DraftBrowns.com Staff Writer: Justin Higdon
The most popular player at NFL Draft time is the so-called “safe pick.” Who wouldn’t want that? A draft choice who could make a fan base feel secure. One who could guarantee success for both himself and the team. Of course, if you follow the draft closely, you have probably also had the phrase “there is no such thing as a safe pick” drilled into your head repeatedly over the last few months and years. And while many of the most common draft utterances like “trust the tape,” or “the combine isn’t important,” or “pro days don’t matter,” etc. all have gaping holes in their collective logic, there truly is no such thing as a safe draft pick. Some of the most surefire, can’t miss prospects of all time have fallen flat for a variety of reasons, and helped set franchises back several years. In the draft, as in the lottery, there are no guarantees.
There are, however, selections who are riskier than others. A number of players fall into this category each year, whether due to injury, legal drama, or simply not being big or fast enough. Yes, I know, rules are meant to be broken, and there are exceptions to every rule. These guys are just kids finding their ways, or their tape is just soooo damn good that if they can just get healthy, they will be BEASTS. But the NFL draft is primarily about businesses striving to achieve success while also minimizing risk. The men in charge have a great deal at stake here. Money, reputations, their jobs. They may have more on the line than we will ever know. Calculated gambles can turn into jackpots, but some bets aren’t worth placing. One night, in Vegas, about ten years ago, I was a few beers deep and a few dollars down, and an older gentleman chided me for betting the field on a craps table. It was a sucker bet, he told me (I was new to the game, OK!), and even if it paid off once or twice, it was a losing strategy. He was right. And if the NFL draft is truly a crapshoot, well, these are the players who equate to playing the field.
Dominique Easley DT Florida
I must be insane. Respected draft analyst Josh Norris, of Rotoworld and NBC Sports, has Easley ranked fourth overall. Fourth. And I would not spend a measly little draft pick on the talented former Gator. Why? In November 2011, Easley tore his left ACL. He returned to play 11 games in 2012, but was held out of two games early in the year due to swelling in his surgically repaired knee. Two games and change into his 2013 season, Easley sustained a right ACL tear, along with a tear of the medial meniscus. These injuries, in particular the cartilage damage, have long term consequences that could include severe osteoarthritis.
I’ve wondered aloud how people could rate a young man with two bad legs – a player who carries over 280 pounds on his frame and who relies on explosiveness – in their top tens, or even as a first rounder. The most common response is something like, “I’m not a doctor, so I just judge on tape.” That’s fine. But when information is available, should we not use it? I’m no doctor either, but I have torn my ACL, MCL and meniscus, and I’ve been around medical records for most of my professional career. I can tell you with certainty that most humans don’t recover from these injuries like Adrian Peterson did.
Of course, I’m no world class athlete, so I’ll defer to renowned surgeon, Dr. James Andrews, who one year ago estimated that two years after ACL surgery about 55% of NFL players are out of the league. In 2010 – not exactly ancient history – the American Journal of Sports Medicine reported that just 63% of NFLers who had ACL surgery returned to play another game. These figures are based on players with one ACL injury, and Easley enters the league with two. His recent medical exams have reportedly “turned out well,” and Easley hopes “to be ready at some point during training camp.” I hope he is too. I really do. But as much as we would all love to see him beat the odds, the deck is seriously stacked against him having a productive pro career.
Brandon Thomas OL Clemson and Aaron Colvin CB Oklahoma
These young men are victims of most unfortunate timing. Colvin tore his ACL during practice at the Senior Bowl in January, and Thomas suffered the same injury while working out for the New Orleans Saints less than one month ago. It pains me to scratch their names off of my board, but I’d prefer not to give draftees an automatic redshirt season.
Thomas is a particularly tough case. If not for the ligament tear, he would have been in my top 50. The versatile lineman had the length and athleticism to be an immediate starter at guard or right tackle, and may have even worked his way into the late first round. The timing of his injury could not have been worse, and will certainly cause players and agents to rethink the pre-draft workout process. In fact, it already has.
