In 15-minute interviews with NFL teams at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, Bacarri Rambo didn’t try to duck addressing what he thought might be coming.
“I brought it up myself,” Rambo said. “I wanted them to know before they go read about it or something.”
The former Georgia safety, an All-American in 2011, finished his college career tied for the most interceptions in program history, but teams crafting their boards for the NFL draft this Thursday through Saturday must take into account Rambo’s off-field missteps.
He was suspended to start the 2011 season and then the first four games of his senior season for violations of Georgia’s drug-testing policy after his high school coach said Rambo ate brownies laced with marijuana during a spring break trip.
“I told them the truth, that’s what I told them,” Rambo said. “That’s what I told them, I told them the truth.
Georgia could set a school record for most draft picks this year, with (at least) nine players expected to be drafted, but six of those prospects had to answer for arrests, suspensions or both.
Linebacker Alec Ogletree, a likely first-round draft pick, was suspended at Georgia for theft and reportedly failing drug tests and had a DUI before the February combine.
Other players with off-field issues included nose guard John Jenkins (academically ineligible for a bowl game), cornerback Sanders Commings (plead guilty to simple battery and disorderly conduct for striking a woman who had lived with him) and linebacker Cornelius Washington (DUI).
Teams will view character questions on a case-by-case basis, said Todd McShay, draft analyst for ESPN.com.
“I think the biggest thing, when you talk to teams is, are they smart enough and do you trust them enough that they can clean up when you get them in your system and you work with them and you discipline them and you show them what they have to do?,” he said. “Are they the type of guys that are willing to change their ways and are capable of changing their ways? Or is there a pattern here that really scares you?”
Teams certainly do their homework before investing a draft pick and in some cases, millions of dolllars in a player.
“They know everything about you,” said receiver Tavarres King.
Even after making 136 catches and scoring 21 touchdowns and being named a team captain, King’s arrest for underage possession of alcohol before his sophomore season in 2010 still came up with teams in the pre-draft process. When asked, King explained what happened and the conversation quickly moved on, he said.
Kirk Olivadotti, Ogletree’s position coach at Georgia who spent 11 seasons on staff with the Redskins, said he talked to some NFL teams who had questions about the Bulldogs’ top tackler.
“I’ve told Alec what I’ve told them, but that’s going to be between me and the teams, but Alec knows how I feel about him and I’ve told him,” Olivadotti said. “Alec’s a good football player and he’s played good football for us here.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt said a couple of assistants coaches and maybe a scout or two asked him questions this year about players off the field but he did not get calls from head coaches or general managers.
“I’m going to back our guys, there’s no question about that,” Richt said.
Teams will go so far as to check on a player’s character by speaking to anyone from high school coaches to teachers or academic advisors.
Come draft day, they have to weigh whether to pull the trigger or pass on the player.
“There are players in the draft last year, for instance, that had multiple things in their background, but if they would have slid to a certain spot, we would have taken them because we felt comfortable,” Indianapolis general manager Ryan Grigson told reporters. “At the end of the day, if players have made numerous mistakes but they’ve shown that they could nip it in the bud and then have considerable time moving forward to at least show they’re going in the right direction, we’ve been a place of second chances.”
Former Redskins general manager Charley Casserly, now with the NFL Network, has said Ogletree would “easily” be in the top half of the first round if not for off-field problems.
Ogletree said he told teams: “I’m not that guy that I’m being portrayed to be. I’m a good person and come from a good home. I just made a mistake and I’ve just got to learn from it.”
ESPN’s Mel Kiper projects Rambo as a “third- or fourth-round pick.” He said he made big plays, but cited “inconsistent tackling” as a knock on him, not off-the-field issues.
“That’s life, it’s college,” Rambo said. “A lot of coaches respected that and they probably went through it themselves. It wasn’t a big deal, it’s just you can’t allow it to happen and mess up their organization. You’ve just got to learn from your mistakes and just help out the organization.”