Most scouts, general managers and draft experts agree that Georgia running back Todd Gurley is a first-round NFL pick, even during a pass-happy era that has seen the position become devalued.
Now the doctors will have their say on Gurley.
Gurley is the prospect with the highest profile – with arguably the most to lose – among players who will be in Indianapolis this weekend to be examined by team physicians.
Gurley, a Tarboro native, in February refused to allow doctors at the scouting combine to examine his surgically repaired left knee. Gurley tore his ACL against Auburn in November and said at Georgia’s pro day he expects to be ready when minicamps begin in June.
But that timeline could change – as could Gurley’s first-round projection – depending on what doctors find this weekend when they check his knee.
“They will be looking to see how the operation has healed, where he is in terms of flexibility in the knee, various tests that they’ll perform, MRIs, etc.,” former Carolina Panthers general manager Bill Polian said. “I would guess that anybody that has him high on their board is going to have their doctor there.”
The Panthers send members of their medical staff to Indiana every year for the medical rechecks that Polian called “Indy 2.”
In addition to Gurley, there will be a couple of other players in Indianapolis whose conditions the Panthers will be monitoring. Like Gurley, Indiana running back Tevin Coleman skipped the combine drills while he recovered from tendon surgery on one of his toes.
Coleman is expected to participate in the Hoosiers’ pro day Wednesday, but teams will want their doctors to evaluate him.
Both Coleman and Gurley made predraft visits to Carolina, which released franchise rushing leader DeAngelo Williams in March in a move that saved the Panthers $2 million in salary cap space.
Texas A&M offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi also is expected to be re-examined this weekend. Ogbuehi was expected to be a high first-round pick before tearing his ACL in A&M’s bowl game – an injury Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman mentioned during the Panthers’ season wrap-up news conference in January.
But the most scrutinized player in Indy figures to be Gurley, who was a frunt-runner for the Heisman Trophy last fall before being suspended four games for accepting more than $3,000 in exchange for autographed memorabilia.
Polian, the Panthers’ first general manager and now an ESPN analyst, said doctors will check Gurley’s range of motion and the strength of his muscles around the knee and make their own estimates of when Gurley will be back to full strength.
Polian said doctors also will be looking for signs of degenerative joint disease, a type of arthritis characterized by the breakdown and eventual loss of cartilage.
“What it boils down to is if the likelihood is it will take him a long while to be ready and there is some question about longevity, that could mitigate against drafting him in the first round,” Polian said Tuesday during a conference call with reporters.
“If everything’s right on schedule and he’s going to be ready to play in the early part of the season, first third of the season, let’s say, and there are no long-term issues, he’s for sure a first-rounder.”
At the owners meetings last month, Gettleman praised Gurley’s demeanor and said his draft status would largely be determined by his recheck.
Some mock drafts have Gurley going as high as No. 8, although a cbssports.com mock Tuesday had him tumbling into the second round and the 55th overall pick.
“There’s no question about his ability. There’s no question about his work ethic. There’s no question about anything footballwise,” Polian said. “The question would be, will the knee hold up over a five- to seven-year career, let’s say, just to pick a number?”
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