Every year there are always players who tumble down the NFL Draft order because of off the field issues and failed drug screenings. Many of these red flags prove to be legitimate signs of a deeper problem. But in recent years, a lot of these instances have turned out to be hiccups rather than issues that warrant treating them like lepers.
Two years ago, LSU OL La’el Collins went undrafted after it became known that his pregnant ex-girlfriend had been murdered. Although Collins, a five-star recruit and a second-team All-American, was not a suspect, teams chose to stay away. The Dallas Cowboys signed Collins as an undrafted free agent after the draft and now he is a starter going into the 2017 season.
Last year, Ole Miss OL Laremy Tunsil, who was mocked by many as their top pick in the draft, blew himself up with a video on social media of him inhaling marijuana through a gas mask. Teams erred on the side of caution, including the Giants, who took Ohio State CB Eli Apple with the 10th overall pick. Tunsil was scooped up by the Miami Dolphins with the 13th pick and was named to the PFWA All-Rookie team last season.
This year, several young men have found themselves in similar situations. Alabama LB Reuben Foster, mocked by many as the top at his position in this draft, failed a drug test at the NFL Combine earlier this year. So did Michigan’s everyman, Jabril Peppers.
In both cases, each player’s urine sample was flagged because they were “diluted”, meaning the player drank too much water before the test rendering it unreadable. The NFL reads it only one way: the player was trying to mask drug use and attempting to beat the test.
The truth, according to Foster’s representatives was that he was sick and dehydrated and the water was to re-hydrate his body so he could work out at the Combine. But he got into an altercation with a hospital worker and was sent home. The test was revealed as positive and Foster is now damaged goods and will have to enter the NFL’s drug program upon his admission to the league.
Peppers had a similar experience at the Combine. He has a history of cramping and therefore needs to properly hydrate. He was also competing in both the linebacker and defensive back groups and reportedly drank 8-10 bottles of water before running his drills. It was only just recently revealed that his test came back as positive.
Foster is one of the draft’s highest-rated linebackers. He was a unanimous All-American in 2016, winning the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker. Foster is being compared to Seattle’s Bobby Wagner, a two-time All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler.
Peppers can be used at multiple positions on defense and a running back and returner on offense and special teams. He was also a unanimous All-American last year and was voted the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and won the Paul Hornung Award, given to the nation’s most versatile player. Peppers will likely be used in the NFL as a safety.
The test results are troubling for some NFL executives but others see right through the process. Both players will likely fall in the draft, possibly to the end of the first round or into the second. Some team is going to weigh the risk against the reward at that point and these two will end up playing for a quality organization.
Perennial Pro Bowl OT Joe Thomas of the Cleveland Browns criticized the league’s policy on Twitter:
“Tester should be able to see it’s dilute right when he receives sample and can then request more samples until it’s not dilute #flawedsystem…No player should ever have a “failed test” for a dilute sample. Especially at the combine where players frequently chug water to gain weight…Or you’re chugging water to hydrate for a day of grueling physical testing. Lack of hydration leads to a significant decrease in performance.”
And they’ll be a few NFL GMs saying the same thing in their war rooms this week when Foster and Peppers are served up to them on a silver platter. Somebody’s gonna get lucky….