2023 NFL Draft Injury Concerns

Spring is here! As the trees sprout their leaves, signaling the start of new life, football fans of all 32 teams also feel reborn. The NFL draft is set to take place April 27-29 in Kansas City, and all 32 teams have a chance to improve their rosters. Like in the NFL, college players suffer injuries. Every draft has several prospects whose draft stock is impacted by the injury. While NFL teams consult with medical professionals, there is often a lack of transparency from teams regarding how they weigh these injuries on the player’s long-term outlook. We are here to help connect the dots. In this article, I will discuss the 2023 NFL draft injury concerns and explain each injury and how it may or may not impact their NFL careers.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba

The 2023 NFL Draft injury concerns page starts with a polarizing Ohio State receiver who played in only three games in 2022 due to a hamstring injury initially suffered in week one against Notre Dame. Smith-Njigba exploded for 95 catches, 1,606 yards, and nine touchdowns in 2021, firmly putting him on the map as a top NFL prospect. He had hoped to build his draft stock in 2022; unfortunately, a hamstring injury derailed those hopes. JSN remains a day one or early day two draft prospect, and some analysts, such as ESPN’s Todd McShay, speculate that JSN could have returned for Ohio State’s playoff push but instead elected to prepare for the NFL. I am not here to speculate but will discuss any potential lingering effects of this injury.

2023 NFL Draft injury concerns

Hamstring injuries occur when the hamstring is stretched excessively or when the muscle contracts excessively. In fact, the latter is more common. Most hamstring injuries occur when the leg is in the “terminal swing” phase, which is when the leg is all the way forward on a stride. This happens because the hamstring acts as the break, stopping the leg from continuing to fly forward. The second most common phase of running when a hamstring injury occurs is at “initial contact,” which is when the foot first hits the ground and is also due to excessive contraction of the muscle. Of course, these are not the only ways hamstring injuries occur. When the leg is forcefully bent, like in the video of JSN’s injury below the hamstring undergoes excessive stretch, which can also cause injury.

What is also concerning is the JSN suffered a recurrence of his hamstring injury as he was unable to finish games against Toledo (week 3) and Iowa (week 8). Hamstring injuries have very high recurrence rates. Studies suggest a previous hamstring injury increases the likelihood of another by 2.7x! But there is more. My followers are sick of hearing me say this, but recurring hamstring injuries often are due to a pissed-off sciatic nerve. If the sciatic nerve is injured, inflamed, irritated, or stuck, the body will naturally protect it. The body protects the sciatic nerve by causing the hamstring to contract forcefully, often leading to injury. Nerve expert Jack Stagge and I talked extensively about this on the Fantasy Injury Team podcast in October, and I encourage readers to take a listen to learn more.

As we can see in the video above, when JSN is injured, he is struck in the back, and his entire body folds forward. This is a terrific way to aggravate the sciatic nerve. The nervous system is one continuous unit, so the sciatic nerve itself is influenced by motion in the entire spine; therefore, the amount of spinal flexion (bending forward) JSN undergoes in combination with the excessive hip flexion stresses the sciatic nerve. What saves JSN here is that his knee was bent, which puts some slack on the nerve and the hamstring muscle. If there were no contact with his back, I would not suspect any nerve irritation playing a role, but this cannot be ruled out, and I hope that Ohio State’s training staff has fully investigated this. Neurodynamics is a branch of orthopedic care that is not understood by many providers and, therefore, not assessed or treated. Ohio State’s medical staff has a great reputation, so I am hopeful they have addressed any potential nerve issues.

2023 NFL Draft injury concerns

All this nerve talk sounds scary, but it’s not. I am not suggesting a nerve injury in which we would hear symptoms like numbness, tingling, burning, or weakness. This is quite different, and I understand it can be complicated. Whether JSN was dealing with an isolated true hamstring injury or one with sciatic nerve involvement, an entire offseason is enough time to rehab and be fully 100% by the start of OTA’s. It will be interesting to see where JSN lands in the upcoming draft, and his fantasy stock should remain high.

Hendon Hooker

Hooker was a top QB prospect until suffering an ACL injury on November 19th against South Carolina. Hooker went down on a classic non-contact mechanism in which his foot appeared caught in the ground, and his left knee caved inward, a motion we call “valgus.” It appears Hooker is dealing with an isolated ACL tear, with no other tissues involved, and is on track with rehab.

A few weeks ago, I published an article outlining the factors that influence recovery from ACL tears. The main factors are age, time from surgery to week one of the following season, the number of tissues involved in the injury, and whether or not they are a “freak athlete.” Hooker is 25 years old, which does not help or hurt his recovery. It appears it was only his ACL and no other tissues were repaired, which is favorable. His surgical date is unclear, but his injury puts him nine months and three weeks until week one. This time frame is possible to play week one, but he is unlikely to be at 100%, especially since he is a runner. I would argue Hooker is a freak athlete, which is another factor in his favor.

With Hooker recovering from major surgery, it is unlikely any NFL team expects him to be the week one starter but may draft him to groom into their future starting QB. The long-term outlook is not affected by this injury. QBs respond well from ACL surgery, though historical data samples do not have many running QBs to pull from. There is no reason to draft Hooker in re-draft leagues, but in dynasty, this injury may allow you to draft him later, providing great draft value for a high-upside player.

