Winston likely No. 1 while Ray’s stock dives — it’s all about risk vs. alternatives
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston stands to become the No. 1 pick of the NFL Draft. Missouri defensive end Shane Ray likely will slide well out of the first round after receiving a marijuana citation.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The National Football League tests its players for reefer. Stolen crab legs, not so much.
Moral equivalency, especially in pro football circles, is a steep, slippery, subjective slope. But it does boggle the mind, at least from a common sense standpoint, that a quarterback who is the subject of a civil lawsuit that alleges sexual assault, and has been publicly accused of at least one other, is poised to become the face of an NFL franchise.
Meanwhile, Shane Ray is caught with less than 35 grams of pot and he’s about as desirable as a staph infection.
A few years ago, Tampa Bay’s Buccaneers weathered an MRSA outbreak in their locker room. On Thursday, they’re about to introduce ex-Florida State star Jameis Winston, Publix enemy No. 1, as their new quarterback, hand him the keys to the Porsche.
We’ll let history decide which fate is worse, long-term.
As a junior at Missouri, Ray was the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year last fall, having set the school record for sacks in a single season (14 1/2) and teaming with fellow defensive end Markus Golden to help carry the Tigers to a second straight SEC East divisional crown. Scouts aren’t crazy about his size (6-foot-3, 245 pounds), but they’re Lady Gaga over his first step, closing speed (4.64 in the 40-yard dash) and overall quickness.
Concerns about a toe injury suffered in Mizzou’s Citrus Bowl win over Minnesota had seen Ray’s NFL Draft stock dip from top 10-ish to top 20-ish. But the ceiling on those projections collapsed when the Shawnee Mission, Kansas, native got cited for marijuana possession during a traffic stop early Monday near Columbia, a misdemeanor offense.
And the piling on continued Tuesday in earnest. Why? Two words: Dion Jordan.
Jordan was a long, lean, mean defensive end out of Oregon drafted No. 3 overall by Miami in 2013 and billed as the next Jason Taylor. On Tuesday morning, just as news of Ray’s citation was sinking in, the Dolphins’ pass-rusher was suspended for a year after violating the league’s substance abuse policy for a third time in 18 months.
Also, the NFL Network is reporting that teams have learned that Ray tested positive for marijuana early in his Missouri tenure. Suddenly, you’re a repeat offender before you’ve even played a professional down. Which brings you from "possibly safe" to a "risk." NFL teams, as a general rule, don’t like investing big money in risk, unless there are no viable alternatives.
Tampa’s alternative at quarterback in this year’s draft is Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, who could be a reach, or UCLA’s Brett Hundley. Mariota’s Chip Kelly history is doing him as much harm as good (cough, system quarterback, cough), and the Bucs would be roasted over an open pit if they went with Hundley in the first round.
By the same token, if teams want to nab a franchise pass-rusher early, they can roll with Vic Beasley out of Clemson, Dante Fowler out of Florida, Eli Harold out of Virginia or Alvin Dupree out of Kentucky, and make a case for any of the four.
Sometimes, timing in the NFL is everything. And Ray’s timing — an arrest this close to Thursday’s first round? — could hardly be worse.
"This changes Shane Ray dramatically because it’s, to me, such a poor decision this close to the draft," former Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik told ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike show Tuesday morning. "It’s the decision-making. What is this guy going to do on Friday or Saturday night before a big game? Is he going to make another poor choice like this?
"The timing is so bad, and the foot issue, tells me that this guy isn’t just dropping out of the first round, he’s dropping to the third or fourth round now. I know he’s dropping out of the first round. I don’t see any way he’s going in the first round."
A caveat: This came from a man who hired Greg Schiano to be his coach and drafted Mike Glennon at quarterback to try and save the franchise, so take the "to me" part of the equation with a fair share of salt. But the overall point still stands, and some front offices are more bearish on Ray — rightly or wrongly — than ever.
And that’s on Shane.
Two more words: Josh Gordon.
Ray is on the naughty list now, wherever he lands, and drug tests are now destined to be a regular part of the routine. If a silver lining exists here, it’s twofold: First, someone who lands the ex-Tiger — late first round, second round, third round, wherever — could well be pocketing a steal. Second, perhaps this is the incident that gets Ray locked onto the straight and narrow, the public shaming that fires him up enough to prove those general managers and fancy suits wrong as all hell.
Yet two more words: Justin Houston.
Ray will be rich, but a lot less rich than he was projected to be on Saint Patrick’s Day. The No. 10 pick in the 2014 draft, tight end Eric Ebron, got a contract worth a guaranteed $12.249 million from the Lions as a rookie; the No. 23 pick, outside linebacker Dee Ford, got $6.626 million guaranteed from the Chiefs. The No. 37 pick, defensive end Ra’Shede Hageman of Minnesota, cleared $3.283 million guaranteed from the Falcons.
So if the strategy was to sink your draft slot, mission accomplished. Dumb. Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, to say nothing of illegal. The strike zone on Planet Goodell can be mercurial, but the league is prickly about recreational substances, even if those substances happen to be legal in at least three states.
Seafood is a meme; pot — rightly or wrongly — is a mark. To paraphrase a league cliche, you can’t help the club in the club.