Zach Mettenberger QB LSU
Mettenberger tore his ACL back in December, but that is just one of the reasons he is off my draft board. By all accounts his recovery has been fantastic, and he is way ahead of the typical schedule. Truth be told, I don’t think his ACL will have much of an impact on his career due to his style of play. Mettenberger is a big, slow footed, slow processing dinosaur, and in 2014 I want more mobility from my quarterbacks. Based purely on what I have seen on tape, there are nine quarterbacks in this class alone who I would rather draft. And that doesn’t even account for Mettenberger’s 2010 arrest for sexual battery that forced his exit from Georgia. Young people make mistakes, and football teams do not consist of choir boys. Believe me, I get it. But combine an outdated playing style/skill set, with injury and off-field concerns (and without going into detail, there are other whispers beyond the battery charge), and all of these factors roll downhill to form a major snowball of doubt. And in the end I simply would not bet on this player to excel at the most important position in football.
Colt Lyerla TE Oregon
I’ve touched on Lyerla before in this space. The guy left a successful Oregon football program in October, and was promptly arrested with cocaine. His conspiracy theorist tweets about the Sandy Hook shooting aren’t a good look for him either. Lyerla is an exceptional athlete, but he didn’t blow anyone out of the water with his production, averaging just under three touches per game during his very best season. Risk and reward need a healthy balance, and Lyerla has done little to inspire confidence. Things change, people change, and NFL teams can always look past a little drug use to see talent, but the circumstances surrounding his exit from Oregon, and general concerns about his attitude may be too much to take. The guy has rolled his draft stock up into a carpet and thrown it off a bridge since last summer, and with only 256 draft picks to go around, he is not worth the headache.
Jeremy Hill RB LSU
As an 18 year old, Hill was charged with sexual battery after pressuring a 14 year old into performing oral sex on him. He later pled guilty to the misdemeanor charge of carnal knowledge of a juvenile. Last summer, Hill earned another misdemeanor battery charge when he sucker punched a man outside of a bar and celebrated his brutality with friends while his victim lay unconscious. Talk about “watching the tape,” this assault was caught on video. Hill is a solid running back, who would land in the third round based on talent, but he doesn’t seem worried about consequences because he has barely had to face any. With plenty of talented backs available, I don’t see the value in spending a draft choice on a player with Hill’s rap sheet.
Jalen Saunders WR Oklahoma and Tevin Reese WR Baylor
I know, I’m being a jerk. But I’m sorry, I can’t do it. I just can’t spend draft picks on receivers this small. Listed at 165 and 163 pounds respectively, Saunders and Reese are high school-sized players in a league dominated by size and speed. Not one of the top 100 in the NFL in receiving yardage last season weighed less than 170 pounds, and only four dipped below 180. At least Saunders can return punts – Reese doesn’t even offer that much. Frankly, in this day and age, the odds are heavily stacked against players this size ever setting foot on an NFL playing field outside of the preseason.
Loucheiz Purifoy CB Florida
Bath salts, dudes. The former Gator was picked up with some pot and some freaking bath salts back in February, and then avoided arrest by agreeing to act as a criminal informant. He’s basically a zombie and a snitch. Hey pal, do your thing. But don’t drag people down with you when it’s time to pay the piper. Purifoy is an excellent special teams player, and a pretty iffy cornerback, so he was never going to get a high grade from me anyway. The words “bath salts” pretty much ensured that I would not spend another second thinking about him.
Mike Flacco TE New Haven
joe Flacco’s brother is a 26-year old former minor league baseball player. Forgive me if I tell you that I just don’t ever want to hear about that kind of “prospect” ever again. I didn’t like it two drafts ago, and I don’t really care about it this time.
These are the well-known examples who will appear on other draft boards, but not on every draft board. I assure you that some teams have left these names off, along with a host of others. There are players who have medical issues we might never know about. Guys who found trouble that went unreported. A bunch of gym rats with high motors who won’t find a way into the draft due to size and athletic limitations. If any or all of these players overcome and go on to have fruitful, healthy, incident-free NFL careers, then terrific. More power to them. But with a talent pool over a thousand deep with candidates, some just aren’t even worth a roll of the dice.