MOBILE, Ala. — Central Florida defender Shaquem Griffin and Wisconsin tight end Troy Fumagalli share a unique piece of their personal history as they head into Indianapolis this week for the NFL scouting combine.
Griffin is missing his left hand. Fumagalli is missing the index finger on his left hand. Both were amputated due to Amniotic Band Syndrome, a condition where a baby's appendages develop improperly after being wrapped in fibrous bands in the womb.
Neither Griffin or Fumagalli believes the amputated body parts should have any effect on where they're taken in April's NFL draft.
"It’s not a disability until you make it (one)," Griffin said.
Griffin would be the first player drafted with a missing hand since the Boston Yanks drafted Ellis Jones, a Tulsa offensive lineman whose arm was amputated eight inches below the shoulder, in 1945, according to NFL.com
Fumagalli would not be the first NFL player with a missing finger. Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has played with missing digits since a 2014 fireworks accident, Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott had his pinkie finger amputated above the first knuckle to keep playing and legendary Saints kicker Tom Dempsey was born without fingers on his right hand or toes on his right foot. Fumagalli's status as a tight end, though, makes a difference; a player's index finger is typically key in the act of catching passes.
Neither player considers their condition a handicap.
“If you have a handicap, that means you can only do certain things," Griffin said. "I'm not limited to nothing."
Fumagalli feels the same way.
"I don’t think it’ll be a big deal," Fumagalli said. "I’m so used to dealing with it, in everything I’ve done, I think that I haven’t found anything I can’t do yet, with it."
Both players entered the draft process trying to disprove knocks on their game that are actually far more familiar.
Griffin and Fumagalli were both stars in college. Griffin was the 2016 AAC Defensive Player of the Year and a 2017 second-team All-American who demolished Auburn in the Peach Bowl. Fumagalli was a two-time All-Big Ten selection who often served as Wisconsin's No. 1 target in the passing game and has a reputation for sure hands.
For Griffin, the key will be defining what position he plays at the NFL level. A defensive back at the start of his career at UCF, Griffin blossomed when he was moved to linebacker as a junior and was given a chance to rush the passer. Relentless and athletic, Griffin racked up 18.5 sacks in just two years.
Griffin measured in at 6-foot, 223 pounds in Mobile, smaller than a typical NFL linebacker, although he did go out and earn the Senior Bowl's Practice Player of the Week award for his play on the practice field. Teams did ask to see him play safety in Mobile.
Griffin, a charismatic athlete with an easy smile, believes his history of versatility helps him.
"From a rush standpoint to being in the box and making tackles on running backs to lining up at safety and being able to cover wide receivers in 1-on-1s, that allows me to create a platform that coaches can see this guy can literally play anywhere," Griffin said.
Fumagalli must prove he has the speed to create separation in the NFL, even though he caught 93 passes over his final two seasons at Wisconsin.
In a deep, athletic tight end class, Fumagalli's speed will be key, because his history with the Badgers means he's got more blocking experience than most tight ends. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said Monday that "90 percent" of the tight ends in this draft were receivers only, and Fumagalli has had to do it all at run-heavy Wisconsin.
"We do a lot of zone (blocking), a lot of power," Fumagalli said. "At Wisconsin, I’ve been split all the way out, I’ve been in the slot, I’ve lined up in the backfield. That’s the benefit of playing in a pro-style offense. You get used to a lot of different spots."
That's the way Griffin and Fumagalli like it: Being evaluated for their football skills, rather than the limitation they overcame long ago.
"It’s been like that through my entire life where I had to make sure that me showing what I can do on the field dictates what people see when they see me playing," Griffin said. "As long as I’m going fast and making plays, they’re going to forget how many hands I have."