Commentary

Alabama players come with mileage

Milliner, Lacy among recent Crimson Tide products who had medical red flags

Originally Published: October 18, 2013
By Adam Schefter | ESPN.com

Former Alabama and current Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones underwent foot surgery Monday. It was a major blow to the Falcons -- and a possible blemish for the University of Alabama.

As teams debated prospects in the days leading up to the 2013 draft, multiple NFL executives made a similar observation.

Alabama has churned out back-to-back national championships, but a perception exists that it has chewed up some players.

No school is producing more pro prospects than Alabama. Yet it seems no school's players are heading into the NFL with more medical red flags.

Just last year, NFL teams' medical reports revealed that Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner underwent five different surgeries. Some trainers believed that because of the condition of his toes, former Alabama running back Eddie Lacy would not be able to have an extended NFL career. Teams questioned the condition of former Alabama guard Chance Warmack's knees, defensive tackle Jesse Williams' knees and offensive tackle D.J. Fluker's shoulder.

These were the latest, but not the only, medical questions about Alabama players.

Running backs Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram left Alabama with knee issues that followed them into the NFL. Former Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick battled a recurring knee injury. And Jones' first foot surgery came shortly after the NFL scouting combine, after completing a decorated college career at Alabama.

Now maybe this is all just one big coincidence. No school is turning out more players in a sport that is prone to injury, so some of this is inevitable. But NFL executives believed that having many of the best players in the country squaring off in physically demanding practices and then playing games in the top college football conference took its toll.

And what was beyond question was that many NFL executives noticed the trend last year and were factoring it into the selections they made.

It wasn't as if they were taking Alabama players off their boards, but they were aware that some came with medical risks. Those questions repeatedly were raised before the 2013 NFL draft -- and they will be there again before the 2014 draft.

[+] EnlargeJoseph Fauria
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsUCLA tight end Joseph Fauria, undrafted in April, already has five touchdown catches for the Lions.

Undrafted gems: Any team can identify and draft a superstar talent. Real personnel men separate themselves by uncovering buried treasures.

Two teams that did it in the offseason were the Detroit Lions and New England Patriots,  which signed undrafted free agents who have made major contributions this season.

The Lions signed undrafted UCLA tight end Joseph Fauria to a deal that included a $12,500 signing bonus. The Patriots signed Kenbrell Thompkins to a deal that included a $2,500 signing bonus. So, for a combined $15,000 -- considerably less than teams give seventh-round draft choices, which is typically between $45,000 and $50,000 -- the Lions and Patriots nabbed two players who this season have accounted for nine receiving touchdowns.

There were 16 tight ends drafted last spring and 29 wide receivers. Every single one of them was paid more than Fauria and Tompkins. None has made more plays.

Assisting minority candidates: In an effort to increase the hiring of minority head coaches, the NFL has formed its own search committee that includes such luminaries as John Madden, Ron Wolf, Tony Dungy, Bill Polian and Ernie Accorsi to identify the best minority candidates for teams to interview and hire, per league sources.

After an offseason in which the league saw the number of minority head coaches drop to four and no minority general managers hired, NFL executive Troy Vincent decided to spearhead the idea. The committee is hoping to train worthy candidates for interviews and pose the same types of questions they will face. They will get the training that, in theory, will make their hiring that much easier.

The committee met face-to-face for the first time in New York last week after previously holding a conference call. Not only is it designed to help worthy minority coaches get hired, it is aimed at helping teams reduce their reliance on expensive search firms

Now the league will have its own self-constructed search firm. Two of the names already garnering attention of the league's newly formed committee are Stanford head coach David Shaw and Louisville head coach Charlie Strong.

The Schef's specialties

Game of the Week: Denver at Indianapolis -- Von Miller returns to action, Peyton Manning returns to Indianapolis, and it all gets the prime-time stage it deserves.

Upset of the Week: Houston over Kansas City -- The Texans are not as bad as they've been and the Chiefs are not as good as they've been.

Player of the Week: -- Eagles QB Nick Foles –-- His chance to pin down Philadelphia's starting job.

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