Teams checking up on Herzlich

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / April 26, 2011

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It’s hard to find a player in the NFL draft who doesn’t have medical questions. Playing the game these young men do, it’s virtually impossible not to have had some type of injury.

Which is part of the reason every prospect invited to the scouting combine undergoes extensive medical tests. Teams ask about every possible problem and players are examined thoroughly. Even after they leave the combine, some teams have players visit their facility for more medical checks.

But while the knees of running back Mark Ingram and defensive lineman Da’Quan Bowers have received their share of scrutiny the last few months, it’s likely no prospect’s health situation was analyzed more than Mark Herzlich’s.

The Boston College linebacker’s well-known story is inspiring — after a junior season that had him projected as a first-round pick, Herzlich learned the searing pain in his left thigh was Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.

His own doctors long ago declared Herzlich cancer-free, thanks to an aggressive treatment of chemotherapy and 50 rounds of radiation. That was Herzlich’s preference when his first option was having his femur removed and spending six months in a full-body cast. Instead, he has a titanium rod through the bone.

But the NFL team that selects Herzlich would be making a fairly sizable financial investment in him. It wants to know that Herzlich is healthy, what the chances are that his cancer will return (he’s been told 2 percent, tops), and how capable he is physically of playing linebacker at the highest level.

At the Senior Bowl, one AFC personnel executive said he likely wouldn’t draft Herzlich based on his medical history.

All it takes is one team, however, to believe that Herzlich’s potential is high enough to draft a cancer survivor.

Yesterday the league announced that Herzlich is one of 25 players who will be on hand for the draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York. In a best-case scenario, Herzlich will be selected Friday night, during the second or third round.

His health aside, Herzlich’s performance in the predraft process has been uneven. At the Senior Bowl, he had trouble in coverage, was stood up by running backs in one-on-one drills, and struggled with his pass rushing.

But strength and speed, two of the biggest things Herzlich lost during his treatment and recovery, can be regained. And whichever team drafts him will get a player who is as intense as they come, and was even before staring down his disease.

Herzlich has clocked 4.91 seconds in the 40-yard dash. That’s on the slow side, particularly for an outside linebacker — it’s believed he could play outside in a 4-3 or inside in a 3-4 — but his 29 bench press reps were solid.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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