Five years of collegiate football. Four season-ending injuries. Three postseason trophies in 2020 (Rimington, Jacobs Blocking and national championship). Two major football programs. One NFL dream.
While that doesn’t fully encompass who Alabama center Landon Dickerson is, it does indicate some of the risk factors that any NFL team will have to consider when looking for offensive line help in the 2021 NFL draft.
While Dickerson has exceptional talent that translates to the NFL level, he does bring with him several notable injuries that have prevented him from being a sure-fire first-round pick. Despite all the injuries, Dickerson has shown the ability to perform at a high level and even the ability to stay healthy for albeit, a brief stretch during his collegiate career. Below are Dickerson’s publicly known injuries.
2016 Florida State
Freshman year: Appeared in seven games at right guard, suffered a right ACL tear in practice, required season-ending surgery missing the last five games.
2017 Florida State
Sophomore year: Appeared in four games after switching to left guard, suffered a right ankle injury against Wake Forest, and then played against Miami, but forced him to miss nine games after that. This injury ultimately required surgery, ending his season.
2018 Florida State
Junior year: Appeared in two games total. Played right tackle against Virginia Tech, suffering a left ankle injury, later missing four games. Returned against Louisville, starting at left tackle. It was noted he had surgery to repair the original injury and that he played the game, the stitches later bursting open. It was reported that he had complications from the surgery that forced him to miss the remainder of the season.
Redshirt Junior year: Dickerson entered the transfer portal following the completion of his undergraduate degree at Florida State, eventually enrolling at Alabama. He was able to appear in 13 games, four at right guard and nine at center, suffering no publicly recorded injuries.
Redshirt Senior year: Appeared in 12 total games, 11 games at center before suffering a left ACL tear against Florida in the SEC championship game. He had surgery shortly thereafter and ceremoniously took the final snap of the national title game against Ohio State to end the game.
Looking at Dickerson as a whole, it takes a special type of player to get back up each time after these season-ending injuries. What is also known about these injuries is the fact that these past injuries could come back to cause problems down the line in his professional career. To understand each injury and its impact, the anatomy must be reviewed.
Knee & ACL anatomy
The ACL is a ligament that runs lateral to medial and prevents anterior translation of the femur over the tibia. This ligament assists with rotational stability by preventing the knee from rotating at the tibia, ensuring that the knee acts as a hinge joint. The ACL contains mechanoreceptors that assist with detecting changes in direction, speed, and tension. It is the most commonly torn ligament in the knee during sporting activities.
The 2016 ACL injury details are not known other than it was suffered in practice. He missed the rest of the year and returned to play in Week 1 after missing spring practices rehabbing. It’s also noted that he wore a hinged knee brace on the knee the following season. It is important to note that he played with braces on both knees in later years.
The 2020 ACL injury is documented on film with Dickerson getting thrown down towards the end of the play, loading up his leg as he was getting twisted down, injuring the ACL. It also appears to have been isolated given that he was able to appear in the national championship game. Had he tore his meniscus or MCL, it’s unlikely he would have been cleared to even get out there without an assistive device. At the time, it was noted that he had ligament damage to the area which might suggest a Grade 2 ACL tear. However, since he was declaring for the NFL Draft, it likely made more sense to get it repaired to ensure full health.
The ankle joint is collectively made up of three bones: the distal portion of the tibia that makes up the medial malleolus, the distal portion of the fibula that makes up the lateral malleolus and the talus, a dome-shaped bone that allows the tibia and fibula to articulate with each other. Holding this structure together are multiple ligaments around the ankle and the syndesmosis between the tibia and fibula.
In the 2017 ankle injury, very little is known regarding the specifics of the surgery he required for this injury. He injured it against Wake Forest for which film is not available, returned the next week against Miami with it heavily taped, and showed several instances where he lost his balance while pivoting on the ankle.
Considering he eventually required surgery, this possibly suggests that he tore the lateral ligaments of the ankle and required surgery to stabilize the area, otherwise known as the Brostrom procedure. The season-ending nature of the ankle surgery appears to lean towards this in addition to the fact that he was able to return to spring practices 6 months later.
Fortunately, if he did have this procedure on his ankle, the outcomes are excellent and there are no long-term concerns according to research. However, this is totally speculative based on the information available and the timelines available. There are other possibilities, but some of the timelines would not have matched up well or he would have been reasonably been able to return before the season ended.
