The 2017 NFL Scouting Combine provided a platform for the top draft prospects to prove themselves, both physically and mentally. Having recently undergone shoulder surgery, though, highly touted inside linebacker Reuben Foster was not expected to participate in drills at Lucas Oil Stadium. Unfortunately, the Alabama product ended up missing out on just about everything.
Foster was involved in an argument with a student hospital worker during his medical examination in Indianapolis on Friday evening. According to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport, the projected first-round pick objected to the way he was being treated. Consequently, Foster was sent home early Saturday, before he had the opportunity to meet with teams.
Now, according to NFL Network's Kimberly Jones, Foster has scheduled a three-hour period on Tuesday evening -- the night before Alabama's pro day -- to talk with NFL coaches and scouts in the linebacker meeting room of the Crimson Tide football building and explain his early ouster from Indy.
With that in mind, I thought I'd draw on my experiences as a former NFL general manager and talent evaluator to add some perspective on this unusual circumstance. How will this incident affect (or not affect) Foster's draft stock? Well, let's start by examining the one thing we're certain of: Foster's raw talent.
A rare physical specimen at inside linebacker
Foster's draft projections have been pretty varied, simply because he's an inside linebacker -- a position that isn't overflowing with draft cachet. Personally, I think he could have top-10 ability, but I'm not sure a team will take an inside 'backer in the top 10 this year. It's all about team needs and scheme fit. So Foster's spot might be more in the 10-to-20 range of the first round. To me, though, if the player's overall talent is worth the pick, you take him -- regardless of position.
Watching Foster on tape, he reminds me of Luke Kuechly when he was coming out of Boston College. The 'Bama ILB is a highly instinctive player who's probably a little stronger on the take-on than Kuechly was, though Kuechly might have been a bit faster and better in coverage. That said, Foster isn't a negative in coverage -- he appears to be a very capable three-down linebacker who's comfortable dropping back in pass defense. I think Foster is much better than his former Alabama teammate Reggie Ragland, a quality linebacker whom Buffalo took with the 41st pick of the 2016 draft. Based on what I've seen of Foster, he fits the mold of the modern inside linebacker who can make tackles from sideline to sideline, while also covering tight ends and running backs in the passing game.
So, how alarming is this incident?
I can't remember any specific incidents like this occurring at the combine. That said, there are many off-field things that factor into each and every draft class -- some more concerning than this ordeal and some less so. (I'm not talking about domestic violence -- I put that issue on a different level.) The key is researching a player's history and figuring out whether such behavior is scarce or part of the package.
First and foremost, I'd look to find out exactly what happened at the hospital on Friday. We know there was some type of confrontation, but we don't know exactly what led to it -- and how far it went. This is what we have to straighten out. It's a fact-gathering operation. Thus, before even talking to Foster himself, I'd aim to track down as many witnesses as I can -- from hospital workers to other players who were present -- and get their descriptions of the events that transpired. The more perspectives the merrier. I'd want to get a widely sourced portrayal of the incident.
Secondly, I'd go back and review all the scouting notes on the young man that our organization has gathered from the Alabama staff. Now, the thing you're going to find with any college program is that it's hard to get negative information on a player during these final stages of the pre-draft process. Your best intel comes in the fall, so I would really lean on what we had gathered then. That's when all college coaches are the most honest: during the season, in the heat of the battle. Furthermore, I'd also look to catch up with any Alabama coaches who were with the program last season but are no longer employed by the Crimson Tide -- and thus, naturally more open to speaking bluntly. Basically, we're going to do everything we can to research this guy's past, to get a sense of whether there is a history of misbehavior, or if this is a one-time mishap.
What I'd ask Foster in a team interview
The first thing I would do is ask Foster to explain, in detail, what happened in the hospital and why it happened. We're going to compare his story with all of the other perspectives we've gathered. And if the stories don't match, we're going to challenge Foster on his account. If we're convinced that he's lying, that's concerning. But if he keeps debating the facts with genuine resolve, then we're going to have to go back and re-check our facts again. So much of the pre-draft process is personality evaluation -- finding out what makes a player tick. And to that end, I'd do some further work, as well.
When I was a general manager, we had a test that analyzed a player's profile in learning ability and vision, among other factors. Within that, we got a feel for the prospect's personality and competitiveness. Given Foster's lofty pedigree, that is a test that we would have had him perform in Indy. So we'd still want to find a way to do that, even if we have to bring him into our home city and do it there (something we'd be able to do because it's a medical evaluation type of thing).
Ultimately, will this hurt his draft stock?
I've helped train players in the pre-draft process. And when it comes to the guys who have these kinds of blots on the record, I tell them this: If you have an incident in your past, you can't change your past -- but you can affect the future. With that in mind, I instruct these players to own up to their mistakes -- tell the truth, whatever it is, just admit it -- apologize and explain what they've done to prevent it from happening again. And then make sure that it does not happen again. That's all you can do. If the team doesn't want you, you can't worry about it.
Based on what I know of Foster -- and granted, while I know him as a football player, I'm not extremely familiar with him on a personal level -- this initially seems like the kind of thing that's a one-time incident. He doesn't have a history of misbehavior that I know of. So if he's open and honest with team brass about what went down -- and gives a compelling explanation of why it won't happen again -- this shouldn't affect his NFL draft stock. The worst thing a player can do is get caught in a lie. You've already made one mistake -- don't make a second. Just admit it and move on -- NFL teams will follow suit.