NFL Draft Prospects with the Biggest Red Flags
The season is over and the Super Bowl in the rearview mirror, but in the NFL, the fun never ends. No sooner did the 2018 campaign conclude than the 2019 season began.
And a big part of the first steps in any season is preparation for the upcoming draft.
As NFL teams pore over hours of tape and review scouting profiles in advance of the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine, some players will stand out because of their size. Or their speed. Or their production at the collegiate level.
Other players, however, stand out for all the wrong reasons. For some, it's a matter of injuries. For others, it's issues and troubles off the field. Others still have less-than-ideal measurables in one or more categories.
That hasn't stopped many from being considered first-round prospects, but it does add substantial risk to making such a hefty investment in these youngsters.
These are the NFL draft prospects with the biggest red flags in 2019.
Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma
On the surface, Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray would appear to have everything an NFL team could want. He has a strong, accurate arm. Mobility and athleticism to burn. After completing 69 percent of his passes for 4,361 yards and 42 touchdowns with just seven interceptions while rushing for 1,001 yards, Murray was named the 2018 Heisman Trophy winner.
There's just one problem.
Murray's not very big.
We're talking Doug Flutie.
However, per TMZ, Murray has his supporters—including Flutie himself.
"The biggest problem with a lot of short quarterbacks is they don't have the arm strength. [Murray] does. He can make all the throws. He can throw from all kinds of angles. We see that with [Patrick] Mahomes and you'll have the same thing with Kyler Murray."
There's also the matter of Murray's commitment to baseball. He's already been a first-round pick of the Oakland Athletics, receiving a multi-million signing bonus that will have to be repaid if he chooses to pursue his NFL career.
Simply put, there isn't a riskier prospect in this year's draft than the diminutive passer with the big-time talent. He could make a general manager's career.
Or get them fired.
Will Grier, QB, West Virginia
Murray isn't the only potential first-round quarterback with a major red flag.
Will Grier enjoyed a highly successful collegiate career at West Virginia. In each of the last two seasons, Grier completed well over 60 percent of his passes and topped 3,400 yards. Over that span, Grier tossed 71 touchdowns against just 20 interceptions.
Based on that production and Grier's college tape, it's not hard to imagine the 6'2", 218-pound Grier being a Round 1 pick on April 25.
But there's the issue of how Grier wound up at West Virginia in the first place.
Early in the 2015 season while attending the University of Florida, Grier was suspended for the remainder of the year by the NCAA for taking a banned substance. Grier told Bleacher Report's Matt Hayes the suspension was the result of his taking a supplement that was subsequently banned by the NCAA.
Grier insisted to Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald that this was a one-shot deal—that he's been clean since and in no danger of being busted again.
"That's just not who I am," he said. "And I would never let my teammates down in any circumstance again. That's one of the things I learned. Moving forward, it's a non-issue. Any organization that gives me a chance will get me. And I'll pour my heart into the organization and do whatever it takes to win football games."
Gerald Willis III, DT, Miami
Miami defensive tackle Gerald Willis III had a fine season for the Hurricanes in 2018. The 6'4", 300-pounder was a disruptive force, racking up 59 total tackles, 18 tackles for loss and four sacks.
ESPN's Todd McShay thinks that performance could sneak Willis into the back end of the first round, mocking Willis to the New England Patriots with the final pick of Round 1.
"Trey Flowers, Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton will go to free agency," McShay said, "so the champs will likely address defensive line this offseason. Willis has quick hands and lots of power at the point of contact."
Here's where those caveats kick in, though—and just like Will Grier, they start in Gainesville.
As Jerry Hinnen reported for CBS Sports back in 2015, to say that Willis had a rocky tenure at Florida is an understatement. There was a fight with a teammate and a late hit out of bounds against Florida State so egregious that Willis was pulled for the remainder of that game.
From all indications, Willis' time in Miami went a lot more smoothly. But whether it's at the combine, the Hurricanes' pro day or in individual meetings with teams, Willis has a lot of work remaining to convince NFL clubs he has matured and isn't a poor teammate.
Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson
For most of his collegiate career, Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence was one of the more dominant interior linemen in the game. The 6'4", 350-pound behemoth of a tackle didn't post huge numbers in 2018 (37 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks).
But big numbers aren't Lawrence's game—it's tying up blockers so that others can make plays. Clogging lanes in the run game. Pushing the pocket back into a quarterback's face.
But while most of Lawrence's career went well, it didn't end on the best of terms.
As ESPN reported, Lawrence (along with two other players) was suspended for both of Clemson's playoff games this past season after testing positive for ostarine, a banned substance that is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration and is not legally for sale in the United States.
For his part, Lawrence insisted he would not take a banned substance knowingly.
"We get tested regularly, and we know not to do anything stupid or selfish like that," Lawrence said last week. "That's why this is such a shock."
