2014 NFL Draft Prospects with the Biggest Red Flags
After what's been a seemingly interminable wait, the 2014 NFL draft is now a little over a week away, and with the spotlight on prospects shining brighter than ever, it's time to ascertain those with the biggest red flags.
While the draft process (this year's in particular) is a meticulous one that features an exorbitant amount of judgment of on-field ability and off-field awareness, it's necessary as NFL franchises get set to potentially determine their future successes or failures on the field with their player haul.
Red flags are raised for a multitude of reasons. Some players are flagged for questionable work ethic (hello, Jadeveon Clowney!), while others are singled out for off-field chicanery (what's up, Johnny Manziel?).
The inability to stay out of the police blotter, injury concerns and lack of on-field production are other criteria for the dreaded "red flag" distinction.
While all of the players on this list will be drafted (and some very high in the first round), they all share one other common bond: the fact that NFL teams have studied them closely and determined there is a risk involved with selecting them.
Here are the 2014 NFL draft prospects with the biggest red flags.
Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel
It's hard to recall a more polarizing prospect than former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Manziel was a wizard on the field at College Station, often transforming impossible situations into big plays and touchdowns. That ability enabled him to become the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy after his sparkling 2012 campaign.
But a series of off-field incidents and a pattern of behavior have raised red flags about Manziel's ability to lead at the NFL level.
He had to be ushered out of a frat party near the University of Texas after making the not-so-bright decision to attend.
He violated NCAA rules last offseason and, as a result, was suspended for the first half of the Aggies' season opener against Rice.
He was sent home from the Manning Passing Academy for being late to one session and missing another entirely.
And then there was his pro day last month. He received rave reviews for his work, but the decision to blast music from his buddy Drake and host an eclectic contingent of celebrities that included former President George H.W. Bush made some queasy, including Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, who called the workout a "sideshow," per Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com.
Zimmer made his rationale crystal clear last month in a radio interview with 104.9 The Horn in Austin, via Master Tesfatsion of the Star Tribune:
All of the things that happened out in Los Angeles, the commercials and all that stuff; the position of quarterback in the NFL is such an important position and the reason these guys need to be a totally football-minded guy is the pressure of the position and being the face of an NFL team and doing everything right. That’s the thing you want to know about him -- will he be into work early every single day? Will be the last to leave? Will he be the guy that is working the hardest to get better?
After an astonishing college career, there's no doubting Manziel's on-field ability. Now he has to show that he can rise above the noise and not be a distraction once he's the face of an NFL franchise.
South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney
Another top prospect who is bursting with talent but also raising questions around the league is South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the presumptive No. 1 overall pick of the draft.
When he gave his all, Clowney was as disruptive a force as the college game has ever seen. He dazzled with his athleticism and sheer brutality, and he quickly became the subject of extraordinary hype.
But Clowney's propensity to take plays off bothered many, including NFL Media's Mike Mayock, who said after Clowney's pro day (via NFL.com's Mike Huguenin) that there are "red flags" about his work ethic and that "he turns it on, he turns it off."
Warren Sapp of the NFL Network joined in on the criticism, saying about Clowney, via the Houston Chronicle:
My grandfather taught me something a long time ago. He said "You will never get more money by doing less work." I look at Jadeveon Clowney’s (game) tape and I don’t see a guy that is playing the game with his hair on fire, making plays, running up and down the field sideline to sideline, doing all of the things.
Marc Eckel of NJ.com passed along this quote from an unnamed NFC personnel executive:
He’s spoiled, and he’s lazy. He’s never worked hard a day in his life, now all of a sudden you’re going to give him a bunch of money and expect him to work hard. I don’t see it.
Even his college coach, Steve Spurrier, couldn't resist taking a veiled jab at his work ethic, telling NFL AM (via Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk):
He was OK (in terms of work ethic). It wasn’t like Marcus Lattimore, you know, every player is a little different. His work habits are pretty good, they’re not quite like Lattimore, maybe Stephon Gilmore, Melvin Ingram, some of those guys, but when the ball is snapped he’s got something no one else has.
Clowney's name will be called early next Thursday night. The question will be if he can put in the work needed to quell the predraft concerns.
Oregon TE Colt Lyerla
Former University of Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla is an immensely talented player, but he's one who has gotten into enough trouble off the field to warrant major concern and raise significant red flags.
