The National Football League is about making money and winning football games. Period.
So when teams see a player like Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon, a big, fast, bull of a runner, they see a guy who can help them accomplish both of those goals … if only it wasn’t for his past transgressions.
Mixon, who checks in at a stout 6 feet 1 and 226 pounds, declared for the draft after a redshirt sophomore season in which he rushed for 1,274 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging a very impressive 6.8 yards per carry. Yet, he is perhaps best known for a misdemeanor assault charge he received in 2014, when he was captured on camera punching a woman.
It was an ugly incident, one that got Mixon — who was 18 years old at the time — barred from this year’s NFL Combine, and one that has already excluded him from some teams’ draft boards (like New England and Miami).
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Yet he remains a consensus top-50 talent, and someone is going to select him this year, and probably early. The team that does so is betting he’ll be worth the risk … just like the Chiefs did a year ago with fifth-rounder Tyreek Hill, who became a Pro Bowler as a rookie and broke records that hadn’t been achieved since Gale Sayers only months after his selection fired up fans who were upset the Chiefs selected a player who pled guilty to domestic abuse by strangulation of his then-pregnant girlfriend in 2014.
So appropriately enough, as draft talk has ramped up over the last month or so, Chiefs general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid have fielded an overload of questions from reporters about the matter, first at the combine in early March and most recently, the annual meetings this past week.
Reporters, however, aren’t the only ones who have been quizzing Dorsey about the challenges of taking a player with a history of violence of women, and the best way to handle the eventual backlash. Turns out Dorsey’s friends across the league — scouts, talent evaluators, etc. — have been doing the same.
And Dorsey’s advice comes down to three simple tasks: vet the player as fully as possible, communicate the findings of that vetting with the coaches and ownership, and make a team decision about the risk vs. the reward .
“We will do our due diligence with every player, and when it comes down to this, then we will even go in deeper, as deep as we can probably fully vet,” Dorsey said. “It comes down to communication with ownership and the head coach, and as we begin to talk this through and talk out what we, as an organization, feel is important, why we think we should make a move like this and do we have a plan in place.”
It was a plan that Dorsey learned from his mentor, former Super Bowl-winning Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf, who also mentored Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie.
When the Chiefs selected Hill a year ago, McKenzie wasn’t necessarily surprised.
“Sometimes, when it’s an educated gamble, that’s instincts based on experience,” McKenzie said.. “So yeah, we did learn that part. Ron wasn’t scared to make a tough decision … sometimes, it’s something about a certain player that you feel, in your heart, that he’s going to be okay. So you don’t think it’s going to be as big a risk as others may.”
That clearly was the case a year ago, when the Chiefs took Hill after all of Dorsey’s research and watched him become arguably the league’s best return man and the team’s second-leading target.
“I think you need to do the background — I thought John did a good job with that,” Reid said. “I’ve been in that position before with guys, and this country gives you a second chance if you handle yourself the right way. There’s no room for error in some of these situations. You’ve got to do your homework and make sure that kid is focused in on making sure you do the right thing.
“There’s not normally a chance after that second chance.”
Hill, by all accounts, is making the most of that second chance. He starred on the field last fall — by the end of the season, the Arrowhead Stadium faithful were chanting Hill’s first name before punt returns — and Reid and Dorsey said he’s caused zero problems off the field, as he’s close to completing his court-mandated counseling.
“Everything we have asked him to do, he has done and more,” Dorsey said. “He’s doing everything he’s supposed to do.”
The thing Reid and Dorsey say they both saw in Hill was a desire to fix the problem.
“What kind of counseling have they been getting — how long has it been? And are they staying consistent with it?” Reid said. “And then talking to the kid. You’ve got to look at them eye-to-eye and see what’s going on.”
The Chiefs felt that way after Hill took a predraft visit to Kansas City, which allowed them — after a four-month process of vetting — to gain a sense of comfort when it came to potentially selecting Hill.
“He is a very humble man and he’s very remorseful for what he has done,” Reid said. “He understands that he has to mature and grow as a man.”
All of which begs the question; are the Chiefs, who have a need for a big-play running back, entertaining the possible selection of Mixon?
Dorsey, as he tends to be around this time of year, was somewhat coy.
“I have not fully completed my research, okay? And that will not probably finish up here until probably three more weeks,” Dorsey said. “Then when it comes time to that, we will make a decision, based collectively as a group, what our findings come back and reveal. That’s how we do it. I don’t have all the information to say yes or no. That’s the way I’m going to proceed with this.”
Reid, meanwhile, said he doesn’t know much about Mixon, which is interesting, if not completely indicative of the Chiefs’ potential lack of interest.
“I don’t know this kid at all,” Reid said. “I haven’t talked to him. I really haven’t even seen the video … I don’t know what this kid is doing; again, I haven’t studied him at all.”
Yet, it would certainly make sense if the Chiefs wanted to avoid such a scenario. When the Chiefs selected Hill a year ago, the team’s Twitter account was flooded with angry tweets. The team also took a beating, both on sports talk radio and in print, and the selection prompted plenty of stories from the national media, all of which shined a negative light on the Chiefs.
And, if the Chiefs were to select Mixon, it’s easy to imagine the same people who were furious about the Hill pick being inflamed by the selection of another player with a similar history.
The Chiefs may not feel like it’s worth it, especially if Dorsey and company have some doubts about Mixon’s remorse, and especially after their nine-man class a year ago had four players with background issues, including a player suspended for violating Notre Dame’s honor code (third-round corner Keivarae Russell), a player suspended multiple times at Florida for marijuana issues (fourth-round receiver Demarcus Robinson) and a player who was once charged with larceny (sixth-round edge rusher Dadi Nicolas).
But when asked if the Chiefs will have a “cleaner” draft this year, Dorsey stuck to his guns, insisting that while a player might have some past transgressions in his background, the organization will not bring bad people into Kansas City.
“I said this last year — we’re not going to bring malicious people into this community,” Dorsey said. “This is not the culture we have established and begin to built. That locker room is very important, and we will continue to get those players that will help this organization, but also represent the values, not only of the community, but also of the organization as a man.”
This philosophy, it seems, has the full support of Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt, who said at the annual meetings this week that he is brought into the decision-making process when “there’s a significant issue” with a potential draft prospect.
“Every situation is different from another situation, so there’s no blanket (policy of) we’re not going to draft this type of person or we’re not going to draft that type of person,” Hunt said. “It really is contingent on the individual, the situation and what our staff, at the end of the day, believes is the true character of the player.”
So where does Hunt come out on Mixon? If Dorsey’s research on him produces a positive review, would he allow the Chiefs to select him?
“I don’t have a specific answer for you on him; that’s something that our staff will continue to work through as we get ready for the draft,” Hunt said. “But it’s really going to be based on their evaluation of where he is and how he impact the culture of the team.”