Evaluating NFL Draft’s ‘Drug Controversy’ Players
April 24th, 2013| by Lost Lettermen
1983: Dan Marino (Pitt)
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Few things can quickly jeopardize a potential draft pick’s value as fast as rumors of and/or positive tests for drug use like those facing ex-LSU CB Tyrann Mathieu. But a closer look at 10 high-profile players dogged by the dreaded “D-word” in advance of the draft demonstrates that it’s often much ado about nothing.
In retrospect, the fact that Dan Marino was the last signal-caller taken in the ballyhooed Quarterback Class of 1983 (No. 27 overall) is ludicrous. But teams were scared off by rumors of a cocaine addiction (along with a low score on the Wonderlic test).
The irony is not lost on us that a player with a rumored penchant for blow was drafted by … Miami. With the Dolphins, Marino rewrote the passing record book in addition to reaching nine Pro Bowls and transforming them into one of the more consistent AFC franchises of the 1980s and 1990s.
1987: Brian Bosworth (Oklahoma)
When you’re picture is on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline “The Boz Flunks Out,” it’s about as high-profile a drug problem as you can have for 1987.
The star Oklahoma LB insisted that the anabolic steroid he tested positive for, Deca-Durabolin, wasn’t used to build mass but rather to rehabilitate his injured shoulders. Despite this controversy (among many that Bosworth courted), the Seahawks picked him in the first round of the ’87 supplemental draft and signed him to a 10-year, $11 million deal — then the biggest contract in franchise and NFL rookie history.
Alas, Bosworth lasted less than three seasons before those same injured shoulders forced him to retire.
1995: Warren Sapp (Miami [FL])
After a dominant career at “The U,” Sapp appeared to be a Top 5 pick in the ‘95 draft. That all changed when The New York Times reported that Sapp had tested positive for marijuana and cocaine during the combine. The NFL disputed the failed cocaine test, but the damage was done.
Sapp slipped out of the Top 5 and into the waiting arms of the Bucs at No. 12. In a 13-year Hall of Fame career, Sapp reached seven Pro Bowls, won a Super Bowl in 2003 and registered 96.5 career sacks. Meanwhile, the Jets — whose fans at Madison Square Garden chanted Sapp’s name ad nauseum — got all of 93 catches in four years from their pick at No. 9, TE Kyle Brady.
1998: Randy Moss (Marshall)
Despite being the best wide receiver prospect that many NFL teams’ brass had ever seen, Moss’ well-documented legal issues scared a lot of them off. Among them: His frequent marijuana use, the first instance of which came in April 1996 and got him dismissed from Florida State.
There were rumors that Moss skipped the ’98 NFL combine — where he was expected to be the most-watched participant — in order to avoid the event’s drug test. Originally projected as a high first-round pick, Moss slipped all the way to the Vikings at No. 21.
While at times Moss has been the antithesis of a model citizen, he recently completed his 15th season in the NFL (seven of which have resulted in him being named to the Pro Bowl). He holds a number of league receiving records — including most TD receptions in a season — and is within shouting distance of many others.
2003: Charles Rogers (Michigan State)
Eleven days before the ’03 draft, Biletnikoff Award-winning WR Charles Rogers’ agent, Kevin Poston, announced that his client had tested positive for a urine masking agent at the combine. At the time, it was chalked up to Rogers having to drink lots of water to deal with the demands of the three-day event, hence the “diluted sample of excess water” he ended up providing as a urine sample.
Looking back, the Lions would have been wise to look at this as a harbinger (rather than a false positive) and not use the second overall pick on the Michigan State star. Following season-ending broken clavicle injuries in back-to-back years, Rogers — who the Lions released in 2006 — spun into a drug-fueled descent from which he has yet to fully recover.
2007: Calvin Johnson (Georgia Tech)
“Megatron” didn’t test positive for marijuana use at the ’07 combine, but he was one of three players — along with Clemson’s Gaines Adams and Louisville’s Amobi Okoye — to admit to previously using it.
