Detroit Lions have consider injuries when looking at top prospects

Posted Mar 4, 2013

This year's group of top prospects brings a unique set of circumstances, including injury red flags

The root reason for the NFL Scouting Combine is to provide NFL teams the ability to get college players together in one setting so team doctors and training personnel can perform extensive medical testing.

The 40-yard-dash times, bench press numbers and drill work - while a part of the overall evaluation of a player - is thought of as secondary to being able to get the medical reports on these players in one swoop.

"(Players) in there today with the medical (personnel) is the No. 1 reason that we're all here," Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said to reports at the Combine.

It's likely Lions doctors and trainers put in a little overtime this year.

The Detroit Lions have the No. 5-overall draft pick and it just so happens that some of the best talent at outside linebacker, cornerback and defensive end – all positions of need for the Lions – have medical concerns entering the draft.

Could any of those medical questions involving players like Jarvis Jones (spinal stenosis), Dee Milliner (labrum surgery scheduled March 12) or Dion Jordan (labrum surgery) scare the Lions away from taking them at No. 5?

"Honestly, we've had guys that have had history of injury that got injured; we've had guys that have never been injured that got injured; we've had guys that had injury history that made it through without," Schwartz said.

"Injuries are part of the landscape in the NFL. If you think that because a guy hasn't been injured before, you think that all of a sudden he's going to be injury-free, you're probably making a mistake.

"The other thing is: if you discount a player because he had injuries, then you miss out on a lot of good players ... with guys that have had major injuries in college that have bounced back to be very successful in the pros."

Bill Bentley

The Lions have been burned in recent history with players who've entered the draft process with a history of injury concerns that continued into their pro careers.

Jason Fox (knee), Jahvid Best (concussion), Louis Delmas (knee) and Bill Bentley (shoulder) all continued to suffer from those injuries after being drafted by the Lions, though it should be noted Best played his entire rookie season without a concussion.

Will that history persuade the Lions to steer clear of some of the top talent in this year's draft with history of their own when it comes to injuries?

It shouldn't, and probably won't. It will make them ask another question or two, though.

"It puts a focus on that, on players' health," Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said. "If there's a little bit of a concern you want to delve into that further. But it's not going to change our philosophy at all."

Mayhew can point to plenty of top-tier players who have entered the draft process with injury questions and have never had a problem.

Adrian Peterson slipped to No. 7 in 2007 on concerns about shoulder, ankle and collarbone injuries coming out of Oklahoma. That gamble worked out okay for the Vikings.

The same can be said for quarterback Sam Bradford, whose shoulder injury in 2010 had some teams worried about his long-term health. The Rams still took Bradford No. 1 overall and he’s never had an issue with his shoulder, becoming just the third rookie quarterback to start all 16 regular season games and pass for over 3,000 passing yards, joining Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan.

The Lions surely poured over the medical tests regarding Jones' stenosis (or narrowing of the spinal column) in the fourth and fifth vertebrae. The injury prevented one of the draft's premiere defensive playmakers from getting clearance to play as a freshman at USC. It took a transfer to Georgia to secure that.

"In Jarvis Jones' case, he was playing some pretty good ball out there and the neck looked fine to me," Mayhew said.

"It varies and every situation is different. Every individual situation is different. Go back to the Jahvid situation. He's had four concussions – two in college and two with us. Ernie Sims had four in college and he never had a concussion with us. It just varies and every guys' situation is different and all of these guys deal with those injuries differently."

What about Milliner, the consensus top cornerback available? His surgery will prevent him from taking part in the offseason training program and rookie minicamp. How much will that put him behind the curve? Will he be behind second-year players Bill Bentley, Chris Greenwood and Jonte Green?

"I think it's good to see that he's having (surgery) after the combine," Mayhew said of Milliner. "Whatever it is, it's minor enough that he can do everything here. That's a positive sign.

"That's the prime example of what I'm talking about. Every situation is different. Here's a guy that's going to do all the Combine workouts and everything and then have surgery after that."

Any prior injury history is something that will make any NFL personnel director sit up a little straighter in his seat and take notice, especially when a top-five pick is on the line.

In the end, though, teams have to trust their medical personnel and weight the talent vs. the risk and hope they don't get burned.