Nothing invites second-guessing like the NFL Draft. Every one of them gets hindsighted for years. A story recently posted on the Internet details how the 2011 draft turned out. I long ago abandoned that one but am still processing last week’s three-day parade of football talent in Chicago.
This annual event may be the biggest waste of time in all of sports programming: so many hours devoted to so many people whose names will be seldom heard again. You don’t have to get to the end of it to see Mr. Irrelevant. Roger Goodell found it “exciting.” Did anybody else?
Not to say this one didn’t have its indelible moments. There was the unexpected fashion statement by Ezekiel Elliott, No. 4 to the runway. He was wearing a tux, a bowtie, and only the top half of a very fine shirt.
He’s a young man who’s never been afraid to express himself, but not in ways that violate rules and laws, written and unwritten.
Laremy Tunsil, on the other hand, seems more willing to cross lines.
Two months ago Tunsil was the consensus first pick in the mock drafts, which arguably are more time-wasting than the draft itself.
He was set to become independently wealthy with limitless potential for vastly more wealth, endorsements, Dancing With The Stars and such.
NFL scouts, ecstatic over how quickly his feet moved in lateral drills, had proclaimed him a future Hall of Famer, “another Jonathan Ogden.”
But then a video surfaced of Tunsil inhaling a column of dense smoke through a gas mask connected to a glass pipe — something out of a tavern scene in Star Wars. He grinned broadly after exhaling. Soon the motion picture was on YouTube.
Tunsil confirmed during a brief press conference that it was really him in the suspicious video. But he pointed out that it was two years old. I’m not sure that made it less meaningful. Why is he keeping it for years? Is he proud of it?
Granted, his extralegal recreation would be no issue if he were in Chicago to audition as a jazz musician. But he was presenting himself as a hard-training athlete. What does it portend for him to go all Cheech and Chong?
I can’t help thinking of Michael Phelps, the Olympian swimmer who drifted into what he called “a downward spiral” not long after a photo appeared on the Internet of him with a contraption similar, though smaller and less frightening, than the one Tunsil was so enthusiastically toking.
We can admire Tunsil for accountability not so apparent in other footballing miscreants, such as Johnny Manziel, Josh Gordon and Greg Hardy. “I made a mistake,” Tunsil said.
But there were other mistakes. And the more they were debated by the human resources departments of the NFL teams, the farther his name tumbled down the draft boards.
One red flag was his suspension for seven games of last season for “accepting impermissible benefits” that included an airline ticket and free use of a flashy rental car, not to mention a state-of-the-art bong. Perhaps an endorsement possibility is there somewhere.
The scouts gave him a pass on the suspension since, hey, he was in the SEC, where pretty much anything goes, short of criminal assault.
But then came criminal assault. Allegedly.
Last summer Tunsil was arrested after a fight with his stepfather. Charges were dismissed when Tunsil and his attorney persuaded the prosecution that he was protecting his mother.
The next episode of Laremy Tunsil Reality was filmed at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in February. One of Tunsil’s Mississippi teammates, Robert Nkemdiche, regaled reporters with his tale of a party in Atlanta that included marijuana that, he suggested, Tunsil had brought.
This was the party in which Nkemdiche, future draftee of the Arizona Cardinals, fell from a fourth-story hotel window and — talk about double whammy — got arrested for marijuana possession.
With all the off-field drama, Tunsil was not selected until the Miami Dolphins drafted at No. 13, after two other offensive tackles were claimed: Ronnie Stanley by Baltimore and Jack Conklin by Tennessee. The tumble may have cost Tunsil $10 million, possibly far more than that.
Most draftologists say the Dolphins have “a steal.” But I’m doubtful. For one thing, these are the Dolphins. For another, Tunsil has more baggage than Ringling Brothers.
Of all his shenanigans, what’s likely to cause the long-term distress is his well-circulated messages regarding money from coaches at Ole Miss. To be fair, he was not intending to snitch on Hugh Freeze and his staff. Someone had hacked into his Twitter and Instagram accounts. Deadspin reported that the hacked material had been “shopped around.”
Miami’s front office is reassured by its close relationship with Tunsil’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, who also represents Freeze and other SEC coaches. The smooth-talking Sexton convinced the Dolphins that his client did no worse than many of his conference cohorts are doing; he’s been victimized by his candor and by cyberspace hackers who, by the way, are a menace to us all.
Sexton said Tunsil used that scary gas mask only to protect friends from second-hand smoke and that following this isolated incident “he sought treatment and in the process found God.”
Well, good. Glad it didn’t take too long. Perhaps he’s on the right track now. Randy Moss and Ray Lewis had their slipups, then reformed.
But NFL teams dread distraction, and Laremy Tunsil is going to provide a steady run of it as the NCAA continues its investigation of the Freeze program at Ole Miss. So far Tunsil looks like the star witness. Miami is hardly a media wasteland. Count on plenty of pub for Laremy.
In football, as in life, character matters. Tunsil’s off-the-field behavior is not entirely disconnected from football. His highlights are as impressive as anybody’s, but my impression from watching several of his college games is that he took plays off, especially in the fourth quarter, when he appeared fatigued.
And putting Tunsil’s unique issues aside, let’s consider how difficult it is to pluck a good left tackle out of the draft. Eric Fisher, the NFL’s No. 1 in 2013, has struggled to stay in Kansas City’s starting lineup. The second overall pick that year, Luke Joeckel, flopped in Jacksonville. The Rams’ Greg Robinson, second overall in 2014, is another green light for pass rushers.
The fact that a college player, even one who’s 6-5, 310 pounds like Tunsil, can overwhelm other college players does not mean he will dominate against the most committed of pros.
Pardon me for being cynical, but Tunsil’s problems will not vanish like that now famous puff of smoke. He’s a very gifted athlete who feels, at 21, indestructible and entitled to have everything he wants. He’s a high-risk first-round draft pick, even more so than most.