“I doubt it will have any effect whatsoever [on his draft stock],” Johnson’s college coach, Chan Gailey, said at the time. “I think he’s a great young man who probably did it one time to see what it was like and told the truth [when asked about it]. I don’t think it’s an issue with him.”
One couldn’t have blamed the Lions, still smarting from the Charles Rogers debacle, from being too careful and not going with Johnson. But they shared Gailey’s opinion and took him second overall (like they did with Rogers). Six years later, Johnson — who set the NFL single-season receiving yards record (1,964) in 2012 — is widely considered the best WR in the game.
2009: B.J. Raji (Boston College)
Whereas fellow ’09 first round pick Percy Harvin faced questions for a test for marijuana use at the combine that actually came out positive, Raji had to deal with a firestorm surrounding a misreport (courtesy of SI.com and NFLDraftBible.com) that he had too.
Once the hoopla subsided, Green Bay wisely drafted the big DT ninth overall — the only Top 10 pick from that draft who, as of now, has made the Pro Bowl. And to Raji’s credit, he later cleared his name ever further by admitting to testing positive for marijuana while at BC.
Since then, none of those issues have come up in a career highlighted by his key role on the Packers’ Super Bowl XLVI-winning squad.
2009: Percy Harvin (Florida)
A dynamic playmaker on two Gators national title teams, Harvin possessed talent and overall abilities worthy of a Top 10 pick. His performance in drills at the combine (4.41 40-yard dash, 37.5-inch vertical leap) demonstrated that.
Those numbers were undermined, however, when he also tested positive for marijuana that week. Rather than make excuses or run from the embarrassment, Harvin bluntly and convincingly accepted responsibility for his actions — leading the Vikings (with the 22nd pick) to still deem him first-round worthy while other teams completely took Harvin off their draft boards.
Harvin rewarded Minnesota for its faith in him almost immediately, earning a Pro Bowl nod and NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors for a team that reached the NFC title game.
2010: Aaron Hernandez (Florida)
John Mackey Award winners, first team All-Americans and Heisman-winning quarterbacks’ favorite pass targets usually go off the board in the first two rounds. Aaron Hernandez — who fit all three of those aforementioned descriptors with the Gators — lasted all the way until the fourth, the result of speculation that he frequently used marijuana while in Gainesville.
“He had repeated issues with it, to the point where you worry about whether he’ll be able to lay off the stuff at our level,” an AFC scout told The Boston Globe in April 2010. “To be honest, he’s super talented and, even with the issues, I’m surprised he fell as far he did.”
As were the Patriots, who have teamed Hernandez — a 2011 Pro Bowler who has averaged over 58 catches a year in three pro seasons — with Rob Gronkowski to form the most lethal tight end tandem in the NFL.
2012: Janoris Jenkins (Florida, North Alabama)
A 2008 Freshman All-American and 2010 first team All-SEC performer with the Gators, Jenkins was well positioned to be drafted as a shutdown corner in the first round of either the 2011 or 2012 draft. All of which was undone by his being arrested twice in three months for misdemeanor marijuana possession (January and April 2011) and subsequently being dismissed from the Florida program.
Jenkins got his life and career back on track in 2011 at Division II North Alabama — where he was a second team DII All-American — and the Rams drafted him in the second round in 2012. It wasn’t the first round money he once hoped for, but if his 73 tackles and four defensive TDs as a rookie is any indication, he’ll get that big payday soon enough.
2013: Tyrann Mathieu (LSU)
Starting on Thursday, we’ll find out exactly how much the “Honey Badger” cost himself with his crippling addiction to marijuana.
How bad was it for Mathieu? Despite being a consensus All-American performer in 2011 and an expected key component of a 2012 LSU team with national title aspirations, Mathieu was dismissed from the team — the end result of, he later revealed, no fewer than 10 failed drug tests during his time in Baton Rouge.
After all that, it still took an October arrest (along with three other former LSU players) for marijuana possession for Mathieu to start fully cleaning up his act (we can only hope) in advance of the 2013 draft.