Oregon running back Jonathan Stewart and Clemson defensive end Phillip Merling, considered virtual locks for the first round and possible top 15 selections, could see their respective stocks take a tumble with news that each has undergone surgery recently and may not be able to fully work out for teams before the April 26-27 NFL Draft.
NFLDraftScout.com has learned Stewart underwent surgery Wednesday.
Reports suggest the surgery was to correct a turf toe injury originally suffered in November. The injury did not keep him out of any games last season, nor did it hinder him in running a 4.46-second 40-yard dash and posting a 36.5-inch vertical jump at the Combine. It was at the Combine, in fact, that the injury was red-flagged by doctors during routine medical examinations, prompting the procedure to be done. In undergoing surgery now, Stewart should be healed in time for the start of training camp.
Still, with a recovery timetable that could push past the draft, scouts may find the news disconcerting. In a draft as deep as this one at running back, scouts will be forced to rely on film and Stewart's performance at the Combine to finalize their grading.
Scouts don't have the luxury of Combine results for Merling, however.
Citing a groin injury, Merling did not work out at the Combine. His uncle and former position coach at Clemson, Chris Rumph, informed the media this week that Merling would not be working out at the Tigers' Pro Day on March 14 due to recent surgery to repair a sports hernia.
Like Stewart, Merling's recovery timetable could make working out for teams before the draft impossible. With only a disappointing showing at the bench press (17 reps) at the Combine, scouts have precious little in terms of workout results to fall back on for Merling. In having the surgery now, Merling is hoping to be recovered in time to work out for scouts before the draft.
While the proposition of investing millions of dollars into an injured player is enough to throw a scare into even the most gambling of general managers, teams would be wise to check the film before dropping either Stewart or Merling too far.
Stewart was a unanimous All-Pac-10 selection in 2007 after he rushed for a school-record 1,722 yards. Blessed with a unique combination of size, strength and speed, the 5-foot-10, 235-pound Stewart might be the most versatile back in the draft. His 2,481 all-purpose yards last season also set a school record and led the Pac-10.
Merling broke out as a junior, proving that the 46 tackles and 10 tackles for loss he posted playing opposite Gaines Adams in 2006 was no mirage. Though he only earned Honorable Mention ACC honors in 2007, Merling was among the most versatile defensive ends in the country, posting 78 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and 7.0 sacks despite opposing offenses focusing their blocking schemes on him.
At 6-4, 276 pounds, Merling is one of the few defensive ends with legitimate NFL size. Some teams, in fact, feel Merling has the frame to eventually move inside to defensive tackle.
Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange.