With the NFL combine wrapping up, we have a better idea of how the ‘top 4’ of Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Mike Williams, and Corey Davis have performed and their NFL fate is slowly coming together as the draft quickly approaches in late April. If you own one of the top 4 picks in your rookie draft this year, there’s a very good chance you take one of these guys, and you may have a difficult decision on your hands. My goal with this article is to give you as much information as possible so that you can make an informed decision about which stud do you prefer. We all know that landing spot, roster depth chart, coaching style, etc. play into how you value these top 4 guys, but what about their injury histories? Let’s take a look at each player’s history as this may be the final factor in your decision making when you’re on the clock. The players are listed below in no particular order or ranking.
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU – Over the course of his junior year, Fournette dealt with ankle injuries off and on. At times, his play was obviously hampered by the injury and he looked less explosive and powerful, leading to less than ‘Heisman-worthy’ performances. Recently, news has come out that Fournette’s ankle injury is “chronic.” Whenever an injury is chronic, it means that the injury has lasted for an extended period of time or that the injury can happen repeatedly over the course of time, even after the initial injury has healed. Fournette initially suffered a high ankle sprain during a preseason scrimmage. Initially, the injury was not thought to be too serious, but Fournette spent a few weeks in a boot. Despite being able to suit up for the majority of games, he missed games against Jacksonville State, Missouri, Southern Mississippi, and Texas A&M due to tweaking the ankle intermittently throughout the year. We all know that Fournette is an absolute monster when healthy, but could his ankle be a concern when you draft him? The evidence for long-term complications following a high ankle sprain is limited. However, according to a study conducted at West Point, all patients who were studied returned to full duty without further problems. Ankle sprains can certainly be difficult to play through on a week to week basis. However, in patients I’ve treated, relatively few of them have subsequent high ankle sprains their following season. Note: these are different than the “typical” ankle sprain where you roll your ankle. High ankle sprains involve an injury to the ligament that holds together the two bones in your shin. Because of the fact that Fournette’s injury was treated non-operatively and that by the time NFL training camps start, he will have had at least 5-6 months to let it heal, I have no concerns about Fournette’s ankle. Draft away, my friends.
Dalvin Cook, RB, FSU – Dating back to high school, Cook had surgery on his left shoulder to repair a torn labrum. Then, shortly after arriving on campus in 2014 as an early enrollee, Cook had his first surgery on his right shoulder to repair a tear in the front part of the labrum. Finally, last spring, Cook had a second surgery on his right shoulder to repair the back part of the labrum, which caused him to miss FSU’s spring game. Whenever an athlete tears their labrum, it creates concern for potential instability, particularly any time the arm is elevated overhead or when the athlete plays a contact sport. Without this structure being in place, the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) is more susceptible to subluxation or dislocation. As a result, the vast majority of these injuries are treated surgically in high-level athletes. According to a study by Arner et al., 93% of American football players with an arthroscopic labral repair returned to play and 79% of these athletes returned to football to play at their pre-injury level. Given that Cook had a very reliable and prolific career while at FSU (only missed 1 game), I’d say he fits into that ‘79%’ category and will have success while playing on Sundays.
Mike Williams, WR, Clemson – I’ll keep this relatively short. Williams suffered a fracture of the C6 vertebrae in his neck after crashing into the goal post while making a TD catch during the 2015 season. Any spinal fracture can be concerning if there is displacement of the bone or damage to the spinal cord, but Williams was lucky to avoid any further serious damage. Bone heals very well and is pretty much as strong as it was before the fracture. Simply put, I have absolutely zero concerns about Williams moving forward.
Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan – Unlike the previously three mentioned prospects, Davis was forced to sit out of the NFL combine and will also likely miss his pro day later this month. Back in January, Davis had surgery on his ankle. Despite missing the combine, Davis claims that he will be ready for rookie mini-camps, and according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, this injury is believed to be “extremely minor.” The NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport first reported that the injury occurred while training for the combine. I struggled to find many details about the injury or the surgery that was performed, so monitoring of his status moving forward is certainly warranted. However, my best guess based on his projected quick recovery is that it was a “clean up” surgery, meaning it was done arthroscopically. These can be done in the ankle to remove torn cartilage, debris, or bone chips. As of now, I’m not worried about Davis’ health, but like I mentioned, you need to monitor any updates that may come out in the coming weeks.
Hopkinson WJ, St Pierre P, Ryan JB, Wheeler JH. Syndesmosis sprains of the ankle. Foot Ankle. 1990 Jun. 10(6):325-30.
Arner, J et al. Arthroscopic Stabilization of Posterior Shoulder Instability Is Successful in American Football Players. Arthroscopy: The Journal of Arthroscopic & Related Surgery. 2015. 31(10): 1466-1471.
*Game participation and games missed taken from ESPN
*Dalvin Cook Injury details taken from PalmBeachPost.com and tallahassee.com