One of the unfortunate moments of the 2023 NFL Combine was seeing USC offensive guard Andrew Vorhees, a projected Day Two pick, tear his ACL while working out in the on-field drills Sunday afternoon. Seeing anyone get hurt is tough enough but a guy so close to the NFL is all the more difficult.
Despite the seriousness of the injury, not all hope is lost. In fact, there’s every reason to believe his draft stock will only be slightly impacted by the injury.
He isn’t the first player to suffer a serious injury weeks before the draft. Michigan EDGE rusher David Ojabo is a perfect recent example, tearing his Achilles at his Pro Day last year, arguably an even more devastating injury than Vorhees’ ACL. At the time, Ojabo was considered to be a borderline first/second round selection and despite the tear, he still went 45th overall to the Baltimore Ravens. By November, he was back on the 53-man roster and saw 20 defensive snaps in the season finale. He’ll hit the ground running this offseason.
Last year, Alabama WR Jameson Williams not only went in the top 15 but the Detroit Lions traded up to get him despite Williams tearing his ACL in the National Championship game. Like Ojabo, Williams got on the field late in the season.
But those bigger names are far from the only examples. In 2018, Wisconsin CB Nick Nelson tore his meniscus in a private workout for the Detroit Lions while NC State DL Kentravius Street tore his ACL in a workout with the New York Giants. Prior to the injury, both were considered late Day Two/Early Day Three selections with writeups wondering if both would fall out of the draft entirely. In reality, both players were still taken in the fourth round, selected only 18 picks apart, showing neither were overly impacted by their injuries. Street didn’t play his rookie year but Nelson got healthy and started three games for the Raiders.
Medicals primarily push players down draft boards when it’s a chronic issue. Usually it’s less obvious, underreported, and lingering. A player with an arthritic knee that doctors don’t know the outlook of, a guy who might fall apart three years from now. Or some other related issue that’s flagged in a physical, like OT Tony Hills’ drop foot. Or in more serious situations when there’s a heart condition. That happened to Michigan DT Maurice Hurst, a Top 50 talent who fell into the fifth round after being diagnosed with a heart issue that left his football future uncertain. The one-off tears, while serious, aren’t an automatic sentence their draft stock will be sent tumbling.
Though the injury will still be recent, Vorhees is likely to head back to Indianapolis before the draft for Combine medical rechecks. An often forgotten part of the process, players with injuries or other medical red flags return to Indy for another examination in mid-April. If he takes “Top 30” visits to individual teams, he’ll likely get another evaluation there, too. Reportedly, Vorhees suffered a “clean” ACL tear, meaning there was no damage to any other ligaments, and it’s possible he returns to the field his rookie season. He’ll be an obvious candidate to start the year on Reserve/PUP but he could get activated by November, just as Ojabo and Williams did. Players are returning from torn ACLs quicker than ever; WR Amari Rodgers returned to game-action six months after his tear.
For Vorhees, you have to credit the dude’s toughness and fortitude. The day after tearing up his knee, he crutched his way to the bench press and pounded out 38 reps of 225 pounds, the most of any player at this year’s Combine.
Teams are going to love that, especially a guy like Steelers’ assistant GM Andy Weidl, a former offensive lineman who puts high emphasis on mental toughness. Vorhees didn’t quit, didn’t throw in the towel, and had a great attitude a day after receiving heavy news.
The reality is teams know they get four years of these guys. If they have to effectively redshirt for a year, so be it. If the talent justifies it, it’s worth the wait.
Before the injury, Vorhees was considered a borderline third/fourth round pick. The ACL tear will impact his stock a little bit but not much. Unless there’s a serious issue once rechecked, if there were injuries beyond the ACL or a surgery that was botched, Vorhees should still be a fourth round pick. Pittsburgh is picking at 119th overall (that number will get pushed down a bit when compensatory picks are known), and Vorhees could be a hard guy for this team to pass on. With Kevin Dotson a free agent after 2023, Vorhees could sit out most of his rookie year but by 2024, compete for that spot.