Danny Shimon
NFP Fresh Voices

With most NFL draft’s it’s usually the first round picks who receive much of the attention and attract most of the spotlight. Yet over the years when you go back and review successful draft classes it’s typically the “sleepers” or day three selections that make a good class turn into a great class.

With that in mind we reviewed each NFL teams draft class, per division, and attempted to point out who potentially could turn out to be that groups “sleeper”

AFC West

Denver Broncos – Will Parks, S Arizona 6th rd. 44th pick (#219 overall)

Having lost their top two backups at safety, in David Bruton Jr. and Omar Bolden, during free agency the Broncos knew that they needed to replenish some of their depth on the back-half of their defense.

The Broncos used two draft picks in the 2016 draft to add Boston College’s Justin Simmons, and Arizona’s Will Parks to help reload at safety.

Will Parks was a two-year starter and versatile defender for the Wildcats over his four-year career. He leaves Arizona having complied 197 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, 20 pass break-ups, and four interceptions.

Parks is a tough competitor who plays hard down in and down out. At 6’1” and 204 pounds he possesses good size and length for the position. He is an aggressive downhill punisher, who will tackle through his target. He is able to come up and set a hard edge when defending the run, and displayed the ability to shed blockers and find the ball carrier while playing as a box safety closer to the line of scrimmage, as his 20 tackles for loss over the last two seasons can attest to.

Initially Parks will be looked upon to provide depth at both safety positions as well as help on special teams. However, with his ability to tackle and help defend the run, as an in the box safety, Parks could force his way onto the field sooner than many may have anticipated for a sixth-round pick.

Kansas City Chiefs – Dadi Nicolas, OLB Virginia Tech 6th rd. 28th pick (#203 overall)

With Outside linebacker Justin Houston undergoing surgery in February to repair a torn ACL in his left knee you had a feeling that the Chiefs would target an outside backer at some point in the draft. Not necessarily to replace Houston, but just to add some quality depth at the position.

That point came in the sixth-round in the form or former Virginia Tech Hokie Dadi Nicolas. Nicolas is a talented physical specimen who has tree limbs for arms (35 inches) and very impressive lower-body explosion and burst. Nicolas posted a 41 inch vertical, 4.74 forty, and 7.04 three-cone time which speaks favorably to his agility, body control, and quickness.

Nicolas is quick off the line at the snap of the ball and is able to use his speed to provide a consistent pass rush off the edge. Nicolas has good balance and lateral quickness with an active body that is always hustling on the field.

Nicolas, who played defensive end at Virginia Tech, will be converting to outside linebacker with the Chiefs so there will be a learning process he will need to go through initially.

However, the talent and athleticism is there for Nicolas to develop into a genuine pass rushing threat off the edge for the Chiefs in the years to come.

San Diego Chargers – Jatavis Brown, OLB, Akron 5th rd. 38th pick (#175 overall)

Looking to improve some of their overall depth and team speed at linebacker the Chargers took a big step towards that direction by selecting the 2015 MAC Defensive Player of the Year in Akron’s Jatavis Brown, with their fifth-round pick.

Brown, who at 5’11” and 227 pounds ran a 4.47 at one of the NFL’s regional combines, was a tackling machine for Akron. In his four-years he totaled 340 tackles, a school-record 41.5 tackles for loss, 16.5 sacks, and 10 forced fumbles.

Brown possesses terrific instincts for the linebacker position. He plays fast and hard with a non-stop motor. Brown’s ability to quickly change directions, and natural-bend allow him to chase down ball carriers from sideline-to-sideline. He is an explosive tackler who can quickly close in on his targets.

Although he is strong (33 reps at 225-pounds) Brown’s size and ability to take on impact at the point of contact remain a slight concern in terms of how he will hold up physically in the NFL.

The Chargers will start him off at inside linebacker where he will be backing up starters Denzel Perryman and Manti Te’o, but with his speed, quickness, and tacking ability a future move to safety isn’t totally out of the question for Brown.

Oakland Raiders – DeAndre Washington, RB Texas Tech 5th rd. 4th pick (#143 overall)

Washington is a multi-purpose back who led the Big-12 in total yards from scrimmage in 2015 with 1,877, while his 16 total touchdowns ranked third in the conference.

Washington is a thickly-built runner who plays with more power than most would expect out of someone who is 5’8” and 204 pounds. He runs hard with good balance showing off his lower-body strength. He demonstrates good instincts and vision able to quickly identify a hole and hits it hard.

Washington is also a very good pass catcher out of the backfield, finishing his collegiate career with 124 receptions.

