NFL Draft News & Analysis

2022 NFL Draft: Gauging the level of concern for notable injured prospects

Fort Collins, Colorado, USA; Nevada Wolf Pack quarterback Carson Strong (12) gestures at the line of scrimmage behind offensive lineman Gray Davis (67) and offensive lineman Tyler Orsini (55) in the first quarter against the Colorado State Rams at Sonny Lubrick Field at Canvas Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Injuries are one of the worst things in sports, and some cause players to miss out on millions of dollars they’ve worked hard to earn. 

It’s an unfortunate part of football, in particular, that affects several prospects in every draft class. This year, a handful of highly regarded prospects have been negatively impacted by injuries, with some occurring in the pre-draft process and others in past seasons. This leaves all 32 NFL teams wondering whether they should take on that injury history risk.

So, let’s dive into some of the more notable prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft who carry injury baggage and assess the levels of concern. Note that I am not a doctor — this is solely a talent breakdown and a consideration of injury risk based on what has been reported.

CB DEREK STINGLEY JR., LSU TIGERS

Injury: Unknown (non-Covid) illness causing hospitalization in 2020; lingering leg injury in middle of 2020 season; Lisfranc injury in left foot prior to Week 4 in 2021

Between illness, a leg injury and a recent foot injury, Stingley has played in only 10 games since 2020. That caused the cornerback to go from a consensus top-three pick to outside of the top 10 in the eyes of some. As menacing as the injury list above looks, his upside is too good to ignore. Stingley should still be a top-three pick. 

He put together the best true freshman season of the PFF College era in 2019 when he posted a 91.7 PFF grade while recording 21 combined interceptions and pass breakups and allowing a 38% catch rate when targeted. The narrative that “he got worse” in 2020 and 2021 when healthy isn’t true, as PFF’s Seth Galina broke down last month. He also helped ease any health concerns after recovering from a Lisfranc injury with a solid pro day. The former five-star recruit has the tools and ceiling to be one of the NFL's best cover cornerbacks.

WR DRAKE LONDON, USC TROJANS

Injury: Fractured right ankle midway through 2021 season

London was the frontrunner for the Biletnikoff Award — given annually to college football’s top pass-catcher — before fracturing his ankle in Week 9. He earned a 91.8 receiving grade in 2021 up until that injury, ranking first in the FBS at the time. Before being forced off the field, the USC Trojan led the country in contested catches by eight, with 19 total, and also ranked first in broken tackles after the catch (22). 

Fast forward to now, and the injury has hardly impacted the 6-foot-4, 219-pound receiver’s draft stock. His pro day was moved back to April 15 to give him more time to prepare as he finishes the recovery process. If London cleanly gets through that big day in front of scouts, coaches and executives, there’s a chance he could be a top-10 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. His physicality and ball skills are off the charts, and he has all the tools to be a top possession receiver in the NFL.

WR JAMESON WILLIAMS, ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE

Injury: Torn ACL in the 2021-22 National Championship

Williams would be more in the WR1 conversation if he hadn’t torn his ACL in Alabama’s title game loss. That said, he still looks like a top-20 lock in the 2022 NFL Draft.

At the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine, Williams said he’s on track to be ready for training camp and the start of the regular season. With that early recovery timeline and his game-breaking speed, the former Ohio State transfer should be one of the first four pass-catchers taken — and within the first 17 picks. Williams would have lit the 40-yard dash on fire had he been healthy. His wheels helped him rack up an FBS-leading 12 touchdowns of 20 or more yards.

While his ability to effectively get off press coverage is suspect, as well as his lack of muscle mass, his big-play ability eases those concerns. He’s a threat to take it to the end zone anytime the ball is in his hands.

CB ANDREW BOOTH JR., CLEMSON TIGERS

Injury: Recently underwent sports hernia surgery

While it was unfortunate that Booth was unable to partake in the NFL Scouting Combine or his pro day because of this pre-draft injury, he is expected to be ready for training camp. The Clemson product should and will likely be the fourth cornerback off the board come April.

Booth doesn’t quite boast the same lockdown numbers as other top cornerback prospects in this class, as he allowed 329 yards across 288 coverage snaps in 2021. However, his tools are worth taking a swing on in the first round. The 2019 five-star recruit has exceptional feet and good length, and his physicality shows on the field. Booth also made up for lost time down the stretch of 2021, combining for five interceptions and pass breakups in his final three starts.

EDGE DAVID OJABO, MICHIGAN WOLVERINES

Injury: Ruptured Achilles at pro day

No 2022 prospect's draft stock has been more impacted by an injury than that of Michigan edge defender David Ojabo. He ruptured his Achilles during pro day workouts in a nightmare scenario. For a player still considered a project at the next level, that caused a draft stock freefall. Throw in the fact that his position is the deepest in the class, and matters only worsen. Ojabo is now likely to go near the end of Round 2 after being a potential top-10 to top-15 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Ojabo is an extraordinary athlete who flashed top-tier talent this past season, producing multiple elite pass-rush game grades above 90.0. At the same time, his production was somewhat inconsistent and his run defense is a big issue. He played just 560 snaps in college and has been playing football for less than five years. But while he’s far from refined, the NFL is after traits like his.

