have some fun when I do get in the end zone,” Kelce said. “That’s for sure.”

One of the NFL’s most prolific celebrators is no fan of the restrictions.

“I really don’t agree with half of them,” Kelce said. “You got to abide by ’em … whether you like them or you don’t.”

Prior to Kelce, several players engaged in memorable celebrations that would be penalized today.

Chad Johnson performed CPR on a football and used an end zone pylon as a putter. Steve Smith pantomimed rowing a boat.

“When I was younger, I was big fan of Ochocinco and T.O. and Steve Smith and all the guys,” said Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans.

Evans, who scored 12 touchdowns during his rookie year, wishes he could celebrate in a way that reflects on his impressive prep basketball career, which led to numerous scholarship offers from Division-I schools.

“I wanna be able to dunk the ball,” Evans said.

Before the 2014 season, however, the NFL said dunking over the crossbar — something Saints wide receiver Jimmy Graham did regularly — would result in the 15-yard penalty.

This change to the rule by the NFL competition committee, though, made some sense. In previous instances dunking over the goalpost bent it, causing a delay in the game while it was reset.

The Odell Beckham Jr. Penalty

Making less sense is what happened to Beckham.

The rookie receiver was penalized 15 yards after he spun the ball and danced behind it following a first-quarter touchdown — his 10th score of the season — against the Rams in late December.

“I don’t think spinning the ball in front of myself is taunting anybody,” Beckham said. “That wasn’t directed to anybody. I spun the ball in front of me. I don’t think it was even past my feet.

“I didn’t quite understand the penalty.”

And neither do I.

Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

 

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Greg Gabriel
The Director's Report


In 2014, the University of Virginia had, in all probability, the best pair of outside linebackers/defensive ends in the country. In Eli Harold and Max Valles, Virginia had two tall, long, and athletic players who could set the edge and consistently put outside pressure on the quarterback. Both players were underclassmen, and both have entered the 2015 NFL Draft. Yesterday, I profiled Harold, today we will talk about Valles.

Max Valles – OLB/DE – Virginia

Max Valles is a true sophomore at Virginia. He was draft eligible as he attended Fork Union Military Academy for a year following high school. He enrolled at Virginia in 2013. As a freshman, he did not see game action in either of the first two games but began playing as a reserve beginning with their third game. By season’s end, he played in 12 games and had four starts.

He finished the 2013 season with 23 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks. In 2014, he started all 12 games for Virginia and upped his production to 55 total tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 9.0 sacks, one interception, and three forced fumbles.

Looking at Valles physically, he is tall with good length and has the frame to carry more weight. At the combine, he measured 6050 – 251. While he showed good explosion with his jumps (36″ vertical jump, 10’1″  long jump), he was slower than expected. His best forty was only 4.87, and his 20 yard shuttle and 3-cone drill were 4.31 and 7.51 respectively. While those are adequate times, you would hope for better.

In the Virginia defensive scheme, Valles almost always plays on the left side and plays, mostly, from a 2-point stance. He shows good instincts and reactions and is consistently quick to find the football. He is tough, aggressive, and plays with a good, competitive nature.

With playing on his feet a majority of the time, he has a tendency to get tall. This can hurt him when taking on and shedding blocks. While he plays with good strength, his hand speed is adequate, and there are times he doesn’t get off a block quickly enough. Still, he plays the run well, does a good job playing contain, and more often than not keeps plays inside. He shows he can get penetration and be disruptive versus the run. He has a good burst, and when he gets an opportunity to shoot a gap, he can get the tackle for a loss. As a pursuit player, he takes good angles, shows hustle, but doesn’t have the flat out speed to consistently catch plays from behind.

Valles has the most value as a pass rusher. He has the body flexibility to get under his opponent and turn the corner. He also has the snap in his hips to generate a good bull rush. He also does a good job using counter moves. When he isn’t able to get a pressure, he does a good job getting his hands up and has a number of passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage.

Max is used regularly in coverage and has a decent drop. He can get depth and shows awareness in zone. I don’t see the responsiveness needed to be consistent with man-to-man coverage.

When I first looked at Valles, I thought he was a good fit to be a strong side linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Unless he runs better at his pro day, he may be better off adding some bulk and being a 4-3 defensive end. If he can get to 260 – 265, that may be his best position. I would like to see him get his time down to under 4.8. If he is able to do that, he has scheme flexibility. Based solely on tape, he could easily be drafted as high as the third round, but unless he runs better, it will more likely be the fourth.

Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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Greg Gabriel
The Director's Report


The University of Virginia has two underclassmen OLB/DE’s that have entered the draft. They are Eli  Harold and Max Valles. I will profile Valles, who is a top prospect in his own right, tomorrow. Today, we will look at Harold who is the better prospect of the two.

Eli Harold – OLB/DE – Virginia

Harold is a third-year junior and a two-year starter entering the draft. He is the right defensive end in the Virginia scheme and lines up both up and down. He has been very productive over the last two seasons with 31 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks.

Looking at his frame, Harold has ideal 3-4 OLB measurables. At the combine he  was 6030 – 246, ran 4.61 and 4.53 in the 40 and had a vertical jump a 35″ as well as a standing long jump of 10’3″. His agility times were excellent also, timing 4.16 in the 20 yard shuttle and 7.07 in the 3-cone.

As a player, Harold has reacts quickly and has good instincts. He finds the ball and he makes plays. He shows strength at the point of attack and flashes the ability to set the edge. I say flashes, because he doesn’t do it on a consistent basis and, at times, can get over powered. Usually, this will happen when he is playing down.

He has good snap reaction to go along with a quick first step. He stays low and shows he can get penetration and disrupt the run. He is a good pursuit player who has the speed to chase plays down and takes good angles. On the negative side, while he flashes being able to shed quickly, there are times he can be slow off a block.

His best trait is pass rushing. He has very good initial quickness and shows he can beat his opponent with speed or moves. He has the speed and body flexibility to bend and get under his opponent when coming with speed. He also is good at faking an outside charge then coming back inside across the face of his opponent. He has quick hands and good overall hand use.

With 15.5 sacks over the last two seasons, Harold has very good sack production but he could and should have more. He gets a number of pressures and just needs to finish his pass rush a little better. He has the talent to be a double digit sack guy.

Harold is not used in coverage that often but he will occasionally drop. When he does, he gets depth and shows good receiver awareness. He has good ball reactions and shows he can plant and drive on the ball.

As good as Harold’s combine was, I doubt that he makes it in to the first round. Still, I see him going within the first 10 picks of the second round, and he should be a rookie starter. At his size, I don’t think that he is a good fit for the 4-3 teams, but the 3-4 clubs will be all over him. I’m sure Harold will be involved in a number of private workouts between now and draft day. A very interesting prospect who still has a lot of upside.

Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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