Georgia Southern linebacker Ukeme Eligwe was a prep star at Stone Mountain (Ga.) High, a Rivals four-star prospect in 2012 who initially signed with Florida State.
But Eligwe had a bumpy road to becoming the Chiefs’ fifth-round pick Saturday as the NFL Draft wound down.
Eligwe, who appeared in 13 games as a redshirt freshman on the Seminoles’ 2013 national championship team, was dismissed by Florida State coach Jumbo Fisher in November 2014 for an unspecified violation of team rules.
Eligwe reportedly failed multiple tests for marijuana, precipitating his early exit from Tallahassee, Fla.
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Chiefs area scout Ryne Nutt, who also scouts the Seminoles, said he spoke with Fisher’s staff about Eligwe during the evaluation process.
“He had his issues at Florida State … but he’s had no issues at Georgia Southern with any of that stuff,” Nutt said.
The Chiefs were comfortable enough with Eligwe’s track record during the last two years with the Eagles to choose him with one of three third-day picks.
“That was kind of the reason and, at Georgia Southern, he was fine,” Nutt said, later offering assurances the team did its homework on Eligwe. “They took care of it. He kind of learned from it.”
When pressed, Nutt said there were no issues other than failed drug tests at Florida State, but Eligwe had no interest in addressing his past issues.
“Today is a day where I know that everything is in the past,” Eligwe said. “I own up everything I’ve done, but it’s in the past and I just want to enjoy this day.”
When asked if there was anything more than failed drugs tests at Florida State, however, Eligwe didn’t own up and instead deflected the question.
“Being drafted today by the Kansas City Chiefs, it feels wonderful and I just want to leave everything in the past,” Eligwe said. “I’ve moved on from it. I went on to Georgia Southern and I did well and had no issues at Georgia Southern.”
Asked if that meant he hadn’t failed any drug tests during two seasons with the Eagles, Eligwe said, “I’d just like to move on. Next question.”
He was, of course, thrilled to be selected.
“I’m almost speechless at this point,” Eligwe said.
He only appeared in one game as a sophomore in 2014 before being sidelined because of a foot injury and getting booted from the team.
Eligwe, who sat out 2015 per NCAA transfer rules and essentially has played only two seasons in the last five years, totaled 30 tackles with two sacks at Florida State.
He led Georgia Southern with 104 tackles, including 2 1/2 sacks and a team-high 9 1/2 tackles for a loss, with a team-leading three forced fumbles last season.
Eligwe also recovered a fumble on a field-goal try, returning it 90 yards for a touchdown against Appalachian State, and intercepted a pass, one of three passes defended.
He was granted a sixth year of eligibility in August 2015, but Eligwe opted to enter the NFL Draft despite having one year of eligibility remaining.
Eligwe, who projects as a weakside linebacker for the Chiefs, produced 25 reps on the bench press and a 4.58-second 40-yard dash during Georgia Southern’s Pro Day.
“The first thing you notice when you watch his tape, the kid can run,” said Nutt, who indicated that Eligwe needs to play more under control, especially with consistency in space, at the next level.
He’s got the size (6-2, 239) and strength to make plays against the run, but also the speed to run with a tight end down the seam if needed, according to Nutt.
“I’m a relentless linebacker,” said Eligwe, who played outside linebacker in a 3-4 at Florida State and middle linebacker in a 4-3 at Georgia Southern. “You’ll see me do many things — cover, rush the quarterback, do whatever. I believe I’m very versatile. If no one’s ever seen me play, I think that’s what they’ll see — a linebacker who can do it all.”
The Chiefs acquired the No. 183 pick Saturday in a trade with the Patriots before the final day of the draft commenced.
New England received tight end James O’Shaughnessy, a fifth-round pick in 2015 from Illinois State, and Kansas City’s first sixth-round pick (No. 216 overall) in exchange for the penultimate fifth-round slot.