He projects more as a change-of-pace back who can come and spell starter Latavius Murray for either a series or two or possibly even on third downs. With no other runner on the roster firmly entrenched as the primary back-up do not be surprised if Washington lays claim to that role coming out of training camp.

Danny Shimon is a graduate of Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp. 

Follow Danny on Twitter @dshimon56

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Joe Messineo
NFP Fresh Voices

The Seattle Seahawks have been led by Pete Carroll for six seasons. During that time frame, Carroll led the club to five playoff berths, three division titles, two conference titles and one Super Bowl title. Seattle is just one year removed from making back-to-back Super Bowls. And yet, it feels as though the Seahawks are slipping out of the NFL forefront.

Part of that is self-explanatory. The salary cap has been catching up with this organization for a couple of years now. With so many highly talented players reaching the end of their deals, Seattle was forced to jettison a lot of depth as well as pay stars their market worth.

It started by moving on from players like Red Bryant, Percy Harvin and Zach Miller. Then it was Golden Tate, Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith and Brandon Browner.  As the years went, Max Unger and Cary Williams were out the door in a trade and a release respectively. Russell Okung, Bruce Irvin, Brandon Mebane, Jaye Howard and J.R. Sweezy ventured elsewhere as well. Then Marshawn Lynch retired. Suddenly, the Seattle roster, which had been the envy of the league in terms of depth, looked like a stars-and-scrubs knockoff.

With those changes, it was only natural that the team would begin to decline. Even still, last year, while they were worse than they had been, the Seahawks still put together a pretty impressive season overall. I mean, making it to the to the second round of the playoffs is a huge achievement to most organizations. But that was far from the level of expectations of the fan base or the team itself.

This brings us to the 2016 NFL season, where Seattle seems to have taken yet another step back in the public consciousness. Another offseason has resulted in even more roster turnover. Perhaps more importantly, another season has seen the advancement of the Arizona Cardinals, who are now deemed the cream of the NFC West crop to most observers. It’s not necessarily that Seattle has gotten any worse, though its offensive line will certainly be an area of concern even after the selection of 2016 first-round pick Germain Ifedi; instead it’s that Arizona has passed it over.

But the Seahawks still have a case as an NFC title contender. They are still led by Pro Bowler Russell Wilson at quarterback. They have the breakout star at running back, Thomas Rawls, to fully take over for the departed Lynch after he played so well in a relief role a season ago. They have another full year of Jimmy Graham pending as the former Pro Bowl tight end gets acclimated into the offense. They still have the Legion of Boom and most of its founding members, as well as a fearsome linebacking corps.

Suddenly, the two-time conference title winner is looking like an underrated and under appreciated foe entering this season. Even the fans were starting to question some of the moves made by the Seahawks, leading to this feeling of disappointment. It is hard to imagine that a team that has won double-digit games for four straight seasons is being disregarded, but here we are. Just don’t bury the Seahawks among their past cap casualties just yet.

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Joe Messineo
NFP Fresh Voices

The Arizona Cardinals look like a Super Bowl contender at times, but then other times look pretty pedestrian. Last year they got to the NFC Championship Game, but once they got arrived, looked wretched while getting blown out by the Carolina Panthers.

Can Carson Palmer and the Cardinals get one game better and make it to the Super Bowl in 2017?

To answer this question, let’s first look at the other teams in the Cards division, the NFC West. The Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers would not appear to be good enough to finish ahead of the Cardinals. But the Seattle Seahawks very well could. This would put the Cards in the Wild Card round of the NFC playoffs. If that happens it means the Cardinals winning playoff games on the road. We saw how that went last year in Charlotte. So it seems almost necessary for them to win the division.

Let’s look at the Cardinals schedule, and see how realistic that is.

They start the season with a home game against the New England Patriots. This could be a break since Tom Brady will be suspended for the first four games. Brady will be back for the Pats game with the Seattle Seahawks. So the Cardinals could pick up a game there.

Tampa Bay comes in for the second game. The Bucs should be improved over last year with second year quarterback Jameis Winston, but we still like the Cards in this one. The Cards also catch a break in Week Three because they go on the road to face the Buffalo Bills. If you have to play at Buffalo, playing there in September is when you want to do it because of the horrible weather conditions in November/December. The Cards have a great chance here too.

Week Four brings the Los Angeles Rams to the desert. The Cardinals should have a tough time, but they still can win at home. It seems like the first four games should leave the Cards at least a 3-1 to start, maybe even 4-0.