In all likelihood, Lawrence is still going to be a first-round pick—especially if he shows well at the scouting combine.
But in some respects, the recency of Lawrence's failed test makes his situation that much worse than Grier's. There hasn't been a stretch of trouble-free time to mollify an NFL team's misgivings.
Jeffery Simmons, DT, Mississippi State
In a draft class stacked with talent on the defensive line, Dexter Lawrence isn't the only interior lineman with red flags.
Mississippi State's Jeffery Simmons, who amassed 162 tackles, seven sacks, four forced fumbles and six passes defensed in three seasons at Mississippi State, is projected as a potential top-10 pick in April's draft. But he won't be able to solidify that status at February's scouting combine.
As NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported, Simmons has been barred from the 2019 scouting combine for failing to meet the criteria under the league's policy regarding issues of violence.
"It is important for us to remain strongly committed to league values as we demonstrate to our fans, future players, coaches, general managers, and others who support our game that character matters," NFL Football Operations Executive Vice President Troy Vincent said in a memo to NFL teams.
The ban dates back to a 2016 video in which Simmons struck a woman. He pled no contest to simple assault and was found guilty of malicious mischief. The Bulldogs suspended him for one game.
"I live and learn," said Simmons in 2017. "If I can go back and re-do it all, I wouldn't do what I did. I regret doing it, but I have to live and learn from it."
Simmons hasn't given any reason to be concerned since then, but the Indy ban reinforces how much work he still has to do ahead of the draft.
Montez Sweat, DE, Mississippi State
Yep. Another Bulldog.
In recent weeks, most of the run surrounding Mississippi State defensive end Montez Sweat has been positive. Per Chase Goodbread and Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, the 6'6", 252-pound Sweat, who piled up 53 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks at Mississippi State in 2018, shined in Mobile at the Senior Bowl—so much so that he may have worked his way into the top 10 of this year's draft.
However, there is an issue with Sweat—an issue that's been all but glossed over publicly but one that NFL teams are no doubt keeping track of.
You see, Mississippi State isn't the first place Sweat played college ball at.
After barely playing in 2014 and redshirting in 2015 at Michigan State, Sweat left the Spartans in April of 2016 for what were deemed "personal reasons."
However, per Mike Griffith of MLive, Sweat ran into disciplinary issues at Michigan State, including a lengthy (albeit unspecified) suspension.
By all indications, Sweat has kept his nose clean over the last couple of years. But before an NFL team invests tens of millions of dollars in Sweat, you can bet the rent they will both want to know exactly what happened and receive assurances that his disciplinary problems are behind him.
Rodney Anderson, RB, Oklahoma
Not all players with red flags are first-round prospects. And not all red flags are related to off-field concerns.
In 2017, Oklahoma tailback Rodney Anderson was one of the best runners in college football. The 6'2", 218-pounder rolled for over 1,100 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging over six yards a carry. Anderson entered the 2018 season fifth among running backs on Matt Miller's big board here at Bleacher Report.
Then came a knee injury in September that ended Anderson's 2018 season.
As Tom Fornelli reported for CBS Sports, back when the injury occurred, Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley expressed confidence that Anderson could rebound.
"We're heartbroken for him," said Riley. "He's overcome so much in his career, and if anybody can do it again it's Rodney. He's played a lot of great football and has a lot more ahead of him. He's just a tremendous person and player and we'll miss him on the field.
Just that lone knee injury would be an issue in and of itself. But it's just the tip of the injury iceberg with Anderson. He played in only two games as a freshman in 2015 before breaking his leg, and missed all of the 2016 campaign with a fractured vertebrae in his neck.
That's one healthy season in four years, for those of you scoring at home.
And red flags galore.
Chase Winovich, EDGE, Michigan
So far, we've seen players with red flags related to off-the-field transgressions, and others with issues related to injuries.
In the case of Michigan edge-rusher Chase Winovich, the red flags are a bit of a double-dip.
The first is injury. After piling up 69 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and five sacks last season with the Wolverines, Winovich was forced to pull out of the Senior Bowl with a bad ankle. That injury isn't believed to be especially serious, but there's going to be tremendous pressure on Winovich to get healthy in advance of the scouting combine at month's end.
That's because of the second red flag—the dreaded "tweener" syndrome.
Winovich played with his hand in the dirt in Ann Arbor, but at 6'3" and 255 pounds, he's undersized by NFL standards to play at defensive end. However, while Winovich is a hard-nosed player with a great motor, he's not exactly oozing the sort of athleticism he'd need to succeed standing up as an outside linebacker.
Winovich is going to have to show well in drills at the combine to alleviate concerns from 4-3 and 3-4 teams alike. The 4-3 squads are going to want to see strength and power. The 3-4 teams are going to want to see speed and quickness.
And everyone's going to want to see Winovich at 100 percent.