USA TODAY Sports’ Tom Pelissero examines the 5 quarterback prospects that have the best chance of being selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.

Rehab is trending as an X-factor for the NFL draft.

Consider the assortment of top prospects coming off of surgeries.

Reuben Foster, the Alabama linebacker, is healing from shoulder surgery. Washington’s blazing receiver John Ross, is rehabbing a shoulder, too, while his college teammate, cornerback Sidney Jones, tore an Achilles tendon while working out on pro day. Another cornerback, Fabian Moreau, can relate. Moreau tore a pectoral muscle while trying to impress scouts with his bench-press at UCLA’s pro day.

Corey Davis? The big Western Michigan product is considered one of the top three receivers in the draft, but after undergoing ankle surgery, he’s not run a lick for NFL teams. They will have to trust what their eyes told them from the video of the games … and what the X-rays and MRI exams reveal.


Malik Hooker, meanwhile, might be the best safety in the draft. But the Ohio State ball hawk had two surgeries since his college career ended, to address a torn labrum and a hernia.

Of course, injuries are inherent in football. Yet according to at least one seasoned NFL evaluator, there’s seemingly a larger collection of rehabbing players than usual.

“There have been a lot of players this year that have had injures and postseason surgeries,” said Eric DeCosta, the Baltimore Ravens assistant general manager, “more than I can ever remember.”

Maybe that’s a coincidence. In any event, the decisions that teams must make in accounting for the rehabilitation of the injuries is an additional factor, particularly high in the draft that starts Thursday, when teams generally look to draft first-rounders who can contribute immediately.

The Ravens, for example, could certainly use a receiver like Ross or Davis, and a cornerback like Jones or Moreau.

DeCosta, asked recently about the deep cornerback crop, downplayed any concern about the long-term projections for Jones and Moreau, calling the recovery from their injuries “predictable” as the Ravens in recent years have seen Terrell Suggs return twice from torn Achilles tendons while others rebounded from torn pectoral muscles.

“I think they are able to play and should come back, and actually, probably play this year and contribute,” DeCosta said.

None of the aforementioned players are dealing with an injury that was as severe as the setback suffered last year by former Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith in his final collegiate game. Smith, who was once projected as a top-five pick, underwent reconstructive knee surgery for a torn ACL and suffered extensive nerve damage. He was drafted in the second round by the Dallas Cowboys but spent his entire rookie season in rehab.

The Cowboys say they don’t regret taking Smith, as executive vice president Stephen Jones said repeated this weektelling The Ticket radio station in Dallas, “We’re certainly more fired up than ever that we picked him last year.”

Maybe so. But Smith still hasn’t hit the field, yet to prove whether the Cowboys – hoping to land a difference-making, first-round talent at a bargain price – will succeed on the gamble.

Then again, when draft being held in Philadelphia begins, it will be just as much of a crap shoot as it always is. There’s always risk.

It’s just that part of the dilemma involves having a sense of the timetable for when a player will be fully healthy, and then keeping the fingers crossed that it can happen on time while the developmental transition to the pro level can progress as well.

Then again, the decisions should always hinge on what’s best for the long term.

“I have been debating that in my mind a bunch,” new Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard said during a pre-draft briefing this week. “You have to think long term.”

Ballard said that includes not only weighing the projected talent in question, but also getting a read on whether a current injury will have a long-term effect that can lead to more physical problems.

“If we say he can have a long-term career and we think the upside of a player is what we want and think it’s high, then we will take a shot on the player,” Ballard said. “Look, with any guy, you have to have some type of plan to make him successful and get him to his ceiling.”

It’s easy to feel empathy for a guy like Jones, who had the misfortune of being injured just as he was trying to make the best impression to solidify his stock. It may cost him first-round status, but hopefully it won’t define the career ahead.

“It’s just a minor bump in the road that I have to overcome and I will overcome,” Jones told Pro Football Talk. “It’s been kind of tough, a little bit, but there’s nothing God puts you through that you can’t handle. That’s been my mentality.”

Which illustrates another factor underscored during the draft. The ability to adjust on the fly.


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