Luke Musgrave

Musgrave suffered an MCL injury in week two against Fresno State that required surgery and never returned in 2022. Musgrave has since received full medical clearance and participated in the senior bowl. Musgrave is regarded as one of the top tight-end prospects, a position that is scarce for difference-makers in the fantasy landscape. The scarcity of talent routinely leads to tremendous intrigue towards the incoming rookies in the fantasy community. Fortunately for Musgrave, his injury appears behind him. This type of injury typically does not impact future production, which can help fantasy players’ confidence in the Oregon State product. Re-injury is always a risk; a history of injuries and surgeries can contribute to future injuries. Still, Musgrave is only 22 years old, and every player will deal with some injury in their career. Relatively speaking, Musgrave’s injury concern is not much higher than any other incoming rookie.

Dalton Kincaid

Many regard Kincaid as the top tight end in the draft after going for 70 catches, 890 yards, and eight touchdowns in 2022. Kincaid did not participate in the combine after suffering a lumbar fracture in the season finale.

This should be seen as a non-issue for fantasy players as Kincaid heads into the NFL Draft. Fractures heal in 4-6 weeks, and this sounds like it was minor, to begin with. Occasionally, a history of a fracture can alter the local muscle integrity and performance, which could alter mechanics in a way that could lead to future injury, but we don’t see this as much in the back. He has the entire off-season to rehab to reduce the likelihood of mechanical changes from the injury and much of the off-season to train at full capacity to prepare for the NFL. Fantasy players should see Kincaid’s massive upside and understand that this injury will have little to no impact on his career trajectory.

Kayshon Boutte

The talented LSU receiver fractured his ankle in 2021 against Kentucky, requiring season-ending surgery. Unfortunately, the fracture was not healing properly, requiring a second procedure. Sometimes healing fractures have a “non-union” in which the broken ends do not fully aline, allowing proper healing. Another possibility would be that Boutte was not regaining full range of motion (ROM) and may have required an arthroscopic procedure to clean out scar tissue, restoring ROM. Either way, he is now at 100% and has been for almost a year.

100% health does not always equal 100% production. This appeared to be the case for Boutte last season. Boutte flashed an impressive 16.3 yards per catch in 2020 and 13.4 in 2021 before the injury. In 2022 this dropped to 11.2, and fans grew concerned that he was not back to full capacity. It is possible that he was not at 100%. With two surgeries in one year, Boutte missed a lot of game time, practice time, and training time. More important is the impact of ankle surgery on mechanics. Quite often, athletes will never regain the full range of motion after ankle surgery, which has the potential to influence mechanics that impact running, cutting, jumping, and other athletic endeavors. The foot and ankle are very complex, with numerous joints that must work harmoniously to allow normal function. When one or more of these joints are stiff, everything is thrown off.

If stiffness were a factor in Boutte’s drop in production, he would have his work cut out to regain normal ROM. However, youth is on his side. At only 20 years old, his body is in prime age to regain full ROM and strength and overall heal properly. Boutte’s injury history certainly provides more caution than many others on this list, but his upside is as high as any. Fantasy players must determine their acceptable level of risk when drafting this season. For those who choose to be cautious, Boutte may not be the one for you. For the gamblers, Boutte’s upside is fantastic if he can return to his pre-injury form.

Kendre Miller

The TCU running back sat out of the National Championship romping due to an MCL injury suffered in the prior game. Miller did not participate in his pro-day workout but did post a video of him squatting, a promising sign.

While this is nice to see, it is worth educating readers that an MCL injury is less likely to impact this type of motion. Sure, an MCL injury leads to pain and swelling that, while acute, would cause stiffness that would make a squat like this very challenging, but the MCL is more implicated during lateral agility and cutting. That said, his MCL will be more than fully healed from training camp, and he should be 100% ready to go by week one. I do not see this injury as typically predictive of future injury, and fantasy players should not allow this to impact their stock in Miller’s career outlook.

Sean Tucker

The Syracuse running back could not participate in the combine due to a “medical exclusion.” To date, we have no clarity on what that implies, and we will not speculate, but Tucker states that he expects that to be cleared soon. Tucker ran well during his time in Syracuse, amassing 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns in both 2021 and 2022.

Mohamed Ibrahim

Minnesota running back saw his 2021 season end early due to the dreaded Achilles tear. We had never seen a running back successfully return from an Achilles tear before last season. D’Onta Foreman finally has returned to form, five years after his injury, and Cam Akers overcame his horrendous start to 2022 to look good down the stretch. Ibrahim kept this trend rolling. Ibrahim, who was 23 at the time of his injury, burst back on the scene for 1,665 yards and 20 touchdowns in his first collegiate season after injury.

2023 NFL Draft injury concerns

Historically, the Achilles tear was the most devastating injury for an athlete. Recent advancements in surgery have allowed earlier, more aggressive rehab, reducing problems with post-operative stiffness, weakness, and loss of explosion. However, there is only a microscopic sample size of running backs who have successfully returned from this injury. The Achilles is the strongest tendon in the body and takes on up to 10 times the body weight in force, therefore must be incredibly strong for athletic performance.

What Ibrahim did last season is nothing short of miraculous and shows he has fully recovered from his injury. Will his collegiate production translate to the NFL? Time will tell, but it does not appear his injury history is impacting his production.

1 thought on “2023 NFL Draft Injury Concerns”

  1. Injuries are a harsh reality in the NFL. It’s heartbreaking to see players go down, but it’s also a testament to their toughness and dedication to the game. This blog post provides a thoughtful discussion on the impact of injuries in the league.

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