2015 Draft: Tight end injury concerns

A few of the tight ends eligible for the 2015 draft could have their status impacted by injuries, including some mid-round possibilities.

#BROWN,Pharaoh OregonJr 06:05.1241 4.545.8 3
#CARTWRIGHT, Kivon Colorado State Sr06:04.0 2484.80 5.07
#DEAVER, Braxton DukeSr 06:04.6237 4.905.6 4
#MCGEE, Jake FloridarSr 06:05.3248 4.795.4 5
#WALFORD, Clive MiamirSr 06:04.0263 4.936.3 2-3
Some are wondering if Oregon junior Pharaoh Brown will ever make it back to the playing field at all, much less come back in 2015. The underclassman was expected to declare for the draft, as the Kellen Winslow Jr. clone was regarded as one of the finer pass catchers at his position, despite playing for a team whose offense has always been featured by its running attack, despite the presence of Heisman Trophy finalist Marcus Mariota at quarterback.

That never deterred Brown from making his quick decision to attend the university after receiving four-star status out of high school. A freak left leg injury in 2013 August camp prevented him from making his debut for three contests and his starting debut for four more games, but he showed promise after pulling down 10 balls for 123 yards and a pair of scores last season.

In 2014, Brown was the featured tight end for the Ducks through the first 10 games. The Mackey Award (nation’s top tight end) semi-finalist generated six touchdowns from his 25 catches, gaining 420 yards for a 16.8-yard average before his season came to an abrupt end when he suffered severe knee injuries vs. Utah on Nov. 8. The Ducks also lost cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and center Hroniss Grasu to injuries during that game.

Sadly, Brown’s injury was one of those one-in-a-million shots that leave you replaying all the things that had to go exactly wrong for it to happen. Brown fired out up-field when his left foot landed on the right foot of tight end Evan Baylis, lined up inside to Brown’s left.
Brown stumbled a bit after stepping on Baylis’ foot and then extended his right leg to regain his balance. But he planted the right foot awkwardly, resulting in his weight moving forward and over the leg, causing it to buckle at the knee. He was taken to a local Salt Lake City hospital and released days later.

While the school did not get into detail, the coaches office called the injury a catastrophic knee injury. With roughly five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Oregon tight end took one step from the line of scrimmage and crumpled to the turf, his right knee folding inward at an unnatural angle.

Brown’s teammates, celebrating a touchdown run from quarterback Marcus Mariota, didn’t notice at first. The look of recognition was obvious as Mariota stopped his jog to the sideline and ran to Brown’s side. Trainers and medical staff encircled Brown on the turf. The play happened quickly, across the field from Oregon’s sideline, and the severity of the injury wasn’t obvious at first.

Brown’s mother, Jeannetta Smith, a registered nurse, declined to provide specifics of her son’s injury but acknowledged that he will need additional surgery. The good news, she said, is that doctors aren’t describing the injury as career-ending.

The ankle injury Kivon Cartwright suffered during spring drills has become way more problematic than Colorado State ever envisioned. The initial thought was the senior, a member of the Mackey Award watch list for the nation’s top tight end, would be limited at the beginning of fall camp following surgery but ready to go in time for the season opener.
He was. Kind of. Cartwright started, but his plays were limited as the ankle had not fully healed. The feeling was if he could handle the pain, which he showed he could with a 22-yard reception, he might be fine.

Yet he wasn’t. A week later, Cartwright was back in a boot and after practice CSU coach Jim McElwain announced Cartwright will have more surgery.

As well as the Rams have played on offense (they rank 18th in passing offense at 322 yards per game and 27th in total offense at 492), it would be even better with Cartwright. That’s an easy leap to make with his 56 career receptions for 835 yards and nine touchdowns.

There is talk that Cartwright could seek a “sixth” season for him through an NCAA appeal.
The major argument against seeking a sixth season, even if the player is healthy enough to play, would be that it’s time to get on with life. Cartwright already is 22. A sixth season for Cartwright, who red-shirted while injured as a freshman, in theory might give him a better chance to get a look from NFL teams, though.

Duke Blue Devils starting tight end Braxton Deaver sat out the 2014 season after tearing his right knee anterior cruciate ligament during August practices, the latest setback to the defending Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division champs. Deaver was injured during a morning scrimmage, and an MRI confirmed the injury. He was the second Duke starter during the first week of camp to be lost for the season with a torn ACL, joining starting middle linebacker Kelby Brown.

The third-team All-ACC selection had 46 receptions for 600 yards and four touchdowns in 2013. Deaver was suspended to start fall practice for undisclosed reasons and had just returned to camp less than two weeks prior to his injury.

Duke would play this season having lost four key contributors off its record-setting 2013 team: Deaver, Pharaoh Brown, starting running back Jela Duncan (academics), who led the team in rush attempts in 2013, and quarterback Brandon Connette (transfer), who led the team with 27 total touchdowns a year ago.

An important piece of the recruiting class that was expected to help the Florida Gators rebound from a disappointing 2013 season was lost for the season. Jake McGee, a graduate student who transferred to Florida after leading Virginia in receiving a season ago, broke the tibia and fibula in his left leg in the second quarter of Florida’s 65-0 rout of Eastern Michigan on Sept. 6. McGee was injured while blocking when an EMU defender rolled into his leg. He did not record a catch prior to sustaining the injury.

McGee’s injury was a significant blow to a position group that, frankly, ranks as one of the leanest in terms of the NFL draft. The 6:05.3, 248-pounder was given a fifth-round grade and rated the fifth-best senior tight end prospect by The NFL Draft Report during their preseason power poll ratings.

Gators head coach Will Muschamp was understandably disappointed in the news of the injury.

McGee underwent corrective surgery but has yet to receive medical clearance to begin working out and hopefully participating in the annual NFL Scouting Combine in February. He was originally recruited by Virginia head coach Mike London to play quarterback at Richmond but followed London to the Cavaliers before making the switch to tight end, where he emerged as Virginia’s most reliable receiver over the 2012-13 seasons, hauling in a combined 71 grabs for 769 yards and seven scores.

One of three finalists for the Mackey Award, given to the nation’s top tight end (also received the top vote for the Mackey Award from Dave-Te’ Thomas, director of operations for The NFL Draft Report and a Mackey Award selection committee member), it looked like Miami’s Clive Walford was putting together a late campaign to receive that coveted honor. Prior to hurting his right knee vs. Pittsburgh on Nov. 29 that required surgery four days later to repair medial collateral ligament and meniscus damage (reports vary on which was the primary injury), Walford had been on a tear, accounting for 17 receptions, good for 321 yards and three touchdowns for his last three appearances, staking his claim for being one of the most productive tight ends in the nation.

Walford was Miami’s leading receiver with 44 receptions for 676 yards (15.4 ypc) and seven touchdowns. He is more advanced as a receiver than blocker, though his blocking has noticeably improved this season, but the former high school basketball player played just one season of prep football before joining the Hurricanes gridiron program. While the team is still hopeful that there is a chance the tight end can return for the bowl season, doctors indicate the MCL injury has all but ruled him out from participating.

There is a chance that no matter the severity of the injury, Walford might opt to rest his knee for his NFL future, which could begin with the Senior Bowl in January and the NFL Combine in February. Walford is widely projected to be a late second/early third-round draft pick.

If Walford cannot play in the bowl, the Hurricanes will be missing a major contributor.
Before his injury, suffered late in the second quarter vs. Pittsburgh, he had passed Kellen Winslow Jr. for most receptions and receiving yards by a Miami tight end. He has 121 catches for 1,753 yards in his four-year career.

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