Top NFL prospects at linebacker come with injury, off-field issues
By Alan Robinson
Published: Sunday, April 21, 2013, 11:36 p.m.
Manti Te'o isn't attending the first night of the NFL Draft in New York in Thursday. Maybe because he would have needed to pack an additional suitcase.
Excess baggage to tote all of the extra concerns raised by the fallout from his fake girlfriend fiasco.
Among the top-tier linebackers, Te'o isn't alone. In one of the most unpredictable drafts in years — none of the countless mock drafts look similar — it seems all the most-sought linebackers should have an asterisk by their name.
Dion Jordan, can he stay healthy? Te'o, can he push aside an embarrassing spectacle to refocus on football? Alec Ogletree, will he be a problem child? Jarvis Jones, will his spinal condition be worrisome moving forward in his career?
All these various question marks are making it extremely difficult for teams in a year when there is an excellent draft pool, one that should yield NFL-ready players for multiple rounds, yet is extremely risky.
Jordan, the pass rusher from Oregon, is a prime example. He could go in the top five, yet there are some questions whether he can be the elite pass rusher he has long looked to be. Among them: The torn labrum that required surgery two months ago.
“I wish, with Dion Jordan, there was a little more tape of him healthy,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. “(But) I truly believe he can be the best pass rusher in this class.”
General manager Kevin Colbert said the Steelers rule out some players before the draft begins due to character issues — and, he said, there are “high-round, first-round picks.”
Still, a pair of 2012 rookies, Chris Rainey and Alameda Ta'amu, were involved in off-field issues; Rainey wound up being cut after one season.
“The truth of the matter is the pool is not perfect,” Colbert said. “We don't use it as a crutch, but there will be risks taken at different points. You have to assume risk.”
Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, statistically the best rusher in the BCS last season, has been linked to the Steelers in many mock drafts.
A high-motor, high-production player would seem to be a perfect replacement for James Harrison, yet he had to leave Southern Cal because team doctors wouldn't clear him to play with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal.
“Anybody who steps on that field has a chance of getting hurt,” Jones said. “If you think about it like that, nobody would ever play football. I love this game, I'm passionate about it, and I'm careful about my technique and how to play.”
There's no question Jones' Georgia teammate, Alec Ogletree, can play. But he was suspended four games last season, reportedly for failing drug tests. And he had a DUI after the season ended.
“I'm a good person at heart,” he said. “Everybody makes mistakes.”
Only NFL general managers don't want to make a multimillion-dollar mistake by taking the wrong player. By taking a perceived asset who soon become a worrisome liability.
More proof that pro football is a risky business.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.
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