NFL Draft Injury Impact | Rodney Anderson, RB, Oklahoma

03/11/2019
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Oklahoma RB Rodney Anderson enters the 2019 NFL Draft with many question marks, including his ability as a running back, his health, and whether he can adjust to the next level. Anderson has had a slew of injuries throughout his collegiate career that has most certainly derailed what could have been stellar production. Despite playing behind a dominant offensive line and with back to back Heisman winners in Baker Mayfield & Kyler Murray, Anderson never quite emerged on offense. With so many concerns entering the 2019 NFL Draft, today’s article will review the injuries Anderson sustained during his time at Oklahoma, what the injuries mean moving forward, and how they may affect his draft stock.

Coming out of high school in Texas, Anderson was rated as the second-best recruit in the nation in 2015, signing with Oklahoma. Despite the high praise coming in as a freshman, things began to quickly go downhill for Anderson. Over the course of his Sooners career, Anderson compiled 200 attempts for 1,285 yards for a 6.4 yards per carry and 16 TDs. In addition, he contributed in the receiving game, hauling in 17 receptions for 281 yards (16.5 ypc) and 5 TDs. Those statistics over the course of one season would be quite an accomplishment. Regrettably, he compiled most of these stats during his only healthy year, 2017. Most players sustain small injuries throughout their careers, some major, but few have had the misfortune that Anderson has had. During his time in Norman, Anderson suffered four total injuries, of which three were major. They are as follows:

2015: sprained MCL, spring 2015; broken left fibula sustained during Tennessee vs Oklahoma on kickoff with 4:50 left in the 2nd quarter. He was hit from behind as he was going down, and his teammate, Wesley Horky, fell onto his ankle. As a result, the injury was a similar mechanism to a high ankle sprain, but the fibula fractured. Anderson missed rest of season.

via ytCropper
2016: fractured C-5 vertebrae during fall camp practices, missed entire season.

2018: torn right ACL on final play of first quarter during UCLA game, missed the remainder of the season.

via ytCropper
Each of these injuries isolated could significantly hinder any player’s return to playing D-I football. Any of these injuries could derail an NFL dream. But to have all of these over the course of a career while still being considered for the NFL is downright impressive.

Reviewing each specific injury, the 2015 broken fibula was sustained in the lower portion of his left leg near the ankle. This is a common bone to break, and Bills fans saw this happen to C Russell Bodine and LB Matt Milano this past season. As a result of the fracture, he had surgery, missing the remainder of the season. This injury alone is not major and generally does not cause any long-term concern.

The 2016 C-5 fracture was initially described as a stinger, according to Anderson. He stated that his neck continued to stiffen up after sustaining the injury, with imaging later revealing a fracture in his C-5 vertebrae. Thankfully, this injury was treated nonoperatively, which indicates that this was either a spinous process or articular process fracture. The spinous process is the posterior portion of the vertebrae which can typically be felt as a bump down the spine. The articular process are the bumps that sit above and below the posterior portion of the vertebrae and help interlock the vertebrae to sit on top of each other for support. These areas of the vertebrae are more stable, have no contact with the spinal cord, and usually do not have poor outcomes with conservative treatment and rehab. It was reported that he had to wear a cervical collar for 3 months in order to allow the bones to heal correctly. Unfortunately, we do not know what happened to him to cause the fracture in the first place. Regardless of the reason, he was able to bounce back from the back-to-back injuries and produce a strong junior season, which put him into consideration for the Heisman discussion going into 2018.

Regrettably, Anderson never got to seriously chase the Heisman, as his 2018 season quickly came to an end with a torn ACL in his right knee. This occurred on the last play of the first quarter. Reviewing the play, Anderson begins bobbing and weaving Bruins defenders. Right before he is tackled, he takes a very hard cut to his left, planting off his right; his knee doesn’t appear to give out, but the next step forward with his right doesn’t seem to have as much power as it should, and he gets wrapped up and tackled. This lack of power could be due to the ACL tearing just prior or Anderson being slowed due to running into a wall of defenders. I had initially thought that his foot got caught in the turf as he was taken down, but that does not appear to be the case, looking at the various angles afforded by replay. As a result, this is a non-contact ACL tear, which most ACL tears tend to be in high level athletics.

Despite tearing the ligament, Anderson was able to walk off under his own power and later was officially diagnosed with an ACL tear. There do not appear to be any reports indicating that he sustained any other associated damage, such as articular cartilage, meniscus, or other associated ligaments. He has since had surgery and was able to attend the Combine for medical testing and limited participation, only competing in the bench press. He was able to complete 25 reps, finishing 3rd to Kansas State’s Alex Barnes (34) and Georgia’s Elijah Holyfield (26). Despite his limited participation, meeting with all the NFL teams gave him a strong opportunity to talk about why he should be drafted despite his injury history.

