It’s bad news in Ann Arbor. During his pro day yesterday, Michigan linebacker David Ojabo tore his Achilles tendon, an injury that is notoriously difficult to recover from. Ojabo had been rated as the top outside linebacker in his draft class and projected across the mock boards as a first-round pick. Today, the future may be looking very different for the Scottish-Nigerian 21-year-old.
The Achilles is very near the top of the list of diagnoses you don’t want to see come out of a football injury, as its career-ending potential is higher than most other breaks and tears. A full recovery isn’t impossible, per se, but it’s enormously difficult, especially for football players. The process takes surgery, months of rehab, and limits in strength, agility, and explosiveness upon a return to play.
The Rams’ Cam Akers had a miraculous six-month recovery from his Achilles tear that helped build some optimism about young players’ ability to come back from the injury — and Ojabo’s youth will certainly play a factor here, along with improvements in orthopedic medicine. So his outlook may not be as grim as I’ve just made it out to be, but there’s a good chance that this injury could cause a hit to his draft stock. Just how impactful that hit will be isn’t yet clear, though some draft analysts are predicting that he’ll fall to the second round from initial predictions of a top-10 or top-15 pick.
Much has been written on the outdatedness and superfluity of the NFL Scouting Combine, with schools’ individual pro days named as the improved and existing alternative. The combine has many issues — not the least of which is the fact that it’s become a made-for-TV event that does top draft picks more harm than good — but the question now remains of whether participating in any sort of postseason workouts is a good idea for projected first-round picks like Ojabo.
Pro days don’t have the pageantry that the combine does, but nevertheless, they may pose more of a risk than a benefit for players like Ojabo at this point in the process. But it’s easy to say that right after something bad happens — in theory, the risk accompanying positional drills is low, and present more of a risk of a poor showing than of an injury. Ojabo had already worked out at the combine and excelled, making this injury feel so much worse in its lack of necessity.
As former Bucs general manager Mark Dominik pointed out on Twitter, pro day and combine workouts should start heading the same way as bowl games for the projected top picks in draft classes. Minimizing bodily risk in an occupation that relies almost entirely on one’s physical health is a smart career move.
Perhaps it looks different for those players on the bubble between the first and second rounds, and certainly for those lower in the draft who need to show out in front of the scouts and raise their stock. But to see a player like Ojabo go down like this and jeopardize his future in the league in just a moment is heart-wrenching.