You’d be hard-pressed to find a draft prospect who’s had a clean bill of health from high school through college. Injuries are a fact of life in football and can throw a wrench into top prospects' draft stock when they linger. Let’s look at some of the most notable top prospects who suffered injuries in 2018 and see how they looked in their first live action this fall.
Netane Muti (Achilles)
All Muti did in his first game back from an Achilles injury was pitch a shutout on 51 pass-blocking snaps against a talented USC interior. Muti has now gone over 150 pass-blocking snaps without allowing a pressure dating back to his freshman year in 2017. The man is power personified and looks to be picking right back up where he left off. Muti is firmly in the conversation for top guard in the upcoming draft class.
Kenny Willekes (Broken Fibula)
Willekes isn’t like a lot of the others on this list in that his injury occurred in Michigan State’s bowl game last season, so his missed time was minimal. That only means he had less time to recover, though. Against Tulsa, Willekes was back to his normal, solid self. He collected two sacks and two hurries on the day.
Trey Smith (Lung)
Smith’s lingering blood clot issue in his lungs is not only putting his long-term health at risk, but it’s also robbing him of valuable development. On 31 snaps at left guard this past week, his lack of practice reps showed. Smith allowed three pressures — all on blown stunts — and earned a 57.7 overall grade against Georgia State. It’s rare to see a college offensive linemen get worse after their freshman year, but Smith’s grade has gone from 71.3 in 2017, to 62.9 last season, to a rough nonconference outing.
Jonathan Greenard (Wrist)
We’ve hit Greenard’s dominant performance over Miami a handful of times already, but what we haven’t explored is the type of player he was back at Louisville where he started for two years. That season, he was used a good deal as an interior rusher as well with over 100 of his 571 snaps coming between the tackles. His quickness looks to have improved since then as he struggled to sell his inside counter effectively that season. It’s obviously only one game against a pretty rough tackle, but Greenard has made the proverbial ‘leap’.
Brian Lewerke (Shoulder)
Lewerke didn’t miss a lot of time with a shoulder injury last season, but it quite obviously affected his play. His passing grade before the Penn State game in which he hurt his shoulder was 72.0. After that contest, Lewerke earned an abysmal 27.5 passing grade in his last four games. Through one contest this year, it looks like the former is back. While six drops from his receivers made his numbers look worse than he probably played against Tulsa this past week, he’ll still need to do more to get us excited. A 68.6 passing grade against a cupcake out of the gate isn’t top-tier QB play.
K’Lavon Chaisson (ACL)
Chaisson was a rare true freshman contributor on the edge for LSU back in 2017 and had high expectations in 2018 before an ACL tear ended his season 61 snaps in. That freshman year, though, he still only produced 12 pressures on 120 pass-rushing snaps, and edge is one position where production is mandatory for us projecting forward. Against Georgia Southern, Chaisson played only 25 snaps with just two coming as a pass-rusher. That leaves this one as still a TBD on his prospects going forward.
Albert Okwuegbunam (Shoulder)
Okwuegbunam suffered a shoulder injury last season and then had a litany of injuries occur over the course of the offseason that held him out. He showed once again, though, against Wyoming that he’s a big play and run after catch weapon at the tight end position. Okwuegbunam even threw in a hurdle of a Wyoming defender for good measure.
Trevon Diggs (Foot)
Diggs had only 464 snaps to his name heading into this season, but he was already firmly established on the NFL’s radar. Diggs showed both the good and the bad that we’d seen on tape from him before this. Under his positives in the draft guide I wrote, Diggs was ‘quick to get eyes back to QB, locate ball, and attack,' which is exactly what he did on his interception against Duke. He also gave up a 37-yard reception, though, where he tried to ‘catch’ the receiver in off coverage instead of keeping his balance and staying in phase.
Terrell Lewis (ACL)
Lewis registered only one lone pressure on the day but had a handful of positively graded pass-rushes that didn’t result in pressures. He has noticeably more juice than fellow Alabama edge defender Anfernee Jennings and looks like he’ll be moving up draft boards quickly. Lewis had only 202 snaps prior to this year but earned an 85.0 overall grade on those snaps.
Jace Whittaker (Elbow)
Whittaker was one of the highest-graded corners in college football back in 2017 when he earned an 89.5 coverage grade. He played all of seven snaps in 2018 though before an elbow injury sidelined him for the year. That 2017 season, Whittaker was exclusively an outside corner, but this year he’s transitioned to a slot role as well and is already thriving. He picked off two passes against Hawaii and broke up another. On nine targets he allowed only one first down.