The 2016 NFL draft is quickly approaching, with 23 short days until the Ravens will make their highest draft selection since Jamal Lewis in 2000, assuming they don't trade down. There are still more questions than answers, but the excitement is building for an integral draft for a Ravens team that under-performed in 2015, amongst a litany of key injuries.
One of those questions has to do with the off the field and character concerns, as their are several prospects with questionable pasts who may fit well with the Ravens. However, for the Ravens to select them, they would need to be willing to overlook past transgressions on the part of those prospects. In the wake of the Ray Rice scandal, this is not a sure thing. The Ravens have been quick to cut others, like Terrence Cody, Bernard Pierce, and Victor Hampton shortly after they were charged with crimes. None were key players, so all were pretty easy decisions. On the other hand, the Ravens still have Terrell Suggs under contract, after he has been charged with two misdemeanors stemming from a car accident in Scottsdale, Those misdemeanors are for driving with a suspended license and failure to notify after striking a fixture. Both misdemeanors could result in jail time, but they often lead to fines.
So will the Ravens take a chance on a prospect with a past? Obviously they will take it on a case by case basis, and what the off field issue is may play a role. The Ravens may steer clear of any domestic violence issues, although Rice was thought to be as clean as a whistle before the incident with his now-wife in 2013.
Last year, the Ravens brought in pass rusher Randy Gregory for a pre-draft visit but concluded it wasn't going to use an early-round pick on him after meeting with him. Gregory fell to the second round because of his history with marijuana, and he's been suspended for the first four games this season after violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
Which players might the Ravens look at in the 2016 draft? Here are some possibilities:
DL Robert Nkemidiche
The defensive lineman was once thought of as a top 10 pick, so the talent is clearly there. He would be an option for the Ravens with a trade down, or possibly if he slipped down he might be there at or near the Ravens 2nd rounder, at 36th overall. Clearly the Ravens haven't eliminated him as a possibility, as he is reported to be going to Baltimore to meet with the team on Thursday:
His issues stem from a marijuana incident where he fell out the window of a hotel. It is unknown whether he has an ongoing issue with marijuana, but his brother is a source of concern for many front offices and is thought to be a bad influence on him.
OLB Noah Spence
Following a stellar combine, Spence shot up boards and was thought to be in the running for a top 10 pick if teams were confident that his past was behind him. Since then, he has been all over the place in mock drafts, from the tail end of the top 10 into the mid-second round. Spence is also player who might be in play for the Ravens with a trade down, or around their second round pick.
Spence was kicked out of Ohio State and banned from the Big Ten for testing positive twice for Ecstasy, and he was arrested last spring for public intoxication after he threw a glass bottle in the street.
Spence moved on to Eastern Kentucky, and is looking to show he has moved on from his issues at Ohio State:
"With anybody with a substance abuse problem that they’ve had, I feel like [teams are] pretty leery about it," Spence said at the NFL combine. "But if you can put it behind you, you can convince the team it’s behind you."
Time will tell whether Spence is a risk the Ravens are willing to take.
WR Leonte Carroo
Carroo is an interesting prospect for the Ravens, but his issues might be an even bigger problem for the Ravens. Some consider Carroo to be among the best wide receivers in the draft this year, making him an intriguing prospect at his projected spot, the 3rd to 4th round. But the reason he is projected there is also the reason he is less likely to be a Raven than the two players listed before him: domestic assault. Carroo was suspended indefinitely this past September for an incident where he was charged with assault under domestic violence for allegedly slamming a woman to the ground. Charges were dropped one month later, and he was reinstated to the team. Per NJ.com:
The woman, a former Rutgers football recruiting ambassador who reportedly had a romantic relationship with Carroo, was engaged in an altercation with Carroo's girlfriend and others. The simple assault charge and a restraining order against Carroo were dismissed in separate court hearings on Tuesday when the alleged victim said she did not wish to pursue the case.
While not your typical domestic violence, it does sound as if Carroo laid his hands on a woman. How you feel about that may or may not influence your opinion on his draft prospects, and his chances to be a Raven. Outside of this incident, Carroo was a model citizen. At 6"0 211 lbs with 4.5 speed and a 35.5 vertical, Carroo looks like he has the ability to be a good player in the NFL.
So would you take a chance on any or all of these players?
They all have issues, but they also each have much more upside than their draft position may suggest. But the risk factor presents a much lower floor than others who will be taken in the same range.