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Making the case: Should Giants draft David Ojabo if he falls to No. 36?

Here’s one vote for ‘yes,’ and an argument to back it up

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 13 Michigan at Penn State
David Ojabo
Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In my most recent mock draft, I used pick No. 36 in Round 2 to select Michigan edge rusher David Ojabo for the New York Giants.

That selection drew a mixed reaction in the comments.

‘Florida GMen’ wrote:

“A hard no on Ojabo in round two at 36. With an injury that serious, it makes no sense to draft a guy who will not be available in 22, and who knows what the ultimate outcome of this injury will be on his future. Too risky with too many holes to fill.”

That comment drew five recommendations.

‘Robb Negron’ was one of the staunch defenders of selecting Ojabo at No. 36, authoring several comments.

Here’s one:

“This would be a slam dunk first two days of the draft. A potential star corner in Sauce, a legit RT in Penning, a long term impact EDGE player in Ojabo, and a pair of weapons for the QB to work with. The rest is gravy.”

And part of another:

“I’m looking at upside and impact. [Kenyon] Green is gonna be a really good guard, Ojabo is gonna develop into a devastating pass rusher.”

Here is part of what I wrote when I made the pick:

“I feel like I hit the lottery! I don’t know if he will play much — or at all — in 2022 after the torn Achilles tendon he suffered at the Michigan Pro Day. I’m not sure I really care. The Giants are beginning a long-term rebuild and Ojabo is a top half of Round 1 pass-rushing talent available here at No. 36. I’m signing up for that all day, even if I have to wait a bit to get him on the field.”

So, let’s dive deeper into the Ojabo discussion as part of our series of ‘Making the Case’ posts in advance of the 2022 NFL Draft.

I’m going to get right to it. In the scenario I presented Sunday, where the Giants are able to address the offensive line but not the pass rush in Round 1, I am standing on the Ojabo pick at No. 36 if he’s available. All day. Every day.

Let’s talk about Achilles tendon tears. They aren’t what they used to be.

This is an injury I have first-hand experience with. I have torn my left Achilles tendon twice. Both times recovery to full activity took 9-12 months. After the first tear, I was back on a basketball court - albeit tentatively — after 9 months.

Now, let’s acknowledge that the first tear was 30 years ago and the second almost 20 years ago. Also, let’s acknowledge that I did not have the level of care that would be granted to a professional athlete.

And that treatment has changed.

Let’s look at the case of Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers, who tore his Achilles tendon in July of last year and was back on the field helping the Rams toward a Super Bowl title by Week 18 — less than 6 full months later.

Yahoo! Sports took a look at Akers’ recovery, and it reveals tremendous advances in treatment and rehabilitation since the days when yours truly was popping tendons.

“... in recent years orthopedic medicine has hurtled forward. Thanks to improved surgical techniques, more aggressive rehab strategies and new technological advancements, athletes are redefining what’s possible after Achilles surgery ...

“It used to be a career-altering injury,” said Ned Amendola, a Duke University orthopedic surgeon who specializes in sports medicine. “There was a point where when you had a torn Achilles, returning to an elite level was very difficult.”

The discrepancy between then and now can be explained by the contrast in how Achilles tears are treated.

Whereas the procedure once required an 8- to 12-centimeter incision in the back of the calf, fewer orthopedic surgeons still insist upon a fully unobstructed view of the tendon to stitch it back together. Many now pass the stitches through much smaller incisions to reduce wound healing time and limit the threat of infection and other complications.

Superior suturing devices and techniques have also strengthened tendon repairs. Athletes have been able to begin rehabbing earlier without fear of stretching out or retearing the surgically repaired tendon.

Two decades ago, athletes who underwent surgery to repair a torn Achilles could expect to spend the next 6 to 8 weeks in a cast while their tendon healed. The prolonged immobilization produced unwanted side effects — muscle atrophy, stiffness and scar tissue, all of which hindered an athlete’s recovery rate and ability to regain his or her prior form.

“If it’s immobilized 6 to 8 weeks, maybe there’s scarring around the tendon and the athlete’s explosiveness never comes back,” said Jason Bariteau, an Atlanta-based foot and ankle specialist. “It’s the difference between being an all-star and making the team. Those little small percentages are everything.”

Yahoo! also pointed out that NBA star Kevin Durant, now 33, is playing as well as he ever did following Achilles tendon surgery.

The injury is no longer a career-ender. Thanks to the marvels of modern medicine, maybe not even a career-alterer.

Remember Lorenzo Carter last season? After his Achilles tear in Week 5 of 2020, he was back to practicing fully by the time the Giants began 2021 spring workouts. He played a full season, and played the best ball of his career at the end of the year.

From what I have both read and been told, Ojabo could be back in action six months from the time of his injury.

The Mayo Clinic, in fact now lists that time frame as the normal recovery period.

“Most people return to their former level of activity within four to six months. It’s important to continue strength and stability training after that because some problems can persist for up to a year.”

Dr. Eric Friedman (@SportsInjuryMD) was conservative (or realistic if you want to read it that way) in his estimate of when Ojabo would return to play.

“Six months is definitely the low end, but we just saw it happen with Cam Akers. We also saw when he came back he was not as explosive and averaged less than 2.6 yards/carry,” Friedman said. “It would be very difficult for a Ojabo, as a rookie, to learn everything he needed to learn, rehab, and return for the beginning of the season. I think he will start on the PUP list and make a mid-late season return.”

Ojabo was injured at the Michigan Pro Day in mid-March. A six-month recovery would make him ready for game action by mid-September. The bulk of 2022 NFL Week 1 games will be played Sunday, Sept. 11.

So, how much game time is Ojabo actually likely to miss? Maybe not all that much. Maybe less than Aaron Robinson, who played nine games, or Elerson Smith, who played just eight, as Giants rookies in 2021.

Yes, the injury will slow Ojabo’s development. It should not, though, stop it. It is important, in my view, to remember a couple of things:

  1. Whether the Giants want to say it out loud or not, they are in a rebuild and appear to be approaching it as such. They want a better product in 2022, but setting the franchise up for long-term improvement is the major priority.
  2. The NFL Draft is not primarily about the current season, contrary to what many fans believe. It is about finding players who can help you for several seasons, hopefully earning second contracts and becoming long-term cornerstones.

If you draft Ojabo, and he becomes the kind of pass rusher draft analysts think he can be, it could be five or six years, maybe more, before NFL analysts look at the Giants and say ‘they don’t have a premier edge rusher.’

Isn’t that worth perhaps having to wait a handful of games for?

Before the Achilles injury, Ojabo was considered a fringe top-10 pick. The NFL Mock Draft Database showed Ojabo peak as high as an average of the No. 9 overall pick. He is now sitting at No. 23, and it appears likely he won’t get out of the first round. That, of course, would render this discussion moot.

Dan Shonka of Ourlads, a long-time NFL scout who worked for several teams, told me that “everyone wants him” when I asked about Ojabo. Thus, it seems likely GM Joe Schoen and the Giants won’t face this decision. If they did, and if they turned in a card with Ojabo’s name on it, I’d be fine with that.