Injuries have always been a part of sports that can happen to virtually any athlete at any time. From Buster Posey’s broken ankle in 2011 (the product of an unfortunate collision at home plate) to Stephen Curry’s slip-induced right knee sprain during this year’s playoffs, athletes who repeatedly injure themselves are a liability to a team, regardless of how talented they are. In the ruthless business of sports, if you cannot play, you waste money.
Teams who recruit or draft athletes making the jump into professional leagues have to predict a player’s value, which takes into account their injury history. If an athlete is talented but coming off a severe injury, the overall value of the player drops. This was apparent in the recent National Football League (NFL) Draft, where general managers and owners had to judge numerous talented and skilled college players who had been injured, such as former University of California Los Angeles Bruin Myles Jack and Notre Dame Fighting Irish Jaylon Smith. Hopefully these players will have great careers, and the team that drafted them will see a great return on their investment. However, professional athletic careers do not pan out for everyone. Here are some athletes across various sports that have been drafted with a history of injuries, and how their careers fared.
Joel Embiid, a prince in Cameroon, was drafted by the National Basketball Association (NBA)’s Philadelphia 76ers as the third pick in the 2014 draft out of Kansas University. Embiid was a “one-and-done” college athlete — he attended Kansas for only one year before making the leap into the professional league. He had an exemplary college career, averaging 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, making him a finalist for the Naismith College Player of the Year.
Unfortunately, Embiid’s college season ended early, as he was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his back and could not recover fast enough to play in the NCAA tournament. A few months prior to the draft, he suffered from a broken foot and elected to receive surgery, raising doubts of whether of not he would be able to play that year. Despite the risk, the 76ers drafted him with their first pick, citing huge potential upside. Unfortunately, due to complications with his broken foot, Embiid has yet to play for the 76ers and has been deemed by many as a bust.
Like Embiid, Kyrie Irving was a one-and-done player for Duke University. Irving was a highly promising recruit, entering college as the third-highest rated player overall and highest rated at his position by ESPN University100. While playing for Duke, Irving averaged 17.4 points on 53.2 percent shooting per game, until he received a severe ligament injury in his toe that ended his season prematurely. Nevertheless, he declared for the 2011 NBA Draft, and was selected as the first overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Irving had immediate success in the NBA, winning the Rookie of the Year award in addition to being included in multiple All-Star teams, and making the NBA Finals. Currently, Irving is trying to help his team towards another Finals appearance. Despite his injuries, Irving is having a successful NBA career.
Todd Gurley was drafted by the St. Louis (now Los Angeles) Rams in the 2015 NFL Draft as the tenth overall pick. Gurley was a solid running back at the University of Georgia, making All-Southeastern Conference (SEC) teams in his freshman and sophomore years.
However, during his junior year, Gurley tore his ACL in the first game of the season. When the Rams drafted him, he was still in the middle of rehab. Luckily, his rehabilitation went faster than expected, and he was able to play in the Rams’ week one game.
Gurley had a successful rookie campaign in 2015, rushing for 1,106 yards and scoring 10 touchdowns, giving him a spot as one of the five rookies who made the Pro Bowl team. He was also named the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year. With the improvement of Gurley, the Rams’ are poised to start contending.
Ultimately, most players who suffer from injuries eventually recover and are able to contribute to their team. Teams should consider an athlete’s value when deciding to draft them if there is a history of injury. A player will either succeed or bust.