Elite players with damaged reputations may sink in draft to Ravens
By By Aaron Wilson and The Baltimore Sun
Feb 25, 2013 | 9:58 PM
Troubled former Louisiana State star cornerback Tyrann Mathieu is painfully aware of just how much he's damage he's inflicted on his reputation with potential NFL employers, and how his many transgressions with drugs have cost him financially.
Mathieu's dollar-value estimate on what he's done to his draft stock? Millions of dollars.
Along with several other NFL draft prospects hoping to rebuild their stock after off-field issues, Mathieu is hoping he'll be given a chance to redeem himself at the professional level after positive drug tests ended his college career.
And there's a twist to taking a risk on players like Mathieu or Ogletree for NFL teams like the Super Bowl champion Ravens, who have been repeatedly mentioned as a potential landing spot for Ogletree should his problems cause him to slide to their 32nd overall pick of the first round.
Teams like the Ravens may have the opportunity to give players like Mathieu a chance. Should teams be scared off by a player's' troubles, the prospect could drop in the draft. Akin to investing in a depressed stock, an elite talent can plummet to a point where their value makes it worthwhile to take a calculated gamble.
The Ravens have been mentioned as a potential landing spot for Georgia middle linebacker Alec Ogletree, who was arrested in Arizona shortly before the combine and charged with driving under the influence.
The Ravens have drafted players with legal or character issues in the past.
That includes former NFL Defensive Player of the Year outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who was facing a felony aggravated assault charge in Arizona when the Ravens drafted him 10th overall in the first round of the 2003 NFL draft. The case was later dismissed. The Ravens selected Lardarius Webb in the third round four years ago, landing their future shutdown cornerback after he was kicked off the Southern Mississippi football team for violating team rules before transferring to Nicholls State.
At the NFL scouting combine last week in Indianapolis, Mathieu was quickly offered a reminder of the mistrust he's caused when he was woken up at 4 a.m. to take a drug test.
Mathieu was frequently asked about his time at LSU, which ended when he failed multiple drug tests and was kicked out of school. Once a consensus All-American and Heisman Trophy finalist celebrated as the so-called Honey Badger, Mathieu was arrested on Oct. 26 for marijuana possession, but said that's the last time he was involved with any illegal drugs.
"I want them to be able to trust me," Mathieu said. "I hold myself accountable for everything I've done, and in this past year it's been tough. At the end of the day, I want them to know that I'm a football player. I want to be a great teammate, and I want to be the same leader on the field that I know I can be off the field.
"I'm not totally asking them to trust me right now. What I have asked is for them to give me an opportunity to play the game. I've had a lot of time to reflect on it, especially without football. It's really given me a different outlook on life, and it's just about being the right kind of person."
Last year, the St. Louis Rams drafted cornerback Janoris Jenkins in the second round after he had several incidents that got him dismissed from Florida's team. Jenkins was arrested three times, including one for a bar fight, and failed at least one drug test. He also fathered four children by three women.
The Rams' faith was rewarded, though, when Jenkins remained out of trouble as a rookie. On the field, he intercepted four passes, returning three for touchdowns and ran back a fumble for another score.
"With every situation where you're thinking about taking a player who's been in trouble, you have to be sure you're getting all the information you need about them to make the decision," said Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage, a former Ravens director of player personnel who was working for the Ravens when Suggs was drafted. "It all comes back to this: Can you trust the guy or is he going to be a headache or an embarrassment to your team and your city? You have to get it right."
Mathieu is regarded as a talented multi-dimensional defensive back with elite return skills. In just 26 games at LSU, Mathieu intercepted four passes, had four returns for touchdowns, 11 forced fumbles, eight fumble recoveries and 16 tackles for losses.
However, Mathieu is undersized at slightly under 5-foot-9.
Despite Mathieu's history of problems, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock isn't writing him off.
"I like him," Mayock said. "He's a better football player than he is an athlete. He's short and he¿s probably speed-deficient, which is not a good combination, but I think he's a hell of a football player. He's a slot defender, a nickel-type guy with return skills.
"How he handles not the public meetings because I would expect him to say all of the right things, but how he handles things privately with all of the teams and whether they buy into him or not are the most important issues."
Mathieu said he knows he'll face direct, hard questions from NFL teams about his checkered past. He's being counseled by NFL cornerbacks Darrelle Revis, Morris Claiborne, Patrick Peterson and Corey Webster.
"My best friend right now is honesty," Mathieu said. "I want to be as open as possible because I'm trying to rebuild people's trust, and I want those guys to be able to trust me, and I hold myself accountable.
San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh doesn't tolerate any player who lies in an interview. Once that happens, a prospect is usually removed from the draft board.
NFL teams and league security perform extensive background checks, so they have all the information about a player's past before they sit down with them for a meeting.
"Somebody that's not truthful, that's big, to me," Harbaugh said. "I'm a big fan of the Judge Judy show. And when you lie in Judge Judy's courtroom, it's over. Your credibility is completely lost. You have no chance of winning that case. So, I learned that from her.
"It's very powerful, and true. Because if somebody does lie to you, how can you ever trust anything they ever say after that? Ronald Reagan, another person of great wisdom and advice: 'Trust but we will verify.'"
That's what NFL teams are trying to do with players like Mathieu and Ogletree.
Ogletree was considered a high first-round talent as a speedy converted safety who makes impactful plays. His arrest for a DUI followed being suspended for four games last season for failing a drug test, and being charged three years ago with stealing a Georgia track athlete's motorcycle helmet.
Ogletree said he had combine meetings with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs. He declined to elaborate on the conversations, citing privacy reasons.
"I'm a good person at heart," Ogletree said. "Everybody makes mistakes. I feel real bad about the situation. I'm learning from it and I'm moving forward."
Mayock characterized Ogletree as an elite athlete, but urged caution given how often the linebacker has made bad decisions.
"You have to be careful with Ogletree," Mayock said. "He's a top-10 talent physically, but where he is with positive drug tests, DUIs and all of the rest I have to figure out."
What was Mathieu thinking? How did he hit rock bottom after being the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year?
"I think half of it is you actually start believing the hype," Mathieu said. "You actually start believing the newspaper clippings and the other half is, 'Hey, I'm young and I want to have some fun.' At the end of the day, I have to be a different kind of person."
"I know what it's like to be humiliated. To go back down that road, there's not a chance in the world, not a chance in my lifetime. I'm not saying I'm totally there. However, I am taking strides every day to be the best person that Tyrann can be."
The worst moment for Mathieu? His arrest in October.
"I thought my bottom was when I got kicked out of school," Mathieu said. "I think when I got arrested in October, that was a different bottom. So I decided to go to rehab. But this time, rehab was for Tyrann. I just wasted going to do it for publicity or because my school told me to go. I actually wanted to get my problem corrected."
Both Mathieu and Ogletree have to figure out how to not repeat their collegiate mistakes once they're in the NFL.
Although Mathieu is still sporting his trademark blond Mohawk hairstyle, he no longer wants to be associated with his catchy nickname.
"If the Honey Badger sticks, it sticks," Mathieu said, "but, right now, I'm focused on being Tyrann Mathieu."
The Ravens conducted a meeting with former West Virginia and Dunbar star Tavon Austin at the combine, according to a league source.
The wide receiver ran the 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds and is projected as a first-round draft pick.