For almost nine months, it has appeared a near-certainty that Jahvid Best would never play for the Detroit Lions again. So on the day that the Lions made it official and released him, we're left to wonder: Would a player with Best's medical history even be drafted in 2013?
Best's series of concussions bridged two eras of NFL concussion protocol. When he was drafted in 2010, it was well-known that his college career at Cal had ended on a nasty head-first fall that left him unconscious on the field. NFL teams closely examined his medical records, and while some might have had concerns, few blinked when the Lions traded back into the first round to make him the No. 30 overall pick.
At the time, as we've noted, Lions coach Jim Schwartz said: "[A]ll our reports and everything else led us to believe that he had put that behind him and was no more susceptible than any other player."
Schwartz's sentiment reflected that of many in the NFL at the time. But as we all know, the tenor of thought on head injuries has changed dramatically since then. There have been studies that connected deceased former players to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease. Thousands of former players have joined lawsuits against the NFL for its treatment of their head injuries, and return-to-play protocols have been enhanced and standardized throughout the league.
In 2010, few of us differentiated the risk between a concussion history and a chronic knee injuries. In 2013, I really wonder if a concussion like Best's -- he fell nearly 5 feet onto his head, was motionless on the field and said nearly two months later he still was not 100 percent -- would remove a player from the draft board altogether.
In the end, the Lions got 22 games out of Best before his second and final NFL head injury. He said repeatedly last year that he was no longer having concussion symptoms, so it was not entirely clear what standards he and the Lions were using to measure his recovery and what further hurdles he faced before being cleared.
Regardless, this day has been inevitable since the Lions decided not to activate him from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list last fall. They moved on this offseason by signing free agent Reggie Bush to fill the scatback role they once envisioned for Best, but we should be careful about throwing him on the scrap heap along with the Lions' other failed draft choices. This situation was unique, and if the Lions hadn't drafted him in 2010, someone else would have. In 2013? I'm not so sure.