April 13, 2009
We've been chronicling the bizarre downfall of NFL draft prospect Andre Smith for the past few months. During the 2008 college football season, Smith was considered one of the top prospects for the 2009 NFL draft. Since then, he's been in a football-freefall.
It started after the left tackle was suspended for Alabama's Sugar Bowl game (for violating team rules) and continued when he showed up out of shape to the NFL combine and didn't work out, vanished one day later only to resurface with a lame apology and then performed so badly at his Pro Day workout that one NFL source said he had "bombed". It was theorized that Smith would lose millions of dollars (Darren Rovell put the figure at $23.8 million) and might even fall to the second day of the draft. Today, he fired his agent. Yet, somehow despite all of that, Smith has climbed back up almost everyone's draft board and is projected to be a top-15 pick (and some even have him going as high as No. 6.) This is as, if not more, baffling than Smith's behavior at the combine.
How can any NFL team think that taking Smith in the top-half of the first round (which would likely net him a $10 million signing bonus) is a good idea? The dude couldn't be bothered to work hard when he had millions of dollars on the line. Now teams think that Smith will put in the effort after he gets paid?
Look, I think the NFL combine is vastly overrated. It's insane that some teams place more importance on the results of drills or bench press reps rather than what a player did in actual college games. But Andre Smith didn't just perform poorly at the combine (and his Pro Day), he reportedly wasn't prepared for interviews, gave conflicting statements to teams, left without telling anyone and gained a bunch of weight before his audition. That's not a mistake (like somebody testing positive for weed) that's a serious issue that should call into question a player's motivation and desire to play football. When he had everything to lose, Smith did almost nothing to prevent that from happening.
Are NFL teams so blinded by talent that they're willing to ignore Smith's complete indifference to the draft process? His past football exploits show that Smith has the capability to play in the league. But to use a high draft pick on him (and to pay the requisite millions in salary) is beyond foolish.
There's still hope for Smith, of course. As MJD pointed out, he was good enough in college to win the Outland Trophy last season and get placed highly on draft boards in the first place. But almost every sign that Andre Smith has given since December suggests he will be a failure in the NFL, not because of talent, but because of his work ethic. He's not a gamble, he's a long shot.
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