This clearly indicates that he possess some abilities to keep up with everyone else, but the inability to further participate at the Combine or a pro day will certainly leave teams wondering whether he has the ability to play in the NFL. As of the time of the Draft, he is 6-7 months out from surgery and just beginning to resume light football-related activities such as cutting and sprinting, the exact motions that allowed him to be great.

After reading all of that, most would think that Anderson is injury-prone. I do not believe that to be the case. He may be more prone to injury due to being placed in game positions where injury is more likely. For example, playing special teams on kickoff return leads to bodies flying everywhere, leading to a greater probability of sustaining a bang-bang play such as a broken fibula. As he progressed in his Oklahoma career, he was most likely taken off of special teams or used more conservatively, as he demonstrated to be a special talent.

As for the broken vertebrae and ACL, these may have just been incredibly unlucky. In interviews prior to landing in Norman, Anderson stated that he never had to deal with injuries. However, his entire career was marred by the above mentioned injuries and severely limited his ability to showcase his talents. I do want to come out and emphatically state that none of these injuries are connected in any way and did not set himself up for future injury, debunking the injury prone theory. The closest correlation you can make is the broken fibula and sprained MCL could have affected the ACL, but these injuries were 3 years apart. Most, if not all, medical professionals would agree that there is no likely link between those injuries. One could also make the case that due to the inconsistent availability of his play over the years, this could make him more susceptible to injury. I believe that is also debunked, as he had the first two injuries, came back, had a fantastic junior season, and then suffered the ACL.

The only thing I saw in my research was that he wore a non-contact green jersey during practice during the 2017 season to avoid further injury during the season. Not taking hits during the week may lend to him not being able to adjust to bracing for tackles. However, we see all the time how quarterbacks wear red jerseys, signifying not to be hit during practice, and they are just fine in games. This is my belief about Anderson. Finally, the only other possibility, which is highly unlikely, is that Anderson has some type of metabolic or connective tissue order disease, in which his bones would not be structurally strong enough to support the abuse that he puts his body through. This would have been caught by the medical staff at OU, this would have been caught by NFL medical examinations at the Combine, this just isn’t likely. He was simply unlucky.

As to how these injuries will affect Anderson moving forward, we have some ability to look into the future. As mentioned before, the broken fibula has no effect on his abilities, as was evident with his college play. The vertebrae fracture does cause concerns for me moving forward, but considering that it was a conservative approach bodes well for potential future neck complaints. If he had surgery and had a cervical fusion, it has been shown that he would have been able to come back and play in the NFL. However, he may have been limited if his career progresses, as the vertebrae above and below a fusion take the extra brunt of movement and could cause issues such as disc herniations or arthritis in the coming years. Thankfully, this does not appear to be the case.

The biggest concern moving forward is the torn ACL. As stated in previous articles, once someone tears an ACL, they have a risk to tear the opposite side for up to two years after. Quoted from the Bryce Love article here at Cover 1:

The risk to tear an ACL is greater for Love because he’s under the age of 25, and there’s a greater chance he suffers another ACL tear to the opposite side than to the surgical side, and his overall chances of suffering another injury are greatest within two years of the original injury.

These all apply to Anderson as much as Love. This will give some teams pause when looking at where and whether to draft him. Considering the injuries he’s had, this will clearly impact teams from either totally staying away or taking a flyer on him, a low risk, high reward move. The hope is that Anderson continues to heal effectively from the ACL tear and prepares his body for the rigors of an NFL season. Research has shown that an isolated ACL tear has shown to have better outcomes at one year and five years out, compared to those with combined injuries such as the MCL or meniscus while also tearing the ACL. What this means is that if he only tore his ACL and nothing else, he would do better than others who wrecked their knees. Ideally, Anderson will not turn into a Todd Gurley or Sony Michel, young backs with veteran knees.

I believe that he will look to go to a team with an established backfield, where he can sparingly get some playing time to get his feet wet. This will also allow him to prepare his body physically to withstand the changes playing in the NFL. I believe that if he were expected to be the premier back right off the bat, he may initially struggle or suffer yet another injury. He had no benefit to staying in college despite having eligibility left due to medical redshirts and academic eligibility. While there may have been something left to prove, he risked losing out on the potential NFL payday.

By the time training camp rolls around, he will be nearly a year out from his injury and should begin to regain some of his form that intrigues so many NFL GMs. Structurally, he will be healthy and cleared, but he may be slow to round back into form due to the mental side of the game and regaining the fluid motions that he did not have to think about. Like Bryce Love, I believe Anderson will be a borderline day two, or more likely day three, pick. We can only speculate whether he will continue to suffer injuries that limited his production in college, but considering that he has worked back from three injuries such as these to even make the radar for the NFL Draft, there is considerable justification to give him a solid look. Teams have to seriously consider drafting Anderson, who to this point has been through hell just to get back on this stage.

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 @BangedUpBills, on Reddit at u/BangedUpBills, and online at www.bangedupbills.com. Thank you for reading and GO BILLS!

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