The injury will extend his developmental process even further, assuming he can get back to full strength down the road.

WR GEORGE PICKENS, GEORGIA BULLDOGS

Injury: Lingering upper-body injury during 2020 season; torn ACL in spring of 2021

Pickens could go anywhere from the end of Round 1 to the middle of Round 2 despite injuries derailing his true sophomore and junior seasons in 2020 and 2021. The Georgia receiver went from an 88.0 receiving grade in 2019 to a 71.9 mark in 2020 while dealing with a nagging upper-body injury. Matters got even worse before 2021, as he tore his ACL in the spring, limiting him to just 32 routes for the season.

At his peak, Pickens looked like one of the most dominant receivers in the country. He showcased elite hands and routinely hauled in off-target throws with his massive catch radius. The 6-foot-3, 195-pounder dropped just two of 139 career targets at Georgia, so there’s no denying his exceptional ball skills. Along with his size, he has the physicality and acceleration teams want in an X receiver. His injury history is concerning, but it’s worth taking a shot on given the potential reward.

WR JUSTYN ROSS, CLEMSON TIGERS

Injury: Congenital fusion in spine in spring of 2020; broken foot near end of 2021

Like Pickens, Justyn Ross was a star during his true freshman campaign. In that 2018 campaign, Ross earned a 91.4 PFF grade and averaged an astounding 4.98 yards per route run. His production proceeded to decline in 2019 (78.2 grade, 2.50 yards per route run), then disaster struck in spring 2020 when it was discovered he had a career-threatening spinal injury.

Ross was fortunately able to see the field in 2021 after missing all of 2020, but he looked far from his old self, posting a 73.5 PFF grade before a broken foot cut his season short. The Clemson product was able to partake in the school’s pro day, but a 4.63-second 40-yard dash, 31.5-inch vertical and 9-foot-8 broad are subpar marks.

Ross brings the size and physicality, but everything else with his game is in question. For someone with a near career-ending injury on their resume, that can be a scary investment for an NFL team to make within the first couple of rounds. While Pickens’ situation seems somewhat similar, the risk-reward between the two is different.

WR JOHN METCHIE III, ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE

Injury: Torn ACL in the 2021 SEC Championship

Metchie may not be a “traitsy” receiver, but the 5-foot-11, 187-pounder is a technician. He’s a sound route-runner who consistently got open against stiff competition in the SEC. In fact, Metchie led the conference in targets against single coverage with a step or more of separation over the past two seasons.

But after enduring a torn ACL in the SEC Championship game, Metchie went from a beginning of Round 2 projection to Round 3. An injury of this magnitude is a concern for a player with questions about his ceiling and physical profile. The Alabama product is worth taking a swing on in Round 3, but it’s understandable why some teams may be hesitant, especially considering the receiver class' depth.

QB CARSON STRONG, NEVADA WOLF PACK

Injury: Osteochondritis dissecans in right knee, underwent multiple surgeries on it

A lack of mobility is the biggest knock on Strong’s game. Because of his bone and cartilage condition, the Nevada quarterback has had multiple surgeries on his right knee. He’s been a statue in the pocket as a result, busting off only two 10-plus yard runs since 2020 while also owning a high pressure to sack conversion rate (24.5% in 2021).

Strong is limited with what he can do with his legs but, as of now, is healthy. However, it's fair to worry about how this diagnosis could impact him as an NFL quarterback. It's a significant con that has pushed him to the class' consensus QB6 and a third-round prospect. That would be a good range for a quarterback-needy team to take the 6-foot-3, 226-pounder.

Strong does have top-notch arm talent and an ultra-quick release. He can thread the ball tightly into small windows downfield. He is fresh off an 89.1 passing grade for the 2021 season but didn’t help himself much with his Senior Bowl performance as other top passing prospects thrived. 

LB DAMONE CLARK, LSU TIGERS

Injury: Spinal fusion to repair herniated disk, out for the 2022 season

An MRI at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine revealed a herniated disk in Damone Clark’s back, resulting in a rather serious spinal fusion surgery. The 6-foot-2, 239-pound off-ball linebacker was seemingly a riser at the combine before the injury news. He checked in with a big 78.5-inch wingspan and turned in a 4.57-second 40-yard dash, 37-inch vertical and 127-inch broad jump.

Clark went from a possible second-round prospect to a likely Day 3 pick because of this injury, which is justified — especially considering the depth at the position in this class. Clark was one of the best tacklers in the country last season, with just eight misses on 131 attempts. He’s also a smart player and offers value as a blitzer. The LSU product is worth taking a swing on during Day 3, although teams should have tempered expectations given how serious this injury is.

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