CHICAGO (AP) — Shane Ray and Randy Gregory, two players who could help any NFL team’s defense, didn’t help themselves in the lead-in to the draft.
On Wednesday at a league-sponsored event, the Missouri defensive end and the Nebraska linebacker owned up to their errors involving marijuana, both hoping such transgressions won’t mean they fall during Thursday night’s opening round. Or slip out of the round entirely.
Ray was issued a misdemeanor citation Monday morning after a trooper found a small amount of marijuana in the player’s car. Gregory tested positive for marijuana at the NFL combine in February.
“I’m learning from this. It’s a learning curve and I have to keep on the road,” said Ray, who added he spoke with Commissioner Roger Goodell and was told to “look forward, not just harp on this.
“This is not any indication of who I am. I made a bad decision.”
The timing of Ray’s incident so close to the draft led him and his representatives to call the teams that expressed interest in him. He said he was asked by each club what happened and that he admitted he made a mistake.
As for potentially dropping in the draft, he said: “Of course that is something you consider when something like this happens. I am not in control. Hopefully I am still considered one of the guys they want.”
Gregory believes he has convinced NFL teams they should want him and that he’s a good citizen who is maturing, as well as a superb football player.
“I made a mistake, I know,” Gregory said. “I’m 22 years old. I can’t justify it.
“The thing is to try to be the best professional I can.”
The 32 teams who will go on the clock Thursday have more than the usual tough decisions ahead. The NFL comes off a year marked by domestic abuse cases that placed the names Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy in the spotlight for their off-field misbehavior, not their on-field skills. The last thing the NFL wants or needs now is a slew of prospects with character issues being selected high in the draft.
Yet it is very likely that craft will weigh more heavily than conduct — beginning with the opening pick, which the odds say will be Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston going to Tampa Bay. Winston has a hefty list of difficulties of his own doing.
“”Some people will always value it a little more,” former Bucs and Colts coach Tony Dungy said of a player’s character. “Some people are going to get caught up with talent. It just happens. We’ve seen it year in and year out and I just think it’s an individual team and an individual organizational philosophy. But there is always going to be places for every player no matter what. And you might not take a guy as highly or you might think about it a little more, but guys with talent are always going to have a place to play.”
While the vast majority of players in this draft don’t bring negative reputations with them, there are enough who have run into trouble in college — or even before that — to earn red flags attached to their names. How much of a roadblock their previous conduct will be to getting selected should become known over the next three days.
Some teams will use character as a tie-breaker between players rated evenly. Others will gladly gamble in the third round and beyond on players who graded out much higher on the field, if not off it.
Besides, every coach who has worn a headset in the NFL believes he can handle “problem children.”
“It’s always going to be enticing for us, regardless of their issues, if they have tremendous skills,” Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said. “I’ve said this before, if Hannibal Lecter ran a 4.3 we’d probably diagnose it as an eating disorder, you know.
“It’s tough, when you see a guy with a tremendous amount of talent but he’s got off-field issues, you’re thinking to yourself, ‘How bad of a kid really is he?’ But at the end of the day, you realize through years of experience that guys either don’t make it because they have off-field issues, they have injuries, they can’t learn or they don’t love it enough. Those are really to me the four principles of why guys don’t make it. To me if you look at players and you say he’s a complete player, does he play hard, does he play smart and does he play physical. If you can check the boxes then I think you have a chance.”
AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton, Sports Writer John Marshall and freelancer Jose M. Romero contributed to this story.
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