Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones was first diagnosed with spinal stenosis in 2009. It kept USC, where he was at the time, from playing him ever again. Jones transferred to Georgia, sat out the 2010 season per transfer rules, and blew up the SEC over the next two seasons. In 2012, he led the nation in sacks (14.5), tackles for loss (24.5), and forced fumbles (seven). By that alone, Jones was the unquestioned top player at his position as a 2013 draft prospect, and a likely top-10 pick. But the stenosis diagnosis dogged him through the scouting combine (though he received a clean bill of health there), and his stock started to drop precipitously, at least in the public perception.
Now, the fact that a leading orthopedist has cleared Jones of any red flags in that area should have NFL teams looking ardently his way -- as if they weren't already. According to Dan Pompei of the National Football Post, Dr. Craig Brigham sent a report to NFL teams which said that a comprehensive medical evaluation showed "either a very mild incident of spinal cord concussion or merely a stinger that has long since resolved." Brigham also concluded that even if Jones was injured in the same area again, it would not be a career-ending concern by default.
Finally, Brigham cleared Jones to play "without restriction."
Jones recently took some time out from working with performance coach Tom Shaw in Florida to blast anonymous league reports and sources who have intimated that the earlier diagnosis could bust him out of the first round altogether.
“People are still talking to me," Jones told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week. "Nobody has taken me off the board. The doctor said I was fine and cleared me and the [scouting] combine went fine for me. I was cleared medically. Teams know my situation. Everything went great. I did everything they asked me to do. I’ll have my pro day [at Georgia on March 21], and then I’m going to meet with a whole lot of teams.”
Jones also said that he thought the rumors were part of the typical and traditional pre-draft disinformation process, which could most certainly be true.
“People were telling me teams do that because they want me to drop to them because they don’t have high picks. I can’t control none of that. I know what teams were telling and I know what doctors told me. So I just focus on what I can control, which is trying to be the best football player in America.”
Based on the tape, he's got a pretty convincing case. Now, on to his Pro Day, and another month-and-a-half of speculation.
Even if Jones does have spinal stenosis, that's not an NFL career death sentence. Former San Diego Chargers offensive tackle Marcus McNeill played six years with the condition after the Chargers selected him in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft out of Auburn. He made two Pro Bowls and was thought to be one of the best pass-blockers in the NFL for a time.
Current New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski reportedly got a similar diagnosis before he was taken by the New England Patriots in the second round of the 2010 draft. In fact, he missed the entire 2009 season for Arizona with a back injury. In his three NFL seasons, Gronkowski has put up numbers that rival those of any tight end in NFL history, and his recent injury issues have not been back-related. Before the 2010 draft, agent Drew Rosenhaus denied that his client ever had that diagnosis.
Based on pure talent and tape, it would be impossible to imagine Jones slipping past the tenth overall pick. Even with the question marks, it's hard to think that he'd go past the Pittsburgh Steelers, who recently released James Harrison, are in clear need of a pass rusher, and have the 17th overall pick.