The former standout running back at Washington deserved better than to be passed over in the NFL draft. But he'll be back.
Chris Polk went from God’s Play to Draft Hell.
The dynamic Washington running back, who often carried the Huskies back to significance the past three seasons, who scored that heavenly, season-saving touchdown against California in 2010, endured an unfortunate, unexpected and unnerving nosedive during the NFL draft.
Shockingly, Polk didn’t get drafted after being considered a second-round pick. He was supposed to be one of the top five running backs chosen. Instead, 20 running backs were selected — including two from Utah State and one from Abilene Christian — while Polk sat at home, snubbed.
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Why? It still doesn’t make sense. Reports of a degenerative shoulder surfaced, and none of the league’s 32 teams was willing to risk a draft pick on Polk despite the toughness and durability he displayed the past three years.
Polk dislocated his left shoulder during the second game of his freshman season in 2008 and missed the remainder of the year. He returned as a sophomore and ran for 1,113 yards (Washington coaches estimated about 700 of those yards came after contact), but he tore the labrum in the same shoulder, played through it the remainder of that season and had surgery in the offseason. And he went on to become one of the most complete running backs in college football.
Now, after starting 38 straight games, after rushing for 4,049 yards as a Husky, after getting progressively better, Polk was hearing that his shoulder wasn’t dependable enough. It’s difficult to digest for Polk and for anyone who watched him drag, stiff-arm and run over defenders with his physical style.
After the draft, Philadelphia quickly snagged Polk as an undrafted free agent, and the Eagles will get both a nice talent and a spurned, determined man eager to prove his worth to the entire league. I don’t know if Polk has Arian Foster ability, but I’m certain that Polk is about to join Foster on the list of undrafted running backs who became major factors in the NFL.
Polk should’ve been a second-round pick. Third, at worst. Before the draft, I thought that Polk had a chance to be the second-most productive running back in this class, behind Trent Richardson. His combination of power running between the tackles, the occasional big-play burst and rare receiving skills makes him a quality back, a starter for as long as his body allows.
But as an undrafted free agent, he’ll have to grind to reclaim that status. Polk can make the Eagles’ roster, but running back LeSean McCoy is the man in Philly. If Polk sticks there, he will be a complementary back at best. Maybe that’s what his body needs after all the shoulder issues and the minor knee surgery he had last preseason.
The word “degenerative” never sounds good when you’re asking your body to hold up in a collision sport. Still, it’s hard to imagine Polk changing from rugged to incapable anytime soon. After the Huskies’ spring game on Saturday, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian expressed shock that Polk’s medical condition was reportedly deemed so serious.
Let’s say the sand is trickling rapidly through the hourglass for Polk right now. How long does he have? It’s impossible to know for certain. And I’d be willing to bet that he has several years of potential productivity before that shoulder fails him.
That’s why it’s so surprising that, as the draft turned to the sixth and seventh rounds, some team didn’t take a chance. His medical report must’ve been startling. It’s hard to believe that 32 teams refrained from selecting a highly regarded running back as he slipped into the sleep-deprived rounds of this draft. You can’t find a talent like Polk after the fifth round. Not even close. Most late draft picks are Hail Mary heaves anyway. Why wasn’t Polk, given his superior talent, worth such a try?
It’s as puzzling as his unexplained health status. Polk’s agent, Steve Caric, didn’t return multiple calls Saturday. Polk answered his cellphone immediately after the draft, said he wasn’t ready to talk, asked me to call back later, but didn’t answer the phone after that.
Poor kid. You can feel his disappointment. This weekend was supposed to be the one of the greatest of his life. Instead, he was left to wonder what happened.
Polk deserved better. After 4,049 rushing yards at Washington, he was ready for the big time. And then he got big-timed.
He’ll be back, though. Polk isn’t a spoon-fed star. He knows how to grind through adversity.
This agony is just another defender standing in front of him. And you know how hard he is to tackle.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @JerryBrewer