Character issues at question as Lions search for potential pick


NFL Combine

Chris McCosky / The Detroit News

Indianapolis — 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 ¼, 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 — 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 — 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

It’s not too early for Lions fans to think draft

Lions: Analysis

Tim Twentyman / The Detroit News

Allen Park– The Lions lost their ninth game in 11 tries over the Thanksgiving Day weekend. With hopes for a playoff spot dashed for an 11th-consecutive season, it’s not too early to start looking at how this team might improve itself in 2011.

Lions general manager Martin Mayhew put together a couple of nice drafts the last two seasons, particularly with top picks Matthew Stafford and Ndamukong Suh, and will need to get more help this spring.

Positions in need of upgrades: the secondary, linebacking corps, and offensive line.

So who might the Lions target with another likely top five pick?

After watching Tom Brady slice up the Lions in a 45-24 Thanksgiving Day loss, the early favorite is Louisiana State cornerback Patrick Peterson. Peterson is a true lockdown corner, something the Lions haven’t had in years.

Peterson (6-1, 222) has drawn comparisons to former Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson. Only a junior, he is a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top cornerback. He’s also a productive returner, averaging 27.5 yards per kick return and 19.7 per punt.

Peterson has elite size for the position and runs in the 4.3 to 4.4 range in the 40-yard dash.

Other possibilities

Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara could also be an option. Amukamara (6-1, 205) doesn’t have an interception in 2010, but that’s mainly because opposing quarterbacks rarely throw his way.

Amukamara was a late bloomer, making three starts his first two seasons at Nebraska, but has developed into one of the nation’s top defenders. He’s also a finalist for the Thorpe Award.

The year’s cornerback class is deep by draft analysts, and includes other top-flight corners in Brandon Harris (Miami), Janoris Jenkins (Florida), Ras-I Dowling (Virginia) and Aaron Williams (Texas).

On draft day, don’t be surprised, if the Lions bypass all the cornerbacks and decide early to get help at linebacker, especially on the outside.

Veteran outside linebacker Julian Peterson and his $8 million salary are likely gone after the season.

Zack Follett, who started the season at outside linebacker, was lost for the season due to a neck injury and has an uncertain future.

The unit needs a young playmaker alongside middle linebacker DeAndre Levy.

The two best linebacker prospects, according to Kiper, are Akeem Ayers (UCLA) and Von Miller (Texas AM).

Both Ayers (6-4, 255) and Miller (6-3, 243) have terrific size and speed, but are viewed more as 3-4 rush linebackers at the next level. The Lions run a 4-3 base defense.

Later round talents

Other options at linebacker, later in the first round or possibly early in the second round, are Travis Lewis (6-2, 232) of Oklahoma and North Carolina’s Bruce Carter (6-3, 225).

Lewis and Carter are a bit small for Lions coach Jim Schwartz’s scheme, though.