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2021 NFL Draft: Injury concerns with potential Bills targets

The Bills may still get value at pick 30, who could be there?

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

What may be the only downside of a successful season is having to pick late in the NFL draft each round. Successful teams find ways to identify value despite many top-tier players going to lesser teams. Some teams experience success and are unable to sustain it due to bloated contracts, poor drafting, or unforeseen circumstances. This year, the Bills are picking 30th, a draft slot not seen in a generation.

While some top-end talent will undoubtedly be gone by the time the Bills pick, there may still be value to choose from. They may also not have to sacrifice further draft capital or players to get who they want either. Every year, injuries drop several players’ draft stock. Sometimes this depresses the value enough that the player goes to a better situation such as Thurman Thomas did back in 1988 with his knee injury. Sometimes, despite injury, the player’s stock stays steady such as current Miami Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa or former Bills RB Willis McGahee.

There are several players at the top end of the draft who could address needs for Buffalo, falling to them due to injury concerns. This could be an excellent way for the Bills to get value and talent without sacrificing capital. Below are four players the Bills may target in Round 1.

Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech

Farley was once considered a top-ten pick following the 2019 season, but several significant injuries and an opt-out in 2020 hurt his draft stock.

Looking back, he suffered a torn ACL his freshman year, side not specified. He then suffered an L5 disc herniation and S1 bulging disc while weight lifting in August of 2019. He ultimately missed two games at the end of 2019, requiring a microdiscectomy in the offseason. Farley then became one of the first players to opt out due to COVID-19, rather, training on his own in preparation for the draft. While training, Farley further injured his S1 disc, requiring another microdiscectomy to correct the problem.

Microdiscectomies have overall excellent outcomes but could affect career length, though not performance. A draft stock drop for Farley could mean an elite cornerback at a discount price, even for a short time period as this could help lock down CB2 and solidify the defense. If you’d like to read further and learn more, check out my deep dive over at Cover 1.

Would I draft him at 30? I am on board with this pick if he falls to the Bills.

Landon Dickerson, C, Alabama

Dickerson has only been able to finish one out of five collegiate seasons due to significant injuries during his time at Florida State and Alabama. Two torn ACL’s (2016 and 2020) and two ankle injuries requiring surgery (2017 and 2018). While there are more details regarding the ACL injuries than the ankles, that much time lost is concerning.

Dickerson brings an explosive element to his game and has the versatility to play at any position on the line. Considering he’s coming off a torn ACL in the SEC championship game, there is concern whether he would even be ready by Week 1. The numerous injuries also lead to his long-term durability, rising up to a higher level in competition.

While I do like what Dickerson brings to the table for the Bills, I am concerned about using such a high draft pick on an uncertain future. If he falls to 30, Buffalo could pull the trigger and get the fifth-year option to essentially redshirt him as he continues to rehab. This would also allow them to identify a succession plan as there are also long-term questions about current Bills C Mitch Morse after this season. I’d rather see the Bills address more important needs first than center. If you want more info on the complex medical history, check out the latest article over at Cover 1.

Would I draft him at 30? Yes, but I would be cautiously optimistic.

Jaelan Phillips, DE, Miami

Phillips has already been through the wringer with several notable injuries including a right high ankle sprain in 2017, a left low ankle sprain shortly after returning to play, and then a concussion to finish out his freshman year. In 2018, he appeared in four games before suffering another concussion, prematurely ending his season. Later that year, he severely damaged his left wrist resulting in multiple surgeries including removing several bones in his wrist.

Following the wrist injury, Phillips decided to medically retire from football due to the numerous injuries sustained to that point. He eventually changed his mind and transferred to the University of Miami, sitting out a year due to transfer rules before returning in 2020. He was able to appear in every game, suffering no reported injuries. He comes in with the first-round talent, but the above-mentioned injuries are quite concerning.

The wrist surgery is radical as this isn’t typically performed in younger athletes and certainly not in players looking to play in the NFL. Going further, fellow PT and friend Dr. Ethan Turner has a really great thread detailing an article linked regarding the specifics of the injury and what this surgery involved.

Looking at Phillips as a whole, the ankle injuries are slightly concerning, the concussions are very concerning, and the wrist is simply unknown. He has walked away from football once; his other passions are music. Will he be healthy enough and enjoy the game enough to be worth a pick?

Would I draft him? Absolutely not. There are other EDGE defenders with fewer red flags available with first-round grades.

Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue

This could be a beneficial pick to grab a top receiver knowing that injuries and age will happen, looking towards the future. Moore comes out of Purdue with several notable hamstring injuries that caused him to miss time over the past two seasons, including a hamstring strain in 2019 that caused him to miss eight games followed by the hamstring strain on the same side that forced him to miss the first three games of the season.

The Twitter thread below is done up by another fellow PT colleague and friend Dr. Adam Hutchinson who did a fantastic job digging into the specifics of the injuries.

He provides significant context as to why Moore suffered the hamstring strains and why he missed so much time. Without that context, I would have been more worried about the injury, but the interview linked helps clarify some of the concerns. Add in the fact that the Big Ten was uncertain with their season and how up and down Purdue has been record-wise, it shows that he was more about his health than playing meaningless games.

Would I draft him? If he is the best player on the board at 30, absolutely. However, I believe there are more pressing needs than wide receivers.

Bills Medical Concerns

Looking at these four players, general manager Brandon Beane’s comments Tuesday suggest that none of these players will be taken due to concerns about medicals. However, it is not known who they have actually evaluated and are comfortable with, so this statement could be taken with a grain of salt.

To better understand the context of why the medicals are a bigger concern than in years past, read this article by Dr. David Chao (@ProFootballDoc) that details why there is not as much information available this year.

Beane also went into stating how they’re looking long term over the short term with the first-round pick—which makes me question a pick of Farley or Phillips. Dickerson could be an option if the team moves on from Mitch Morse and Moore as an option as Beasley and Diggs age out.

All of these players are certainly within reach if the Bills want them. All have immense talent. The big question is whether the Bills want to take the risk on the unknown.