"The Storms Before the NFL Draft" by SportsBlog | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

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The Storms Before the NFL Draft

There has been plenty of news before the NFL Draft’s kickoff tomorrow night, Thursday, April 27, that could send players down the draft board. Some is understandable, and some could be considered ridiculous.

Let’s start with the ridiculous and work our way to more serious elements. One thing to remember: the run-up to the draft is one long job interview.

Last week in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, writer Bob McGinn reported the scores of several players who took the Wonderlic intelligence test at the NFL Combine. ESPN’s Darren Rovell pointed out two players who scored an 11 out of 50 on the test and Rovell was roasted on social media. Since then, Rovell took the official test and wrote about taking it and how it changed him.

The leaking of Wonderlic scores has gone on since the NFL began using the test in the 1970s. If you don’t know, the test is 50 questions taken in 12 minutes with just a pencil and scrap paper. The employers use the test to assess the intelligence of prospective employees.

If you follow the NFL Combine, everyone does the same testing. All the players bench-press 225 pounds, run the 40-yard dash, and so forth. Not all the tests really apply to every position, but to get an apples-to-apples comparison, every player does the same tests.

The Wonderlic doesn’t mean a ton for most positions. If any position makes sense, it is the quarterback position, where you have to process a good deal of information and do it quickly.

What other players score on the test really isn’t entirely game-changing but is important. Players have known for years that the NFL gives the test at the combine. Agents have been preparing players for the test for years, as well.

If everything is a test at the combine, the way a player approaches the Wonderlic is a test. Remember, this is a giant job interview. If a player scores low on the test, teams might do more research on the player to find out why.

NFL teams will want to know why a player bombed a test that he knew he had to take. Did the player care enough to even prepare for the test? Is the player bad at taking tests? If the player didn’t care to prepare for the test, teams will wonder if that player will prepare for a NFL career. The test is part of an evolution process and not really about how smart the players are.

No one should be made fun for what he scored on the test. It is simply a way for teams to see whether players are going to put in the work that is needed to be in the NFL.

It also never fails that a player or two will fail the drug test at the NFL Combine. This year, it was University of Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster and University of Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers.

Both players produced a diluted urine sample, which under the rules of the NFL is the same as a positive test. However, it is important to note that both players were ill when they reached the combine and drank a good deal of fluids to rehydrate for the on-the-field workouts.

If teams believe that both players were truly sick, then it is possible that neither will slide down the draft. If they think they were trying to drink a ton of fluids to cheat the test, then they have to worry.

Again, teams do their homework on players. They talk to everyone they can that knows each player. Teams try to find out about bad habits, failed drug tests in college, and whether an athlete could put himself in bad situations that give the team negative publicity.

Every moment leading up to a player entering the draft is a test. Teams will wonder why a player failed a drug test if he knew that he would be tested. It goes back to whether a player does the right things to be an NFL player. A failed test makes a team wonder whether they should invest a good deal of money in a player that may stay in trouble.

Foster has even more damage control to deal with after he was sent home from the combine for getting into an argument with hospital workers during the medical check. His actions made the league decide not to invite him to the NFL Draft, meaning that he can’t be in the green room waiting to hear a team call his name.

That anger-management issue will cause teams to work harder to get more information on Foster, who is considered a top-10 pick. Teams will want to know if this was just a bad day or a pattern by a player.

After the Aaron Hernandez arrest and conviction, teams are more wary about players’ pre-draft issues. Teams are going to investigate athletes with off-the-field issues or “red flags” even more in today’s climate.

That brings us to Ohio State University cornerback Gareon Conley who is accused of raping a 23-year-old woman in a Cleveland, Ohio, hotel room. Police are investigating the matter, but the woman has not filed charges.

WOIO-TV in Cleveland broke the story, but they didn’t release the name of the player initially. ESPN was able to obtain a copy of the police report to learn the name of the player in question.

Many lists place Conley as a late-first-round to early-second-round pick. His attorney, Kevin Spellacy, is claiming that the allegations are untrue, even calling them “ludicrous and ridiculous,” though he didn't name his client when the report from WOIO came out.

At this point, it is too early to tell what happened other than a case of “he said, she said” with some witness reports. Only those involved with the police investigation know if the witnesses have any credibility.

A similar event happened to former Louisiana State University lineman La’el Collins before the 2015 NFL Draft. Media analysts considered Collins to be a first-round talent leading up to the draft, but days before, his name was linked to the double homicide of a pregnant woman whom he had dated and her baby in Baton Rouge, La.

Even though police just wanted to interview him and didn’t consider him a suspect, the story made national news. Collins left the draft, and teams didn’t draft him at any point during the seven rounds. After the draft, he signed a three-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys for a $1.7-million guaranteed salary. While that might seem like a ton of money to you and me, the tackle possibly lost around $15 million just by having his name come up in the case of a homicide that he was never a suspect for committing.

This is not to say that Conley is innocent of the charges that he faces in Cleveland, but even if he is innocent, just having these accusations come up days before the draft will likely cost him millions in early earnings.

The career of an NFL player is short, and players want to maximize their earnings. But recent events have caused teams to think carefully before taking chances on players. No team wants to be like the Patriots with egg on their face a few years later.

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