Pelissero: Vikings had good reason to take small chance on Greg Childs
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MANKATO, Minn. -- Greg Childs should be back here one year from now.
He should be competing for a job on the Minnesota Vikings' roster in training camp, provided he follows his rehabilitation program and the knees he injured when he slammed into the Blakeslee Stadium turf on Saturday heals from surgery on schedule.
Will he ever be an effective NFL receiver? It's impossible to say.
No player has returned from a bilateral patella tendon tear -- an injury so rare a 2009 study in the Iowa Orthopaedic Journal found only about 50 reported cases in the general population from English and German medical literature.
But what one NFL source called a "once in a lifetime" injury shouldn't be considered a death sentence for Childs' young career, nor a referendum on Vikings general manager Rick Spielman's decision to take a chance with the 134th overall pick in April's draft.
Across the league, the fourth round is often the spot where teams take chances on talented players who have been flagged for off-field issues or injuries. The Vikings needed another option at split end, and Childs was the most talented option left on their board.
Spielman has as thorough a grading system as anyone. Any player flagged is re-ranked in a special box after thorough discussion. By Round 4, the financial risk -- in Childs' case, a $300,584 signing bonus with a first-year split salary of $273,000 -- is relatively low.
Childs' production fell off last fall at the University of Arkansas as he worked his way back from another patellar tendon tear suffered in October 2010. But the Vikings saw the old Childs at the East-West Shrine Game and the NFL scouting combine, where he checked out medically.
Unless Childs has an undiagnosed condition that created an additional risk factor, there was no reason to believe it'd happen again. Certainly not both patellar tendons -- which connect the kneecap to the shin and work with the quadriceps to straighten the knee -- at the same time, with a routine dive for a deep ball, without getting touched.
Just two days earlier, Childs had made a spectacular catch around Brandon Burton's head in practice and pronounced himself "fully prepared, healthy, ready to go" after sitting out much of the offseason with a calf strain.
Now the Vikings have to explore alternatives to take the snaps Childs probably would have gotten during Jerome Simpson's three-game suspension to start the season, with Michael Jenkins, Devin Aromashodu and Emmanuel Arceneaux at the front of the line.
Childs, 22, has a better combination of size, speed and ball skills than any of those players when healthy. He's 6-foot-3 and 219 pounds with 4.5-range speed, 10 1/8-inch hands and has a knack for high-pointing the football.
Entering Saturday's practice, there was buzz inside the organization about Childs as a player on the come. Now he's coming up on surgery within days and facing an unprecedented course back to the NFL.
A study co-authored by four physicians from the Steadman Clinic in Denver found 24 patellar tendon tears in 22 NFL players from 1994 to 2004. Every player participated in training camp the year after the injury, with all but a handful surviving final cuts.
The group of players who have returned from two patellar tendon tears -- much less three -- is far more exclusive.
St. Louis Rams halfback Cadillac Williams tore his right patellar tendon in 2007 and the left one 15 months later. He's thought to be the first NFL player to return from the injury in both knees.
Former Philadelphia and Denver halfback Correll Buckhalter played five more seasons after tearing his right patellar tendon in 2004 and again in '05.
The only NFL players believed to have torn both patellar tendons at the same time are former Chicago Bears receiver Wendell Davis in 1993 and former Cleveland Browns cornerback Gary Baxter in 2006. Neither appeared in another regular-season NFL game.
The Vikings have one of the NFL's best groups of doctors, athletic trainers and strength coaches. They'll give Childs a fighting chance. The smart money says he's back on the field next summer, trying to make sure his last moments in the Vikings uniform aren't filled with screams of agony and a cart ride to the locker room.
It's too soon to say he'll make it all the way back. By his own admission, Childs needed 18 months to regain his old form after the last injury, meaning his 2013 season could be a wash, too.
Either way, drafting Childs was a risk/reward move from the start, and freak injuries to fourth-round picks should never make or break a roster.