Character issues at question as Lions search for potential pick


NFL Combine

Chris McCosky / The Detroit News

Indianapolis β€” Would the Lions be interested in a self-proclaimed shut-down cornerback with the 13th overall pick in the draft? One who has great size (6-2 ΒΌ, 211 pounds), good speed (ran a 4.37 in the 40-yard dash in Arizona last week), long reach (77 inches) and thrives on playing physical, press coverage?

One who was so respected in college that he was rarely thrown at? Even when he was matched against Georgia’s A.J. Green, one of the top receivers in the draft, he faced two passes and both were incomplete. One who was so respected that he was named first team All-Big 12 without intercepting a pass?

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Of course they would.

Would they draft that same player if they learned he might have character issues; that he had minor brushes with the law and four positive drug tests early in his college career and questions about his work ethic? Would it be another red flag that he fired one agent and hired another before he has participated at the NFL scouting combine?

This is the dilemma when considering Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith. Physically, he is everything the Lions would want in a cornerback. But is he trustworthy for such a high pick?

“I know teams are going to ask me about that stuff and I am prepared to answer all their questions,” Smith said Sunday. “The sky is the limit for me as long as I do what I know I can do out there, especially in these combines. I think these interviews are going to make or break me.”

Smith will meet with 28 teams over the next two days. The Lions are expected to be among them. General manager Martin Mayhew, though not speaking directly about Smith, told reporters Friday that character issues weigh heavily in this process, but he prefers to make his own judgments.

“I learned a long time ago that you can’t judge a guy on a quote, on what a guy said or what you heard that he said,” Mayhew said. “If you don’t know the guy, you can’t judge him.”

In his media session Sunday, Smith was poised, extremely confident and forthright, often flashing an impish, Isiah Thomas-like grin.

“I’m a big, physical corner who loves to press,” he said. “I have great speed, great size and great ball skills. I am a shut-down corner.”

When asked if he also had great modesty, he flashed his Isiah grin and said, “Yeah, that’s in there somewhere.”

He didn’t hide from the character issues.

“I will tell the teams that I am a great person,” he said. “I was young when I got to college and I made some young mistakes. I grew as a person and as a football player.”

His brushes with the law came in his first three years at Colorado. They mostly involved alcohol. He was caught with a beer before his 18th birthday. He was also cited for being a minor in possession of alcohol his freshman year.

“I was a true freshman and it was the first day out of camp,” he said. “I walked outside (of a bar) with a red cup. It had nothing in it, but walking outside with a red cup is not OK in Boulder and I got popped. Just a lack of judgment.”

He was caught in a police raid on a campus bar in his junior year, when he hadn’t yet turned 21. There was also four positive drug tests.

“When I go before the teams I am just going to be honest,” he said. “I can only control what I can control. I went to college and made some mistakes when I was a young kid. I have definitely learned from them.”

The charges against his work ethic are baffling to him.

“I think I have a great work ethic,” he said. “I think my coaches would say the same thing about me. In the weight room (at Colorado) I hold most of the records for lifting weights and running. Every Friday we had competitive drills and I won every single Friday.”

He hired Colorado-based agent Peter Schaffer initially, but fired him and hired Drew Rosenhaus.

“I needed better representation,” he said. “It’s not that Peter Shaffer wasn’t a good agent, I just didn’t want him to represent me. I didn’t think he knew how to do what needed to be done for me. I don’t want to bash him, and I just needed to change.”

It would be a near-perfect scenario for the Lions if they could get an elite cornerback with the 13th pick. The consensus best corner in the draft is Louisiana State Patrick Peterson and he is expected to be one of the top three players off the board.

It could happen, though, that both Smith and Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara are available at 13, though most mock drafts presently have Amukamara going earlier. It would be a fascinating decision for the Lions to have to make.

Amukamara is shorter (6-0), though he is strong and plays just as physical at 206. He wouldn’t discuss his 40-yard dash time, but scouting reports call him quicker than he is fast β€” not a compliment.

His demeanor is completely different than Smith’s. At the podium Sunday, he was all business. When asked about those who doubt his speed, he said, “I think some people don’t know what they’re talking about and haven’t seen me on film,” he said. “I guess I will show them on Tuesday.”

He has been getting some tutoring from Lions tackle Ndamukong Suh, a former teammate at Nebraska β€” which explains his dead-serious approach.

“Yes, Suh has been giving me tips about this process,” Amukamara said. “He just told me to treat it as a business trip, which is what I’ve been doing. I am happy with that advice.”

Draft experts like NFL.com’s Mike Mayock and ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr., believe that Peterson and Amukamara are far and away the top two cornerback prospects in this draft. They believe there is a big gap between those two and the next tier, which features Smith and Miami’s Brandon Harris.

But for the Lions, it could come down to Amukamara and Smith. Amukamara would be the safe pick. It’s on Smith now to prove he’s the right pick.

chris.mccosky@detnews.com

(313) 222-1489

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