INDIANAPOLIS – Judging by the reaction of two NFL head coaches, Arkansas running back Darren McFadden figures to have a very long weekend answering questions from coaches, scouts and executives at the league's annual scouting combine.
And if he doesn't impress the right people, he could have a longer-than-expected wait come NFL draft weekend on April 26-27.
McFadden, widely regarded as the best back in this year's draft class, has raised some serious concerns among NFL people with his off-field behavior. That includes at least two reported altercations – the first occurring at a nightclub in Little Rock in July 2006 believed to have resulted in surgery on his left big toe; the second allegedly following an argument at a piano bar in Little Rock early last month.
There were also reports by The Morning News in Springdale, Ark., and KARK-TV in Little Rock in late December regarding allegations that an agent helped McFadden buy a Cadillac Escalade. KARK retracted its report the following day and apologized to the agent, Mike Conley Sr. The university investigated the allegations and ultimately determined there was no wrongdoing, allowing McFadden to play in The Cotton Bowl against Missouri.
"There's going to be some stuff that comes out on that kid, I'm telling you," one NFL head coach said. "Just watch. People are going to project him going way up here (among the first two or three picks) and then you going to hear about his behavior and then about this and that and whatever."
Said another head coach: "He's the best skill-position player in the draft, by far. But he has issues. He's going to get a lot of questions from people, a lot of eyeballing to make sure he's being straight with people and that they can trust him."
McFadden will be under tight scrutiny because if he is one of the top three picks, he could get a contract with well over $20 million in guarantee money. Last year, No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell reportedly received $29 million in guarantees and another $3 million in easily-obtainable bonus from the Oakland Raiders. Projecting increases in the pool for rookie players, the first player selected this season could get more than $31 million in guarantees.
"What that means is that not only do you have to be right with taking that player, but he better not have any issues," one of the coaches said. "You take a guy with some problems and then he slips up, you're going to hear about it for a long time."
McFadden was a Heisman Trophy finalist in each of the past two years and joined former University of Texas running back Ricky Williams as the only two-time winners of the Doak Walker Award as college football's top back. He rushed for a school-record 1,829 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. He broke the mark of 1,647 yards rushing he set in 2006.
- Darren McFadden