Then in Weeks Five through Eight, they have the San Francisco 49ers on the road, home games with the New York Jets and Seahawks and a road game with the Carolina Panthers. We know how tough that game at Carolina will be, but it still feels like a good chance they can split these four. They should beat the Niners and they ought to be able to get one of two between the Jets and Seahawks. So the Cards should being no worse than 5-3 at the halfway point seems very realistic.

Weeks Nine through Twelve have the 49ers at home, then away games with the Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons and a home game with the Washington Redskins.  If the cardinals can win in all four of these games where they are likely the much better team, that will put Arizona at 9-3.

The last four games are at the Miami Dolphins, a home game with the New Orleans Saints and two away games at the Seahawks and Rams. They should be able to get a split out of these two games. That puts their predicted finals regular season record at 11-5.   The question thought is will that be enough to win the division? It will most likely end up being very close.

If the Cardinals can win the games they’re supposed to, and maybe even a few that they “shouldn’t,” they’ll be on their way to have a potential home field advantage in the early rounds of the playoff, possibly throughout.  That just may be the missing pieces in order for them to make it back to the Super Bowl.  Can they do it one more time for Larry Fitztgerald?  Let’s hope so, the all time great deserves it!

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Dr. David Chao
Latest NFL News

After an offseason of speculation of who will be healthy and who will not, the PUP watch is on. The eagerly anticipated news of the week will be who is placed on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, but what does it really mean?

As previously explained, there are two types of PUP, Active (for the preseason) and Reserve (for the regular season). The other designation is Non-Football Injury (NFI) which is used for injures not occurring during NFL football, which includes collegiate injuries.

One needs to be on Active/PUP even first, if only for a day, to be eligible for Reserve/PUP . Thus, is it not the end of the world if your favorite player is placed on PUP. For example, the Jets signed Muhammad Wilkerson to a big free agent contract but fans should not freak out, rather expect his appearance on PUP initially in case his ankle doesn’t respond as expected.

It says more when a player is not on PUP than when he is. The Ravens announced six players were not ready for training camp, including Steve Smith (Achilles), Terrell Suggs (Achilles), Elvis Dumervil (foot), Breshad Perriman (“partial” ACL), Trent Richardson (knee scope, hamstring) and Jumal Rolle (Achilles). Notably absent from this PUP list was Joe Flacco coming off ACL surgery. This speaks volumes to the team’s confidence in their QB’s recovery.

The Lions placed three players (WR Corey Fuller, TE Brandon Pettigrew, T Corey Robinson) on preseason PUP. The key is not that a player begins on PUP but when he comes off.

Jordy Nelson is reportedly doing well and had almost an entire calendar year to recover from his ACL tear; however, don’t be shocked if the medically conservative Packers start him on PUP. Sometimes, it is just the team taking the precaution and leaving the worst case option of Reserve/PUP open if there is a setback.

The Cowboys reportedly will start TE Gavin Escobar on PUP after a Week 15 Achilles rupture. The Bills will undoubtedly start Shaq Lawson on Active/PUP and convert him to Reserve/PUP to save the roster spot and get him back this season after shoulder surgery in May.

There are some big names coming off injury: Jamaal Charles (ACL), Dion Lewis (ACL), Jimmy Graham (patella tendon), Thomas Rawls (ankle fracture), Sammy Watkins (Jones fracture) and Julian Edelman (Jones fracture). Don’t be surprised if many of these names at least start training camp on PUP. The key will be how long they stay on the list and unable to practice.

The annual PUP watch is on.

MMMD 1: J.J. Watt’s back surgery isn’t the issue, rehab is

Although back surgery is nothing to scoff at, the herniated disc procedure for the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year is relatively straightforward. The rehab of the core muscles for this injury is more unpredictable.

While it is possible that Watt will play Week 1, it is very unlikely that he will be 100% until mid-season. The Chiefs’ Dontari Poe had a similar surgery and a late July 2015 time frame and indeed returned to play Week 1 but was not himself until much later.

The disc procedure was undoubtedly in the lower lumbar spine at L5-S1 or L4-5 level meaning it affects the player’s base. In my NFL experience, it is harder for a power player like a defensive lineman to return to full effectiveness than a skill position. After all, playing on the D line is like wrestling a bear (or two).

The Texans medical staff didn’t miss the injury and Watt didn’t delay surgery. Yes he played with a herniated disc (many players do) last season; however, it likely got worse, or extruded, leading the team and player to decide to be aggressive. Pulling the trigger now on surgery assures Watt being 100% for the critical parts of the later season.

MMMD 2: Bell suspension minimal real effect on Steelers

Le’Veon Bell is still recovering from his multi-ligament knee injury. In reality, the four-game suspension will just give him more time to recover and might not really be costing additional game time. Combined PCL/MCL injuries are harder to recover from than an ACL tear.

