2015 draft: D-back injury, off-field concerns

A few cornerbacks and safeties are risks for off-field problems while others are recovering from injuries that will likely knock down their draft status.

CORNERBACKS
PLAYER SCHOOLCL HTWT 40-YDPRO RND
#EKPRE-OLOMU, Ifomeno OregonSr 05:09.2193 4.456.7 2
#JACKSON, Charles (FS) NebraskarJr 05:10.6177 4.48   
#JOHNSON, Jordan Brigham Young Sr05:09.3 1904.57 4.5FA
#JONES, Byron (FS) Connecticut rSr06:00.1 1974.52 6.32
#NORRILS, Cheatham Toledo Sr 06:00.0195 4.624.7 PFA
#WITTY, Adrian Cincinnati Sr05:09.1 1764.54 4.3FA
%RUSSELL, KeiVarae Notre Dame So05:11.1 1824.50 6.52
%SHAW, Joshua (FS) Southern California rSr06:01.4 2054.56 6.03

FREE SAFETIES
PLAYER SCHOOLCL HTWT 40-YDPRO RND
#BELL, Jered Colorado Sr06:01.0 2004.45   
%MILLS, Jalen Louisiana State Jr06:00.2 1894.53 5.84

STRONG SAFETIES
PLAYER SCHOOLCL HTWT 40-YDPRO RND
#COLLINSWORTH, Austin Notre Dame Sr06:00.0 1984.62 4.7PFA
#NKEMDICHE, Denzel (OB) Mississippi Jr05:10.6 2084.67 4.97-FA
#WILLIAMS, Jarrick AlabamaSr 06:01.0218 4.754.6 FA
%HARVEY-CLEMONS,Josh Louisville Jr06:04.1 2124.64 5.26
Playing a position where they are basically on an “island” – going one-on-one most of the time with opposing receivers, tight ends and running backs coming out of the backfield – the college secondaries usually look like they just stepped out of a triage late in the season, many licking their wounds from “devil may care – search and destroy” attitudes.

The 2014 season saw a few blue-chippers spending plenty of time on the trainer’s table, but compared to previous seasons most of the top-level prospects head into the college all-star season still counting their 10 toes/10 fingers. Yes, cornerbacks play as if they have a song from Thirty Seconds To Mars racing through their heads (This Is War), but outside of Oregon’s Ifomeno Ekpre-Olomu and Connecticut’s Byron Jones, the biggest issue teams will have with the cornerback crop off the field is the trouble several of them got into prior to the start of the 2014 schedule, namely Notre Dame’s Keivarae Russell and Josh Shaw of Southern California.

Oregon is highly secretive when it comes to providing NFL scouts with injury information during the season. Regarded as the top cornerback in college before the start of the 2014 schedule, Ifomeno Ekpre-Olomu might be regretting his decision to return to score, rather than test the NFL waters as a 2014 draft entry. The senior has struggled in man coverage this year and had seen his stock slip out of the first-round range even before he became one of three All-Pac 12 Conference starters to be sidelined during the Ducks’ Nov. 8 victory over Utah.

Ekpre-Olomu was forced to the sidelines after injuring his left foot and was forced to wear a protective boot for several days. The team also lost center Hroniss Grasu and tight end Pharaoh Brown to season-ending knee injuries. Olomu would continue to play through the regular season schedule and vs. Arizona in the Pac-12 title clash, but it was obvious he was favoring the foot.

Then, preparing for the FBS inaugural playoffs and a meeting vs. Florida State, the senior suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during a mid-December practice that is serious enough to warrant reconstructive surgery. The injury will likely affect his draft status, and his absence was a blow to Oregon's secondary in the national title clash vs. Ohio State. Ekpre-Olomu was scheduled to cover OSU standout receiver Devin Smith, who has scored 12 times via 32 receptions and was averaging 27.40 yards per grab this season.

