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ProFootballDoc: Two Top NFL Draft Picks That May Fall Due to Medical

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In this unusual year without a formal Combine, medical information is at a premium.  We explained two months ago that the medical evaluation process would be different this year. 

ProFootballDoc’s video NFL Draft analysis:
Mac Jones / Trevor Lawrence / Justin Fields / Zach Wilson

Two top players slated to be first round picks may slide due to health reasons. Caleb Farley was said to be the best cornerback prospect, and Jaelan Phillips was touted as the draft’s most skilled pass rusher, yet both may fall.

I have not personally examined either player nor asked team medical personnel to violate HIPAA and tell me their findings. I wish all prospective draftees well. My analysis comes from publicly available information and from my experience as an NFL team physician who has attended over 20 Combines. This article attempts to relay insider knowledge of how teams might look at health issues, but not insider information.

Farley of Virginia Tech was slated to be a sure top 10 pick but now has undergone a second back surgery to remove herniated discs at a different level. The most recent procedure was just this March, and he is not fully recovered. I had already stated my medical reservations about Farley, and now a new report that the “nerve hasn’t fully recovered since the latest procedure” leads to even greater concern.

His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, is doing his best to generate interest by saying that teams say Farley is still a mid-first round pick. After the limited medical Combines, the same agent said doctors told his player he was fine and that he’d passed his physical, but in my experience, team physicians don’t really have that type of conversation with draftees. Finally remember, this is the same agent who claimed to “dupe” the Bills into drafting Willis McGahee after his devastating knee injury by pretending to be talking to teams and taking calls when the camera was on them.

It seems to me that if a CB like Patrick Surtain or another player has similar talent, teams will choose the healthier player first. Given the lack of full nerve recovery and the risk of future low back problems, I anticipate a slide. How far Farley slips is yet to be determined. He will be drafted, but perhaps not until Friday after Round One.

Phillips, now out of Miami but previously at UCLA, carries his own medical issues. He quit football due to three concussions in one year and then later returned for 2020 with the Hurricanes. In general, multiple concussions leave a player more vulnerable for future head trauma. Even if the brain issue is currently behind him, he is still, in basketball terms, “playing with three early fouls” and has to be careful, given the cumulative effects of concussions.

However, concussions are not his only issue. There is a significant wrist injury as well, which is likely permanent. After a moped accident, Phillips was reported to have undergone a proximal row carpectomy to remove multiple bones in his wrist, leaving it weaker. Yes, defensive linemen have played in a cast and Jason Pierre-Paul earned a Super Bowl ring with Tampa with part of his hand blown off by a fireworks accident, but it is still a playing handicap. Can Phillips excel at a higher level of pro competition if his weight room and training regime has to be altered due to the wrist? Edge rushers need to have a strong outside hand. Does this issue limit the ability for Phillips to flip sides in a defense or does he have to stay put?

Only two of the more significant medical issues are highlighted here. Check out the full list of NFL draft injury issues for free at www.profootballdoc.com. There is some injury intrigue at quarterback and other positions as well.  

Written by Pro Football Doc

David Chao, MD -- known digitally as Pro Football Doc -- is an expert contributor for Outkick. Chao spent 17 seasons as the team doctor for the San Diego Chargers (1997-2013) and is part of the medical team at OASIS in San Diego where he treats and specializes in orthopedic sports injuries, working with high-profile professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, and MLB.

3 Comments

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  1. Fields has already let it out that he’s got epilepsy. That is definitely something that has to be considered by teams ready to pay him 10’s of millions of dollars.

    ESPN is going to damn OUTKICK for this. Both the players mentioned, using already available information, are Black Americans. You know what that makes you….

  2. I feel bad for the kid, but there is no way I’d draft Farley. Back problems seem to never go away, especially when you couple that with nerve damage. He can likely get a couple of quality years in given his youth, but I see a lot of IR in his future. I hope I’m totally wrong and he has a great career.

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