As NFL teams prepare for this week's draft, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a variety of challenges, including on the medical front: No team can bring a prospect to its facility for a physical or send a team doctor to examine the player elsewhere.
The impact is lesser for those players who underwent physicals at the NFL Scouting Combine in early March. But it's still an extra hurdle for teams to get comfortable with any player who has varying degrees of medical flags -- and some of those players are potential first-round picks.
Here's a thumbnail look at the health of five of those top prospects, based on information from NFL sources and presented in alphabetical order:
Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson: A right ankle injury that required surgery last spring has left Higgins with a decreased range of motion. But he has been playing on it for some time and remained productive, posting career highs with 1,167 yards and 13 touchdowns on 59 catches as a junior last fall. Long-term concerns could factor into the equation for NFL teams, though it seems unlikely to have a major impact on Higgins' draft status.
Jaylon Johnson, CB, Utah: Clubs were informed last week in a letter from Dr. Peter Millett that Johnson is ahead of schedule, six weeks after undergoing a Latarjet procedure -- used to prevent repeated dislocations that can cause instability and prevent further damage -- on his right shoulder March 4. Johnson is expected to make a full recovery "without any restrictions or limitations" and return to unrestricted football activities by early August, Millett wrote, adding that a follow-up appointment with Dr. Eric Hanson raised no concerns. Johnson previously had surgery on his other shoulder in the fall of 2016; multiple shoulder injuries often raise a red flag. But Johnson has shown toughness, playing through the torn labrum he suffered last September and waiting until after the combine to have surgery.
Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina: Lower-body injuries are always concerning with big men such as Kinlaw (6-foot-5 1/8, 324 pounds), a first-team Associated Press All-American in 2019 who previously had a labrum repaired in one of his hips, as well as a past back injury and two knees that multiple teams have flagged as at risk of arthritis. "Wear and tear" is the term most used following Kinlaw's combine MRIs; no team is known to have failed him on a physical. Several teams -- including a few picking high -- say they have no issue with Kinlaw's medical, making it unlikely a top-20 talent falls out of the first round.
Terrell Lewis, Edge, Alabama: Lewis has first-round ability, but his injury history figures to drop him to Day 2. He missed 10 games with an upper-arm injury in 2017 and the entire 2018 season because of a torn right ACL. This past season, Lewis suffered a bone bruise in the same right knee, in which there is stiffness and reduced range of motion -- early signs of arthritis. Still, that didn't stop Lewis from earning second-team All-SEC honors in 2019, when he posted career highs with 11.5 tackles for loss and six sacks.
Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama: One of the most polished passers in the class, Tagovailoa has shown toughness in recovering from a series of injuries, but there's a lot of wear and tear on his 6-foot, 217-pound frame. In just the past two years, Tagovailoa broke a bone in his throwing hand in the spring of 2018, then broke it again and needed surgery; sprained a knee early in the 2018 season; suffered a left high-ankle sprain and had tightrope surgery in December 2018 (returning four weeks later to start the College Football Playoff semifinal); suffered a right high-ankle sprain and had another tightrope surgery last October; and suffered a right hip dislocation and posterior wall fracture on Nov. 18. Less than five months after Tagovailoa underwent season-ending surgery, the quarterback held a "pro day" session and sent the video to all 32 teams. Coaches and scouts who reviewed the one-hour workout, which included 55 scripted throws and another 20 throws in a dynamic drill setting, felt Tagovailoa was moving around pretty well.
All updates from Tagovailoa's doctors since the surgery have been positive; he underwent a physical at the combine (as well as a recent recheck with Titans team doctor Thomas Byrd, a renowned hip surgeon), and he's considered low-risk for recurrence or the type of blood-flow issue that ended Bo Jackson's career. But each team has its own medical staff and its own degree of risk tolerance. Even if a franchise could examine him today, there's no way to be 100 percent positive about his long-term prognosis before draft day. As multiple people with knowledge of Tagovailoa's medical report explained, it's common for such injuries to lead to arthritis that can affect a player's mobility in the short term and require long-term management, but that usually takes at least a year to develop. Said one GM: "It is a little bit of a leap of faith."