Reuben Foster, Sidney Jones and Joe Mixon are three of the most talented players in this year’s draft. They will also be three of the toughest decisions facing general managers starting on Thursday night. All three come with major risks, which will make their plights among the most interesting to watch later this week.
Foster is one of the best inside linebacker prospects to enter the draft this century. He’s much more impressive than former Alabama teammate Reggie Ragland, who was picked in the second round a year ago. He’s even more impressive than yet another former teammate, C.J. Mosley, who went 17th overall in 2014. Yet there’s almost no chance of Foster going in the top 15. That’s because of off-the-field issues (failed drug test at Combine) and medical concerns (concussions, stingers, and rotator cuff surgery). One without the other wouldn’t be so bad, but the two together could end up dropping him a long way. How far? Put it this way, GM Ted Thompson might want to watch some of his tape in the next few days.
Jones was expected to go in the first round before injuring an Achilles in an offseason workout. That won’t happen now. Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Myles Jack dealt with similar situations in recent years, and both wound up going in round 2. What makes this different and more problematic for Jones is the position he plays. Speed and quickness are everything for a cornerback, and even the smallest decline in either area can make the difference between being Charles Woodson and being Patrick Peterson and Patrick Lee. If the medicals look really good, there’s a chance Jones could hear his name called between picks 45 and 60. But there’s also a chance the former Washington star will still be available late in the third round.
Mixon is the biggest wild card of the three. He’s just as likely to go in the 30s as he is to last until day 3. That’s what happens when a great player on the field does a terrible thing away from it. Multiple teams have taken the former Oklahoma star off their boards, but it only takes one. Just ask Pro Bowl wide receiver/returner Tyreek Hill, who went in the fifth round to Kansas City a year ago despite kicking and strangling his pregnant girlfriend. And he wasn’t nearly as good of a prospect as Mixon. He just had the good fortune of not being caught on tape. The guess here is some GM will find a 228-pound running back with 4.4 speed and the hands of a receiver too tempting to pass up on Friday, but that’s far from a certainty.
Other talented prospects whose draft status is somewhat clouded by off-the-field concerns include Mississippi quarterback Chad Kelly, Pittsburgh running back James Connor, Michigan tight end Jake Butt, Florida linebacker Alex Anzalone, LSU inside linebacker Kendell Beckwith and UCLA cornerback Fabian Moreau.