First, Lyerla took to Twitter last March and said that he believed the devastating shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School were a government conspiracy. He later deleted the tweets.
A few weeks later, he was arrested for cocaine possession.
He also failed to dazzle at February's scouting combine, only putting up 15 reps on the bench at 225 pounds.
Lyerla has the ability to sparkle on the field, but he's raised a number of red flags off it that have surely damaged his draft stock.
Florida CB Loucheiz Purifoy
Former University of Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy has seen his draft stock plummet thanks to a series of off-field red flags and a poor showing at the school's pro day.
After the pro day, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller called Purifoy's decision to leave Florida after his junior year "curious" and said his stock is "bottoming out."
And according to The Gainesville Sun, Purifoy was reportedly caught with drugs last month but avoided arrest after agreeing to serve as a police informant.
Red flags indeed.
Alabama OT Cyrus Kouandjio
While former University of Alabama tackle Cyrus Kouandjio is one of the most talented players in the draft, his injury history has raised red flags that could see him selected later than expected.
Kouandjio tore his ACL in 2011 as a freshman, but he did make 27 starts over the last two seasons. Still, that hasn't been enough to assure NFL teams of his long-term health. Kouandjio himself said last month at Alabama's pro day that he's aware of "six teams" showing concern for his surgically repaired knee, per Chase Goodbread of NFL.com.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. (subscription required) has called Kouandjio the riskiest lineman in the draft:
For one, there are questions about how well he'll hold up physically, particularly with his knees, and his injury history isn't completely clean. Secondly, he didn't really take a step forward in performance this season, with some sloppiness in his technique, and I'd say his run blocking is ahead of his pass blocking at this point. He was once a first-round lock, but if he goes there now, I'd call it a bit of a risk.
Kouandjio might end up being a first-round pick, but as Kiper explained, any team that selects him next Thursday night would be doing so with full knowledge of his red flags.
LSU RB Jeremy Hill
Former LSU running back Jeremy Hill possesses a ton of on-field talent but has shown questionable judgment off it.
He rushed for 1,401 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, but he also missed one full game and one quarter in another due to suspension. He didn't play in 2011 after being arrested on sexual assault charges and was arrested again last April for simple battery.
The off-field problems served as a catalyst for Hill mailing a letter to all 32 NFL franchises detailing his arrests in an attempt to allay any potential fears regarding his character.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller perhaps best summed up Hill's draft status in this tweet, noting his character flags but calling him a "Mack truck" on the field. He has loads of talent, but teams are concerned about his issues off the field.
Pittsburgh QB Tom Savage
Unlike many of the other players on this list, former University of Pittsburgh quarterback Tom Savage didn't make it due to off-field issues or major character red flags. He's on it because there are legitimate questions about his ability being commensurate to where he could be drafted.
Savage's draft stock has soared in recent weeks and months, as he went from an afterthought to one of the hottest names in the entire process.
He had a bizarre college career that featured stops at three different universities: Rutgers, Arizona and Pittsburgh. He lost his job at Rutgers due to injury before transferring to Arizona, but he wasn't a fit in coach Rich Rodriguez's pro-style offense. He then landed at Pitt, where he threw 21 touchdowns in his senior campaign.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller doesn't buy in to all the Savage hype, writing that he ranked Savage as the 11th-best quarterback on his final big board.
Savage has a big arm but was inconsistent at Pittsburgh. His major red flag is his game tape, which hasn't always shown a passer with the ability to lead a franchise.
For a detailed look on the risk Savage represents, check out this piece from Bleacher Report's Rob Goldberg.
Florida DT Dominique Easley
If it weren't for his injury history, former University of Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley would be one of the top picks in next week's NFL draft. But two major knee maladies suffered at the collegiate level have tempered his draft stock and surely concern NFL teams.
Easley tore his left ACL in 2011, but he rebounded in 2012, finishing with a tremendous effort in the team's Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville. He then tore his right ACL last season, and rather than return to Gainesville for his senior year, he made the decision to enter the NFL draft.
The good news for Easley is that his rehab is on schedule, with Bryan Broaddus of DallasCowboys.com reporting that Easley will be "ready at some point during training camp."
When healthy and on the field, Easley is a beast. But his injury history is a definite red flag.