Predicting Landing Spots for the NFL's Most Controversial Draft Prospects
Every draft pick is a gamble in one way or another, but some selections are even riskier bets.
The media and fans call this concept "red flags." The jargon used by teams is often "significant character concerns" or "non-football issues." Every team is different in how they deal with problematic draft prospects, but each team is the same in sniffing out any potential issues with every single player on the board.
Private investigators are able to retire early in cities like College Station, Tex. and Tuscaloosa, Ala. because of the money NFL teams pay them to keep tabs on top prospects. Local scouts are kept on payrolls long after their player evaluations are given because of who they know on college campuses—janitors, trainers, boosters, landscapers, you name it. It's become a cottage industry because NFL teams want to make the smartest investment possible.
Of course, non-football issues might also mean a significant injury in someone's past—a blown-out knee or a torn shoulder muscle. Modern medicine makes some of this a moot point, but if all things are equal, teams will often take the player with a clean bill of health. At the very least, players with an injury-filled past are poked and prodded even more than the average prospect. No stone is left unturned.
This is also why prospects weigh in at the combine, Senior Bowl and Shrine Game wearing only their spandex. Not only does it give a more accurate measurement, but it also allows scouts to assess things like tattoos, piercings, surgical scars, extra flab, etc. This is physical evidence that sends the scouts scurrying to find out more.
So, where will the players with the most controversial stock land in this draft class?
DeAndre Hopkins (WR, Clemson)
Round/Grade: Round 1-2
DeAndre Hopkins leads off our list with the most recent red flag. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Hopkins and Rutgers wideout Mark Harrison left a hotel room trashed during the combine in Indianapolis. Now, we're not talking a couple of socks left on the floor. This was "urine and feces found around the bathroom" kind of bad.
Both Hopkins and Harrison deny involvement, and it's feasible that someone else did that damage to their room after both had left. Indianapolis is a crowded place around the combine, and an unoccupied hotel room being raided or used for someone's "after party" isn't exactly unheard of.
One thing's for sure: NFL teams who are interested in either of these young men will find out what happened. At the very least, they will grill Hopkins until they are satisfied (or fed up) with his answers.
If he can put this issue behind him, Hopkins is a legitimate first-round prospect who has drawn comparisons to Anquan Boldin with his sure hands and tough style of play. He'd be an immediate asset to any team needing a fringe No. 1 receiver or high-quality No. 2.
Best Guess: Minnesota Vikings (Pick No. 25)
Other Potential Landing Spots: Baltimore Ravens, St. Louis Rams, New York Jets
Travis Kelce (TE. Cincinnati)
Round/Grade: Round 3-4
Travis Kelce was suspended for the entire 2010 season after a team violation during the previous year's bowl game trip. While, publicly, no one is positive about what happened, it is unlikely that any NFL team is in the dark about what went on.
I have been told that some teams see it as a serious hurdle to him being a member of their team. Other teams take more of a "boys will be boys" stance around these kinds of incidents—no matter how egregious—during a player's underclassman years.
It isn't just one mistake, however. One scout called Kelce a "train wreck" in regards to his character. His maturity, attitude and love of football have all been called into question during this process in both fair and unfair ways.
Every team eventually meets with every player that it's remotely interested in. It can be anything from an area scout chatting a prospect up on the sidelines during a pre-draft workout, or a general manager and head coach sitting down with the player for a combine meeting.
If Kelce didn't shine in those private interactions, he might fall down boards for reasons other than lack of talent.
Kelce offers a starter's potential with the kind of headaches (or worse) that the New England Patriots deal with in Rob Gronkowski. Unless a team thinks Kelce has Gronk's same kind of All Pro-potential, it'll pass.
Best Guess: Kansas City Chiefs (Pick No. 96)
Other Potential Landing Spots: Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Atlanta Falcons, Jacksonville Jaguars
Jarvis Jones (DE/OLB, Georgia)
Round/Grade: Top 32
Early on, it was reported that Jarvis Jones had a condition called spinal stenosis. Basically, Jones could play football, but there was a chance that his career could be seriously shortened.
