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Shaun Dion Hamilton’s injury history could make him an NFL Draft steal for Washington

Hamilton’s like so many other Alabama backers, except he’s been hurt.

NCAA Football: Fresno State at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Update: Washington took Shaun Dion Hamilton with the 197th overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, in the sixth round. Here’s why that’s potentially great for them:

Shaun Dion Hamilton fits a certain Alabama mold: He’s big, he’s fast, and he can destroy people. The Tide have produced many linebackers with those attributes since Nick Saban took over the program in 2007, like Rolando McClain, Courtney Upshaw, Dont’a Hightower, C.J. Mosley, Reggie Ragland, Reuben Foster, and Ryan Anderson.

Hamilton was slated to be Alabama’s starting Sam linebacker during College Football Playoff runs the last two seasons. But in 2016, he tore his right ACL during an SEC Championship win against Florida and missed the rest of the postseason. In 2017, he broke his right kneecap against LSU in early November, again lost for the season. He had to watch from the sidelines while the Tide finished off a national championship.

“It was definitely tough, but I’ve faced adversity before, and I wanted to be a good teammate for my teammates, and I wanted to still be there,” Hamilton told SB Nation at the NFL Combine. “So, it means I had to step it up and not think about myself.”

The Tide made do without him. It helped to have a likely future first-rounder, Rashaan Evans, able to play Hamilton’s spot after his injuries both years. They came within a play of a national title in 2016 before winning the second title of Hamilton’s career in ‘17. But as the former four-star recruit heads to the NFL Draft, his injury history has lowered his profile.

Hamilton understands he’s gotten tagged for injury concerns.

The thing about Hamilton is that he didn’t miss many games in college. He just missed them at unfortunate times. He started playing regularly in 2015, his sophomore season, and played in the Tide’s title-winning game against Clemson to end that year. He appeared in 10 games, then in 12 as a junior, the last of those being the SEC title match.

“No doubt,” he told SB Nation at the combine. “I hate to say it, but I mean, it’s reality. For teams, my medical history, I’m sure it’s gonna affect me probably sliding a little bit in the draft. But I mean, hey, whoever takes a chance on me, they’re gonna get a hell of a football player.”

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Alabama vs Florida Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Part of the trouble is that both of his injuries have been around his right knee. A torn ACL and a broken patella less than a year apart is a lot to get over.

At the combine, Hamilton said he was about 55 percent healthy. He didn’t work out there, but it did turn out he’s got huge hands: 10.25 inches, tied for fourth-biggest among linebackers. He was just a shade under 6 feet and weighted 228 pounds. He is probably going to be a third-day pick, if he’s drafted at all.

At Alabama, coaches trusted Hamilton to receive calls from the sideline and align the defense.

He was one of the anchors in the middle of America’s best defense.

“When I’m healthy,” Hamilton says — there’s that phrase again — “I bring a lot of leadership, definitely a lot of toughness. Whenever [we’re] down on the field, who’s gonna be that signal-caller, make sure all of the guys are doing what they’re supposed to do? I’ve just got that ‘it’ factor when it comes to affecting a defense.”

Hamilton is a big guy, and he sometimes struggles to cover faster tight ends and running backs. But he’s not bad in coverage by any stretch, and he has the sheer downhill power to be devastating against the run. When Hamilton (No. 20) gets going, he’s a missile.

Because of Hamilton’s injuries, he’s difficult to project.

They’re the reason you haven’t heard about him as a potential pick in the first two or three rounds, and they’re the reason he’ll have to scrap just to make an NFL roster. It’s not common for players with two devastating injuries to the same knee in the year and a half before his draft day to make it big in the league.

But when Hamilton’s going good, he’s great. The combination of his natural talent and recent run of terrible injuries will make him a sleeper.