With Rob Gronkowski facing yet another lengthy rehabilitation process from a season-ending injury and precious little experience currently on their roster, the New England Patriots need to draft a tight end. I broke down the reasons why last month and laid out a few possible targets at the position.
However, I missed one, and he just may be the likeliest target of them all.
Former Oregon Duck Colt Lyerla certainly carries risk, but he also offers tantalizing upside.
On the surface, he enters the draft with more red flags than a Communist Party rally. First, he got himself kicked off the team at Oregon for violating undisclosed team rules. While we still don’t have all the details, it doesn’t sound like he was simply late to a meeting or out past curfew.
"It's something I deeply, deeply regret and it’s a mistake I’ll have to live with the rest of my life,” Lyerla told reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine.
So yeah, there’s that.
Getting kicked off your football team doesn’t usually put you in good stead with a group of people who devote millions of dollars and countless hours to assembling one.
Lyerla’s lapses in judgment didn’t stop there either. Weeks after his dismissal, The Oregonian reported that he was caught using cocaine by undercover police and arrested for possession. He pled guilty, spent a day in jail and worked on a road crew for nine more.
Obviously, these are major concerns.
It’s not like the kid was smoking a doobie relaxing to a Phish live album when the police randomly showed up. He was in public, in his car, snorting blow. We’re talking layer upon layer of intellectual ineptitude.
Nevertheless, he can play football very, very well.
As a sophomore in 2012, he caught 25 passes for 392 yards and six touchdowns. He also carried the ball 13 times for another 77 yards and a score. He was primed for a huge junior year before his situation took a bizarre and precipitous turn for the worse.
Despite not suiting up for most of 2013, Lyerla impressed enough at the NFL combine to warrant early-round consideration based on his physical skills alone.
His official 40-yard dash time of 4.61 seconds ranked third at the position, just behind that of consensus first-rounder Eric Ebron and well ahead of the times registered by early-round prospects like Jace Amaro and Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
NFL Network actually had him clocked at a jaw-dropping 4.47 seconds on his first attempt.
Yep, he’s fast.
He’s also explosive. His vertical jump of 39 inches not only ranked tops among tight ends, it was a full four inches higher than the next closest prospect at the position—Fresno State’s Marcel Jensen—was capable of. He also tied for the longest broad jump among tight ends at 10’8”.
Given his off-the-field issues, Lyerla needed an outstanding combine to land back on the draft radar and he delivered.
He obviously won’t regain the lofty draft position his performance and skills once suggested, but that could turn him into yet another draft-day steal for Bill Belichick. The question is how far he’ll slide and at what point the Patriots feel comfortable gambling on his talent.
Similar concerns surrounded Aaron Hernandez before the 2010 NFL draft. He flashed first-round talent, but fell to Round 4 because of admitted marijuana use. He was never kicked off the team at Florida. He was never caught snorting coke.
Obviously, his alleged crimes since then paint a disturbing picture, but Lyerla has more red flags right now than Hernandez did at that time.
So if Hernandez fell to the fourth round because he smoked weed, how far might the similarly talented and versatile Lyerla fall for his dismissal and subsequent cocaine arrest? Round 5? Round 6? Will he even be drafted at all?
Because of the way the Hernandez situation played out, some teams might just avoid troubled players like Lyerla altogether, leaving the Patriots free to fill out the rest of their draft card before taking the plunge in the late rounds.
Given their extreme need at tight end and the potentially incredible rewards, it’s a gamble they can’t afford not to take.
All combine results courtesy of NFL.com.
All player stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.