Tough break, kid: Most memorable rookie seasons befallen by injury
Over before it began
When Jacksonville Jaguars 2015 first-round pick Dante Fowler Jr. tore his ACL at a May minicamp, his rookie season ended before he even signed his first contract -- literally. But what does it mean for the linebacker’s future? Well, fear not, fans in North Florida . . . plenty of promising rookies lost most or all of their first season due to injury, and in more than just football. Some of them went on to become Hall of Famers, like Mickey Mantle and James Worthy. Of course, some of them also went on to become Greg Oden and Ki-Jana Carter. Here's a look at the most notable injuries to befall high picks in (or before) their rookie season, and how their careers fared afterward.
2014 NBA lottery picks
The injuries: Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker (left) played only 25 games his rookie season because of a torn ACL . . . and he’s the veteran of the group! After Parker went second to the Bucks, the Philadelphia 76ers took Kansas big man Joel Embiid (center) No. 3 overall, and they knew there was a good chance he would miss the entire 2014-15 season because of injuries suffered in college and the offseason. He did. The Lakers took Julius Randle seventh overall, the first brick in their post-Kobe foundation. They got 14 minutes out of him thanks to a broken leg that ended his season on opening night. The careers: TBD.
The injury: It took a matter of minutes from the start of the 2014 NFL Draft for Clowney to hear his name, the No. 1 overall pick by the Houston Texans. It didn’t take much longer for his playing career to suffer its first major blow. Clowney injured his knee on a non-contact play in the season opener, some players saying he injured it landing in a hole in his home turf. Surgery would follow and cost him nearly two months. The injury would linger until he was shut down for good in late November, four games, seven tackles and no sacks to his credit. The career: His second season was far more productive, with 4.5 sacks and 40 tackles in 13 games in 2015. But a foot injury kept Clowney out of the Texans' playoff game that season, a 30-0 loss at home to the Chiefs.
Getty ImagesBob Levey
The injury: Noel knew before he was even drafted that his rookie season would likely be put on hold for a year after suffering a torn ACL during his freshman season at Kentucky. A shot-blocking machine in college, Noel was viewed by many as the no-doubt, one-and-done No. 1 overall pick before the injury. The career: So far, so good. Less than five months after the injury, Noel went sixth in the NBA draft to New Orleans. Already having big man Anthony Davis, however, the Pelicans traded Noel to Philadelphia in a draft-night deal. After missing the entire 2013-14 season, Noel earned All-Rookie First Team honors in 2014-15 and, halfway through his second season, has career averages of 10.2 points and 8.1 rebounds, albeit for the saddest franchise in the league in that time.
USA TODAY SportsKim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The injury: As if seeing James Worthy go on to a Hall of Fame career wasn't enough for Julius Randle, he only needs to look at the roster of his Staples Center cohabitants for more inspiration. Griffin was the No. 1 overall pick in June 2009; three months later, he broke his kneecap in a preseason game and his would-be rookie season was lost entirely. The career: How do you quickly answer questions about your health? How about taking home Rookie of the Year in your 'second' first year? That's just what Griffin did in 2010-11, taking the league by storm with his thunderous dunks and car-leaping sideshows. Since then, Griffin has become one of the game's top power forwards, an All-Star in every one his seasons who has helped turned the lowly Clippers into title contenders.
NBAE/Getty ImagesJuan Ocampo
The injury: The top pick in 2009 exploded onto the MLB scene in 2010, striking out a team-record 14 batters in his debut, en route to a 5-3 record with a 2.91 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 68 innings in 12 starts as a rookie with Washington. But his season crashed as quickly as it took off thanks to a torn UCL in August — Tommy John surgery time. The career: Strasburg returned to a big-league mound one year and 16 days after the injury and went 1-1 with a 1.88 ERA in five starts for an 80-81 team. The years since, however, have been a mixed bag: Washington has two division titles but no postseason series wins. Strasburg made the 2012 All-Star team — and his durability appears to no longer be an issue as evidenced by his league-best 34 starts in 2014. But he has yet to post a sub-3 ERA in the seasons since that brief return.
Getty ImagesG Fiume
The injury: Undoubtedly the nation’s most dominant player in his one season at Ohio State, Oden was selected No. 1 overall by Portland in 2007 — ahead of Kevin Durant. Before the season even began, Oden underwent knee microfracture surgery and became the first No. 1 pick since David Robinson in 1987-88 (two-year naval commitment) to miss the entire season immediately after he was drafted. The career: The Oden-Durant debate was settled quickly. Now the debate is whether Oden is the biggest bust in NBA draft history. He played in only 61 games in his first season, missing 21 more due to more leg injuries. A fractured patella ended the best stretch of Oden's career — all of 21 games. Another microfracture surgery cost Oden three more seasons. Despite a 23-game run with Miami in 2013-14, Oden has played only 105 games to date.
