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March 3, 2017

Concussions a concern for NFL talent evaluators

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Cincinnati.com – At heart, Duke Tobin is a scout.

The Cincinnati Bengals director of player personnel is in his element at the NFL Scouting Combine, held this week in downtown Indianapolis. As such, he’s bothered by the fact that some players weren’t allowed to attend due to off-field incidents because “The history of this event was initially to get medical evaluations on a large group of players in the most efficient manner we can do it.”

But even though the medical element is an essential part of the week, NFL personnel executives must also separate the physical state of a player and the church of talent evaluation.

“In the scouting world we divorce ourselves from the medical,” Tobin said. “We try to provide as much information about the player’s playing history as we can and our doctors and trainers look at him and they determine what the risk level is for each player.”

University of Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster, for example, is a player considered as a top 10 talent in the upcoming draft. But he suffered at least two documented concussions with the Crimson Tide, in a 2016 game and in a scrimmage in 2014. AL.com also reported Foster suffered “stingers” outside of those concussions.

But top NFL personnel executives wouldn’t go so far as to say that concussions, or a history of them, has any greater bearing on how they grade a player than other physical issues.

“We stress to our personnel department, our scouts and our directors and even our coaches, don’t worry about that at this point,” Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “That’s up to myself and (head coach) Dan Quinn and our doctors to make the decision, ultimately. We need to grade the players for who they are talent-wise. We say that even from a character standpoint.”

But eventually, the medical people will have their say.

And depending on how those evaluations go, draft boards could be affected.

“I’m not going to get specific about it but yes, if there’s someone we think is a medical risk that is not warranted then we would take him off our board,” Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson said.

One cautionary tale is former Detroit running back Jahvid Best. The 5-foot, 10-inch speedster out of West Virginia was a first-round pick of the Lions in 2010, signing a five-year, $9.8 million rookie deal.

This was despite the fact he suffered two concussions within two weeks in his final season at West Virginia in 2009, the first of which hospitalized him.

After not being diagnosed with a concussion in his rookie season, Best once again suffered two concussions within weeks of one another in 2011. The second one ended his career as he dealt with symptoms until his release from the Lions in 2013.

But it’s also possible that a player who has suffered a diagnosed concussion in college can go his entire NFL career without one. In the run-up to the draft, that is where the personnel and medical staffs for each team have to come to an understanding – and a projection.

“A player with one concussion might not worry our guys, or even two,” Tobin admitted. “But maybe players with a longer concussion history will worry. Maybe the baselines are different. I don’t know enough about that to say. But ultimately what we come out with is a risk level for every player. Then our doctors weigh in. ‘This guy is a good bet, this guy is not a good bet.’”

Image citation: Belgariontheking, CC BY-SA 3.0