Dr. David Chao
The Training Room


Medical re-check: the little known Combine may shape the draft

The NFL Scouting Combine draws media attention second only to the Super Bowl. Even the first-ever Veteran Combine warranted NFL Network’s on-site continuous coverage. In comparison, the medical re-check Combine happened this weekend in Indianapolis without a single reporter or camera present. Despite the obscurity, these medical evaluations have a large role in shaping the top of the draft this year.

Ex-Georgia running back Todd Gurley is a projected first-round pick; however, the status of his reconstructed knee is in question. At the main Combine, he deferred a full orthopedic evaluation of his rebuilt ACL until the medical re-check on Saturday. How his knee looked will play a major role in determining where he is selected. This can have a domino effect on the rest of the draft.

All 32 team physicians and athletic trainers in attendance had a chance to examine Gurley’s knee this time and “tug” on his graft. Fortunately, the ACL tests (Lachman, drawer, pivot-shift) are not painful maneuvers. The outcome will impact where the star running back is selected.

Ian Rapoport reported that Gurley’s knee “checked out fine” and was “good to go for the draft”. Those statements may be true but that doesn’t tell us the whole story. Certainly his knee is not ready for football today. The question is when he will be ready to play and if there will be any long-term consequences. Being draftable doesn’t necessarily mean being ready for training camp or week one. How teams interpret this medical data will determine if and where in the first round Gurley will be drafted.

Typically, a reconstructed ACL doesn’t reach full strength until the second season after surgery, but this does not mean Gurley can’t be effective this fall as Adrian Peterson has proven during his first year back after ACL.

The medical re-check has been a part of the Combine process for as long as I can remember and I have personally attended 17 of these Saturday morning gatherings. Because it is only medical, no general managers, coaches, scouts or other team personnel attend. Details on this process were chronicled in my column from this time last year.

Gurley’s knee and how it looked during examination in a medical center basement this weekend will have a significant effect on how the draft plays out.

MMMD 1: Precedent for Gurley’s first-round selection coming off torn ACL

A knee does not have to be 100% in order to be drafted in the first round. I was in the war room when my team decided to select Antonio Cromartie in 2006. He was still recovering from ACL surgery and had a swollen knee at the medical re-check, but he projected well enough for the Chargers to select him as the 19th overall pick.

Of course not all ACL tears recover smoothly. The 49ers drafted Marcus Lattimore in the 2013 fourth round as a rehab project. After two seasons on the inactive list, he retired without playing a down. Admittedly he was not an isolated ACL injury but tore other ligaments as well.

MMMD 2: Re-check Combine isn’t only place for medical evaluation

Physical exams can be performed during team visits. Sometimes this is the main reason for a team to request a visit.

This maybe the logic behind Gurley having so many late team visits including the Browns and the Patriots. Clubs may have waited to get a better look at how is knee was recovering.

MMMD 3: Jameis Winston did not attend re-checks

The projected first overall pick’s was not required to attend the follow-up examinations. When his shoulder nerve issue was first discovered at Combines, I did not feel it was a big deal. Winston’s absence from the medical re-checks indicates team doctors agree his shoulder health is a non-issue or they would have had him attend.

MMMD 4: Very unusual to refuse medical re-check

Top receiver prospect Jaelen Strong was slated for medical re-check due to a reported fracture of a small bone in his wrist. Instead, he skipped the examination, which may lead to some unanswered questions. His wrist was reportedly cleared by the Steelers medical staff in a team visit and that information will be passed along to the other 31 clubs.

In my almost two decades involved with the Combine, I do not recall a player forgoing medical re-check. I am not saying Strong did anything wrong or that he has a wrist issue that lowers his draft stock. I am just observing skipping re-checks is unusual. He reports having played five games with the injury. The question is whether it has healed or might affect him in the future.

MMMD 5: Wonderlic test scores routinely get leaked

Results of the general aptitude test routinely become public and this year is no exception. The NFL does attempt to keep the findings confidential, but the newsworthiness of the intelligence test for top quarterbacks seems to win out over discretion annually.

There is some controversy as to why the leaks continue to occur. Some suggest players should refuse to take the 50-question test since the league can’t keep the results confidential.

Medical results also generate considerable interest but these should be kept private as well (and there are laws to keep them confidential). I know the vast majority of medical personnel in the NFL, but I don’t think it is right to try and obtain private information from them. Even though many are my friends, team doctors would not break their patient duties and I would not insult them by asking them to do so. I only comment on what is already reported in the public domain.

