Every year in the NFL draft, there are talented young players for whom the term "red flags" doesn't quite cover it.
This year, there isn't a player flying a bigger scarlet banner than former Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla. Many pundits believe, based purely on talent, that Lyerla could have been a first-round pick.
Now, however, after a disastrous end to his collegiate career that included leaving the Ducks, a drug arrest and a social media meltdown, there's a very good chance that Lyerla won't be drafted at all.
Mind you, if this was simply a question of the potential to do damage on a football field, then there wouldn't be an issue with Lyerla.
As Bucky Brooks of NFL.com reported back in October, an anonymous NFC scout told him Lyerla's playing ability isn't the problem:
He's a big-time player. ... Strong, athletic with good hands. ... He's a plyometric freak (running and jumping) with remarkable athletic ability. ... If he puts it all together, he could be a monster at the next level.
Brooks himself was highly impressed with the 6'4", 242-pounder's potential:
Lyerla is one of the hybrid tight-end-types that are currently taking the NFL by storm. He has the speed to blow past defenders on vertical routes and displays the short-area quickness and burst to run away from linebackers out of breaks. Additionally, Lyerla is an overpowering athlete capable of muscling smaller defensive backs at the top of routes to create separation. Factor in his strong hands and wide catching radius, and Lyerla is the kind of threat offensive coordinators love to feature in the game plan, especially on third down or in the red zone.
And this was shortly after everything fell completely apart for Lyerla.
It all started in March of 2013, when Lyerla made a series of bizarre tweets in regards to conspiracy theories surrounding the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. As the Daily Emerald's McKenna Brown (h/t Graham Watson of Yahoo! Sports) reported, the school released a statement denouncing the tweets:
Twitter posts attributed to student-athlete Colt Lyerla concerning the tragedy at Sandy Hook are insensitive and offensive, especially those devastated by the shootings, and we have communicated as much to Colt. Though the University of Oregon Department of Athletics as well as the football program have social media expectations in place for our student-athletes, at times, personal opinions go well beyond what we expect from our students. The University of Oregon and Department of Athletics understand that our young men and women have a great deal of freedom of expression on social media but with that freedom comes responsibility. Our prayers and thoughts continue to be with the families of Sandy Hook.
Brooks' report also came after Lyerla left the Ducks, who write in a statement, “I love everyone at Oregon; everyone’s on good terms, I believe. Just for my own benefit, it was time to move on," according to Jeff Risdon of DetroitLionsDraft.com.
Risdon's report painted a much different picture, however:
When I probed for reasons why he would just up and quit the program, I got a similar story from just about everyone. They portrayed a naïve, self-absorbed man-child. The substance abuse issues, notably drinking, came up a lot. While described as soft-spoken as and 'brighter than he comes off', multiple sources noted a quick temper and difficulty making real friends. He was tired of dealing with Oregon’s attempts to control him. When it became clear that he wasn’t going to get his way, Lyerla hit the eject button.
Those substance abuse issues came to the forefront shortly after Lyerla left the team and declared for the NFL draft.
On Oct. 23, as Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Matt Miller reported, Lyerla was arrested in Lane County, Ore. for possession of cocaine and interfering with officers.
The statement released by the sheriff's office painted yet another bizarre picture:
INET detectives were working an unrelated drug investigation in the 7th Avenue and Polk area in Eugene when they observed Lyerla in a parked vehicle snorting what appeared to be a white powdery substance. Lyerla was contacted by police and admitted to using and possessing cocaine. Detectives and Lyerla agreed to meet at Lyerla’s residence to continue the investigation. Once at the residence Lyerla ran from the vehicle into a nearby apartment. Lyerla was arrested when he emerged from the residence a short time later. He was transported and lodged in the Lane County Jail.
Lyerla would later plead guilty to drug possession charges, receiving 10 days in jail and two years' probation in addition to court-ordered drug treatment and community service.
As Brooks pointed out, Lyerla's catastrophic 2013 and the character revelations that came with it led that same scout who praised Lyerla's physical makeup to bemoan his mental one:
He's going to be a problem. He reportedly has some issues with alcohol, fights and other stuff at school. ... Bad dude. ... Nothing malicious, but the kind of stuff that makes you worry about how he will handle the pro lifestyle. ... He has a tendency to go off the rails when he leaves a structured environment.
As Miller tweeted in the weeks leading up to February's scouting combine, it left Lyerla with a lot to prove in the minds of NFL teams:
To the surprise of some, Lyerla was invited to Indianapolis, and from a physical standpoint, he didn't disappoint:
When it came time for Lyerla to run the 40, he showed off some impressive speed to go with that size and leaping ability:
According to Miller, it was an even better outing given how little time Lyerla had to prepare for the combine:
As Dane Brugler of CBS Sports tweeted, Lyerla also didn't dodge questions about his troubled past:
With that said, though, much like with Lyerla himself, opinions were sharply divided about his interview session in Indy. For his part, Miller came away impressed:
Brugler? Not so much:
For all the public "no hard feelings" between Lyerla and the Ducks, he was persona non grata at Oregon's pro day, working out instead in front of a sparse crowd at Portland State.
Lyerla performed well there, but it isn't going to do anything to change the perception of him.
Million dollar talent, 10 cent head.
Granted, there are plenty of draftniks who still salivate over Lyerla's athleticism:
That talent is undeniable, and it's true that there have been players who spent their entire collegiate career seeing how far up their butts their heads will fit. Young men in their early 20s are sort of, um, stupid.
In fact, just this past year we saw Tyrann Mathieu go from Heisman finalist to immolating his career at LSU to draft-day pariah in many circles to surprise third-round pick to major contributor as a rookie for the Arizona Cardinals.
However, as Josh Weinfuss of the Cardinals' website reported, after Mathieu flamed out in Baton Rouge, he not only sought treatment, but moved in with former LSU (and current Cardinals) teammate Patrick Peterson's family. When it came time to get ready for last year's combine, Mathieu joined Peterson in Arizona to work out.
Lyerla, on the other hand, originally declined to enter drug treatment and asked the judge for permission to train for the combine in Las Vegas.
Granted, I am not an expert on image rehabilitation, but I'm pretty confident that the way to show NFL teams you're serious about football after a drug arrest isn't to ask for permission to work out in Sin City.
There's always a possibility that an NFL team will roll the dice anyway. It only takes one, and with each round that passes, the financial risk involved with drafting Lyerla decreases.
With that said, though, it isn't just the financial risk anymore. The Aaron Hernandez murder saga was a game-changer in the NFL. Teams are much more leery of being perceived as coddling talented troublemakers.
Had Colt Lyerla given any indication those days were behind him, it might be a different story. But there really hasn't been anything to demonstrate that Lyerla isn't the same immature, troubled young man who walked out on his team and got busted doing cocaine next to the police.
And that's going to make it very difficult for most teams to justify using a draft pick on him.
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