The biggest non-event in every sports year is the NFL Draft, which took place last night. The weeks preceding the “event” are filled with mock drafts that predict which team will take which player in which round. (The predictions drift away like the snows of yesteryear the moment the Commissioner steps on the stage to announce the number one pick.)
Starting on the first day of the draft, there are inevitably rumors and even scandals which prove to have the shelf life of a celebrity tweet. The center of the non-story this year is former University of Mississippi offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, who inadvertently proved to be a one-man scandal machine. All the Tunsil stories that hit the media today are good, and all of them are wrong.
Early on Tunsil was said by some—ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr. for one—to be the best player in the draft and thus the number one pick. Then, minutes before the draft kicked off, a photo of Tunsil breathing out of a gas mask turned bong popped up on his Twitter account and spread like wildfire. As the Bong photo was going viral, his Instagam account was flooded with screen shots from his cell phone of text conversations with Ole Miss Assistant Athletics Director for Football Operations, John Miller about needing money.
Tunsil was picked number 13 by the Miami Dolphins.
As we go to press, no one knows who hacked his social media, though a prime suspect is his stepfather, who filed a lawsuit against him earlier this week after a public altercation last summer, reportedly about Tunsil talking to sports agents.
These are the facts, but nearly every assumption that’s been made in the media about them is problematic at best.
On Fox Five Friday afternoon, Eric Bolling and Greg Gutfield demonstrated exactly how many things someone can get wrong in a short time. “You may say I’m an idiot, and I am an idiot,” gushed Gutfield, “but all this is just too much baggage to carry to an NFL team.” Bolling declared, “This guy’s off-the-field behavior has kept him from being a number pick.”
Okay, Gutfield is entitled to his opinion on being an idiot, but if Tunsil’s “baggage” was too much for an NFL team, no one would have drafted him, much less used their first pick in the first round when a lot of good players were still available. Any team that builds its draft by excluding players who have smoked marijuana, who have had fights with their family or needed money to make ends meet isn’t ever going to be playing football in February.
At this point the league is far more concerned about performance enhancing than recreational drugs. Detroit Lions GM Bob Quinn said late Thursday night, “If we took the players off the board that smoked pot in college, at least half the board would be gone.” I think the only inaccurate part of that statement is “half,” and Quinn could have thrown in a majority of NFL front offices for good measures. And, while we’re on the subject, about two-thirds of football writers and commentators.
Then, there is the contention that Tunsil cost himself the number one pick. There was never a consensus that Tunsil was the best player in the nation or that he would be drafted first. The accuracy of mock draft picks by Mel Kiper, Jr. and every other pre-draft prognosticator is roughly equivalent to the accuracy of pre-season NFL prognosticators—which is to say, you can be just as accurate with a dart board.
Yes, many were high on Tunsil, and many (including me) still are. But in the days leading up to the draft, some began to tout others at his position, most notably Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley, who was chosen number six by the Baltimore Ravens.
There was a more significant development, though, that changed Tunsil’s stock in the NFL. On April 14, the former St. Louis, now Los Angeles, Rams made a trade with the Tennessee Titans for the number one pick. The Rams, anxious to build up a winning team for their return to LA, used the pick to fill the slot they desperately needed, quarterback, and drafted the highest-rated QB, Cal’s Jared Goff.
There’s certainly no shame in being the 13th player taken in the draft, and Tunsil’s drop from a projected (by some) number one to the final number thirteen had nothing to do with a lowered evaluation of his talent or “character” and everything to do with the specific needs of each team making their selections. The Rams traded for the first pick because they needed a passer, not an offensive tackle.
As for a college football player taking money—particularly for rent and his mother’s electric bill—how does that indicate bad character? I, for one, hope he got that money and a lot more besides. If the NFL thinks you can play, that’s all that matters. Someone should tell whoever posted that conversation that rent and electric bills matter more in the grand scheme of things than every page in the National Collegiate Athletics Association rule book.
The NFL couldn’t care less about NCAA violations, and now that Tunsil has left school for a nice fat contract from the Dolphins, he shouldn’t either. But the University of Mississippi football program is in serious trouble, not Laremy Tunsil. It’s their problem now, and it’s a big one. Piled on top of an already existing NCAA investigation for various violations, the revelation that Tunsil received money from a staff member is certain to cost the Rebels several football scholarships and probably a postseason appearance or two. (Often proving violations is difficult for the NCAA, but in this case—Tunsil acknowledged today that he did take money—there are no roadblocks.)
And the Rebels have nothing to whine about. They got three good years—for free, except for a few bucks out of some alumni pockets—from one of one of the best college football players in the nation. The NCAA may be a monster many would like to take down, but they knew the rules.