The first time Shaquem Griffin was held out of a football game, he was 8 years old. Football was for people with two hands, an opposing coach told him, and his left hand had been amputated four years earlier as the result of a painful prenatal condition.
“That was the moment I realized I was always going to have to prove people wrong,” Griffin wrote on the Players’ Tribune.
Griffin, the Central Florida linebacker, has done that and more, vanquishing even more doubters with attention-getting performances last weekend that led him to become the best story at this year’s NFL combine.
On Saturday, he bench pressed 225 pounds 20 times with the use of his right hand and a prosthetic device on his left wrist. That was only four reps off the pace of the combine’s leader, West Virginia wide receiver Ka’Raun White. On Sunday, he followed that up with a blazing, official time of 4.38 seconds in his first attempt at the 40-yard dash, and a 4.58 in his second.
How good was that? Well, the NFL Network reported that 4.38 was the fastest 40 time by a linebacker at the combine since 2003.
After initially not being invited to the combine, Griffin’s draft stock has been on the rise, with scouts now predicting he could be taken anywhere from late in the third to the fifth round at next month’s draft. Richard Sherman, the Seattle Seahawks’ cornerback, tweeted that if Griffin isn’t drafted in the first three rounds, “the system is broken.”
Scouts told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King and Albert Breer that they had Griffin going in the middle rounds of the seven-round draft. “Late third, early fourth,” King wrote. “He can be the best special-teams player on any team early, and maybe have a pass-rushing or sub-package role right away.” Breer added: “A college scouting director told me on Sunday that he thinks Griffin leaves [the combine] a fourth-rounder, and I ran that by a couple other scouts and they agreed. To start, he can be a strong special teamer, and developmental linebacker, with a chance to grow into more.”
Rick Spielman, the Vikings’ general manager, told Bleacher Report’s Doug Farrar that he didn’t think Griffin having one hand “should be a factor, just because he’s shown he can be productive at a high level against some high-level competition.”
And across the NFL, star players from J.J. Watt to Ryan Shazier to Von Miller noticed the combine’s best story.
Griffin’s twin brother, Seahawks cornerback Shaquill Griffin, ran a 4.38 a year ago, and was drafted in the third round, as the 90th overall pick. He reveled in Shaquem’s moment in the spotlight.
It felt like everyone was talking about Shaquem and his road to the combine, a road that began with surgery when he was 4. That’s when doctors decided to amputate his left arm the day after his mother found him threatening to cut off his fingers with a kitchen knife. It was the only way he could think of to cope with the searing pain in his hand, the result of Amniotic Band Syndrome his mother suffered while pregnant, causing an amniotic membrane to wrap around his hand.
“It’s a thin tissue you can barely see,” Tangie, Griffin’s mother, told the Los Angeles Times. “The doctor answered the questions and explained the options. It could be taken off with a needle [during pregnancy], but even the slightest move could have punctured [either of the twins] and it was possible one wouldn’t survive. I was not going to take that chance.”
Shaquem thus experienced serious pain whenever his fingers were touched or pressured. The night he tried self-surgery, he had hit his hand against the side of the bunk beds he shared with Shaquill, who is older by one minute. The day after surgery, he was playing football again, with his “bandage just dripping blood.”
“I didn’t care, I was going to play football regardless,” he told the Times. “It was tough until I had my fingers removed, but after that I knew I was going to play again. The pain was gone. … It didn’t hurt when the ball hit.”
At the combine, he showed that he can catch passes that might come his way, too. (He had one interception last season.)
The NFL Network’s Deion Sanders was yet another impressed observer.
“You are straight balling, man!” he tweeted to Griffin. “You gon mess around and get the call. LOL ‘If you ball u get the call.’”
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