NFL Draft Injury Impact: Georgia WR Ladd McConkey

04/17/2024
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One of the most intriguing wide receiver draft prospects can fall to the Buffalo Bills at pick 28 or later. Georgia WR Ladd McConkey could be that receiver the Bills covet as evidenced by the multiple times he’s met with them.

A two-time National champion out of Georgia and Wuerffel trophy winner, McConkey comes as an accomplished prospect. However, despite all the production, he still comes with some injury baggage missing time and playing through various injuries.

Brandon Beane is looking for productive but healthy players and the last few years have told us that availability is the best trait when it comes to the Bills. While every prospect has positive and negative traits, the injury traits may be too negative to warrant a high pick. Below are Ladd McConkey’s publicly reported injuries and concerns moving forward.

Injury History

High School

Right foot Jones fracture, Cracked Collarbone

McConkey suffered a right foot Jones fracture after he twisted his ankle during his sophomore year of football in 2017. He re-injured the ankle during basketball which revealed the presence of the Jones fracture that required surgery.

Once he returned to football, he battled through a cracked collarbone his junior year but it’s unclear whether he missed any time.

Georgia

2021

Undisclosed injury, missed 0 games.

2022

Turf Toe, missed 0 games.

Knee tendinitis, missed second half of SEC Championship game.

McConkey battled two chronic injuries in turf toe and knee tendinitis all year as Georgia marched towards their second National championship.

2023

Back soreness, missed 4 games.

Right low ankle sprain, missed 1 game.

McConkey missed five total games due to back soreness that kept him out at the beginning of the season. His ankle sprain came on late in the year and he was forced to play through the issue, at times re-injuring the joint.

Injury Analysis

Looking at McConkey as a whole, he hasn’t missed a lot of time up until this year, but there have been a lot of injuries throughout his high school and college career.

In terms of levels of concern, the low ankle sprain is of the least worry and was more of a nuisance throughout the latter half of 2023. There were some reports that McConkey would require a Tightrope procedure, but this would not have been indicated for a low ankle sprain.

Next up is the cracked collarbone from high school. There was minimal information regarding the injury and how long it kept him out, but a cracked collarbone is a fracture and this is a pretty straightforward recovery. The article did not indicate that he required surgery which means that there are no long term concerns either.

Minor Concern

McConkey’s knee tendonitis was another injury that he played through during the 2022 season that didn’t cause him to miss any games, but it did limit his production. Tendinitis is when there is overuse to the tendon and micro tears form. This causes the body to lay down scar tissue to heal the affected area.

As the tendon is the anchor connecting the muscle to the bone, it needs a strong connector. The linear striations seen in the tendon and muscle are no longer clean looking and do not pull evenly. Inflammation sets in along with pain making acceleration, sudden stopping, and jumping more difficult. Prolonged tendinitis can lead to potential rupture of the tendon but not always the case. As it has been several years, this may have been a one-off issue but it does have the potential to creep up again and limit him.

Increasing the injury concerns is McConkey’s prior Jones fracture. Granted, this injury was several years ago and he underwent surgery, but the potential for another fracture in the area remains. This was the same injury that Sammy Watkins battled through during the early portion of his Bills career which led to his lack of production at times.

This is the result of where the base of the fifth metatarsal is broken and based on the zone dictates the intervention. Oftentimes, surgery is indicated but rehab time frames can vary based on the surgery and what the demands of the position are. Even when they do return, they can re-injure even if they are cleared radiological and from a rehab standpoint. There is a slight concern that McConkey could suffer this injury again considering the position, but he doesn’t appear to have any chronic issues associated with this injury.

Moderate Concern

Nearing the top of the concern is the turf toe he battled through in 2022. There were not any reports that he required surgery but this is another injury that would limit a player’s explosiveness with running and jumping. The team likely placed a hard insole in the shoe to reduce the stress placed through the toe when pushing off but this would alter gait mechanics. This in turn could have affected his knee tendinitis regardless of side. Turf toe can become chronic and if it is severe enough can require surgery to repair the area, but it’s unknown if it’s still an issue for McConkey or whether it’s fully healed.

Significant Concern

Finally, the back soreness that McConkey dealt with from preseason camp to missing the first four games of the season. According to sources, this was something that he dealt with during the prior season, but it became more of an issue than it had previously. He was always deemed “day-to-day” but continued to miss time. There was never any additional information as to the cause of the injury or how it affected him later in the season. However, writing, researching, and discussing injuries at the college and professional level does not have me buying that he was dealing with soreness.

Considering the injury dated back to last season, it’s possible that McConkey was dealing with lumbar spondylolysis which potentially could have led to spondylolisthesis. Spondylolysis is when there is a stress fracture in the pars interarticularis of the vertebrae that connects the upper and lower facets. This is caused by hyperextension or from weightlifting and can slowly happen over time, weakening the pars and eventually causing it to fracture. This is most common at the L5 level. At one point, he was shut down for two weeks as the training staff worked through the injury they were not that familiar with.

Credit: orthoinfo.aaos.org

Should the separation progress enough, this could have developed into spondylolisthesis as seen above. This is when there is a slippage of the vertebrae over each other. The worse the slippage, the more problematic and deficits are noted. Considering the timeline he missed from preseason to missing four games, I would lean towards him dealing with spondylolysis and taking time off to allow the fracture to heal. While players who have a diagnosis of spondylolysis do not have a decrease in their performance, they do get drafted later and have shorter careers.

Taking into consideration McConkey’s known medical history and assumptions of his injuries, there is concern about his ability to stay healthy. Nearly each of these injuries alone are notable but taking them all together has me concerned about his ability to be available at the next level.

We don’t have the necessary information as to whether the back injury was truly an issue and many of the other injuries could indicate that he may have trouble staying healthy.

Comparable Player

Having McConkey already come in with numerous injuries has him starting behind the eight ball from a durability standpoint. His injury history leads to a strong comparison to Lavishka Shenault.

Shenault dealt with several notable injuries coming out of Colorado and those durability concerns have followed him throughout his career. He has been productive at times throughout his career but has never quite exploded and has been a top-tier receiver.

Bills Draft Selection

The Bills have made it known they like McConkey as evident with the multiple meetings they’ve had. For the Bills to draft McConkey isn’t an unreasonable outcome. But where they draft him is key. The Bills have historically been very conservative with collegiate injuries in the first round only selecting players with contusions, fractures, or minor sprains. This has panned out for the Bills early in the player’s career.

Based on his injury history, I do not believe that McConkey is in play for the first round. Due to the amount of wide receivers available, these injury concerns could push him down the board.

Should McConkey fall, where the Bills sit at pick 60, and without a third-round selection, he could be in play. With that as close as it is to the third round, McConkey could be the pick. Should he fall to the third round if they acquire a selection, the Bills should not hesitate.

The Bills have done their homework on Ladd McConkey, it may come down to how far down the board he can fall before they are comfortable with selecting him in the 2024 draft.

1 Comment

  1. James

    Great write up. 100% informative. Go Bolts!!