By Jim Weber
I hope NFL teams are nice enough to get Georgia LB Jarvis Jones a spinning wheel and a water bottle for the next four months, because he’s about to become their lab rat.
That’s because no player’s stock in this NFL draft – or any in recent memory – is more dependent on the results of his medical tests than Jones.
Why, you ask?
You may not realize that the Columbus, GA, native started his college football career at USC while Pete Carroll was still there. But just eight games into his college career, Jones suffered a serious neck injury at Oregon.
Jones was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column that causes pressure on the spinal chord. USC doctors refused to clear him to play again and advised Jones to quit football completely because of the risk of paralysis.
Jones instead transferred home to Georgia, where he was cleared by UGA doctors to play again. During his time in Athens, he’s been an absolute monster, totaling 28 sacks over just two seasons in the country’s best conference. There have been certain games where Jones has literally been unblockable, like at Missouri (10 tackles, two sacks, one interception) and vs. Florida (13 tackles, three sacks) last fall.
Declaring for the draft on Jan. 4, Jones is a unanimous Top 10 pick among pundits and considered the No. 1 overall talent by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as a perfect 3-4 linebacker. While slightly undersized, NFL teams are always looking for elite sack artists in the pass-happy league. And Jones is a ferocious pass rusher who could run through a brick wall to get to the quarterback.
You better believe that the Kansas City Chiefs are going to take a good, long look at Jones as the possible top pick in the whole draft. If Jones becomes half the linebacker Derrick Thomas was, the Chiefs will have made a great pick.
That is, if Jones checks out medically.
If you’re wondering how serious spinal stenosis is, WR Michael Irvin and OT Chris Samuels both retired from the NFL after experiencing temporary paralysis due to this condition and being diagnosed with it. I’m not a doctor and don’t know the extent of Jones’ stenosis, but obviously the condition itself is very, very serious.
Fortunately, it’s in the self interest of NFL teams to run every test imaginable on Jones to make sure there are no red flags with his condition. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if the amount of Jones’ testing mirrors that of 50 Cent in the “In Da Club” video – minus the hanging upside down and secret dance club.
All joking aside, Jones clearly loves the game of football more than anything and his future livelihood now depends on making millions on Sundays. I hope that happens after he clears the medical tests and goes in the Top 10 of April’s draft.
But I find it naive he will clear the draft’s huge medical testing process without raising serious medical red flags just three years after USC doctors advised him to quit the game altogether.
Yes, Jones didn’t have any problems related to his neck condition in Athens. But nothing scares off NFL teams in the draft more than a medical red flag. If there’s anything doctors see that they don’t like, Jones’ stock could plummet.
We have seen plenty of players slide down NFL draft boards in recent years over medical concerns. Former Clemson DE Da’Quan Bowers went from the possible No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 draft to the 51st overall pick because of concerns over microfracture surgery and a potential degenerative knee condition. In two NFL seasons, he has a total of just 4.5 sacks.
Jones’ situation is much more serious because not only could spinal stenosis cut short his NFL career, it could potentially leave him in a wheelchair.
If his stenosis is a serious concern, I just hope medical doctors can talk Jones into walking away from the NFL and going back to Georgia to continue his education. Because the worst-case scenario for Jones would be him falling in the draft like Bowers and someone taking a “flyer” on him in the second or third round because the reward for them outweighs the risk of another neck injury.
In that scenario, Jones would start his NFL career by making far less money and trying to prove to everyone that his neck isn’t an issue, all while putting himself at serious risk for a catastrophic injury.
We have already seen far too many college football players that have been paralyzed since 2000, including Washington’s Curtis Williams (who eventually passed away from complications due to paralysis), Penn State’s Adam Taliaffero (who can now walk again), Ohio State’s Tyson Gentry, Rutgers’ Eric LeGrand and most recently Tulsa’s Devon Walker.
Jones seems like a great kid with a huge heart that just wants to play the game he loves. And for that, I hope he goes on to become the next Derrick Thomas over a long NFL career.
But more than anything else, I just hope Jones gets a clean bill of health so he doesn’t enter the NFL by putting his long-term health in jeopardy.