NBAE/Getty ImagesSam Forencich
The injury: Carter's injury didn’t cast the lasting pall over the Bengals that Danny Manning's injury did the Clippers, but when the first pick of the 1995 draft’s left ACL tore on his third carry of his first game — of the preseason — the Bengals’ slide became a full-blown freefall. Amazingly, the Bengals would win seven games that season, their most in five years. The career: How much of it is attributable to the one injury will never be known, but Carter clearly never displayed as a pro the speed and power he played with at Penn State. He would play in parts of seven seasons, but injuries also limited him to just four games from 1998 to 2000. He never rushed for even 500 yards in a season, and of his 21 career TDs, all but five came in his first two seasons. He finished his career with just 1,144 rushing yards.
AFP/Getty ImagesMARK PHILIPS
The injury: No player suffered a scarier or more horrific injury than the former Duke All-American who was taken No. 7 overall by the Sacramento Kings in 1993 and expected to make basketball relevant in Northern California. On the evening of Dec. 12, shortly after the worst game of his young career, Hurley was involved in a car accident a mile from Arco Arena. He was thrown from his vehicle, landed face-first into a drainage ditch, suffered two collapsed lungs and a detached wind pipe, and required eight hours of surgery. The career: Hurley's rookie season ended with the accident, but he would play five more seasons in the NBA. However, his minutes, scoring, rebounding and assists would never come close to reaching the averages he had as a promising rookie.
NBAE/Getty ImagesRobert Lewis
The injury: This one actually came late in Worthy’s rookie season, but came with a great price nonetheless, and carries particular relevance in light of this season. Worthy, the No. 1 overall pick by the Lakers in the 1982 draft, suffered the same type of broken leg as did Randle, only Worthy’s came in Game 77, after he averaged 13.4 ppg and shot nearly 58 percent from the field. Worthy missed the playoffs — and the Lakers were swept by the 76ers in the Finals. The career: Good news, Lakers fans — Worthy played 82 games the season after the injury. And from there? 12 seasons, 7 All-Star Games, 3 NBA championships, 1 Hall of Fame career.
NBAE/Getty ImagesAndrew D. Bernstein
Kellen Winslow Jr. & Sr.
The injuries: Talk about like father, like son. In 1979, 21-year-old Kellen Winslow's rookie season was reduced to just seven games due to a leg injury. Twenty-five years later, 21-year-old Kellen Winslow Jr.'s rookie season was reduced to just two games due to a leg injury. The careers: The two would go on to have very similar careers — in terms of durability. The elder Winslow played in 109 regular-season games over nine seasons; Jr. would play in 105 over nine seasons, as well. But in terms of productivity, father certainly knows best. Winslow Jr. made one Pro Bowl, scored 25 career TDs and never played in the postseason. His dad was a five-time Pro Bowler, scored 45 TDs, played in six career playoff games and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995.
The injury: One of UCLA’s last great legends, Walton was supposed to save the Portland franchise when the Blazers made him the top pick in the 1974 draft. Instead, he wallowed in a not-quite-Greg-Oden-esque malaise of foot, ankle, leg, wrist and finger injuries, limiting him to just 86 games his first two seasons. The career: Walton would be plagued by injuries — primarily to his feet — throughout his career. But he still managed that whole saving the franchise thing in the 1976-77 season, leading the Trail Blazers to their first playoff appearance and delivering Portland its first (and to date only) NBA title. The next season he would win his only league MVP, and go on to play 10 seasons, lose another three to the foot injuries, win another title as a role player in Boston in 1985-86 and make it to the Hall of Fame in 1993.
NBAE/Getty ImagesDick Raphael
The injury: Another late-season injury making our cut due to significance and star power. And talk about star power — in Game 2 of the 1951 World Series, Giants rookie Willie Mays hit a fly ball to right-center, between fellow 19-year-old rookie Mantle and Yankee legend Joe DiMaggio. The story goes that Mantle slowed up once he thought he would run into the much slower DiMaggio (playing in his final season), only to get a spike stuck in a rubber drain or sprinkler, injuring his knee and ending his season. The career: Lingering effects? Mantle was back in time for the following season. Then . . . he was a three-time World Series winner before he was 22, a three-time MVP, seven-time champ in all, and a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But like much of Mantle’s legacy, many wonder how good he could have been if not for knee problems.