The 2011 NFL Combine is officially underway as special teams players, offensive linemen and tight ends are all checking in today. They'll be handling mostly administrative matters today including some basic medical exams and x-rays, an orientation, and a variety of interviews. Tomorrow, this first group gets things underway with measurements, exams, media, psych tests, and more interviews.
The exams are what intrigue me on the second day. Part of the Combine involves a drug test, which I'd imagine is part of the exams on day two. I bring this up because one player in particular finds himself facing immense scrutiny based on the outcome of his drug test. Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett has been dogged by numerous off-the-field issues that include questions about drug use. This took a turn for the ugly as former personnel man (and 49ers GM interviewee) Tony Softli spoke on ESPN Radio about Mallett and some of his issues in a discussion of offensive players facing Combine concerns:
Character and drug use issues are starting to rear their ugly head. Heavy rumors of drug use and possible addiction kept him from coming out for the 2010 draft. A lot of people are comparing Mallett to Ryan Leaf. I think Ryan was a better football player, with a cannon for an arm but the immaturity was just too much to overcome. A hair facial test might tell all 32 teams who this person really is.
As is to be expected rumors are flying every which way about Mallett and some of these many concerns. When you start seeing comparisons to Ryan Leaf this goes beyond just red flags. If he fails his Combine drug test it's safe to say his stock will absolutely plummet. Of course, if he does not flunk his drug test, I'd imagine it would leave things at the status quo rather than be some huge boost for him. Folks will look at it as "If he fails it's not surprising, if he does not fail it's just one test."
Drew and others see Mallett as a guy that wouldn't fit the 49ers needs, so this discussion isn't as much about the 49ers grabbing him, as the idea of red flags in general. For folks that pay close attention to college football and some of the drama that pops up, do you have certain guys you like but they have potential red flags that might cause them to slip?
A guy like Robert Quinn was ineligible this past year because of accepting improper benefits, but it seems like those are not exactly the kind of character defects that can submarine a strong talent. We've seen it in the past with a guy like Mike Williams: if you've got talent, teams will roll the dice early in the draft.
The issue for a guy like Mallett is that the issues are becoming a bit more serious. When people start throwing around drug addiction and some fairly hard core drugs, among other things, it is bound to raise eyebrows. Warren Sapp failed a drug test before he was drafted and it caused him to slide considerably. Randy Moss slipped due to a variety of concerns. Although they've both had their ups and downs in the league, they paid pretty high dividends at one point or another.
What's the dividing line between character defect that will cause a team to pass on a player versus something teams are willing to overlook? I'd say it depends on the team, the coach, and the context, which is a bit of a cop-out. However, that might be the most accurate response at this point.