Later in the process, it was revealed that a doctor cleared Jones of the condition. However, that same doctor is now being sued by former NFL player Samari Rolle for negligence. The whole back-and-forth has left many fans and those in the media wondering what exactly (if anything) is wrong with Jones and why there are such differing opinions about what should be a black-and-white issue.
Personally, I fall into the same camp as longtime Dallas Cowboys' evaluator Gil Brandt, who believes that Jones is hardly a first-round talent even with a clean bill of health. While he was productive as a college player going against college tackles, he didn't showcase enough athleticism or talent to project him as an impact player at the next level.
Best Guess: Baltimore Ravens (Pick No. 32)
Other Potential Landing Spots: Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Texans, Philadelphia Eagles
Tyler Bray (QB, Tennessee)
Round/Grade: Round 2-3
During this year's annual trip to college all-star games, some media scouts and I developed a new nickname for Tyler Bray—"The Honeybadger of Quarterbacks." The idea is that Bray consistently looks and acts like he doesn't care...about anything.
On the field, Bray will halfheartedly make inane throws without any sense of urgency, throwing into coverage when wide open receivers are all over the field. It's as if proper mechanics bore him and he wants to try something new on almost every play. It's maddening.
Off the field, Bray was accused of throwing beer bottles at parked cars. That's not the kind of immaturity that teams would like out of a potential starting quarterback.
Remember, this is especially important because of the position he plays. Quarterbacks are supposed to be born leaders with spotless records. A linebacker or receiver can have some pockmarks on his record, but quarterbacks (rightfully or not) are held to a higher standard in the process.
The talent is there, but a team has to be positive that it can knock some sense into Bray before it decides to draft him.
Best Guess: Cleveland Browns (Pick No. 78)
Other Potential Landing Spots: Arizona Cardinals, Oakland Raiders, Buffalo Bills, New York Jets
Da'Rick Rogers (WR, Tennessee Tech)
Round/Grade: Round 3
Da'Rick Rogers started at Tennessee before three failed drug tests led him to Tennessee State, where he was an absolute force of nature. With his future at risk, Rogers says that he passed 10 drug tests at his new school, and is looking to bring his clean living to the next level.
It only takes one team to ignore a checkered past for a player to be drafted a lot higher than people think. Percy Harvin had a lot of concerns coming out of Florida, but the Minnesota Vikings dug into the matter and came away comfortable enough to make him the 22nd overall pick.
Rogers isn't as talented as Harvin, but he has legitimate talent. His grade in my system projects a player who could end up playing significant time in his rookie season and becoming a valued starter down the road.
He has the size and explosiveness to make a huge impact in the NFL. He just needs to convince teams he has the willpower as well.
Best Guess: San Francisco 49ers (Pick No. 93)
Other Potential Landing Spots: New England Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals, Washington Redskins
Tank Carradine (DE/OLB, Florida State)
Round/Grade: Top 25
Tank Carradine is on this list because a catastrophic knee injury made NFL teams worry that his explosiveness—the trait that made him such a highly valued prospect—might never return. Had Carradine never been injured, he may have been in consideration for the top 10 picks of the draft.
But maybe those concerns were overblown.
135 days post knee surgery, FSU defensive end Tank Carradine runs a 4.75 in the 40 during a workout for teams— Joe Reedy (@joereedy) April 20, 2013
It's possible that some teams will still value similar prospects like Bjoern Werner and Ezekiel Ansah, but Carradine may be the rare "late riser" (a term that exists more in the public than on actual team boards) who could sneak onto a team that had written him off months earlier.
Best Guess: Indianapolis Colts (Pick No. 24)
Other Potential Landing Spots: New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers
Keenan Allen (WR, Calfornia)
Round/Grade: Top 25
Keenan Allen is the top receiver on my board and has been since the season ended. While Tavon Austin and Cordarrelle Patterson may offer greater upside, Allen has a more well-rounded game and should be a better player over the course of a long NFL career.