This is just another drop on the draft boards for the Ducks cornerback. He’s had a very streaky season and anyone that saw the way he was beaten often by Washington State receivers Dom Williams (five catches for 63 yards and two scores) and River Cracraft (eight for 107 yards and a touchdown) had to go back to their NFL complexes to take the Duck off their first-round value board.

All is not lost for the Oregon senior, as Ekpre-Olomu has a $3 million loss-of-value insurance policy and would receive the full amount if he were to fall past the beginning of the third round of the draft. He finished the season with two interceptions, nine pass breakups and 63 tackles this season. Last year, he tallied three pass thefts, six pass deflections and 84 tackles.

Connecticut’s Byron Jones has been the lone bright spot for a Huskies team that has compiled records of 3-9 and 2-10 during his junior and senior seasons. Unfortunately, Jones was not around to see the conclusion of the 2014 campaign. The senior suffered a left shoulder injury on Oct. 23 vs. East Carolina. He underwent surgery and sat out the final five contests.

Jones needed to convince scouts that he is not a “fragile egg,” as he has a long history of shoulder problems that had talent evaluators cautious in handing him a second-round grade during the preseason. His recovery time will prevent him from playing in college all-star games and not allow him to participate in drills at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine. Some medical experts feel he will be fully healed by the start of NFL training camp in late July, but the injury could see him still be available during the draft’s final stages. He closes out his college career having recorded 223 tackles and intercepting eight passes.

Injuries are not the issue for Notre Dame’s KeiVarae Russell, who was “sat down” for the season after he was found to be one of several Fighting Irish gridders to be caught in the school’s academic scandal. Many were surprised that the junior did not transfer to a lower-level school, as he has stated his desire to play in the NFL in 2015. He recently told scouts that he plans to re-enroll at Notre Dame and compete for a starting job next season. A solid performance like he had in 2013 could push him into the first round of the 2016 draft.

By now, the stories spun by Josh Shaw are well-documented. Considered a viable early-round draft prospect at either free safety or cornerback, Shaw was indefinitely suspended prior to the 2014 season opener after he confessed that he lied to school officials about how he sprained his ankles in August, retracting his story about jumping off a balcony to save his drowning nephew.

The school swiftly suspended him from all team activities and acknowledged his heroic tale was “a complete fabrication.” The tale began to unravel soon after the team captain was lauded for his heroics in a story on the team's website.

In the account, Shaw described how he instinctively jumped from a balcony, with no one around, to rescue his seven-year-old nephew in a pool in his hometown of Palmdale, Calif. The school said a day later callers questioned the story, and the school began vetting it. But the biggest question remains unanswered: What was he doing, and how did he injure his ankles?

The Los Angeles Police Department has confirmed that a man named Joshua Shaw was mentioned — but not as a suspect — in a report involving a break-in at a downtown apartment building that Saturday night. The department did not make the report public, but in early November the Trojans defensive back cleared the air, a bit.

Shaw claimed that his jump off the balcony resulted in severe high ankle sprains, but more damage ensued when he told officials the fabricated story about his nephew. Sarkisian and athletic director Pat Haden soon learned the “real story” and they suspended the player. Then, as the 2014 season was winding down, he attempted to clear the air for the first time in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

Shaw said he was going home to see his girlfriend of more than seven years and they got into an argument. When his girlfriend left the apartment, he went outside on the balcony to see police cars. While he said the argument was not physical, Shaw's first instinct was to run.

“If she did say anything, I’m a black man with dreadlocks, and with everything going on in the country at the time, all that stuff in St. Louis (Ferguson, Mo.) in my mind, I’m going to leap from the balcony so authorities did not see me," Shaw told The Times.

Shaw jumped, hurt his ankles, and as he shared his lie, the story spread to become national headlines. Shaw said he felt he was “in too deep” to come clean.

