The annual ritual of the NFL draft was held a few weeks ago and teams are now holding their rookie mini-camps to get a better look at the players they selected. Whether a player’s college career was affected by injury was a often a major factor in the evaluation of the player. But not all injuries are created equally, or, it should be said, affect positions equally, according to a study co-written by medical personnel from two N.F.L. teams published in the April 2009 issue of The American Journal of Sports Medicine. The study tested the effect of specific diagnoses and surgical procedures on the likelihood of playing and length of career in the league by position. The doctors who authored the study asserted that the relationships were strong enough for teams to consider them when making draft picks. This is the first study to look at how specific injuries may make or break a professional football career.
The effects of injury on the likelihood of playing in the league varied by position.
– Anterior cruciate ligament injury significantly lowered the likelihood of playing in the league for defensive linemen and linebackers.
– Meniscal injury significantly reduced the probability of playing and length of career for athletes in the defensive secondary.
– Shoulder instability, rotator cuff injury had a significant effect on playing in the league for offensive and defensive linemen, and shortened the length of career for defensive linemen.
Offensive linemen with carpal fractures and knee articular cartilage surgery, quarterbacks with forearm fracture, medical collateral ligament injury, and linebackers with aromioclavicular joint injury were especially affected. Spondylolisthesis did not significantly reduce the chance of playing in the league for any position, while a history of spondylolysis had a significant effect for running backs. Miscellaneous injuries (eg. acromioclavicular joint, knee medial collateral ligament, carpal fractures) had isolated position-specific effects.
The published study suggests that even injuries that have seemed healed for years can still negatively affect players at certain positions. The study was conducted by creating a database for all players reviewed at the annual National Football League Combine, where individual teams evaluate college football players, by the medical staff of one NFL team from 1987 to 2000, including each players orthopaedic rating, diagnoses, surgical procedures, number of games played, and number of seasons played in the National Football League. Athletes were grouped by position as follows: offensive backfield, offensive receiver, offensive line, quarterback, tight end, defensive line, defensive secondary, linebacker, and kicker. The percentage of athletes who played in the National Football League was calculated by position for each specific diagnosis and surgery.