Niles Paul, tight end
Paul, 27, is entering his seventh NFL season, but he said he feels he has to prove himself all over again. The past two seasons, he has spent three times as many games on injured reserve (24) as he has on the field. Paul missed the entire 2015 season because of an ankle injury suffered in the preseason opener. He returned last year and was placed on injured reserve Nov. 7, a week after suffering a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
Four days later, Paul was named the Redskins’ Ed Block Courage Award recipient, given annually to a player from each NFL team who displays “extraordinary courage in the face of adversity,” for returning to the field following the ankle injury. It was a bittersweet moment.
“Just imagine playing football all of your life and not being able to do what you love,” Paul said at the Ed Block Courage Award reception in March. “You’ve got to sit back and watch other people do what you love.”
Paul hadn’t sat out a season since he was “9 or 10 years old.” He fractured a foot in college at Nebraska but missed just two games. That was his most significant injury before 2015.
“The hardest part was staying out of the depression you go in when you get injured,” Paul said.
The ankle injury created one of the toughest challenges he has faced in his career. Paul recalled attending his first regular season game in 2015, a Week 13 Monday night matchup against the Dallas Cowboys, and how emotional he felt.
“It was a battle I had to overcome mentally,” Paul said. “It was a depressing time in my life, and most people don’t understand how hard it is for players. We’re humans at the end of the day. No matter what we claim to be, superheroes or whatever, at the end of the day, we’re humans. Going through something like that, it felt like I was at the pit of my career.”
Paul was often frustrated during training camp last year. He was bumped down to the third tight end on the depth chart, behind Jordan Reed and free agent acquisition Vernon Davis, and served as the team’s fullback. The niche role was the only way Paul could contribute on offense until he suffered the shoulder injury while laying out for an overthrown pass.
“I put my body on the line just for a catch that I knew at the time was probably not catchable, but I wanted to do some freak of nature stuff just to earn my stripes back again,” Paul said. “I feel like from 2014 until now, I’m back in the beginning stages of my career where I’ve got to earn my stripes again on the field.”
The tight end position has been even more competitive this summer with the addition of Jeremy Sprinkle, a fifth-round pick out of Arkansas. Paul will have to fight for a spot on the 53-man roster.
“I don’t want to go back to how far I was or how low I felt,” Paul said. “You’ve got to keep yourself motivated, keep pushing and understand that this is just an injury. It’s just time. Knowing the adversity that I’ve got to face coming back in is that I’ve got to prove myself again.”