Markus Bailey firmly believes that his right knee is healed from the ligament injury that ended his senior football season at Purdue after only two games.
If only the linebacker who played at Hilliard Davidson High School, a Columbus, Ohio suburb, could have proved it in person to NFL teams before this week's draft.
Instead, Bailey has been training in Arizona since the NFL combine in February after Purdue's pro day was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. The shutdown in travel has prevented him from visiting NFL teams.
"It limits my interaction with teams, the face-to-face interactions, which is not ideal," Bailey said in an interview with the Columbus The Dispatch. "But it's important to keep perspective in this time. I'm trying to get drafted and play a professional sport, and there are people losing their jobs and people getting sick. So it's important to keep perspective and just control what I can control."
Despite the hurdles, Bailey expects to be an early pick on Saturday's third day of the draft, which consists of rounds 4 through 7.
He said his rehabilitation has "gone outstanding" and that tests show the knee has healed. Dallas Cowboys team doctor Daniel Cooper performed the surgery six months ago. Bailey has rehabbed in Phoenix with Brett Fischer, the Arizona Cardinals' highly regarded physical therapist. The Cardinals' orthopedist, Gary Waslewski, has vouched for teams that Bailey's knee has held up well.
Bailey's agent, Steve Caric, said his client chose his rehab partners with a purpose.
"One thing that we focused on from the very beginning of this process was to make sure that everyone Marcus was involved with during this injury was someone that we felt was not only affiliated with an NFL club, but was very, very well-respected in the NFL medical community," Caric said.
A year ago, Bailey was looking forward to a senior season at Purdue that he hoped would cement his status as one of the top linebackers in the draft. He had led the Boilermakers in tackles with 115 as a junior and returned an interception for a touchdown to cap their upset of Ohio State.
But Bailey's final season ended abruptly after only two games. He suffered a torn ACL in practice when he got hit just as he planted his right leg while defending against a screen pass. It was his second such injury at Purdue. He suffered a torn ACL in his left knee as a freshman.
"It was just another bout of adversity I had to face," Bailey said. "I had to quickly shift my focus from being sorry for myself to getting ready for the next level, next stage of my life, which was getting ready for the NFL."
The injury and then the pandemic have limited his ability to do that, but only partly. Doctors examined him at the combine, which allayed much of the concern about his knee. He has had online sessions with teams in which he has shown his ability to dissect plays and schemes on a whiteboard.
His intelligence is an asset. Bailey got his bachelor's degree in movement and sport sciences in 2018, earning academic all-Big Ten honors three times. He has taken graduate classes toward a master's in technology, innovation and leadership.
"When you're watching my film, you can see my processing ability," he said. "You can see my ability to quickly read and diagnose and get off blocks quickly."
The 6-foot, 235-pound Bailey played multiple linebacker spots at Purdue under three defensive coordinators, and that versatility and ability to adapt also are chits in his favor.
"To a man, every single coach that's gotten on the phone with him over the last couple months has walked away blown away with his football knowledge and what he can do on the board," Caric said.
Now it's a matter of finding out his next destination. Bailey's mother, Amy, and his brother, Isaac, will fly to Arizona to watch the draft with him and celebrate the moment he is taken.
"I think it'll be just a little bit of validation for all the sacrifices and work I've put in throughout my entire life," he said.