Bell was likely to start training camp on active/PUP and work his way back in anyways. The biggest significance is that he will have to find his own rehab and workout place as he will not be allowed to be with the team during the first four weeks of the regular season. The Steelers are likely to factor in the suspension in deciding when to activate Bell. This is not illegal, as when Bell is ready to play is a subjective decision anyways.

The bigger worry for Bell is that this counts as a second strike. A third violation would mean a one-year suspension. He needs to continue on random testing and this potential jeopardy could cost him in his pending contract status.

MMMD 3: A change in stance on Jaylon Smith?

The Cowboys have always expressed confidence in their high second-round pick’s nerve recovery. Has that now changed?

Jerry Jones remained steadfast in his comments that Smith is not behind in his recovery; however, he did say “if it comes around” not when. This is the first acknowledgement from the team that it might not. Let’s all continue to hope that it does.

MMMD 4: New IR/dfr rule

The amended injured reserve-designated for return (IR/dfr) rule should benefit clubs and players. In the past, a team needed to designate the single slot with the initial roster move. Last season, the Steelers wasted their only IR/dfr slot on Maurkice Pouncey, as he was unable to return after his ankle fracture as he ended up with seven additional surgeries due to infection.

This year, teams can place players on IR and not make the decision on which player they want to return until the player is ready to come back. This removes the worry of teams of using the designation too early in case a star player gets injured later or holding the spot and wasting it in the end. It also prevents using it on the wrong player, as in the case of Pouncey. This rule change is a good improvement.

MMMD 5: NFL medical director “retires”

Elliot Pellman, the longtime Park Avenue medical voice, has been asked to step down by the commissioner. Pellman and the NFL have made their share of mistakes over time. No one is going to shed a tear in his departure.

People seem to want a “scalp”, rather than focus on a solution. Now they have Pellman’s so lets focus on fixes. Hopefully this signals a new era where the NFL, NFLPA, concussion researchers and media stop playing politics.

The bigger issue is perhaps the NFL will now be forced to have a real medical advisor. I am not at all knocking current chief health and medical advisor, Betsy Nabel. However, working on a part-time basis one day a month is hardly enough time to tackle all of the health and safety issues in the NFL. Hopefully the new medical director can have the time and resources to truly lead the NFL where it needs to go.

MMMD 6: Dennis Green passes away

One of my early experiences as a NFL team physician was with the Dennis Green coached Minnesota Vikings in 1994. I had the fortune of taking my first NFL road trip with that special team. Besides Green, there were some great coaches on that staff including Brian Billick and Tony Dungy as well as future head coach Jack Del Rio who was playing at the time. Four players on that squad, Warren Moon, Randall McDaniel, John Randle and Cris Carter, would later be inducted into the Hall of Fame. I will remember Green fondly and may he rest in peace.

MMMD 7: ProFootballDoc scorecard

When Desmond Bryant of the Browns was announced with a pectoral muscle injury, I immediately indicated it was likely a tendon tear and surgery would be needed, essentially costing him the season. Unfortunately, this has come true, but the good news is he will recover 100% for 2017.

When Muhammad Wilkerson broke his leg last season, I tweeted he would recover well and it would not have a negative effect on his pending free agency. Indeed, the Jets resigned him to a big contract as expected.

This takes the 2016 record from 10-0 to 12-0.

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Dr. David Chao
Latest NFL News

The Packers superstar made news with his comments about his 2004 anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery. One of the NFL’s best and most athletic quarterbacks attributed some of his success to his cadaver donor being a “fast SOB” as he shaved almost 3/10ths of a second off his 40-yard dash time after surgery.

Known to have a unique sense of humor that even fools teammates, Rodgers comments were surely made tongue-in-cheek. It wouldn’t be the first time a player was kidding the media as Danny Trevathan joked about having someone else’s kneecap last year. In any case, Rodger’s quotes give us a good chance to separate the realities from the myths of ACL surgery.

Was Rodgers’ cadaver donor a “fast SOB”?

There would be no clear way for Rodgers to know whom the donor was. The only cadaver information typically available to the surgeon is the age, sex, cause of death and dimensions of the graft. Upon expiration, donors are screened for diseases before being deemed viable for tissue harvesting. There is no direct tissue typing or matching to the recipient. Details of the donor’s life, ethnicity, occupation or athleticism are not considered or available. In fact, Rodgers ACL graft donor could have been female.

Could someone else’s ACL make you faster post surgery?