Upon his admission of the real facts, the coaches reinstated Shaw for the final three games, earning starting assignments vs. Notre Dame in the season finale and vs. Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. He closed out the campaign with 11 tackles (9 solos), nothing close to his 2013 season, when he tied for the team lead with four interceptions, breaking up seven other tosses and ranking third on the squad with 67 tackles.

One free safety that scouts were hoping to see emerge this year was Colorado’s red-shirt senior, Jered Bell, but for the second time during his Buffaloes career, injuries would keep him out of action for an entire schedule due to a knee injury. In a mid-August scrimmage, the free safety suffered a right knee anterior cruciate ligament tear that would require reconstructive surgery.

For more than a week, Bell had been wearing a non-contact jersey because of an elbow injury suffered early in camp. The Ontario, Calif. native had previously torn the ACL in his left knee early in camp in 2011 and missed that season, as well.

Because this will be the second complete season he will miss, Bell could apply for a hard-ship waiver and earn a sixth year of eligibility.

Bell has played in 36 games during his career, including 11 as a starting safety in 2013, proving to be one of the Buffs' most reliable defenders, registering 67 tackles and intercepting three passes — including one he returned for a touchdown.

Louisiana State has had its fair share of off-field issues by their gridders over the years and the 2014 summer months were no exception. With the NFL cracking down on domestic violence within their ranks, the Tigers’ Jalen Mills made the “right” decision recently, as he announced he would return to school for the 2015 season rather than join other former LSU defenders in the pro ranks.

Mills was suspended in June 2014 after he was arrested and on a charge of second-degree battery when he allegedly punched a woman in the face. East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore announced that his office had filed a misdemeanor bill of information against Mills for simple battery, based on an incident that occurred in his apartment complex on May 4. Mills' attorney, Brent Stockstill, said that the cornerback wasn't the perpetrator. Stockstill has been told by witnesses that another woman struck the female victim as both may have had romantic interests in Mills.

LSU football coach Les Miles immediately suspended Mills, a junior starter the last two seasons, from the team indefinitely and said he would have no comment until Mills goes through the legal process. Mills was bailed out of the East Baton Rouge Parish jail by his parents for $10,000. The arrest warrant said that Mills came up from behind the victim and punched her in the mouth at around 2 a.m. on May 4. Both the victim and one witness picked Mills out of a photographic lineup. The victim was knocked unconscious momentarily and needed stitches on her lip, according to Baton Rouge Police. After police investigated, they contacted Mills on May 29. He was out of town, so a meeting was set up for the day after LSU's summer classes began. Mills did not make the appointment and was arrested that night after police located him through LSU.

At the start of 2014 August camp, Mills was reinstated to the team by Miles after he agreed to a misdemeanor charge to close the incident. The junior originally worked with the second-team defense throughout fall drills, as he had missed all of LSU's summer workouts and activities since his June arrest.

The free safety underwent extra conditioning runs as part of his punishment but was not suspended, starting every game for the Tigers. He finished the 2014 campaign ranked seventh on the team with 62 tackles, recovering a fumble that he advanced 36 yards after one of his three stops behind the line of scrimmage. He also intercepted one pass and broke up five other tosses.

Expected to man the strong safety position for the Georgia Bulldogs, Josh Harvey-Clemons sat out the 2014 season after transferring to Louisville. He was reunited with former UGA defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, hired by Bobby Petrino to run the Cardinals’ defense. Grantham's presence on staff played a role in the decision.

Harvey-Clemons, a former five-star recruit, was dismissed by Georgia head coach Mark Richt for a violation of team rules in February 2014. His brief career with the Bulldogs included a National Signing Day scare for UGA fans, one-game suspensions for the 2013 season opener at Clemson and the Gator Bowl vs. Nebraska, and at the time of his dismissal a three-game suspension for the 2014 season.

On the field, Harvey-Clemons ranked third on the team in tackles with 65 stops, added 5.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and an interception as a sophomore in 2013.


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