Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune describes some things to watch at the Combine this week:
“Ole Miss defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche possesses top-five talent, but he fell out of a fourth-story at an Atlanta hotel in December and was subsequently suspended for the Sugar Bowl after police discovered ‘seven marijuana cigarettes’ in his room. Eastern Kentucky’s Noah Spence, who could be a defensive end or an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, was kicked out of Ohio State for multiple drug issues and banned from the Big Ten. He had 111/2 sacks last season and performed well in Senior Bowl practices. Teams are doing some digging on these players.”
Both of these guys are massive talents. In fact, if anything, I think Spence is being underrated. But these drug issues are going to be huge red flags for teams this year.
I’m not too thrilled about putting too much stock into encounters with marijuana. I think most people realize that this is something that has become more and more pervasive and it isn’t like they’re shooting heroin (I hope). But thanks to the Cowboys experience with Randy Gregory, who has been suspended for the first four games of the regular season in 2016 after testing positive for drugs four times last year including once at the Combine, teams are going to be more sensitive about it than usual. Frankly, I don’t think a lot of teams care what these guys do in their off time as long as the perform on the field. But you aren’t going to do much performing is you are suspended. Gregory is a cautionary tale.
As Biggs says, what they say will be important. But it’s what these prospects do that will count the most. It’s going to be more critical than ever for all of these players, especially Nkemdiche and Spence, to show up clean to the Combine and show that they can control whatever caused their past problems.