Week one of college football is just a few weeks away, meaning we get to see 2016 NFL Draft prospects on the field again and see how they have improved from last season.
Every prospect enters the new season with certain questions about their game and for some, those questions revolve around injuries suffered during the prior season and how the player will return from the injury.
Injuries are an unfortunate consequence of participation in athletics and championship races at every level are affected by injuries every year.
When evaluating prospects, NFL teams consider many different factors before putting a final grade on a player. One of these factors that can tend to be overlooked by casual, outside observers are injuries. If a player has a history of injuries it can severely impact their draft stock.
Here are five highly-regarded prospects eligible for the 2016 draft that suffered serious injuries in the 2014 season and are looking to show NFL scouts that the injuries should have no affect on their evaluations.
Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
Entering the 2016 process, Tunsil is considered to be a top-10 prospect by many observers. The 6-foot-5, 305-pound junior left tackle has been a rock for the Rebels' offense since stepping on campus as a five-star recruit in 2013. As a freshman in the toughest conference in college football, he allowed just one sack. In 2014, he missed two games in early November due to a partially torn bicep, but was able to return for the Rebels final three games. This wasn't his most significant injury of the season though. Almost everything went wrong for Ole Miss in their 42-3 loss in the Peach Bowl and that included injuries, as they lost their blindside protector to a fractured fibula. Health is one of the biggest question marks for Tunsil, so an injury-free 2015 season would be beneficial for his draft stock.
Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
Part of the same recruiting class as Tunsil, Treadwell, the Rebels' other offensive star, suffered a similar fate during the 2015 season. Trailing Auburn by four points with under two minutes left on the clock, Treadwell caught a screen pass, ran up field and looked like he was going to score, keeping his team's playoff hopes alive and showing why he will be a highly-regarded prospect. As he was entering the end zone, he was tackled from behind and his leg crippled underneath his body, breaking his tibia and dislocating his ankle. In the process, he fumbled the ball, sealing victory for the Tigers. In two seasons in Oxford, the junior has caught 120 passes for 1,240 yards and 10 touchdowns. Arguably the best receiver in the nation right now, the biggest concern with the 6-foot-2 receiver is making sure his ankle is healthy. Assuming there are no complications, he has the makings of a top-tier wide receiver prospect.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
Here is a scary thought for Big 10 defenses: Elliott wasn't completely healthy for his 2014 campaign that saw him gash defenses for 1,878 yards––including three-straight 200-yard games to finish the season––and lead the Buckeyes to a national title. Due to a broken wrist suffered before the season, he had to wear a cast on his left wrist. This forced him to carry the ball exclusively in his right hand and limited his ability to push away defenders. After the season, the junior had another wrist surgery, which kept him out of Ohio State's spring practices. Now healthy, Elliott is a good bet to put up even bigger statistics. With Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon III both selected in the first round of the 2015 draft, Elliott has a very good chance of going in the first round in 2016.
Carl Lawson, EDGE, Auburn
While the first three names on this list are household college football names, Lawson probably isn't. A five-star recruit, he was an impact freshman for Auburn, recording four sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. Set to takeover for Dee Ford as the Tigers' best pass rusher in 2014, his season was over before it started, as he suffered a torn ACL in spring practice. More than a year removed from the injury, the redshirt sophomore is set to take the SEC by storm in Will Muschamp's scheme. Lawson will play a similar role to Dante Fowler Jr. (who went third overall in the 2015 draft) for Muschamp. Physically, the two are very similar (Fowler is one inch taller and four pounds heavier). Calling Lawson a top draft prospect for 2016 takes some projection, given his limited playing time and redshirt sophomore status, meaning he is no lock to declare for the draft, but consider this: remember how Tunsil gave up only one sack as a true freshman? Well, the player who beat Tunsil for that sack was Lawson.
Pharaoh Brown, TE, Oregon
The most serious injury of the group belongs to Brown, who almost lost his lower right leg to amputation last November. Facing Utah late in the season, he suffered a non-contact injury and tore two ligaments in his knee. More seriously, a stretched artery caused internal bleeding and was cutting off blood flow in his lower right leg. Quick surgery saved the leg and he is now preparing to play in 2015, though a medical redshirt is a possibility. A return to football is not completely guaranteed after this awful injury, but the senior is making an attempt. The playmaking tight end planned to declare early for the draft after last season, but the injury halted the plan. Every NFL team wants athletic, pass catching tight ends and Brown is just that, catching 25 passes for 420 yards and six touchdowns in 2014, despite missing five games. If Brown is healthy and plays at the same level as he did in 2014, he would probably be an early-round selection.
Matt Pearce is a graduate of National Football Post's Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp and is a journalism student at the University of Nebraska. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Pearce13