Doc Ponderosa and I were talking about the two known instances in Denver’s draft where a medical issue came into play last week - those of Eddie Lacy and Quanterus Smith. I thought I’d share with you what came up.
Eddie Lacy - RB, Alabama
Sunday brought word that the Steelers and several other teams, including potentially the Broncos, passed on the Alabama running back due to concerns regarding a fused toe.
Doc P has found the fusion of the great toe to be a variable problem, which matches my own experience. Some people are greatly hampered by it, while others seem to handle it fairly well. Over time, though, the changes in balance created by it can hinder a player and can create or contribute to other injuries. Even if it’s not bothersome in itself, the changes in posture, gait, and stride that result from it are cumulative; a lot of people eventually develop low back, knee, and/or ankle issues as a result.
For a running back, as Doc P noted to me, it’s of particular concern. Acceleration and pivot predominantly happen off the first toe: balance in those attributes is affected because the fusion will reduce flexibility in the toe. There’s also the risk of fracturing the fusion, a problem that can end a career. Both Doc P and I are dedicated prescribers of orthotic inserts for football players - and a lot of regular folks and amateur sports enthusiasts as well. I’ve seen quite a number of foot/ankle/knee/hip/back problems respond well to their use. They are helpful with players who are trying to manage post-surgical problems as well. A player like Lacy should be wearing them to help him compensate.
In addition, although it’s not medical, both of us were concerned with Lacy’s reputation for a lack of discipline and work ethic. I find it as contagious as the flu in a locker room and a lot more dangerous to a career. Any and all of these factors might have influenced Denver’s decision. So could the 83 TDs that Ball scored in college.
Quanterus Smith - DE, Western Kentucky
Quanterus Smith was leading the nation with 12.5 sacks at the time of his ACL injury last November. He had surgery for it around Thanksgiving, and is still in rehabilitation.
Since I was asked about this a couple of times, I’ll note that the situation of Adrian Peterson’s recovery is absolutely unique. Neither of us, nor any ortho doc that we’ve spoken with, has ever heard of a similar return to that kind of incredible production in such a short period of time following AP’s surgery. The surgeries for that problem do constantly improve, but Peterson’s case is without question an outlier. Smith shouldn’t be expected to achieve that schedule for improvement.
There’s no reason that he can’t recover fully - that’s normal, these days. I just wouldn’t expect it to happen quite as quickly as did AP’s rehabilitation.
The Broncos are currently convinced that Smith should be back by training camp, or the start of the season at the latest. I hope they’re right - certainly, they have the latest in testing and evaluation technology, and used it to the fullest before deciding to draft him. Even as it was with Ryan Clady’s injury, though, their estimation might be a little bit premature.
Even if that turns out to be so, six weeks on the PUP list or as much as a year on IR shouldn’t be a concern. Denver has an excellent group of pass rushers that was just bolstered by the additions of Sylvester Williams and Shaun Phillips - one more up the middle, one more off the edge. The combination of those two also frees up Von Miller to wreak havoc from any angle or to any matchup that suits Jack Del Rio’s fertile mind.
It’s a no-lose situation for Denver, especially when you consider that Quanterus sacks when he was injured, with 12.5 sacks as well as 18.5 TFL in a partial season. Denver got a very highly rated player for the cost of a fifth-round pick (No. 146).
It’s also worth noting that post-surgical rehabilitation is going through a period of incredibly rapid development. Techniques including the injection of platelet rich plasma, stem cell approaches, new electrical stimulation applications, and focused muscle training in rehabilitation are all growing and expanding quickly. Lutheran Hospital in Wheat Ridge, CO, has also done a multiyear study that showed conclusively that a patient receiving appropriate acupuncture before, then during, and finally following surgery, reduces the number of postsurgical complications and the need for pain medication, and speeds healing. There are a lot of options at this player’s disposal.
Luke Richesson and his staff also bring expertise in injury and exercise-based rehabilitation, so Smith is in the best of hands. Two of Richesson’s assistants, Mike Eubanks and Anthony Lombardo, are Corrective Exercise Specialists certified through the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM-CES). Mike also earned a bachelor’s degree in exercise and wellness, and a master’s degree in education from Arizona State, while Anthony went on to earn a master’s degree in rehabilitation sciences from California University of Pennsylvania in 2008. The players are in excellent hands - Denver’s training and rehab facilities and people are as good as any in the NFL that I’ve been able to find.
Whether it’s sometime next season (and making it back onto the field for the playoffs is a valid possibility for Smith) or to start the following year, Denver will soon have a long, quick defensive end with a history of getting into the backfield added to their squad. Given that the team already had the players to compete for a Super Bowl championship prior to the draft, I’ve become even more excited about the coming seasons.
The longer I look at the draft, the better I like it. Both Montee Ball and Quanterus Smith look like long-term wins. Even while bearing in mind that you can’t judge a draft before a down in played, the odds remain greatly in their favor.
In other news, we're hearing that the first names of Denver's seven draft choices were chosen via Ouija board by the spirit of Frank Zappa: Sylvester, Montee, Kayvon, Quanterus, Tavarres, Vinston and Zac. Dweezil and Moon Unit were already taken.