That said, Allen is another receiver in this class with big red flags. Not only does have the same bulky knee that slowed him down throughout the pre-draft process, but now it has been reported that Allen failed a drug test at the combine.
A singular failed drug test doesn't matter to a lot of NFL teams. At the combine, however, it can speak both to immaturity and a serious lack of seriousness about the game. It would be like showing up to the biggest job interview of your life in a Slayer t-shirt with three-day-old B.O.
Allen and his agent deny the failed drug test, and a letter from the combine said that his medical re-check was about an ankle, not a second urine test. So, this could be a simple matter of speculation and poor reporting hurting a player in the public eye.
If this is the case, look for Allen to go in the first round. How high he goes will depend on how comfortable teams are with his injury history and whatever really happened in Indianapolis.
Best Guess: Pittsburgh Steelers (Pick No. 17)
Other Potential Landing Spots: Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Ravens, St. Louis Rams
Alec Ogletree (LB, Georgia)
Round/Grade: Top 32
The most recent charge on Alec Ogletree's resume happened when he was charged with a DUI during the pre-draft process. Again, it should be noted that many teams would gloss over a singular instance in a player's past, but because it happened so recently, it gets weighted more heavily.
Nineteen-year-olds are expected to be immature, but NFL players are expected to be men.
As a prospect, Ogletree might be the most physically talented 4-3 OLB prospect in the entire draft. However, his draft stock is largely determined by where teams want to play him and if they believe he fits their system.
Because that already limits the teams that might want him on their squad, Ogletree has to hope that one of the remaining teams is able to look past his indiscretions and covet his upside.
Best Guess: St. Louis Rams (Pick No. 16)
Other Potential Landing Spots: Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans, Baltimore Ravens
Tyrann Mathieu (DB, Louisiana State)
Round/Grade: Round 3-4
In case you're not up on internet memes, Tyrann "Honeybadger" Mathieu has that nickname because as the narrator to the famous YouTube video agrees, he "just takes whatever he wants and nothing is going to stop him."
That kind of attitude describes not only Mathieu's play—he's a notorious gambler when it comes to making high-risk plays on throws—but also to his off-the-field exploits at LSU where he admittedly stopped counting when the failed drug tests got to 10.
Mathieu wasn't able to play college football this past season, and that weighs heavily on the minds of NFL personnel men. However, his size (5'9", 186 lbs.) may concern them even more.
Let's be honest: If this was a player with the potential of Janoris Jenkins (last year's troubled cornerback prospect), he might end up going a lot higher. However, Mathieu's size limitations likely keep him as a nickle or dime back in the NFL with special teams potential (similar to former Alabama star Javier Arenas).
Whether it's due to size or maturity concerns, Mathieu will be lucky to go early on Day 2 of the draft.
Best Guess: Tennessee Titans (Pick No. 97)
Other Potential Landing Spots: San Francisco 49ers, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns
Manti Te'o (LB, Notre Dame)
Round/Grade: Round 2
No one has made as many pre-draft headlines as Manti Te'o, but that isn't a positive.
It all started when Mel Kiper pumped up Te'o as a potential No. 1 pick. Look, no one has more respect for Kiper than I do. If Kiper doesn't do what he does, most of what we consider "draft media" doesn't exist. He helped create this phenomenon.
That said, there was no way, ever, that Te'o was going in the top five. All that is just hype, and hype is a dangerous two-edged sword.
The infamous Te'o/Lennay Kekua hoax flooded media outlets of all variety, from ESPN and Deadspin to TMZ and Extra. Unless he's a contestant on "'Dancing with the Stars," it's a general rule that an NFL player on TMZ is a bad thing.
I've never had a first-round grade on Te'o. He's a middle linebacker, and middle linebackers typically don't go very high in the draft unless they are elite athletes. Te'o isn't Patrick Willis, and he's not even Luke Kuechly.
He'll be a productive player at the next level, but he's likely to be drafted in the very end of the first or the second round.
Best Guess: Tennessee Titans (Pick No. 40)
Other Potential Landing Spots: Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.
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