Over the next few months, Kyle Trimble of Banged Up Bills will be profiling some 2019 NFL Draft prospects for us who may have medical concerns. Make sure to follow his work @BangedUpBills.
One of the top defensive ends entering the 2019 NFL Draft is Michigan’s Chase Winovich. The senior leader helped lead the Wolverines to a 10-3 record this year, and over the course of his stellar career helped re-establish the Wolverines as a national powerhouse; he will be leaving the program as yet another NFL ready player out of Ann Arbor. However, the end of his career has led to several questions about his health. There has been minimal information regarding the nature of the injury that he states he suffered in the Ohio State game, which has only led to further speculation about whether this will affect his draft stock. This article will attempt to identify what he did to his ankle and how this will affect him in April’s draft.
While information is minimal, there are several tidbits that have been released that shed some light on the nature of the injury. They are as follows:
- The injury occurred early during the Ohio State-Michigan game.
- According to sources, he is currently dealing with an ankle injury.
- He was forced to miss the Senior Bowl as a result of the ankle injury.
- He is putting the surgery off until after the Combine.
In the above articles, he never comes out and states he has an ankle injury, just that he has to have surgery and that he will put it off until after the Combine. So looking at the timeline, he suffered this injury on November 24th and continued to play after the injury during the game. He later got an MRI after pain was not subsiding and was informed by medical staff that he needed to have surgery, but not necessarily immediately. He proceeded to play a month later in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl on December 29th for the entire game. He then originally committed to playing in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL, but later pulled out on January 17th, citing the now revealed ankle injury. The upcoming NFL Combine is from February 26th-March 4th. By the time Winovich participates in the Combine, he will be three months out from the original injury. However, because we know he’s going to need surgery, we can narrow down possible injuries.
Looking at game film from the Ohio State game and Peach Bowl, it is hard to determine what he sustained, as there is no clear mechanism of injury, nor did he appear to miss any extended time during each game. In the Ohio State game, there are two moments where he may have sustained an ankle injury: first quarter, 5:47 left, Winovich got hit low and slid in the backfield, appearing to tweak his left ankle, but he was able to get up quickly to finish the play. The other play was in the second quarter, 5:49 left. He is taken out by his own teammate trying to get back into a play, appearing to possibly injure his right ankle as a result of getting hit low. In both cases, there does not appear to be any clear mechanism of injury other than direct contact, which makes it difficult to determine a specific injury. This also does not allow us to determine which ankle he injured.
As he continued to play through the OSU game and then in the Peach Bowl, along with the fact that he is delaying surgery, we can immediately rule out injuries such as fractures, a high ankle sprain, a low ankle sprain, or significant ligament tears or dislocations. All of these injuries (minus the low ankle sprain) would have likely prevented him for returning to play during the OSU game and would have made things difficult to return for the Peach Bowl. Isolated low ankle sprains typically don’t require surgery and wouldn’t be very concerning. Even if he had sustained a high ankle sprain that he played through, he could require surgery, but that would have ruled him out for the bowl game. There has been recent talk regarding the Tightrope procedure that QB Tua Tagovailoa had to play in the national championship, but there aren’t any reports that Winovich already had surgery and would contradict what he said about waiting until after the Combine.
Looking at game video, Winovich repeatedly lines up on either edge of the defensive line based on the play call. During each play, he did not appear to be favoring one side of play compared to another, nor did he appear to be lacking explosiveness on the snap. In both games, he did not appear to have any type of bracing or taping to either ankle, which further complicates identifying the type of ankle injury he suffered. It is also worth noting that despite plenty of rest, this injury was not expected to heal on its own.
