ACL injury not as big a draft day deterrent for NFL teams anymore

Giants general manager Jerry Reese talks to reporters. Giants general manager Jerry Reese talks to reporters. (Jan. 3, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

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Each year, roughly six percent of the athletes who attend the NFL's scouting combine already have a reconstructed ACL.

A study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine in 2009 -- Giants team physician Dr. Russell Warren and vice president of medical services Ronnie Barnes were among its six authors -- found there was no difference in length of career or number of games played for players who came into the league with a previous ACL reconstruction. By comparison, those who had another common knee injury and underwent a meniscectomy had careers that were on average one and half years and 23 games shorter than players without previous surgery.

In other words, history of an ACL injury before entering the NFL does not affect the length of a career. The tolerance by NFL front offices has changed drastically regarding players with ACL injuries.

"I think modern medicine, the modern technology of getting these guys back on the field is so much better than it has been in the past," Giants general manager Jerry Reese said when asked about the prospects of players such as South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore and Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti in this year's draft.

Lattimore's knee was mangled in late October when he tore his ACL, MCL and PCL. Mauti suffered his third ACL injury in five years in November, toward the end of an All-America senior season. Both players were selected in the NFL draft last month -- Lattimore in the fourth round (No. 131 overall) by San Francisco, and Mauti in the seventh (No. 213 overall) by Minnesota.

"You see guys with these catastrophic injuries come back much quicker and much more successful than they have done in the past," Reese said. "So we look at it a little different."

However, once in the NFL, the tolerance by front offices changes drastically.

A 2010 study in the same Journal -- this one by a group of doctors that included Andrews -- found that only 63 percent of athletes who underwent an ACL reconstruction during their NFL career returned to play another game. Most of those who did not return were drafted in the fourth round or lower.

But even in the case of an All-Pro talent such as Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, there are more questions about his return in 2013 than there likely would have been had he torn his ACL in college or high school. That's one of the reasons the Jets have had difficulty finding a partner willing to trade for him without seeing him back on the field. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who came back from an ACL tear in 2011 and came within a first down of breaking the NFL's single-season rushing record in 2012, may have set the tone for remarkable ACL comebacks, but he's still the anomaly and not the norm.

"All general managers deal with facts and not sound bites or noise," former Colts executive and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian said. "The fact is [Revis] is an injured player who has not proven yet that he is what he was before he got hurt."

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