MMMD 6: Voluntary offseason workouts start but players have already begun working

As players assemble for workouts, I would point out most have been already hard at work. Players do train on their own but I am talking about how the average NFL training room never slowed down. Rehab from surgery and preventative therapy occurs regularly throughout the offseason. In fact, offseason is a busier medical time than in season.

MMMD 7: NFL schedule released this week

The opponents have been well known for a while, but the actual dates and times of play will be revealed this coming week.

Fans will look for good road trips or big home games. Players look at the bye week first and then night/primetime games. Meanwhile, wives look at the holiday schedule and if Daddy be home for Christmas.

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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Jeff Fedotin
Guest Stars


Scott Pioli, the former Chiefs general manager, was skewered for his moves while running the team, which went 23-41 during his four years.

Among his biggest gaffes:

  • Hiring one head coach, Todd Haley, he could not get along with and another, Romeo Crennel, who struggled to control the team.
  • Signing Matt Cassel, who is better suited as a backup than a starter, to a franchise quarterback worthy deal of six years, $60 million, including $28 million guaranteed.
  • Trading future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez for a second-round pick that would be used on Javier Arenas, an average defensive back.
  • Drafting Tyson Jackson third overall — over players like Brian Orakpo, Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews — in the 2009 NFL Draft.

As time has gone on, however, Pioli’s 2009-12 tenure looks much better.

Three of his draft picks, in particular, have proven to be the backbone for a Chiefs defense that allowed the second fewest points in the league last year.

It starts with the 2011 NFL Draft, where his third-round selections accounted for 27 sacks last season.

With the 70th overall pick, Pioli selected outside linebacker Justin Houston, a move that was considered a gamble at the time. Houston starred at Georgia, but his character was questioned for, among other things, testing positive at the NFL Combine for marijuana.

Houston, though, lost weight and has become a hard worker, providing Kansas City its best edge rusher since Derrick Thomas.

Just 26, Houston already has made three Pro Bowls, including his exemplary 2014 season when he had 22 sacks — a half-sack behind Michael Strahan’s all-time single-season NFL record — and four forced fumbles.

Sixteen picks after Houston, Pioli selected Allen Bailey out of Miami (Fla.) The 3-4 defensive end came into his own last year, starting 14 games and recording five sacks.

“He’s continued to improve,” head coach Andy Reid said. “He was good before, but I think he’s really developed into a pretty fine football player.”

Bailey’s speed, range and quickness made him effective on third down from the get-go, but the 6-3, 288 pounder has added weight and honed his technique to make him a more stout, well-rounded 3-4 end.

As a result the Chiefs, who signed Bailey to a four-year, $25 million contract last season, expect the 26-year-old to anchor the edge of their defensive line for years to come.

“The more he’s played, the better he’s got,” said Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. “The arrow’s really pointing up on him.”

Bailey’s acquisition also offsets missing on Jackson, who was drafted to play the same position as Bailey, two years earlier. (Jackson now plays for the Falcons, where Pioli is the assistant GM.)

Pioli’s best move may have been his final first-round pick as a Chiefs executive when he drafted nose tackle Dontari Poe with the 11th overall choice in the 2012 NFL Draft.

Poe may be the best nose in the NFL. He’s that good.

Poe crushed it at the 2012 Combine, running the 40 in 4.98 seconds despite being the fifth heaviest defensive lineman to weigh in at the Combine since 2000. He also bench pressed 44 reps of 225 pounds.

Despite those eye-popping numbers, Poe was considered a workout wonder, and the pick was deemed a question mark. His play on the field at Memphis came nowhere close to reflecting those physical gifts. He had just five sacks over three years, including one as a senior, while playing against weak competition in Conference USA.

Pundits thought that indicated a lack of motor and of real football talent.

Pioli, however, rolled the dice and ended up with a player that not only has a motor, but it’s revved for nearly every play.

Heading into Week 14 of the 2013 season, for example, Poe was in the lineup for 95 percent of Kansas City’s defensive plays, which amounted to 804 snaps and was 85 more than any other NFL defensive tackle.

“It’s a great luxury because very seldom do you have a man as big as he that doesn’t come out,” Sutton said. “He’s a very talented guy.”

Indeed Poe plays so many downs because of his versatility — not just because of his stamina. The mammoth space eater is stout against interior running plays but has chased down screen passes near the sideline.

On obvious passing downs, the 346-pounder can collapse the pocket. The three-time Pro Bowler has 10.5 sacks the last two seasons.

The acquisitions of Poe, Bailey and Houston show that while the Chiefs organization may be in better shape with Reid and John Dorsey running the show, some of Pioli’s moves helped mold the Chiefs defense into one of the league’s best.

Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

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Greg Gabriel
The Director's Report


This year’s running back class just may be the best we have seen in years. Not only are there a number of backs form the traditional big school powers, but also there are several top prospects from smaller schools. Previously I did a report of South Dakota State’s Zack Zenner. Today, we will look at Northern Iowa’s David Johnson and North Dakota State’s John Crockett.

David Johnson – RB – Northern Iowa

Johnson is fifth year senior and a very productive two and a half year starter at Northern Iowa. He ran for over 1000 yards in each of his last three seasons including 1,286 yards in 2013 and 1,553 in 2014. He also had 76 receptions for 929 yards and 4 touchdowns over the last two seasons.

At 6’1 – 224, Johnson has excellent running back size to go along with top athleticism. At the Combine, he had one of the better overall workouts in the running back group. He ran the 40 in 4.50, had a 41” vertical jump, a 10’7” standing long jump and shuttle times of 4.13 and 7.09. He also did 25 reps in the bench which is equivalent to a 400 pound bench press.

As a runner, Johnson can be a bit upright, but he has good vision and instincts and can be creative. He does a good job setting up and following blocks. He runs behind his pads and shows power. He consistently gets yards after contact. He has burst to turn the corner and get outside, and when in space, he can make a defender miss.

He is excellent as a receiver with soft hands and top ability to adjust to the ball in the air. He consistently gets yards after the catch with his run skills.

Like most college backs, he will need to improve his pass blocking but showed at the Senior Bowl that he can get this done.

Overall, I see Johnson as a back who will be a role player early on and eventually be a consistent rotational type back. He can also be used as a kickoff return man. He may never be the “bell cow”, but most teams will be very happy to have him.

John Crockett – RB – North Dakota St.

In the last three seasons, Crockett has rushed for over 4300 yards including 1,994 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2014. In that same time frame, he has 43 receptions for 485 yards.

At 6’1 – 217, Crockett has adequate size to go along with adequate speed. He ran 4.62 at the Combine where he also had a 40” vertical jump, a 10’5” standing long jump and 7.15 and 4.25 times in the agility drills. When a player runs an average 40 time at the Combine, you would hope that he would run again at his pro day. That was not the case with Crockett which tells us that 4.62 is about the best he can do.

As a runner, Crockett is an instinctive jump cutter with a burst. He is best as a between the tackles pounder, but he also has a burst to get outside. He runs with good lean and power and is consistently able to get yards after contact. In the open field, he can make the first man miss, but I wouldn’t say he has top elusiveness.

As a receiver, he has good hands and is able to get open on the shorter routes. He is willing as a blocker but will need technique work. I see Crockett as a tough, physical inside runner and a reliable receiver. He is similar in style of play to Cleveland’s Terrance West. Like most small school players, he will need a period of adjustment, but he can become a solid NFL rotational back.

Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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Tony Villiotti
Draftmetrics


For all the talk about the draft and teams that do well, there is one point that must be stressed. No team does well in the draft every year. Taking that statement to the next logical step, a team does not have to do well in the draft every year to be successful.

To study this premise and associated issues, we reviewed drafts from 2005 through 2012. The drafts from 2013 and 2014 were omitted because it is too soon to make even a preliminary judgment on those. Before discussing the results we should discuss the key elements of the study.

First, contrary to most of the other studies we have done, only a player’s career with the team that drafted him is considered. For example, the Jets do not receive credit for the years Darrelle Revis spent with the Bucs and the Patriots.

Second, despite considerable thought on the matter, we could not come up with a formula or measure that would yield a meaningful comparative rating for the teams, so the ratings are subjective based on several factors. These factors include:

  • The number of two-year starters in a draft class
    • The cut-off of two years was used so that we could include as many current drafts as possible
  • The number of games started by a player over the course of their career with the team that drafted him
  • The number of Pro Bowl selections
  • The number of All Pro selections

It is acknowledged that there is an inherent advantage in being drafted by a “bad” team as the path to a starting job is likely to be an easier one, but this was not considered in the rankings. Draft position and number of choices were also not considered, so the result is an absolute and not relative grade.

Based on these factors the drafts of each team for each draft class were analyzed with the teams ranked one through 32. The full rankings are shown at the end of this article. It is recognized that the rankings for at least some of the years might change over time as careers ebb and flow. One would expect, for example, that more post-season honors are likely to be won in the future by some of the more recent draftees.

Perhaps the most striking results from the study is that no team was ranked #1 more than once. Similarly, no team was ranked last more than once either. While other factors may be at play, this supports the variability of draft results and the presence of the “luck factor” in the draft process. The same management team following the same process can garner different results in different years.

