Mixon wasn’t invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, despite nearly every NFL analyst and scout believing he possesses first-round talent. A video released last year of Mixon assaulting a woman has made his draft stock one of the hottest topics in NFL circles as teams consider the risk-versus-reward nature of drafting talented players with character questions.
The Vikings sent General Manager Rick Spielman, head coach Mike Zimmer and running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu to the Sooners pro day last week and interviewed Mixon there, giving the indication that Mixon wasn’t already one of the players given a red dot on Spielman’s draft board, meaning they wouldn’t select a player no matter how far that player falls.
Although Mixon wasn’t invited to the Combine, Zimmer said the Vikings can find out about players with questionable character on their own time.
“Yeah, I think we can. I don’t really get involved in all that stuff,” Zimmer said at the Combine. “I know it would be easier for the NFL if all the guys [were at the Combine]. There’s a lot of non-Combine guys that you have to go out and evaluate and talk to and you get tested. It’s all part of the process.”
From an athletic standpoint, Mixon put on a good show at his pro day last week. His numbers tested in the top 10 compared to running backs that were at the Combine, as he posted a 4.43-second 40-yard dash (it would have been fourth at the Combine), a 35-inch vertical (tied for seventh), 9-foot-10 broad jump (tied for ninth), 6.96 three-cone drills (fifth) and 4.25-second short shuttle (fifth).
“Mixon is a first-round talent. At what point can you take him? It’s a like anything non-football. It’s a lot like medical, the character issue, all that stuff gets vetted and some teams say he’s off the board,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said at the Combine. “Other teams might say – I’m not talking about Mixon now, I’m talking about issues – other teams might say I can live with that medical issue or I can live with that character issue. Just grade the player. A lot of teams say it’s a sliding scale. I’m not willing to put a one on him, but if he was sitting there at five I can take him because I can mitigate my financial loss that way. So teams are looking at it three different ways.”
In two years at Oklahoma, Mixon ran for 2,027 yards and 17 touchdowns, and caught 65 passes with nine receiving touchdowns.
Spielman said some players were already red-dotted off his draft board, but it doesn’t seem likely the Vikings would spend that much time with Mixon if he was one of them. It doesn’t mean he wouldn’t get to that undesirable spot on the draft board, but it’s unlikely he was there before his pro day.
A picture even surfaced after his pro day with Zimmer walking out with Mixon, but Zimmer wouldn’t have the final say when it comes to drafting a player with such a public blemish against his character.
“Rick talks to the ownership about it. I don’t even talk to them about those kind of things,” Zimmer said. “The conversations I have [with prospects] are just basically just visiting with them, looking them in the eye, talking to them, try to be straight-up with them and hopefully they’re straight-up with me and try to get a feeling for the players. We also have your player-programs people talk to them, the psychology people talk to them so we get a sealed approval on that.”
Mixon admitted at his pro day that him punching the woman “wasn’t right” and told Pro Football Talk that he made a “bad decision.”
Others have done the same and succeeded in the NFL. Last year, the Kansas City Chiefs selected Tyreek Hill in the fifth round after he had character issues that significantly dropped his stock. He turned into a Pro Bowl kick returner and dangerous receiver.
“Right now, I try to stack them up based on football, but as we get closer to the draft there’s a realistic take on all of this. The poster boy this year happens to be Mixon. I think it’s going to be No. 1 an owner conversation,” Mayock said. “Some owners have already taken him off the board. That’s a fact, OK? The rest of the teams are going to have to vet him and make a determination, and I’ve heard a lot of conversation about [Tyreek Hill] from Kansas City that went in the fifth round last year. That’s kind of the benchmark, like, OK, that was last year, he turned into an all-pro.”
But is there any amount of success on the field that mitigates the risk of the player off the field? That question will be up to each NFL organization, and the Vikings, with a need at running back and their key decision-makers attending his pro day, are clearly among them.