One of the top linebacker prospects of the 2023 NFL Draft, Iowa’s Jack Campbell seems to have it all. A Butkus Award winner, William V Campbell Trophy recipient, unanimous All-American, and much more in his final season makes him an attractive target in the early rounds of the draft.
Despite all the accolades, several draft pundits don’t perceive him as the best linebacker prospect which means he could slide on day one or two. One contributing factor may be his injury history. Looking at the surface, he missed minimal time but he had several issues he played through or that were underreported that warrant a closer look.
Below is Jack Campbell’s known injury history and concerns moving forward.
Right shoulder injury, missed zero games.
Campbell suffered a right shoulder injury sometime prior to his first season in Iowa. He noted this in an article over at The Athletic when he discussed getting woken up a bit going up against former first-round draft pick Tristian Wirfs. Looking back at older pictures, Campbell did wear a shoulder harness dating back to his freshman year as seen below.
There are not any details as to the exact injury or if he eventually had any type of procedure.
Mononucleosis, missed zero games.
Campbell came down with mono, forcing him out of the first three games of the season. He was able to return to play against Minnesota and the team finished with a five-game winning streak with him on the field.’
Knee surgery, side not specified, missed spring football.
He finished the 2021 season and missed spring football “trying to get some things fixed up”. While that doesn’t clarify what happened, it was recently revealed that he underwent knee surgery. He did not miss any games during the 2021 season.
Right Elbow UCL injury, vs Wisconsin, missed 0 games.
Campbell suffered a right elbow injury, specifically a UCL sprain against Wisconsin during the 2022 season. While not reported anywhere at the time, he began wearing the elbow brace against Minnesota late in the season. Looking at the schedule, he was not wearing it in the game prior against Wisconsin when looking at the highlight film. Unfortunately, the full game film is unavailable and it is not possible to determine when he specifically injured the shoulder.
Furthermore, Dane Brugler of The Athletic noted that he did not perform bench press at the NFL Combine or Iowa Pro Day due to the lingering injury in his “The Beast” guide. Considering he injured the elbow back in November and played through the injury, he was only three to four months out from the injury, preventing him from effectively preparing for the bench press.
While Campbell only missed three games total during his collegiate career, he did play through some notable injuries. Each injury individually has its own concerns addressed below.
Right Shoulder Concerns
Looking at the injuries in order, he had the right shoulder injury that he played through all four years. It’s possible there was some type of instability in the area, healed, and then wore the brace as a prophylactic even after. He also could not have had any recurrent instability since then that required surgery.
Linebackers have the highest frequency of labrum tears according to research at 19.2 percent. At the NFL Combine, 53.8 percent had some type of surgery to the area previously which signifies how frequently these injuries occur. While shoulder instability recurrence is anywhere from 40 to 55 percent, there is not any indication that has happened. It’s possible that everything has scarred down in the shoulder and he has not had any issues in several years.
Even if there is instability, plenty of players have been drafted including Bills Shaq Lawson and Zay Jones, though under the previous front office.
The Green Bay Packers’ Rashan Gary was drafted in the first round despite a labrum year in 2019. Finally, San Francisco 49ers TE George Kittle and Minnesota Vikings RB Dalvin Cook have stubbornly refused to get surgery to address their chronic shoulder instability as pros. There are many other players too, but these are some of the higher-profile names. The shoulder may be a non-issue at this point.
The knee surgery indicates that he played through the 2021 season with some type of knee discomfort whether it was a meniscus tear or even minor cartilage damage. This likely required arthroscopic knee surgery to clean out the area.
With knee arthroscopic surgery, there is an increase in concern for arthritis down the line when combined with BMI >30, however, Campbell’s BMI comes in at 29.5. As long as he did not have a meniscectomy, it appears that he will be alright. Had he had a meniscectomy, 27 percent of individuals at the NFL Combine who had surgery already presented with arthritis. This means that the procedure can put the individual at risk for arthritis even if the procedure was recent.
Even if he did have some type of cartilage damage, 40 to 60 percent of prospects have some type of full-thickness cartilage tear which shows how common this issue is. Far from a career-altering injury.
It’s possible he required a meniscus repair or another procedure, but the wording of the articles above doesn’t suggest that. Furthermore, I believe there would be more information available for a repair.
Right Elbow Concerns
His right UCL elbow sprain happened late in the season which is why he wore a hinged brace to the area to provide extra stability. This past season saw how detrimental the injury was to Josh Allen as he played through the injury and saw the effects of Jordan Poyer struggling to tackle with one arm.
Fortunately, both players did not require surgery and their injuries will heal on their own. I expect Campbell’s to do the same. Hopefully, this was more of a sprain than a significant tear to the area. Of the injuries he had, this and his mono diagnosis are the least concerning.
All of these injuries have some level of concern moving forward but shouldn’t preclude him from succeeding at the next level. There isn’t one particular player in mind regarding Campbell’s injury history, but I would compare Rashan Gary with the shoulder coming out of college and the injuries that Jordan Poyer dealt with this past season with the knee and elbow.
Both played through their respective injuries and performed fairly well, though the accumulation of injuries to Poyer certainly reduced his effectiveness. Poyer also did not undergo knee surgery for his torn meniscus.
The injuries are more problematic in-season and limit performance, but the long-term concerns are minimal with rest and rehab. For all the injuries, degenerative changes such as arthritis are most concerning, but it does not appear he is on an accelerated track due to any particular injury.
Buffalo Bills Outlook
Overall, the known injury history does not present many red flags. The biggest concern I have is his shoulder with regard to any residual instability or why he continues to wear a brace. There are questions about the knee as to what procedure he had which could affect any arthritic changes. The elbow injury does not appear to concern long-term based on the information that is known. The Bills have answers to those questions and the answers are likely sufficient.
It’s worth noting that he has not had any publicly known recurring issues with his knee or shoulder which may suggest that these are well-managed.
There is talk that Campbell could be a first-round selection by the Bills at pick No. 27 but he could slide to the second round. There should not be any hesitation in selecting Jack Campbell unless the injuries are significantly worse than reported
They may take a risk passing on him in the first round to get a more pressing need. If he’s there in the second round, they need to run to the podium. He has the potential to have a productive career with minimal injury concerns long-term.