Masking the truth

Ahead of last night’s Draft, most of the talk was of which way round the top two Quarterback prospects of this year’s class – Jared Goff and Carson Wentz – would be picked following the Rams and Eagles making early trade moves to secure the first two spots on the board.


The other player being talked about by many was Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil. Widely regarded as the best player of the entire draft class, several teams were lined up as possible suitors and Tunsil was expected to have been selected well inside the Top 10.


That was, until the immediacy of social media threatened to completely de-rail his Draft experience.


About 10 minutes before the start of the Draft, and whilst people were still taking their seats in the auditorium, the now infamous video of Laremy partaking of a sizeable bong whilst wearing a gas mask was posted to his own Twitter account. It was removed shortly after, but the damage had already been done in the modern era of instant media.


Laremy himself was already in the green room above the very stage where he was expected to be named as one of the first picks by the Commissioner when he learned of the posting, and news quickly spread to most of the teams who were up until that point, linked with potentially taking the star lineman.


Many, Baltimore and San Francisco included, reportedly removed him from their boards completely as pick after pick came and went without Tunsil’s name being called. When the Ravens selected Ronnie Stanley at 6, and the Titans traded back in to the top 10 only to pick up Jack Conklin, it was clear Tunsil’s stock had dropped in value significantly in a short space of time.


Ultimately, it was Chris Grier of the Miami Dolphins who stopped the slide, selecting him with the 13th pick overall. Even so, in less than two hours, the dramatic revelation cost had cost Tunsil dear. If history is any indicator, the difference in monetary terms between being selected at #3 and #13 could be as much as $13M.


The problems didn’t stop there for Laremy either. As with his Twitter account, the unknown ‘hacker’ had got to work with his Instagram account as well, posting apparent details of conversations with an official at Ole Miss regarding payments to help with his rent.


Of course, Tunsil isn’t the first (and probably won’t be the last) collegiate with off-field questions. For some, such as Randy Moss who dropped to 21st overall almost twenty years ago, it provided little in terms of a barrier to enjoying a stellar career in the NFL. For others, such as troubled Quarterback Johnny Manziel, the drop to 22 was perhaps an early insight as to how badly wrong it was going to go.


Grier and the Dolphins were allegedly already aware of the video’s existence and understood it to be at least 2 years old, so must have been delighted to see Tunsil slide in their general direction as the night unfolded. So why were they not put off like several other teams ahead of them?


Perhaps it was the fact they weren’t (on the surface at least) blindsided by the revelations like many other teams. The act of enjoying “a little extra-curricular” wouldn’t in itself have been the factor that put off the likes of Baltimore necessarily, it would likely have been the immediacy of the news in relation to having to make their selection and the lack of time for teams to carry out their own due diligence.


It may also have a not-so-insignificant amount to do with Tunsil’s agent, James Sexton. His client list includes none other than Dolphins head coach, Adam Gase. There can be no doubt a lot of discussion took place between the two, both prior to the draft and post video exposure about the “real” Laremy Tunsil.


In truth, I think all of the night’s revelations make it easy to overlook the real reason Miami sent in his name for their pick – the 6’5”, 310lb Tunsil is the best offensive lineman, and arguably the best prospect overall, in this year’s class. Look past the smoke (sorry, pun most definitely intended) and mirrors of the videos and text messages, and the on field football player is an elite athlete and a force to be reckoned with at the line of scrimmage.


Tunsil went the entire 2015 SEC season without allowing a single sack and was rarely beaten at the line, only allowing a couple of legitimate pressures on his QB. His extended range and immense strength make him a valuable asset against the pass rush – something Ryan Tannehill will be delighted about I’m sure – and his explosion off the snap and speed to the edge make him equally adept in run blocking duties. The result is an incredible all-round package on the left of the line that can deliver from day one whilst still having a huge upside moving forwards.


Of course, he owned the video and early criticism levelled at him last night concerning his off field antics (he had little choice in my opinion) but watching him sitting in the green room as the picks rolled on, I think you could almost see a certain maturity grow within him there and then as he was handed a front row demonstration of how off-field behaviour can directly impact your footballing career. I think it will have focussed his mind better than any coaching or awareness program, and Miami could reap the benefits as a result.


As with all of these things, only time will tell whether Miami’s homework has been thorough enough and Tunsil will indeed live up to the numbers, but some credit should be given to Grier and the Dolphins organisation for peeling back the mask (yes, I know) and offering the benefit of the doubt to someone who is clearly an incredible talent on the football field.


I think their work has only just begun however and the onus will now be on them, as with Tunsil himself, to ensure everyone sees another “Randy Moss” rather than another “Johnny Football”.


I, for one, will be watching with interest.