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Sports Doctor: NFL Draft Prospects Rarely Fail Physical, Despite The Medical Mumbo Jumbo

Rumors and misinformation are everywhere as the NFL Draft has arrived. Let’s clear up a misperception and specifically one about potential top-five pick Evan Neal

Yes, medical grades are important, but it is not often a player fails a physical and cannot play football. After all, the reason the 330 or so players are invited to the Combine is their recent ability to play the game.

A prospect failing a physical or being taken off a team’s board does happen, but rarely. This year, wide receiver Justyn Ross seems to be one such case of “flunking” and is unlikely to be drafted. 

Top Alabama offensive lineman Neal is not one of these players. It is common that players in the trenches have medical issues. Most have some injury history, but this doesn’t make for big falls down the draft board. In my 20 years attending the Combine, kickers were typically the only ones considered “clean.”

There is the potential of concern for Neal’s size (6-foot-7, 351 pounds). This is harder on the knees and hips. He likely has early lateral compartment knee arthritis, which may affect him long term, but he is imminently draftable and should not have issues completing a five-year rookie contract (which is all most GMs care about).

His camp has pushed back on the medical narrative and cited that he was not asked back for medical rechecks, but that too is a false narrative.

In any case, teams and their medical staffs make independent decisions from the media reports. Even letters from treating physicians carry little weight. As a team physician, I was always amused by these “testimonials” as they are always positive (or they cannot be released due to HIPAA). Why would team doctors pay heed to any of these reports when they have an ability to examine the player, and have access to all imaging and medical records?

In the end, team draft boards are set and the chips will fall where they may. These last minute reports are great for generating chatter, but ultimately have little affect.

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.

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