When the Carolina Panthers turn came for the first of their two fourth-round draft picks in the NFL draft last April, selection No. 103 was a no-brainer for the teams brass.
They took Oklahoma defensive end Frank Alexander, even though some teams were put off by Alexanders potential health issues and long-term viability. It was only weeks earlier that the 6-foot-4, 271-pound athlete was diagnosed with a hole in his heart at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Alexander was later given a clean bill of health, however, and the Panthers bought in. After all, Alexander was the Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year last fall, a second-team All-American and likely would have gone higher if not for the heart scare.
The Panthers saw him as a football player, not a risk.
I like his ability to come in and be a part of the rotation, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. He will play both sides of the defense for you. He can play in critical pass rush situation, and he can play on third downs. He has the kind of ability that lends to making plays.
Alexander registered 143 tackles in his college career 44 of which were behind the line of scrimmage. He had 20.5 sacks, forced six fumbles, recovered four and had an interception.
He is an athlete who not only provides the Panthers depth, but could develop into a high-level NFL player. He has all of the tools and already has impressed the boss.
Im very, very pleased with what Frank gave us, Rivera said after minicamp. You saw the quickness, the explosiveness that led him to be the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. He did some really nice things.
Getting to that point wasnt so easy for Alexander. Imagine how his world changed the day he was told about the hole in his heart.
It was a hurting experience, Alexander said. Just to make it to the combine and youre just training for that six, seven weeks and have been leading up to that point since I was younger coming up, and just to get there and to be told that you cant compete is kind of a hard deal. I just stayed and prayed and I gave it to God, and I knew He was going to work it out for me.
The doctor who diagnosed Alexander admitted he wasnt 100 percent certain and suggested he get other opinions. Alexander saw four other doctors, each of whom saw no hole and said Alexanders heart was healthy. He could play football again.
It was just a misread test at the combine, Alexander said. But the doctor told me at the combine they didnt want to take any chances with me because it was a liability if I got out there and hurt my heart or passed out or anything.
In addition to teams fears, not performing at the combine also may have affected Alexanders draft status. That didnt derail his focus or outlook.
All I can do is move forward and be happy for whats happening right now, he said.
Given the injuries that afflicted an already young defensive line a year ago, Alexander should see plenty of action as a rookie. He has loads of experience after having played in 48 college contests and started 31, including a national championship game. Playing for the national powerhouse Sooners also carries some added weight.
Alexander says hes as ready as possible for this next step, and with this latest scare behind him, hes ready to unleash himself. Only six teams had fewer sacks than Carolinas 31 in the NFL last season. Alexander is expected to help increase that figure, and, in time, could be one of the anchors of a unit that also includes rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly, the Panthers top pick in April.
Now that Alexander has overcome his potential health crisis, it is now time to see if he can make those teams who passed over him regret that decision.