Jarvis Jones is an incredible football player. In two years at Georgia he’s amassed 24 sacks, flashing elite skills as a pass rusher and athletic qualities worthy of a top five pick. Yet something lingers in the background. Something that could really hamper his ambitions of playing in the NFL.
Spinal stenosis is a pretty serious condition which affects a number of football players, including Jones. It’s defined as an abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal that may occur in any of the regions of the spine. The narrowing causes a restriction to the spinal canal, resulting in a neurological deficit. Symptoms can include pain, numbness, paraesthesia and loss of motor control.
Some of the biggest names in the sport have been affected by the condition. Here are just a select few cases:
- Cooper Manning – older brother of Peyton and Eli – was diagnosed with the condition in 1992. It ended his career. Archie Manning had both other brothers tested immediately afterwards due to the severity of the issue. Neither had the condition.
- Michael Irvin retired in 1999 after receiving advice from doctors. He was diagnosed with spinal stenosis after suffering a non-life-threatening spinal injury in a game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The injury cut short a Hall of Fame career.
- Marcus McNeill was diagnosed with the condition prior to the 2006 NFL draft and it forced his fall into round two. One of the most talented offensive lineman to enter the league in recent memory was the seventh tackle to leave the board that year. At the age of just 28 he has been forced to retire, despite signing a six-year, $49 million with the Chargers after an impressive start to his pro career.
- Chris Samuels was the #3 overall pick in 2000, having built a reputation blocking for Shaun Alexander at Alabama. He spent nine years with the Washington Redskins before retiring aged 32. The reason? Samuels suffered temporary upper-body paralysis after a big hit in pass protection against the Carolina Panthers in 2009. The issue was blamed on spinal stenosis, a condition he was diagnosed with as a child. He was advised to cease playing immediately.
- Speculation suggested Rob Gronkowski had spinal stenosis after a series of back problems during his college career in Arizona. Agent Drew Rosenhaus was forced to deny the reports from NFLDraftScout.com prior to the 2010 draft. There were fears the talk could further push Gronkowski’s stock down the board, with lingering concerns over his back already leading to a second round fall.
In 2009, Jarvis Jones was playing for the USC Trojans against Oregon. He suffered a pretty routine hit, but Jones stayed on the turf with a neck injury and was pulled out of the game as a precaution. Doctors diagnosed a mild case of spinal stenosis.
USC advised Jones to stop playing football and refused to clear him for contact. His career was effectively over in Southern Cal. It was a huge blow – Jones had travelled across the country to play for Ken Norton Jr. and Pete Carroll. Both believed they had found the next great Trojan linebacker. ESPN’s Jordan Conn interviewed Norton Jr. and asked about Jones: “A lot of guys have speed, but they’re not tough. Then some guys are tough but slow. Then there are guys who have all of that but no football smarts or work ethic. Jarvis has it all. It’s not even fair.”
On the injury: “It seemed like just a regular linebacker injury, I don’t think any of us thought it’d be as serious as it turned out” notes Norton Jr. It was his last act for USC’s football programme.
Not surprisingly for a young man with so much talent and ambition, he didn’t take no for an answer. While USC were unwilling to clear him to play, other teams might be willing. Georgia coach Mark Richt forced Jones into a series of tests and examinations and the doctors cleared him to play for the Bulldogs. He’s since developed into a college football star in its most high profile conference.
Jones may face a similar situation when he turns pro. Some teams will likely adopt the approach of USC and strike his name off the board. Given the chance to speak to Jones, they may even recommend he retires to avoid serious injury. Others will take advice from doctors and if they’re given the green light, will probably look at the big plays, 20+ sacks in two years and elite athleticism and take the chance. The question is, will one of those teams take a chance in the top ten? Or will they take the chance in round two?
We’ve assumed for so long that Jones would be a high pick due to his on-field performance, but this is something we’ll have to consider seriously as we edge closer to the draft. The condition was bad enough to force Marcus McNeill into round two, but it wasn’t bad enough to stop him enjoying a productive career until the age of 28. Jones actually has another year of eligibility at Georgia, but if he turns pro in 2013 he’ll be a 24-year-old rookie. Will a team roll the dice on a top-ten pick for a talented player who might only play 4-6 years in the league? All the while risking serious injury?
It’s worth noting that there haven’t been any issues at Georgia and Jones hasn’t just played, he’s dominated. That creates a real dilemma for scouts and GM’s at the next level. He has the condition, however mild. Are you willing to be the team that puts the guys health at risk? Or do you listen to the doctors, see his body of work in college and go with a player of immense talent?
With a clean bill of health, he probably would’ve had three years at USC and waltzed into the league as a top pick. We’d be watching him on Sunday’s right now. Unfortunately that isn’t the case. And however much we enjoy watching him play for Georgia, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to be the high pick everyone expects. This condition has impacted players before and it could have an impact on Jarvis Jones come next April.