No way the graft itself makes anyone faster. First, the actual ACL from a cadaver is never directly harvested for use due to size and geometry limitations. Commonly, the patellar tendon (with two attached bone blocks), Achilles tendon (with bone on one side) or all soft tissue grafts (like posterior tibialis tendon) are used. Second, the ACL functionally can’t make one faster. It serves to stabilize the femur to the tibia and thus actually could be said to “slow’ the knee down to prevent shifting.

Is it feasible to decrease one’s 40-yard dash time after ACL surgery?

Rodgers said he was a 4.95 (40-yard dash) guy and then ran 4.66 after ACL surgery. Yes, ACL rehab can make someone faster/quicker if the athlete was not performing maximally prior to injury. A fully trained athlete can’t be made faster; however, a sub-optimally functioning player can be helped. In fact it is possible for an uninjured player to go thru ACL rehab style training and have performance improve. I personally witnessed Philip Rivers become a better athlete after ACL surgery in 2008. I wish I could take credit for his increased speed/mobility but it was a result of his hard work with top Chargers athletic trainers. Rodgers is downplaying his own dedication to rehab post-surgery here.

How is it possible to play football for multiple years without an ACL?

Playing through an ACL tear is possible in certain circumstances. Rodgers played high school, junior college and into his time at Cal with a torn ACL. Rivers played in the 2008 AFC Championship Game six days after arthroscopic surgery with a torn ACL.

The ACL is like an internal seat belt for the knee. Just like it is possible to drive a car with the seat belt broken, one can function without the ACL. However, when racing NASCAR, your seat belt better be working, just like your ACL is needed for the aggressive running/jumping/cutting of football. Without an ACL it is playing “Russian roulette” with your knee as there can be permanent cartilage damage if the knee gives out.. Rodgers was able to play through with a brace at lower levels of competition. Rightfully, his ACL surgery was done before exiting college and advancing to the NFL.

Is cadaver the best ACL graft like Rodgers recommends?

Certainly, the cadaver ACL worked for Rodgers. However, that would not be my (or most NFL physicians’) first recommendation. Fortunately, disease transmission risk with cadaver grafts is small. Even so, autograft (own tissue) patellar tendon with bone on each end is the most popular graft choice in the NFL. Bone-tendon-bone (BTB) graft is the strongest and most likely to succeed. Cadaver can work but has the higher re-tear rate over hamstring and BTB autografts. Using cadaver leads to less post-operative soreness and makes for a quicker recovery but may not be worth the significant (up to 30% per the ACL Study Group) re-tear rate. The cadaver failure rates are highest for younger and more active patients. Remember, missing a second consecutive season likely means the end of an athlete’s career.

Why is cadaver a potentially weaker graft choice?

All ACL grafts are scaffolds for one’s own tissue to grow into. Logic would tell you that your own tissue grows best into your own tissue versus someone else’s. A graft that does not incorporate and ligamentize is doomed to failure. There is no true rejection, as that is an immunologic response and cadaver patients don’t need to take special medications like organ transplant patients. Perhaps when technology arrives to tissue type and match to donor to recipient, cadaver failure rates will improve.

Can the ACL be stronger after surgery?

After one year of recovery, my patients are twice as likely to tear the other knee ACL versus re-tearing the reconstructed ACL. This is why I recommend bracing during the first year with early return to sport. The new ACL is not truly stronger, just lower re-tear risk. No, I would not recommend prophylactic ACL surgery.

Has ACL recovery gotten faster?

It sure seems that way. Rehab techniques have improved but there is no way to speed up biology. The media with Adrian Peterson’s nine-month return to rush for 2000 yards makes it seem like early return is something new but ACL recovery has been getting faster for over a decade. Shannon McMillian returned to play international soccer 102 days after her ACL surgery and at four months played in the 2003 Women’s World Cup for USA.

What is best thing to do for an ACL tear?

Pick a surgeon you trust and not the specific technique or graft choice. There are many ACL techniques (open, double incision, single incision, medial portal technique, all-inside) and many autograft (BTB, hamstring, quad tendon, contralateral) or allograft (BTB, Achilles, posterior tib) options. Let the chef tell you what he cooks well and the best meal to order. Let the surgeon tell you the procedure he is most comfortable with and what is best for you. Don’t make a surgeon who recommends cadaver harvest a hamstring graft. In other words, when you go to Morton’s get the steak. If you want fish, go to Oceanaire. Trust the recommendation or choose a different restaurant or surgeon.

Overall the joke is on us to take Rodgers comments so literally. It is very nice of Rodgers to thank and credit his ACL donor. At least this gave us a chance to discuss some of the fact and fiction about ACL surgery and recovery.

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