Is Pot Still a Draft No-No?

Talking heads like Mel Kiper cite many reasons why players go up and down draft boards. One of the puzzling questions coming at this year's draft is whether admitting to marijuana use is reason enough to devalue a player on draft day.

More than a decade ago, Warren Sapp was viewed as the consensus No. 1 pick in the draft. It seemed like a mortal lock that Sapp would go with the top pick. At the time, VU asked then-defensive coordinator of the Vikings Tony Dungy if the Vikings would try to trade up to get Sapp and his response?

"That would be a dream come true for the defensive coaches, but we don't make those decisions."

So when draft day 1995 came and the No. 1 pick came off the board, it wasn't Sapp. He didn't go No. 2 either. Or No. 3. Or No. 4. Finally, ESPN reported that a league memorandum circulated to all teams the day of the draft informed them that Sapp had tested positive for marijuana at the Combine. In all, 11 teams passed on Sapp as a result, including the Vikings – who took trivia answer Derrick Alexander (the defensive end) with the 11th overall pick.

Instead, Sapp finally found a home in Tampa Bay and, multiple Pro Bowls later, it seemed the concern over his pot use diminished with time. So is it still a front-burner issue with the NFL? We might find out a week from Saturday.

Three of the top potential selections – wide receiver Calvin Johnson and defensive linemen Gaines Adams and Amobi Okoye – have all admitted to smoking marijuana at some point in their lives, according to reports. While admitting to smoking pot and testing positive in a league-sanctioned drug test are two very different things, it does create an interesting conundrum for teams at or near the top. Is admitting to inhaling (unlike a former president who shall remain Bill Clinton) the same as a draft day death warrant? We'll have to wait and see.

Marijuana use was cited by Mike Tice as the sole reason Onterrio Smith, rated as the 32nd overall pick on the Vikings draft board in 2003, was still on the board when the team took him on the fourth round. Other players have been devalued for similar reasons, but these are the lottery picks of the draft.

Only the hours of Saturday morning and afternoon will tell the full story if the Vikings and the other teams at the top are going to take these admissions to heart and devalue those players or not. But you get the feeling that anything short of admitting he main-lined heroin wouldn't be enough to allow Johnson to slip past the fourth pick.

THURSDAY NOTES
* The Vikings made a bizarre signing Wednesday in hopes of finding someone who can help their ailing wide receiver corps – Todd Lowber. Who? Our thoughts exactly. You won't find a huge bio on him at NFL.com because he's never played pro football. For that matter, he never played college football. Or high school. Or any organized football. Yet, he signed a three-year deal with the Vikings Wednesday and, according to his agent, there was interest from the Eagles, Rams, 49ers, Cowboys and Panthers. A former basketball player and high jumper, Lowber runs a 4.3 40. But, then again, so does Troy Williamson and that hasn't led to on-field success.
* If the Vikings want a veteran receiver, they may be able to find one in Ravens' WR Derrick Mason. Upset with how he's being used with the Ravens, Mason wants out and apparently the asking price is a third-round pick. For a desperate team like the Vikings, getting a veteran with that pick would be a coup, especially considering that third-round receivers are always a risk.
* The Vikings intend to unveil their plan for a new stadium in the area around the Metrodome site today.
* The NFL takes its product placement seriously. Very seriously. So much so that when Brian Urlacher showed up at the interview podium at the Super Bowl wearing a hat for a vitamin-filled water product that isn't an official sponsor of the NFL, you knew there would be trouble. The hammer came down Wednesday, as the league announced Urlacher would be fined $100,000 for promoting the product by product placement at his interview station without the league being compensated. Here's hoping that AC/DC and Guns ‘n' Roses get paid every time "Hell's Bells" or "Welcome to the Jungle" are played during NFL games.

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