Michael Conroy/Associated Press
There isn’t a player in this draft coming in with more off-the-field issues than Lyerla. His last year at Oregon was marred by inconsistent play, dismissal from the team, and a cocaine-related arrest. Once one of college’s most promising and athletic tight ends, Lyerla has many demons to exorcise. But if he does, he could be the biggest steal of this draft.
Lyerla needed a good combine to prove that he should be drafted and that’s exactly what he had. He showed his athleticism by posting the best broad jump and vertical jump among the tight end group (128” and 39” respectively). He did run a slower-than-expected 4.61 in the 40, though it still was good enough to place him third among tight ends.
One knock on his performance was posting only 15 reps on the bench press, lowest in the group. However, this can be attributed to the fact that he could train for only a few weeks prior to the combine due to circumstances surrounding his arrest.
The biggest win for Lyerla was media day. As expected, he went through a grueling interview process that focused on his cocaine arrest and quitting on his team. But he did not shy away from these subjects. He emphasized that he messed up and was looking for a chance to redeem himself:
I think the biggest thing for me is just to be honest and to show remorse where remorse is due and just do my best to prove that I've changed and I'm changing and I've matured since I made those mistakes.
If Lyerla was serious during his interview, he may just salvage his NFL career. He has the talent and he has the potential. Still it is going to be an uphill battle, especially given the evaluation Nolan Nawrocki on NFL.com gave of Lyerla:
Has overcome a lot of adversity stemming back to his youth and defied the odds to become an impactful performer... Would benefit tremendously from a coach willing to serve as a strong father figure.
The adversity he mentions stems from a myriad of childhood issues. Justis Mosqueda on optimumscouting.com wrote an article in which he explains Lyerla's father left for several months following a divorce, leaving him without a true father figure. While most coaches end up becoming father figures to players, it is something that happens over time. To expect a coach to instantly become a dad to a player who has just been drafted is asking a bit much and could potentially turn teams off.
Nevertheless, if a team has a strong core of coaches and is willing to overlook his past and focus on his future, he can be a real asset. He has to realize he is only going to get one chance and if he screws it up, it’s over.
Teams that could draft him:
The Steelers are the perfect example of a strong coaching core. Since 1969, the Steelers have had only three head coaches and Mike Tomlin doesn’t look to be going anywhere anytime soon. This would be the perfect situation for Lyerla as Tomlin’s work ethic would keep him busy. Since Tomlin is expected to be around for awhile, it would allow a relationship to develop.
There also is a strong group of leaders in the locker room that would help him stay out of trouble. Pittsburgh has been known to take chances on players with troubled pasts. Since the Steelers still have Heath Miller, Lyerla wouldn’t be expected to start, so it would give him time to settle in and learn the playbook without getting overwhelmed.
New Orleans Saints
Much like the Steelers, the Saints have a coach who doesn’t look to be going anywhere anytime soon and they wouldn’t need Lyerla to start. Given the situation with Jimmy Graham, the Saints need some insurance in case things don’t work out and Lyerla is every bit as athletic.