As a result of ruling out several serious injuries, this leaves several possible ailments that he could have suffered back in November. The possibilities include:
- Avulsion fracture
- Osteochondral lesion
- Bone chips/loose bodies
The first injury is possible due to the nature of the injury. Winovich may have suffered acute trauma due to a direct blow or sprain to the ankle, leading to an avulsion fracture. This occurs when a tendon or ligament tears away from the bone and takes a piece of bone with it. Often, these injuries do not require surgery. Instead, they require rest of the healing area for larger fractures. Considering the medical staff knows his NFL aspirations, I do not believe they would let him go injure his ankle further without proper rest first. Most avulsion fractures take between 6-8 weeks to heal, though some could take longer. He would have had roughly a month between the OSU game and the Peach Bowl and then a month between the Peach Bowl and Senior Bowl. The timeline alone for an avulsion fracture would have not been appropriate to play in those games and expect proper healing to occur.
The second possible injury is an osteochondral lesion to the talus. The talus (pictured above) is the bone that articulates with the tibia/fibula and creates the subtalar joint for the foot/ankle complex, allowing pressure, and transfers weight along the ankle joint. There are varying types of osteochondral lesions, such as chondral (cartilage only), chondral-subchondral (bone and cartilage), subchondral (intact overlying cartilage; this is the shock absorber in the bone), or cystic. This is when a piece of the articular cartilage, which is the smooth, shiny outer portion of bone that helps facilitate smooth movement between bones in the joint, rips or pulls away from the underlying bone with varying degrees of severity. These can happen due to acute trauma such as a direct blow, sprain, or underlying disorders. In the case of Winovich, it would have most likely been acute. However, if he had an injury such as subchondral or chondral-subchondral and waited to put off surgery, he would have done more harm than good playing in his bowl game. A severe injury such as this usually requires surgical intervention to remove/repair the offending piece of cartilage and then perform microfracture surgery to the newly exposed bone in order to stimulate cartilage growth to protect the bone. The recovery time for microfracture surgery is usually 6-9 months. Had he known he needed this surgery, he would have elected for it immediately in order to be ready for training camp.
The most likely culprit would be the chondral lesion mentioned above, in which small flakes or chips of cartilage are sheared or broken off due to trauma and can float around in the joint capsule. This can lead to greater pressure in the joint capsule from the synovial fluid, which is the joint lubricant that helps the joints move smoothly in conjunction with the articular cartilage. This, in turn, would cause persistent pain, possible swelling long after the original injury, joint locking, reduced range of motion, and ineffective movement required to play effectively.
Winovich would require surgery to remove these offending bodies to normalize the ankle function to return to his normal abilities. A normal recovery time could be 6+ weeks, which would allow him to participate in the combine and then have the necessary time to recover in time for OTAs after he gets drafted.
The reason that Winovich would not have had surgery after the bowl game is due to the fact that the turn around time would not have been sufficient to be fully ready for the Combine. Had Michigan not played in a bowl game or had he elected to skip the bowl game, he likely would have been ready. However, he had stated that he wanted to finish out what he started and play the final games with his teammates. Thankfully, this is not an injury that he would really make worse by playing though it, and he would have still benefited from rehab to get himself ready to play in the Peach Bowl.
My overall thought is that he suffered the injury, knew he could get through one more college game, and then train for the combine and let the injury rest the best it could until then. He really had nothing to gain by playing in the Senior Bowl, so he rested, which has allowed him to be fully ready for the Combine. Doctors evaluating him at the combine will be very aware of the procedure he will eventually have and make recommendations based on this. Based on how he looked in his bowl game, I expect him to put up respectable numbers, get surgery, and then allow himself to have nearly three months to fully rehab in order to be ready for OTAs. According to Rotoworld, he is slated as a fourth-round draft prospect but could improve with a solid Combine performance. Either way, this does not appear to be an injury that is severe and should not affect his draft position. Of course, this is all dependent on whether the information currently out there is accurate, which I believe it is, based on the number of reporters and resources that go into the NFL Draft. I think with the motor and attitude he has, he would be a great addition to any team, and barring further injury, can have a decent NFL career.
Thank you to Cover 1 for allowing me to provide injury analysis on upcoming draft prospects prior to the draft. If you like what you read, make sure to follow Banged Up Bills on Facebook, on Twitter @BangedUpBillsc, on Reddit at u/BangedUpBills, and online at www.bangedupbills.com. Thank you for reading and GO BILLS!