Foot will be Clemmings’ key factor

T.J. Clemmings’ draft stock plummeted with news of a foot injury. Did the Minnesota Vikings get a steal or damaged goods?

One of the favorite answer-avoidance techniques for a coach or general manager when asked about an injury is to reply, “I’m not a doctor.”


If you were a doctor, you likely wouldn’t be a football coach or front office type, unless you’re a doctor because you got an advanced degree in a specific field of study.

It doesn’t take a doctor to figure out that the drop of offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings to the Vikings was the result of teams being scared off by an old foot injury that has their own doctors and medical personnel were concerned about to the point that they shy away from taking a player.

Last week at this time, word started coming out that Clemmings had a stress fracture in his foot that had never been diagnosed. By all accounts, it was an old injury. When asked about it during a conference call with the local media, Clemmings couldn’t pinpoint exactly when the injury happened.

He never missed a game as a result of it. He didn’t miss practices either. As far as Clemmings and his agent were concerned, it’s a moot issue.

“Everybody is questioning the injury part,” Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said. “We found out about it at the Combine. We did a lot of calling on him, double-checking and triple-checking.”

NFL teams disagreed. In a big way.

On a lot of draft boards, Clemmings was viewed as a first-round prospect because, in the risk-reward world of the draft, offensive linemen go early because they’re viewed as “safer” picks compared to players at other positions. The skill set of an offensive lineman translates better to the pros than most. When you watch game tape of a lineman, you’re seeing a representative sample of what a player can do at the next level.

It’s the safeness of the position that makes the Clemmings draft weekend plummet so pronounced.

For an offensive lineman, having a pre-existing foot problem is similar to a layman being told that he or she has an enlarged heart. It is cause for immediate concern because, in the case of offensive linemen, their feet are their bread and butter in the trenches. They can play with shoulder, elbow or knee injuries. But their feet are sacred.

The word that came out from unnamed medicos was that Clemmings suffered a stress fracture that was never properly diagnosed and it healed on its own. The result was that, in the healing process, the bone around the injury calcified and is a hardened mass around where the stress fracture took place. Until the day comes when surgery repairs the damage, it’s going to remain and will always be a source of concern.

When word got out that Clemmings had such an injury, it was expected his stock was going to drop. But few could have predicted that he would drop all the way into the middle of the fourth round.

Why is that a troubling scenario?

Every team in the league had the opportunity to draft Clemmings. Nobody did until Day 3 of the draft. Every team passed on him at least two or three times. Some passed as many as five times before the Vikings pulled the trigger on making their fourth-round selection. All it takes is two teams to create a competition for a player. There was no second team to get in the Vikings’ way, which is pretty telling.

“We beat up (head athletic trainer) Eric Sugarman pretty good (on Saturday). I said, ‘I know what you’re telling me in that this guy hasn’t missed any time.’ And he hasn’t. He’s played with it and this is not a new injury. … We’ve discussed a lot of things on it, but we feel if he’s able to play with it, and he has played with it, that he should be good to go.”

Both Clemmings and his agent have claimed the talk of the stress fracture is much ado about nothing. It’s an old injury that didn’t bother him then and doesn’t bother him now. However, it clearly bothered NFL teams enough to prevent them from drafting him despite a late-first round draft grade.

If all goes as hoped, the Vikings got a draft weekend steal in Clemmings by drafting him in the fourth round. He didn’t drop because of character concerns. He didn’t drop because of a lack of production. He dropped because of an old foot injury he believes is insignificant and meaningless to the here and now.

I’m not a doctor, but it would appear that the other 31 teams were frightened enough of the injury to back away from Clemmings. The Vikings didn’t, but even their apprehension held firm through the first three rounds.

The Vikings hope Clemmings will prove the medical skeptics wrong, but the Vikings rolled the dice on drafting him in hopes that the injury is just as he describes: no big deal. But it appears it was a big deal to the rest of the NFL – or at least their team doctors.

(Photos from USA TODAY Sports)

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