Seven teams were ranked in the top 10 in at least half of the eight drafts. Those teams, with its ranking based on its won-lost record for 2005-2014 in parentheses, are:

Several things stand out in the analysis:

  • The Packers were actually ranked in the top 10 in five of the first six years of the study before earning lower rankings in 2011 and 2012
    • The Packers have been in either the top or bottom 10 in each of the eight drafts
  • The Seahawks have finished in the top three in the 2010-2012 drafts
    • They are the only team with three top three grades
  • The 49ers were ranked in the top 10 in each draft from 2005-2007 but only once since then
  • Neither the Chargers nor the Raiders had even one top 10 grade
    • The Raiders had only one bottom ten grade as well
  • The Patriots, with the top won-lost record for 2005-2014 by a comfortable margin, were in the middle of the pack as far as draft grades with three top 10 rankings and three rankings in the bottom 10

Seven teams finished in the bottom ten at least half the time. These teams were:

A few notes about the teams finishing at or near the bottom:

  • The Saints have finished in the bottom 10 for each of the last four drafts
  • The Jaguars and Giants have finished in the bottom 10 for each of the last three drafts
  • In addition to its four bottom 10 grades, the Bears have ranked 11th from the bottom on two other occasions
  • Every team but the Titans have finished in the bottom ten at least once

Here are the complete annual rankings for the 2005-2012 drafts:

Follow Tony on Twitter @draftmetrics

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Greg Gabriel
The Director's Report


The 2015 NFL Draft is a good year for corners, but not a great year. As many as four could go in the first round, and you can bet that anywhere from 12 to 15 will be drafted in the first three rounds. Why? Because it plays out this way every draft going back at least 15 years.

The problem with this class is there is not an elite player in the group. There are some very good players, but no one you can say will be a pro bowl lock. I will profile two of the best in this class including the player who many consider to be the number one corner in this class, Trae Waynes from Michigan State.

Trae Waynes – DC – Michigan State

Waynes is a fourth-year junior and a three-year starter for the Spartans. He is tall with length and looks like a smooth athlete on the field. While he looks smooth, he didn’t test that way at the Combine

At Indy, Waynes’s 40-yard speed was among the best at the position. He ran 4.35 and 4.32 in his two tries. He also had very good jumps, posting a 38” vertical jump and a 10’2” standing long jump. His agility drills were more on the average side with a 4.39 20-yard shuttle and a 7.09 3-cone. The slow 20-yard shuttle time can indicate some tightness in his hips. That said, you don’t see that in his play. To his credit, Waynes re-tried the 20 yard shuttle at his pro day and responded with a 4.18 time, looking much better.

On the field, Waynes is a smooth athlete with loose hips. He stays low in his pedal, has a quick turn, and a very good burst coming out of his turn. His transition is very good. In coverage, he is a consistent zone player who keeps good position and is very good with press coverage. He has good ball skills and has good hands. Best of all, he has a short memory in that he can bounce back quickly from a poor play.

On the down side, he has a slender frame and will need to add some strength and bulk. He can be slow shedding blocks at times and will miss some tackles If he add some upper body strength, the missed tackles should go away.

With his height and length, Waynes can play man coverage versus tall receivers and hold his own. He is a smart player who doesn’t let a mistake bother him. He has been well coached and should be able to come in and play right away. While he may not ascend to a number one corner for a club, he will be a very solid number two.

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Kevin Johnson – DC – Wake Forest

The more tape I watch on Johnson, the more I like him. He has height and length and can match up versus tall receivers. The only thing that Johnson lacks is elite speed. He ran 4.52 at the Combine, and that time could prevent him from going in the top 20. Clubs would prefer a corner who runs in the 4.4’s.

Still, the rest of his Combine results were outstanding and among the best of the corner group. He timed 3.89 in the 20 yards shuttle and 6.79 in the 3-cone which show that he has outstanding quickness and body control. He is also very explosive with a 41.5” vertical jump and a 10’10” standing long jump. Those jumps would indicate that he has more speed than he showed. I’m surprised he didn’t run again at his pro day.

On the field, Johnson plays with a strong jam, he tries to re-route receivers and plays a physical style game. He is smooth with his pedal and turn and takes no extra steps when he transitions.

In coverage, he is equally proficient in zone, off, and press and is very consistent. He has very good ball skills and good hands. While he may have a bit of a slender frame, he is an aggressive run support player and a fairly good tackler.

Once he gets to the NFL, he will need to add some bulk and strength but his overall play will get him on the field quickly. I really like his aggressive on field demeanor and he could very well be a top special teams players early in his career.

I see him coming in and being able to start right away. He plays press coverage as well as any corner in this draft.

Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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