INDIANAPOLIS -- Arguably the top pass rusher in the 2013 draft spent more than eight hours Saturday getting poked, prodded, tugged, pulled and otherwise examined by a host of team doctors and medical officials. Meeting later with reporters, Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones described the condition that led to his departure from one school and has caused concern among some NFL teams about his long-term career projection.
ESPN's Mel Kiper listed Jones as the draft's top overall prospect before the scouting combine, but his injury history and decision not to work out here left us with an incomplete assessment of whether he should be in the conversation for the Detroit Lions' No. 5 overall pick. Kiper considers Jones an ideal 3-4 outside linebacker -- the Lions use a 4-3 -- but his skills are said to be transcendent to scheme.
I'm going to write more about the Lions' draft approach later in the week, but their recent spate of injuries among draft choices -- tailbacks Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure, offensive lineman Jason Fox and receiver Ryan Broyles among them -- should give them some pause about Jones.
Jones has spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column. In his case, it has occurred between the C-4 and C-5 vertebrae. The condition has contributed to the early retirement of some NFL players, and doctors at the combine were charged with determining whether Jones' career will be shorter as a result.
"There are some great doctors out there," Jones said, "and they know if I shouldn't be playing this game, I [would] have stopped a long time ago. Because my MRIs, from the day it happened to today, it hasn't gotten any worse. It still looks the same. So that's good."
Jones suffered a stinger in 2009 while playing at USC, leading to the diagnosis and the refusal of school doctors to clear him. He transferred to Georgia and piled up 28 sacks over the next two seasons, proving to be the kind of playmaker that Lions general manager Martin Mayhew has targeted this offseason.
But are the Lions willing to risk that Jones' condition won't worsen? Mayhew told local reporters that Jones looked "fine" to him but that "every situation is different." Jones said he will continue to perform a workout routine devised to protect his neck as best as possible.
To be clear, Jones' situation is not unique. One of the primary goals of the combine is to measure not only a player's current health but his susceptibility to long-term issues, be it stenosis or a lack of knee cartilage or any other condition.
Many of those players are drafted, especially when they are as talented as Jones. Some play full careers. Some depart early. The Lions' recent history makes Jones a particularly risky pick, but drafting is about managing risk. You can't eliminate it entirely.