High ankle sprain/Tightrope procedure
Regarding the 2018 ankle injury, he was out four weeks before returning and playing through the repaired left ankle. It was noted that his stitches had torn open and played with a blood-soaked sock throughout the game. He eventually had to end his season prematurely and was on a knee scooter for at least a period of time following the second injury according to his head coach.
Based on the timeline from the first surgery and time off in between, it’s possible that he required the Tightrope procedure for a high ankle sprain from the Virginia Tech game. It’s interesting to note that he switched from right side to left side for the Louisville game indicating that his ankle was still not at full health, requiring the use of his right ankle as an anchor to block. While Tightrope procedures do take longer to fully rehab from, there have been instances where players return as quickly as two weeks to return practicing and playing.
There isn’t a lot of research that demonstrates the complications that Dickerson was dealing with that led to his season prematurely ending yet again, but the sutures opening up may have been the final straw that either suggested the re-injury was significant enough that this could have led to a possible infection. Shutting him down and allowing for a full rehabilitation may have been the only way to ensure that he was ready for the following season.
NFL injury impact
Dickerson is an incredibly talented player; that part is clearly evident. However, his biggest knock is the injuries. While it is possible to re-tear the ACL again once he gets to the NFL with studies specifically suggest that prior ACL tears in college led to a 25% risk to tear once getting to the NFL within just under two years. I don’t believe it is as likely for Dickerson to re-tear yet again because most players tear two, at most three times before either they suffer no further tears or they cannot come back due to not being able to perform.
These knee injuries can also lead to other complications such as degenerative osteoarthritis due to his elevated BMI as an offensive lineman. Another study indicated that ACL reconstructions lead to osteoarthritis 36% over a 10-year study, suggesting that his knees may begin to fail him as he progresses onward in his NFL career. Finally, he is at risk to suffer recurrent hamstring strains following his ACL reconstruction, but his past history doesn’t demonstrate any known instance which is promising. However, moving to a higher level of competition and pushing to be ready may lead him to suffer overuse injuries such as a hamstring strain.
He does still fall under the risk to re-tear due to his age, but hopefully, he can get past the first two years of playing in the NFL to escape the higher risk mentioned above and get past his 24th birthday. He does have prior ankle injuries that are concerning and little is known about the specifics of these injuries, other than what is speculated above.
The best predictor of future injuries is prior injuries. Simply put, Dickerson has not been able to stay healthy. Whether this is bad luck, bad genetics, poor awareness on the field, it’s hard to pinpoint what led to all this. My two main concerns are what future injuries he may suffer once he gets to the NFL. The other concern is when does Dickerson reach that point where he doesn’t want to rehab anymore?
Knowing first hand as a physical therapist both treating patients and having been a patient myself, the road to recovery is arduous. This might have been Dickerson’s dream to make it to the NFL, but if he continues to suffer injuries, who’s to say he doesn’t simply walk away with his health and money in his pocket? It happens occasionally and the only thing that may stop him from making that decision is whether he truly loves the game.
Looking at his injury history alone, I don’t know how he could be better than a Day 3 flyer pick. But considering his talent level, he is clearly Day 1. Take everything into consideration and the fact that a portion of his rookie year may be spent on PUP until the team is comfortable with him playing following his ACL repair, I see him as an early Day 2 pick. This doesn’t stop someone from falling in love with him that is looking towards the future to select him in the late first round, but once healthy, he could be a force.
His track record says otherwise, but each player is an individual and the past injuries do not ensure him that he will suffer more, but it’s very possible. He has shown time and time again the love he has for the game, attempting to play through an injury, attempting to play multiple snaps in a football game mere weeks following an ACL tear.
Dickerson is a player worth taking, but he cannot be the answer to that team immediately. According to this article, his goal is to play Week 1, which based on the timeline, is a realistic but aggressive goal. Week 1 would be just shy of nine months since Dickerson’s surgery, which is on the low end of the spectrum to return to full play following an ACL tear. He has the talent to play at the next level and be productive, but if he is available. The team that takes him must already have an established offensive line in place and not expect Dickerson to contribute substantially right away. Even if he is cleared for Week 1, I would want to wait until till midseason to get him any meaningful snaps.
Dickerson is a big gamble and letting him fall in the draft a little bit may afford him more time to get healthy and adapt to the next level to ensure his long-term success both professionally and in health.