The biggest local surprise of the NFL draft turned out to be Washington running back Chris Polk.
It was assumed if Polk became a surprise during the league’s selection extravaganza, it would be because he went sooner than the expected third- or fourth-round range.
Instead, Polk’s name never was called. Several reports say he signed a free agent deal with the Philadelphia Eagles following the draft’s disappointment.
Saturday morning started with hints that a physical problem for Polk had scared teams off of Washington’s second all-time leading rusher. Rumors of Polk’s injury swirled on Twitter. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said Polk has a degenerative shoulder problem. Another alleged a hip issue.
"I will just have to go out there and show them I have a lot of great football left in me," Polk told Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com after agreeing to a deal with the Eagles. "I know teams are concerned about my shoulder, but I also heard somebody say something about a degenerative hip and there is just no truth to that. I had labrum surgery on the shoulder a year ago and it didn't slow me down last season."
Polk had surgery twice on his left shoulder. He dislocated it in 2008 during the second game of the season against BYU. That surgery ended his freshman season.
He also suffered a torn labrum in 2009, which led to another off-season surgery that caused him to miss 2010 spring practice. In addition, he had arthroscopic knee surgery prior to last season, his most successful, but did not miss any games.
"Some of the reports that have come out are news to me," Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian said after Washington’s spring game Saturday. "I've never heard that stuff.”
Polk, 5 foot 11 and 222 pounds, left Washington following his redshirt junior season. The Redlands, Calif., native finished second in career rushing yards at Washington. His 4,049 yards trails only Napoleon Kaufman’s 4,401 yards.
He earned many of those yards after the initial hit. After coming out of high school with a label of being soft, Polk left college recognized as a driving, hard-nosed runner.
Polk’s 1,488 rushing yards in 2011 were the second-most in Washington history. His 293 carries rank second and his 12 rushing TDs were tied for seventh. Polk’s 16 total touchdowns last season are tied for fifth most in UW single-season history.
He was able to expand his game in 2011, too. Polk made 31 catches for 332 yards and four touchdowns, including a 70-yard touchdown versus Cal.
There were questions about his speed and durability prior to the draft. Running backs who seek contact often have short careers in the NFL, let alone ones who use Polk’s relentless style.
“Well, he’s got to go prove it,” Sarkisian said prior to the draft. “The NFL, these guys, they are the experts, right? They do this for a reason, they study every film, they look at every play. And that’s the perception they have, and if that’s a guy's perception of Chris, it is what it is. And until you go out and prove to change that perception, that’s who you are.
“For Chris it’s ultimately when training camp rolls around, he’s got to go prove what he wants to prove about himself.”
The NFLDraftScout.com report said when Polk began hearing that teams were concerned about his shoulder, he had it checked by well-known orthopedic surgeon James Andrews. According to team sources, Andrews wrote a letter stating that Polk had some scarring from the surgery, but there was nothing that should prevent him from playing football. However, some team medical staffs labeled the shoulder problem as either "chronic" or "degenerative."
Andrews disagreed, telling one source close to Polk, "if I thought Chris had a problem that needed fixing, I would have operated, but there was not a problem."
"Of course I would have preferred to be drafted and drafted high," Polk said. "But the main thing now is that I am with a great offensive team and I will get my opportunity to show what I can do in the NFL."