Countdown to draft day

Sports blotter: "NFL spies" edition
By MATT TAIBBI  |  March 28, 2007

FUZZY MATH: Dexter Reid has two Super Bowl rings and one felony drug charge.

Our first Justin Miller Award!
This is the witching hour, folks — the sports-crime equivalent of the month before an armed robber’s parole hearing. Can he keep from shanking his roommate long enough to present a clean sheet? Or will temptation win out? It’s a dramatic race against time in the American penal system and the NFL draft.

About this time every year, NFL scouts descend upon big-college towns, doling out cash and favors to anyone who might have incriminating information about major NFL draft prospects. Heard something about a methed-out tight end who punched a Sonic roller-waitress in the eye? Did you date a return specialist with 4.3 speed who couldn’t get it up without weed? Anything you got, we’re interested. If we’re about to spend about 10 million bucks on a half-dozen or so kids from around the country, we want to know what we’re buying.

This is a vicious, sometimes unfair process in which a bad word from a teammate or a coach with a grudge can cost a good kid hundreds of thousands of dollars. And yet every year, a few stone-headed prospects make it easier for NFL spies by getting themselves arrested on the eve of the draft. It’s hard to see the justice in a kid taking a fall because he used to bake out and eat Ho-Hos in his dorm room. But a 22-year-old who can’t stay out of jail in the month before the draft deserves whatever happens to him.

Pre-draft arrestees are honored with the Order of Justin Miller, named after the ballyhooed Clemson cornerback who was popped with a noise-and-resisting violation the week before the 2005 draft; the 6’2”, 202-pounder shoved a female cop and screamed “This is my house and my party!” (“Shows good on-field leadership skills,” noted a scout who observed) when police showed up at his place after a noise complaint. Considered a sure first-rounder, Miller dropped to the end of the second round, where the Jets picked him up and turned him into a big-time kick returner. Other well-known pre-draft arrestees include Ravens pass-rusher Terrell Suggs (for a street basketball fight), Saints wideout Talman Gardner (boilerplate weed bust), and Eagles D-lineman Jerome McDougle (trying to prevent police from towing a friend’s car).

This year’s Miller award winner has already made himself known. Tarell Brown, a cornerback from Texas, was busted for weed possession last week, two days after the university’s pro day. The bust was a rare triple-cliché: a “routine traffic stop” meets “strong odor of marijuana” meets “but it was my cousin’s joint, not mine” arrest. (Brown’s cousin was driving.) Brown’s lawyer seems to be planning a defense based on a theory of innocence, an interesting strategy given that his client was involved in a similar incident last summer, in which Brown was found asleep in the back seat of a car with a loaded handgun on his lap. The tough thing is that Brown’s a pretty good player and his arrest will wreak unusual havoc on his draft status, as teams in the post–Pacman Jones era will be wary of picking a cornerback with multiple arrests. It says here that he will go to Dallas or Arizona in the fifth round.

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